Reliability: A leader must be reliable, there’s no argument about that. However, reliability is hard to build as it demands true involvement. A reliable leader is one who leads by example, who participates, and who is true to their words.
We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Adit Jain — Co-founder & CEO, Leena AI.
An IIT-Delhi grad and Y-Combinator alumni, Adit prides himself on the astute understanding of what HR teams need in order to deliver a stellar employee experience.
Post a summer training at EY and a marketing internship at IIM Lucknow, Adit began his entrepreneurial journey with Chatteron in 2015. A study of why Chatteron wasn’t making enough money, brought him and the other co-founders to the concept of Leena AI, and there has been no looking back since then.
The three books Adit draws inspiration from are: Zero to One by Peter Thiel, Founders at Work: Stories of Startups by Jessica Livingston, and Good to Great: Why some companies make the transition and others don’t by James C. Collins.
His advice to young aspiring entrepreneurs? “Listen to Nike and ‘Just do it.’ If you are looking to start, if you have that burning sensation of wanting to build something, I think the best thing is to begin. I have noticed that people who just start and persevere are way more likely to succeed in entrepreneurship than people who wait for the opportune moment. You will most likely fail in your first venture and will have to pivot several times, but in the end, all of it will be worth it.”
Adit has also been featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 US and Canada list under Enterprise Technology.
Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?
I am excited for 2023, of course! Eagerly waiting the new challenges and opportunities this year has in store for us.
From the business perspective, my core focus this year would be on Leena AI’s sustainable growth.
We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?
I have always been an avid admirer of Warren Buffett. His life journey is inspiring. He started investing when he was maybe 13 or 14 years old, and now he’s the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway with 60+ years of investing. It shows that if you like doing something, you do it repeatedly, day in and day out. Your constant toil might look boring to other people, but little do they know the satisfaction that it brings you.
That said, I also draw inspiration from other leaders as well for their unique qualities. I try to understand who is best at what and then their work is what inspires me. If I were to name names, Elon Musk for his bold ideas, Jeff Bezos for his customer obsession, and Steve Jobs for listening to his customers as well as knowing when to stop listening.
Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?
As a young entrepreneur, I did not have the wisdom or market experience to know that you can start running only after you learn to walk. Our immediate goal starting this venture was fast-paced growth focused on quick results. That, however, did not turn out to be an effective strategy. Even the smallest setbacks from our initial strategy had valuable lessons to teach us. We learned that what ensures business longevity and success is sustainable growth. Looking back today, I realize that being responsible is key to ensuring profitability. It also means that growth is multi-faceted as it is not only about the business outcomes, but also about customer happiness, employee well-being, and the social impact we create.
How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?
Being young is often considered synonymous with being fearless. In trying to be a fearless leader, I was more often than not unaware of all the nuances involved in people leadership, the most important of which is human character. However, the past 3 years have taught all of us some great lessons and for me, it refined my perspective on leadership. The world needs empathetic leaders, now more than ever.
With empathy, leaders possess the ability to understand their employees as well as customers in-depth, thereby resulting in the best experience for both. For example, layoffs can be crucial to sustaining a business at a particular point of time. That said, when organizations make such hard decisions, they must have a humane way of executing them. We have witnessed this in many instances where layoffs turned out to be the most horrifying experience for employees. Today, leadership is all about understanding fellow humans and being WITH them, from your customers to employees to anyone.
Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?
As a leader, I’ve realized that there isn’t just one rule for leadership that’s unchanging. Every leadership component must evolve over time and some must be forgotten. One leadership behavior that should be eliminated is the command-and-control leadership style. Many leaders act like army generals — imposing the same frameworks and formulas on everyone and everything. While this strategy might appear successful in some specific scenarios, it is not a healthy way of leading in general.
For instance, authoritarian leadership is driven by fear, not by engagement. People might adhere to rules, they might deliver what’s asked, but never more. This is exactly why future leaders must do away with this kind of style. It’s time to be a leader who inspires, influences, and leads by example.
What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?
It’s always been about coaching other people. I believe that scaling your team is as important as scaling your business. So I keep on sharing my knowledge and skills with my team and urge them to do the same.
What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?
As we know, change is the only constant. The strategy that worked in the past may be obsolete today. A true leader must identify early that being adaptive to external changes by changing even foundations when it is necessary. The formulas and frameworks that worked in the past need to be reformed as per the changing scenarios. What is important for a leader is to correct the trajectory as early as possible, which is possible only when one is mindful of the changes.
Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?
The answer to this question is yet another question.
Why would anybody listen to you?
People listen to you when they trust you. Just like you want your customers to trust you, building trust in the workplace should be a leader’s priority. How do you do that? As a leader, you should lead by example, that’s step number one. When your team sees that you “participate” instead of just commanding, they feel inspired. Knowing that you are reliable, they take ownership and strive to deliver the best results. Creating a positive and transparent environment is another way to build trust. People should be able to express themselves seamlessly and when you create such a space, they feel valued. As new leaders, building trust could be the most difficult and time-consuming task to unravel, but it’s worth the pain.
Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Empathy: This is a leadership trait that’s more crucial now than ever. Being an empathetic leader can mean a lot of things and it doesn’t necessarily mean being a softy, as some might think. It means being more humane while making decisions and executing them. As a business leader, one gesture of supporting my team during the pandemic was giving them work flexibility. This doesn’t just mean a flexible mode of work but also giving them autonomy and the power to choose where and how to work. In addition to that, we empowered our teams with unlimited PTOs, upgraded medical insurance, and a 24×7 Covid helpdesk.
- Resilience: It is crucial for businesses to be adaptable to new changes and unprecedented scenarios. If you build a culture of resilience, your business can find stability even in difficult times. In case you lack the skill of resilience, try to undergo professional training for developing said skill, and further expand the training to your employees as well. Whether inside or outside the workplace, being resilient is a vital skill one should possess.
- Sustainable growth mindset: Having a long-term vision is important — for the company and the people.
- Transparent communication: People tend to stick with those who are honest and transparent, and this psychology extends to the workplace as well. If your employees feel that they KNOW you (i.e. the organization), they are more likely to stick with you through thick and thin. For example, if you are facing a financial crisis, be candid about it to your employees. Explain how you are planning to tackle the situation and express how employee well-being is still a priority for you. When an organization is transparent, it improves employee morale, increases engagement, aids in productivity and creativity, and encourages employees to communicate seamlessly.
- Reliability: A leader must be reliable, there’s no argument about that. However, reliability is hard to build as it demands true involvement. A reliable leader is one who leads by example, who participates, and who is true to their words.
American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.
This is exactly what I live by! I try to give my 200% to everything I do. This does not guarantee 100% success, you might fail at times. But, it saves regret that you didn’t try your best. So I would say, give your best shot every single day, try to outdo yourself the next day and success will eventually be yours.
What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?
A never-ending obsession for excellence. Anybody who is driven by this motto grows and outperforms themselves. When it’s time, they learn whatever is necessary for the consistent growth of the business, and unlearn whatever is pulling them backward. They acquire that flair for excellence during the journey, aided by both positive and negative experiences.
How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?
Anyone can connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter. My handles are –
LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/adit-jain-75713b5a/
Twitter — @AditJain93
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!