Over the course of his 20-year career, Ranu Gupta has held HR and Learning leadership roles at global corporations like Procter and Gamble, Western Union, and GE Capital. He has an M.B.A. from Xavier’s Institute of Management and is currently working towards a graduate degree in Executive Management at Stanford University. Above all, Gupta understands the importance of self awareness, reflection, and being a trusted sounding board when developing yourself as a leader.
Ranu possesses a no-fail, systematic approach to Leadership and Professional Development that he’s meticulously honed over the years. Most recently, Gupta has taken on mentoring through Everwise with the same systematic approach.
Read on for a peek into Gupta’s frameworks on developing leaders and mentoring others.
Your expertise is in HR, specifically learning and development. What are some common themes from your work in leadership development?
I typically approach developing and coaching leaders as a three phased process moving from personal, to team, to enterprise leadership.
As a leader, the aspect of personal leadership is first and foremost. Developing your personal leadership starts with developing your self awareness to equip you with the skills necessary to develop high-performing relationships. It’s foundational: to be effective as a leader or manager, you need to invest time in yourself. I typically have leaders do a 360-degree review and use that as a basis to find one or two strengths and one or two areas to invest further in. I take a strength-based approach. You’re not pursuing anything and everything, you’re finding specific areas that will elevate you as a leader and drive you where you want to go.
Phase two is about effective team leadership. The skills to attract, develop, manage and retain a high-performing team. I have worked with several different team models in my work in this phase. Regardless of a team’s structure, it’s easy to create simple assessments and gather data from your team to find your biggest areas of opportunity. I’ve found leaders get really helpful data and learning from peer experiences in this phase, so I stress peer coaching as much as possible.
In phase three the focus shifts to building enterprise leadership skills. This phase is where you learn to step up from being a manager to being a leader, having credibility and influence to drive change not only within your team but across the organization. This phase is all about influence and leading without positional authority. How do you earn influence where people will follow you, even if you don’t have any direct or positional authority over them? Once you learn the answer to that question, you’re an enterprise leader.
Your credibility at an enterprise level also depends on the initiatives you’re able to drive within the company. The skills you need to do so effectively are threefold: your ability to understand the business at a strategic level, to be innovative, to know how to execute on those ideas. To me, these are the building blocks of enterprise leadership. You also, of course, need trust at any level of leadership.
I’ve worked with a lot of different organizations, but this model generally fits with all of them. It’s flexible enough to tailor to your business needs and vision.
You’ve written about The Internet of Things and Human Resource Management. What do you see as up and coming in the learning and development space?
As new technologies come about, I think there are a couple of trends that are shaping up as opportunities.
One is that Millennials have overtaken Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers as the dominant generation in the workforce. And Millennials’ values tend to be very different from Gen X’ers and Boomers. Millennials don’t necessarily value a steady career path or care about becoming a C-level executive. They’re more entrepreneurial and more gig oriented; they value quality of life over money.
Another technology-driven innovation, I think, will be improvements in the process we use to identify and develop talent. There are currently a lot of decisions around talent that involve fuzzy guesswork — they’re often flawed and highly subjective decisions. I think technology will take some of the guesswork out by providing more data around development and then creating algorithms to analyze that data. As a result, talent management will get more efficient. Performance management will get more efficient. And, of course, leadership development will get more efficient. I believe it’s not a matter of whether our ability to make data-based talent management decisions will happen, but when.
Have you had mentors in your life? What was the impact?
I’ve been fortunate to have mentors that guided me at points where I’m making important career choices. I’ve also had points that I regret, where I should have consulted with a mentor to make a better decision. So I’ve learned as much from not having a mentor as I have from having one.
I think having more than one mentor is important — then it’s like having your personal board of directors. You want to choose your mentors based on who you want to be. Mentors can reflect where you want to go, they can create access for you, and give you guidance as you plan your own personal development.
Sometimes I think there’s a fuzzy boundary between coaching and mentoring. I think coaching is a manager’s job. Mentoring is different; it’s about managing your own career long term and finding the right sounding board to help you.
What have you learned from leading teams and mentoring others?
I find that coaching and mentoring are both really rewarding experiences. Every time I work with a protege, it refreshes the whole concept at hand for me. If I’m coaching a protege on how to better manage their time, I get an excellent refresher on managing my own time as well. Mentoring has proven to be great self development as well.
Your Everwise protege commented on the great materials and resources you shared with her. Do you have frameworks or methodologies you recommend?
Some of the frameworks I turn to are specific to the person.
Anything you do in life needs to move towards your high-level vision of your future self. People typically send me their coaching goals ahead of time, and they’re often focused on improving a specific skill set. But it’s more important for me to help them identify where they want to go in the long term, both in their personal and professional life. To do that, I always start with personal reflections and a vision board exercise.
I typically spend the first session reviewing psychometric assessments like Strengths Finder. I want to make sure they understand their strengths and areas for improvement.
Then, they go through a vision board exercise that looks at three areas: What am I good at? What am I passionate about? What is my job or career path? Where these three answers converge is your sweet spot. That sweet spot is a starting point, and I ask my proteges to then pick pictures that go along with that targeted spot. I ask them to build a collage with personal pictures, media images, magazine photos, the list goes on. This vision board is organic, proteges are encouraged to keep adding and changing.
Ultimately, the vision board represents what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about, and what will make you money. We’re fundamentally visual people. We learn and absolve visually. Because I ask proteges to create a visual vision board, their long-term goals become an ingrained part of them.
I also find the art of reflection important. Start journaling for five minutes every morning as you set your priorities for the day. Reflect, write down one or two things that pop into your mind. Force that even five minutes of reflection a day.
I tell my proteges they can disregard everything else I try to teach them if they’ll only retain these two things. If they do, they’ll likely build a path they’re proud of.
You’ve consulted with clients of all sizes on aligning organizational culture with business strategies. What does an engagement look like? How do you measure success?
The majority of my career has been with larger companies. In the past few years, I’ve built my consulting practice around engagements that have ranged from a 50-employee non-profit organization to a 100,000-person global company.
As with mentoring, I work with my clients through what I would call a ‘consultative selling approach.’ I don’t walk in saying, ‘Here’s what I have to offer. Buy it.’ Instead, I work to listen and understand their challenges. Then, I’ll follow up with specific questions to better understand their mindset and their thought process. It’s only in the third conversation, at least, where I start recommending what I think would be helpful. In any professional relationship, listening and understanding first is key.
Most of my engagements have four phases. The first phase is around discovery. I look at the organization’s existing data and try to understand how they’re measuring talent management. Phase two involves some degree of research. When it comes to research, I first work to understand the framework of the challenges they’re dealing with. I look at best practices, either by turning to my past knowledge or to other experts with experience addressing that challenge. The third phase is the build-and-design phase. Based on the research and materials I’ve generated, I start a formal program or structure — essentially, the execution plan.
Large or small, I generally approach engagements this way. I like to meet my clients where they are and then deliver what works for them.