A thought leader is seen as an independent authority that is capable of providing insight that extends far beyond the vendor perspective. This individual is acknowledged for their range of viewpoints that encompass the “big picture” from a business standpoint. Thought leaders are often credited with bringing disruptive ideas to life. Investing in a thought leadership can provide insight into an organization’s foreseeable industry challenges and showcase the customer perspective in a new light, leading to more potential business opportunities and growth.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Akhilesh Tripathi. Akhilesh Tripathi is the global head of Digitate, a software venture of Tata Consultancy Services. He has been a driving force since the venture’s inception and is critical to global revenue generation and service delivery. Previously, as the head of TCS Canada, Akhilesh drove the Canadian entity to be among the top 10 IT services company in its market. His 23-year career with TCS also includes his role as the head of enterprise solutions and technology practices for TCS North America. In that role, he led the management of strategic alliances with software vendors and participated on the advisory councils of several strategic vendor partners.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
From a young age, I loved to read about current affairs and would spend hours absorbing information from magazines and newspapers. I was always so curious about the world around me and wanted to learn how to solve problems.
Two of my uncles, both teachers, were instrumental in inspiring my sense of curiosity and wonder about the world. And that helped spark my passion for global issues, coupled with my interest in math and physics, which in turn were key to my development of an aptitude for problem-solving. If I turned out to be a bit of an information junkie or an idea junkie, I would say it is because of the sum total of those experiences. The flip side of being an idea junkie is that you are always trying to see if that knowledge can be used for problem-solving.
Before I became Global Head at Digitate, I was the Head of Tata Consultancy Services, Canada.
I drove the Canadian entity to be among the top 10 IT services company in its market. Prior to this, I also was the Head of Enterprise Solutions and Technology Practices for TCS North America, leading the management of strategic alliances with software vendors, and participating on the advisory councils of several strategic vendor partners.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
A common thread with both startups and new initiatives in a larger organization is that these things happen because a leader sees a need and makes it work. In my own career, I’ve tried to model that. I’ve always been driven by a passion for the subject of “courage in conviction” and I’ve never been afraid of trying something new. In fact, I get bored with incremental changes or operations and the status quo — I believe in the new for constant challenges and changes. I think often of Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness in “The Untouchables,” bringing together a group of people who can get the job done. I think that’s a great example of what makes a good leader — you don’t have to be an expert in everything but you need to be able to bring together people with the skill sets and vision needed to make things happen — and you need to be able to enable and support others to get things done. Part of being a leader is setting what are sometimes audacious goals and then helping create the environment needed to meet those.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
In my early days, I worked at a telecom company in India that focused on radio pagers and cellular phone service. We wrote a report based on market research and 2,000+ interviews with business professionals that showed radio pagers were the future as opposed to cell phones. All of our data and research were correct, but we hadn’t accounted for context. Within 12–18 months of our conclusions were presented, the Indian mobile phone market exploded even though the costs of both the handsets and the costs per minute were exorbitant. While we got the data and research to tell us what was the current state of the market we had missed the human aspect and the economics of scale.
Through that episode, I learned that data and research alone aren’t enough; you have to also have your finger on the pulse of people’s aspirations and goals. We’d completely missed out on the aspirational feelings of citizens, who saw having a cellphone as glamorous or impressive was a lifestyle statement, not to mention the ingenuity deployed to manage cost.
Another story I think about often is one that taught me a lot about the importance of being fully prepared and present. In my very first customer meeting, I gave an entire presentation while repeatedly referring to the wrong Oracle product version, completely misquoting during the entire meeting. There were a lot of puzzled looks, but no one thought to say anything to me during the actual meeting. All my colleagues were generous enough not to rib me or tease me and that made it even worse for me. As ironic it may sound, it all worked out and we ended up winning the deal — in fact, it ended up being one of the biggest deals for that product.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
A thought leader is driven by the idea that he or she is passionate about and is an expert in the field. They are the go-to person in their chosen field. They bet on the idea and are known for bringing disruptive ideas to life and making it a business. A thought leader has the ability and intellectual bandwidth to articulate and communicate their expertise. They can also be opinionated at times.
A leader, on the other hand, has the talent to spot the thought leadership in his or her team. They bet on people who may have great ideas, back them up and help them become successful.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
A thought leader is seen as an independent authority that is capable of providing insight that extends far beyond the vendor perspective. This individual is acknowledged for their range of viewpoints that encompass the “big picture” from a business standpoint. Thought leaders are often credited with bringing disruptive ideas to life.
Investing in a thought leadership can provide insight into an organization’s foreseeable industry challenges and showcase the customer perspective in a new light, leading to more potential business opportunities and growth.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
Thought leadership directly contributes to lucrative opportunities. By directly providing your own team the wisdom and advice to seek out any potential blind spots, the company strategy will flourish in highly fluid situations.
The thought leader’s ability to analyze from multiple streams of consciousness (the customer, the business and the industry) can drive new business opportunities, insulate the company from being blindsided and also inspire their team through their expertise.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
- Clarity of vision and purpose
- Conviction to commit to resources and stay on track
- Believe in what you are doing
- Commit to execution
- Respond and persevere
Back in the late 1990s, when the world was preoccupied with Y2k we started focusing on e-business. To me, it seemed like we should be focused on trying to create something new rather than just focusing on solving the current problem with a defined shelf life. And that led me to identify new areas where we could establish our business and build the brand. As a leader, you need to always be evaluating different options and paths.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
There are many. Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos are two people who come to mind for. Steve Jobs was legendary in his ability to identify what customers might need and then create products that deliver an unparalleled experience. Jeff Bezos’ ability to identify the power of the internet very early and then commit himself completely is another great example.
Natarajan Chandrasekaran, the current chairman of Tata Sons and former CEO of Tata Consultancy Services, is a leader who has had a huge impact on me personally. In today’s world when the average life of Fortune 500 companies is shrinking, he has demonstrated enormous ability to foresee the future, disrupt the companies while they were at their peak and prepare them to become even more successful over the longer-term.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
As human beings, the concept of thought leadership may seem overrated because not enough people spend time actively thinking. In our society, we see many corporate leaders blindly making decisions without doing their own research.
The idea of a thought leader has indeed become a cliché. A true leader is someone who is consciously and cognitively driving the strategy of a company. Intellectual deliberation should be built into leadership and in a perfect world; all leaders should be thought leaders. And those who are truly capable of articulating, processing, debating and defending their ideas are the leaders who will stand out. In my view — the first part of the word ‘Thought Leader’ demonstrates the mental rigor anyone brings to the team, and the second part the bias and discipline for action. Great leaders manage both the idea and the execution with equal energy.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
1. Avoid the messiah trap — don’t do everything yourself
2. Build a super team and empower them to carry on the vision
3. Take care of your mind, body, and spirit
4. Stay relevant constantly — avoid relying on past success
5. Don’t let curiosity die
6. Always ask new questions — relentlessly!
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to meet inspirational leaders like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, or Satya Nadell. They are great human beings as well as fantastic success stories. They’ve all shown a commitment to humanity and lead large enterprises.
How can leaders avoid burnout?
Don’t do everything yourself. It’s important to avoid the “messiah trap”. The trick is to build a super team and then empower them to catch and translate the vision. It’s also essential to take care of yourself — including your mind, body, and spirit. Avoid resting on your laurels (in terms of past successes) and stay relevant constantly. Curiosity should never die. Every morning, If you are not able to spring out of bed and seize the day, then either you are physically or mentally tired.
How can our readers follow you on social media? https://twitter.com/akhilesht
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.