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7 Questions on Leadership with Kannan Swaminathan

Name: Kannan Swaminathan

Title: Chief Executive

Organisation: Whitebridge Consulting

After studying commerce and accounting for my graduation, I started my career in Banking. Worked with some leading global banks in a range of business roles globally and embarked as an entrepreneur in 2016. Now I focus on my Executive Coaching Practice, Consulting Practice and Leadership development. Based in Chennai, India.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Kannan's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

In my journey, my biggest challenge has been a continuous reinvention of myself - be it skills, mindsets, approaches and knowledge. Looking back, this has been the effort towards being my best self in a given context/business, in a way that it is value adding.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

If I relate the word leadership to a state of mind, it happened with some deep reflections in the face of some failures and disappointments to bounce back. When this internal evolution albeit small changes at that point in time, have become the foundation of who I am as a person. When I look at the word leadership as a title, and being responsible for a set of people and processes, it was the pursuit to prove to myself that I can build my capabilities to add value.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

Even today, to be honest, I am less of a planner to the granular level. I start my day with a brief prioritization of what is important and critical to accomplish. This helps to stay focussed and be productive. However my mid term and long term plans have always remained at the high level. There are times when you get caught into aspects that you did not anticipate, however important to respond. These unforseen 'gifts' at times, results in plans being the plans. In those overwhelming moments, I attempt to de-clutter my mind with the to-do lists for few days to get a rythm set in. I prefer to be engaged in the activities that I ended up doing, irrespective of whether I particularly like them or not. I guess it is the ability to stay focused in the face of distractions and our own commitment to ourselves.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

In recent days, I learned the lesson of staying grounded, irrespective of what happens around you. Sometimes things dont go as you planned, what you expect might not happen, and aspects that you did not factor in your planning show up. The choice we have as leaders is to - keep all the garbage in our head, the whats and whys of things evolved in the way it is or just start simply from a place of acceptance of as-is. Starting with an acceptance - along with keeping that from moment to moment and redesigning your strategy and approach towards the goal is a lession to be precise. The assessment of how something turned out, is a good learning for the future - beyod a lession for future, all the emotional drama attached to it as disappointment, anger, frustration etc simply a wasted energy. When you start with acceptance you tend to feel more calm, clear and at peace.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Well, it is difficult to name one book! For me the books have been a companion and mentor at different stages of my life. In the early part it was a fiction - Atlas Shrugged. It had a deep impact on the way I looked at the goals, focus, determination. I can count five of them in the last 20 odd years or so (a) Who moved my cheese (b) Maverick (c) Conscious Business (d) Triggers and (e) Power of Owning up. Each one of them had a strong influence on the way I carry myself and the way I look at the world.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

My piece of advise would be to invest time to identify your purpose and align all your energy/actions towards accomplihsing it. Its okay if you refine the purpose over the years!

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

I was truly inspired by some of the groundbreaking social impact leadership stories - Infinite Vision - a story about how an individual built an institution that was transformative, an eye hospital that changed many paradigms. His clarity of purpose and relentless pursuit of his vision inspired me a lot.

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