Your leadership is being measured and counted. Don’t fall short

In a moment global crisis, startups need to demonstrate ethical leadership and be empathetic to their employees.

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Are our institutions so weak that they cannot sustain their workforce for such a short period of time? Have we built organisations with no pillars? If we have a demotivated, distressed workforce returning to work, will we actually be able to thrive?
By Kanika Tekriwal

I found this message on the 30th of April.

“Dear Mam,

Today I have received my salary for the month of April-2020, thank you very much mam. At this critical time it is a great help. I shall never forget this help & assure you my best of services.”



Instead of feeling good I was rather lost wondering why does a team mate have to thank me for something I committed to him when he decided to believe in my organisation and join me.

I was asked recently to join the industry and “normalise” salaries. I wondered is this what leadership is about? Are we living in a world where leadership is about a game of chess? Do we not have moral responsibilities towards those who trusted their and their family’s livelihoods in our hands? This is the one chance we have been given to show our people what they mean to us. However some leaders are looking at this as that once chance to create gains for their organisations.

When I started my business out of my bedroom my first employee took a pay cut to join me, simply because he believed in my dreams. Is this how I am going to repay his loyalty and faith? I have been privy to numerous conversations that primarily revolve around making variable pay the new normal, and why team members will not have a choice, but to accept it due to the dearth of jobs. This is the right time to recreate HR, gain control over organisations and so on and so forth. Are Indian entrepreneurs really implying that the incredible business’s they have built are incapable of supporting a few months’ salaries to the people who got them where they are?

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We are trying to live in a world with more uncertainty than we have ever witnessed. Trying to create a new normal and most importantly trying to co-exist. Emotional and mental well being is the lowest it’s ever been; people are struggling to stay positive and believe there will be an end to all of this. In the midst of all this they receive communication regarding no pay, deferred pay or pay cuts. I’ve been hearing horror stories of pink slips arriving in e-mail, people being laid off over zoom calls or salaries just not showing up in bank accounts and all communication being cut off.

Is it right to add troubles to an individual already under duress? Is it correct to use the situation as a stepping stone to aligning profits? Is it acceptable to desert those who rode the tide with us? Is this not the time to demonstrate ethical leadership and be empathetic?

We as a country are living notification to notification trying to build hope, is it not our chance as leaders to create hope and a sentiment of confidence? On numerous forums I have heard remarks such as the government expects us to pay salaries, but where is the money? Is the government not right in asking us to look after those who have looked after us? Does the government have a manual to address the situation? Our leaders are trying to manage a population of 1.3 billion unlike any other nation. Is it right to make comparisons to the rest of the world? Whilst I am not the right person to judge what we are doing is right or wrong, I do believe that it is incredibly challenging to find a solution to safeguard the lives of a country our size and geography. I also do believe that the effort should be acknowledged and the drive be appreciated.

No one in the world knows what the outcome of the lockdowns will be, nor does anyone know how and when the virus will end. But what I do know is we are a country of entrepreneurs, we are a nation of jugad which never gives in. We are a nation of people with perseverance and drive like no other. We are a nation that respects culture, puts others before ourselves. I remember my father telling me if you have a grain of rice left in your house and a stranger knocks on your door asking for food, make sure to give the grain to him or her.

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Are our institutions so weak that they cannot sustain their workforce for such a short period of time? Have we built organisations with no pillars? If we have a demotivated, distressed workforce returning to work, will we actually be able to thrive?

It’s taken me many conversations, mental debates and a lot of sadness to actually pen this down. I do this at the risk of the investor community shunning my management skills. A couple of friends who I shared my thoughts with went on to say I will be tagged a weak leader. A lot of my debates shunning the salary debates has resulted in me being addressed as an emotional fool or a girl who thinks with her heart. But it doesn’t matter anymore, what matters is to create ethical leadership, celebrate empathy and to look after those who don’t have a voice. What I do know is the organisations that will emerge the strongest are those which have the strongest people, emotional fool or not.

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This is not a love letter celebrating the government or shunning those taking drastic measures. It’s a mere request to look inwards and do what is right. A request to investors to encourage their invested business’s to support their teams, a request to the business champions of our country to champion the cause of their people. A request from a foolish heart to think from your heart and not your mind.

Remember without your people, your business’s are never going to be the same again, we are what our people are. I say this as a founder of an aviation company, an industry considered to be the most distressed and the highest risk. What I do know is as a founder of an aviation company I will pay the salaries and look after my people till I can. If my pilots morale’s are not high, are my planes safe to fly? I am not saying kill yourself and pay your people, all I am saying is do whatever you can. Try your best, don’t give up. Remember one day the world’s going to be a better place with more opportunities and greater business’s to build and it’s these people who will help you climb every mountain, enable you, empower you. For now it is our turn to enable and empower them.

The writer is the Co-founder and CEO of JetSetGo.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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