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There is perhaps one silver lining which this crisis represents as an opportunity for leaders.

Neelesh Man Singh Pradhan has worked for over 19 years in the field of banking and financial technology with expertise in financial systems and technology design, operations and management. He has been associated with Nepal Clearing House Ltd. (NCHL) since March 2011.

He was earlier working with Taib Bank, Bahrain in the capacity of Assistant Vice President prior to which he was associated with Tata Consultancy Services in India. He had also worked at Kathmandu University.

Pradhan holds an Engineering degree from Kathmandu University and Masters of Business Administration from Indian Institute of Technology, India. He is rank holder in both degrees. He is also a Certified Information System Auditor (CISA) and a Project Management Professional (PMP).

He is the Founding CEO at NCHL and has played an instrumental role in supporting Nepal Rastra Bank and the banking industry to establish the clearing house along with implementation of multiple national payment systems in Nepal. NCHL has till date implemented electronic cheque clearing system (NCHL-ECC), interbank payment system (NCHL-IPS), connectIPS e-Payment system, connectRTGS system, national payments interface (NPI) with participation of Nepal Rastra Bank and almost all the banks and financial institutions in Nepal. NCHL’s payment systems are today the primary infrastructure for processing of majority of the digital payments in Nepal including that of the Government of Nepal, financial institutions, semi-government institutions, commercials and retail customers.

In this issue of B360, Pradhan talks about the different aspects of leadership

What’s your definition of leadership?

Leadership is about driving and motivating a team to a progressive direction. The direction that defines a common vision, empathises with members and customers, and remains at the forefront to motivate and execute. Leaders in many of the cases remain a driving force for their team to achieve its goal, deliver the targets and accomplish any project.

The expectations and the priorities of a country, company, team members, family, customers and other stakeholders change during abnormal situations. In this COVID 19 pandemic, people are locked-up and are working hard to any extent possible to minimise disruptions and to ensure business continuity. The supply chain has been hit hard, majority of the members are working from home with possibility of high health hazard, business is at extreme low with major financial impact. In such trying times, expectations from a leader remain extremely high.

This is also a time when even a leader may not have the right answers or solution as the end to the pandemic situation is not visible. Hope is something that gives people meaning to push hard in such situations, so leaders need to spread optimism yet remain honest and have adaptive communication for maintaining productivity. There is perhaps one silver lining which this crisis represents as an opportunity for leaders: to create more team cohesion and innovation in the face of adversity.

Whose leadership skills come to mind when a ‘great leader’ is mentioned?

In the field of technology innovation and product development, Steve Jobs and his leadership style is something that reminds me of great leadership in our generation. His ability to see the products beyond the market, determination to follow his passion, and driving his team to deliver were exceptional. Even after nine years of his death in 2011, his name is still synonymous with visionary, innovator and icon.

What distinguishes a leader from a boss?

I believe leaders have an attitude for looking at something differently. A leader transmits his conviction to others with enthusiasm and optimism to achieve a common goal. It’s not just the vision that a leader puts forward but passionately works in the direction to achieve it. Leaders get their feet dirty along with the team rather than expecting the team members to get something delivered. An ability to keep an eye on the future yet produce excellent results for today is something that sets them apart from just being a boss.

What is your leadership style?

At NCHL, we are very participative in almost all aspects of the activities and projects that we do. Given the structure of the company and the kind of the payment infrastructures that we establish, the participation within NCHL and with other external stakeholders is of prime importance for our success. NCHL team is relatively small with highly talented and capable people, most having techno-functional backgrounds. Based on the organisational culture and stakeholders, I would describe that my leadership style at NCHL is direct and I normally believe in leading by example. I delegate responsibilities but also enjoy taking lead on projects by staying involved. I inspire the team by working hands-on to help them. And I am extremely optimistic for a great future for NCHL with the participative approach in most of the projects and operational activities being translated as NCHL’s culture.

An incident that tested your leadership skills…

When I joined NCHL in March 2011, I was the second employee at the company. We were given an initial mandate to complete the establishment of the clearing house and the implementation of electronic cheque clearing (NCHL-ECC) with tentative timeline of nine months. In the initial days, we did not hesitate to even open and close the office shutter. Building the NCHL team was tricky due to the uncertainty of the business model. Effective project management led to the completion of the project within the timeline. However given the nature of the company and the services that it was supposed to deliver, it was required to engage with and obtain buy-ins of almost all stakeholders of the banking industry which I believe was the most challenging part for me and the Board that lead the company in the initial days of NCHL.

We ensured that in almost every phase of the implementation, there was participation of the banks and financial institutions, right from the project initiation till its operational rollout. Along with the objective to operationalise the first system at that time and also to ensure that the long term vision of establishing multiple payment systems, the company was re-structured to make it more equitable with almost all BFIs. The visionary support and direction from Nepal Rastra Bank and the BFIs including the Board, has been a real support in the testing times at NCHL.

What happens when people in authority cannot demonstrate proper leadership acumen?

I believe that a leader brings people together, motivates them and nurtures them to make a great team that is able to deliver. Leaders, to some extent, do need to execute authority to avoid confusion, anxiety and a sense of helplessness within the team.

Power and authority also carry responsibility towards team members, company, customers and other stakeholders. Leaders who use power and authority appropriately can inspire, increase commitment and push members to aspire for greater achievements.

However, people in power and authority in an organisation or a country who cannot demonstrate proper leadership acumen will tend to abuse such power that will bring down the morale, increase turnover and grievances, and cost the company or country with lost productivity. It makes the journey really stressful and many times leads to failure.

Are leaders born or built?

I would say both. A good leader can be a natural quality instilled in oneself since birth like charisma and ability to inspire which gets sharpened as you enter into new ventures and new contexts, while on the other hand certain qualities or skills can be learnt and practiced by nurturing yourself to become a good leader. People may inherit certain qualities and traits that make them better suited for leadership roles but through a process of learning and observation, a person could become a leader. However, traits like attitude, empathy, integrity, etc. are some of the most essential ingredients of a great leader that are attached with one’s character and are normally defined as an individual. One can continuously work upon their skills through nurturing, teaching and learning to become a leader.

When should leaders hang up their boots?

A leader never retires but the roles may change. In one way or the other, s/he will be connected with people, doing their bit. Great leaders are full of positivity that lasts a lifetime and it reverberates across the team and beyond. You may have seen leaders affiliated to certain positions or organizations, but s/he will never stop inspiring in different ways throughout their lives. However before such departure, a true leader ensures that the company or country that they led go into good hands with proper succession planning. A leadership culture within a company has to be ensured that people around are able to drive toward the progressive direction.

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