C-Suite Agenda

Seven Beliefs To Take On Your Leadership Journey

Sandeep Chennakeshu

Joel Arthur Barker, the technology and business futurist, in his book, Paradigms: Business of Discovering the Future (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1993) wrote that the difference between a manager and leader is that a manager manages within a paradigm and leader manages between paradigms.  

Leaders create paradigm shifts when they are dissatisfied with the status quo and change it. If the change is significant, they must convince others to join their cause. They must also effectively manage the change and navigate the risks to ensure that the outcome is successful. This ability to lead and successfully bring about change does not come naturally. While some personality traits and characteristics help, most of this ability is forged by one’s environment and experience. What we learn from each experience and how we use it shapes us and our future.  As such each person’s journey to leadership is personal, as was mine. 

Dream with Conviction

Leaders dream about a better future for themselves and those they lead – they have vision. However, they must possess deep conviction that their vision is right and that they will get there come hell or highwater, because there will be bad periods that will test their belief, abetted by the scores of skeptics.

I first became captivated by mobile phones in the early 1980s and decided to pursue a PhD and career in this area. Many advised me that my choice would lead to an uncertain path and severely limit my future opportunities. A famous consulting company estimated that the market was small, with a million mobile phones being sold by the year 2000. Mobile-phone products in the early 1980s were also big, bulky, and needed to be strapped on to humans as backpacks. I saw the situation differently—these devices would evolve, as all technology does, and become an indispensable tool for human communications. I had the conviction to proceed and it led to an amazing career pioneering and launching several generations of cellphones and wireless technologies across the world. 

Leave Your Comfort Zone

As head of research at Ericsson Mobile Phones life was good, but I did not know how to build the products I researched. As opportunities presented themselves, I volunteered and moved into product development. This first move was the hardest, as it took a big adjustment to step out of my comfort zone. I had to recalibrate my mindset and rebuild my knowledge base. I had to get used to being the runt in the litter for a while. I had to learn to adapt and build my formula to deal with the change. I got up early every morning and studied before I went to work. I sought out experts to teach me. I spent workdays and weekends deconstructing our products and analyzing them. Soon enough I was able to contribute. After this initial move, armed with my formula and confidence, I regularly rotated through different operational areas of our business. Each time, I went through the anxiety of knowing less initially but learning more with time. The breadth and depth of this learning across the company’s operations was irreplaceable and propelled me into general management. 

Learn from Success and Failure

As I gained experience, I ran businesses and had many successes and some failures. Successes are confidence-boosting, but the lessons of failure can be enlightening, should you wish to confront and reflect on them. Hindsight is always 20/20 and gives you a perspective of what actions you could have taken to have averted failure. I used success and failure to calibrate my approach, judgment, and decision-making in my business. The three most valuable lessons I learned from this experience, which I discuss next are:

  • Learn to deal with adversity
  • Get battle tested to build your problem-solving toolkit
  • Stay true to yourself

Deal with Adversity

To use a baseball term, you will face many curveballs in your career. Curveballs will embarrass you, freeze you in place, or make you look foolish. They may get you out, but it is important to focus on your next innings.  You must look forward, not back. My wife of thirty-three years wisely told me that nothing in life goes only uphill; at some point, it must go in your favor. Your attitude when facing adversity matters. It is difficult to embrace and overcome adversity, but the way you handle it builds character. When faced with adversity, deal with it or walk away from it, but never let it swallow you.

I remember the wisdom in the words of a professor friend of mine when dealing with disappointment. He told me: “When your plate is full of sandwiches, it is okay if someone takes a couple. You need to get upset if you only had one sandwich on your plate and someone took it.” I translated this as: in life you are going to create and get many opportunities; chase them, and don’t dwell on what you lost. 

Get Battle-Tested

I loved cricket more than any sport I played, and I learned many lessons from it. No amount of practice mattered as much as results in an actual game. Time in the middle, playing the game against formidable opponents, allows one to get battle-tested and face the pressure to perform when it matters. You need talent, technique, and temperament to prevail. You learn most about the game by being a player on the field, not an analyst of the game. Business is no different, and my best learning was on the job, getting results. 

To get battle tested I volunteered for tough assignments with deliveries to demanding customers. These assignments tested my ability to plan, manage priorities, be disciplined, collaborate, communicate with clarity, be proactive, balanced, and resourceful to deliver under pressure. 

With this toolkit, I got picked to transform struggling businesses to grow profitably.  This was harder and tested my ability to implement a paradigm shift. Every time I accepted a tough job, I took comfort in what a mentor told me early in my career: steel is forged by repeatedly heating, beating, and cooling.

Be Curious

A high-school teacher of mine, a Jesuit priest, once told me that it is my choice to be ignorant or not. For a long time, I have allocated time every day to learning something new. Fortunately, there are many incredible tools in today’s world to assist such learning. In this learning, I have never attempted to become an expert about everything but have focused on getting familiar with as many things as possible that could help me be less ignorant. One tip I learned was to jot down, in a notebook, what was unfamiliar to me in my business and to look up the issues or ask someone to teach me. Learning brings knowledge, and knowledge brings confidence. Knowledge commands respect when used appropriately. I have found that knowledge and a can-do attitude break down most barriers that inhibit advancement.

Stay True

Know yourself and believe in yourself because no one will believe in you more. You will need this knowledge and belief to act decisively when you lead. Listening and learning are essential, but when you are accountable, you must have the courage and conviction to act on your assessment and not on the opinions of others. You—not the myriad of people who gave you their opinions—will be held accountable for the outcome. Remember, a lot of advice is free—but these advisors do not bear the responsibility of a bad outcome, only you do.

Lastly, as a leader, it is not necessary to say popular things to be liked. If you say something, then show you will do it. It is important to match your actions to your words or as they say in America, walk your talk.

This article was adapted from “Your Company Is Your Castle: Proven Methods to Build a Resilient Business” by Sandeep Chennakeshu.


Written by Sandeep Chennakeshu.
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Sandeep Chennakeshu
As former CTO of Eriscsson and President of Blackberry, Sandeep Chennakeshu has spent thirty-four years in three industries whose products have transformed all our lives. He was privileged to lead teams across fourteen countries that pioneered products in wireless (2G, 3G, 4G mobile phones, Bluetooth, Mobile-Satellite systems), semiconductors for consumer, automotive and medical electronics and mission-critical software for cars, medical equipment, nuclear power plants, high speed rail and industrial robots. Along the way he transformed businesses to grow profitably in a sustained manner using the principles outlined in his new book “Your Company Is Your Castle”.


Sandeep Chennakeshu is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website CLICK HERE.