What Does Effective Leadership Look Like with Gaurav Bhatnagar

Reading Time: 13 Minutes

In today’s podcast, we’re joined by Gaurav Bhatnagar where we discuss effective leadership and company culture.

About Gaurav Bhatnagar

Gaurav Bhatnagar is the founder of Co-Creation Partners and has dedicated the last two decades of his professional life to working co-creatively with organizations to deliver performance and culture transformations and enhance leadership development.

Gaurav is a trusted adviser, coach, and counselor to C-suite and other senior leaders in the process of transforming their organizations. He has worked across multiple industries including financial services, basic materials, manufacturing, health care, and high tech.

Read the Transcript

Allison: Welcome back to the Deliberate Leaders Podcast. I am your host and executive business coach, Allison Dunn. I am excited to introduce our guest today. We have Gaurav Bhatnagar, who is the founder of co-creation and has dedicated the last2 decades of his professional life to working co-creatively with organizations to deliver performance and cultural transformation and enhanced leadership development.

He is a trusted advisor, coach, counselor, and co-author of the book, “Unfear: Transform Your Organization to Create Breakthrough Performance and Employee Well-Being.” Gaurav, thank you so much for being here with us today.

Gaurav: Hey, thank you for having me on your show and I’m really impressed with how you pronounce my name.

Allison: Oh, thank you. I appreciate you coaching me through that very well. I love to kick these off with a deliberate conversation, what would be your number 1 leadership tip for our listeners today?

Gaurav: I’m going to do– Give you one which I think is not something you probably hear a lot and the one that I would like to give is that everything begins with an understanding of your own potential and in my belief, all individuals have infinite potential and when you as a leader believe in your own potential, then you will see the potential and everyone else and that is the core of everything.

Allison: Is potential different than confidence?

Gaurav: Yes, confidence is something that comes after potential. There is an awareness step before confidence can even be thought about.

Allison: Recognizing one’s own potential is the greatest gift that we can tip that we can take on so that we can then share it with others.

Gaurav: Absolutely.

Allison: That’s good and I do agree that confidence comes after but you have to identify your potential first. Cool. Thank you. Great tip.

In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about what does effective leadership actually look like? One of my questions is, what is– What would you perceive to be like the most common mistake when people try to take on a leadership role or be a leader?

Gaurav: Yes, so I think that– What is the most common mistake? I don’t know what is the most common mistake but what I can tell you is that when someone steps into the– Into a leadership role, people start thinking of themselves as different from who they really are and somehow they get stuck in the role rather than remembering that they are a human being who is just stepping into something and when you get lost in the label of a role, you actually start pretending and you lose touch with your own authenticity.

One of the things that is really important for me, in the work that I do is helping leaders reconnect back to their authenticity, which to me is that humaneness because that is the place from where you truly become effective in being a leader for yourself, for others, as well as for the organization.

Allison: I completely agree that often we feel like we need to become something different than who we actually are and just having come through a year of it a very– Having to be very authentic based on a circumstance, I am curious, how do you help people identify when they’re not being authentic and how to tap it back into that? Because I think it’s a very powerful place.

Gaurav: Yes, one of the things that I often do and we can actually play that game even here if you want is, I ask people very simple question. I say, who are you? Right? Let me ask you, Allison, who are you?

Allison: I am a compassionate, deeply– Someone who wants to make a significant impact in the world and that is through relationships. For me, that’s who I am.

Gaurav: Beautiful. You did two things. You told me a quality of yours which is compassionate and you told me what you want to do. My question to you is, who are you? See, this is the interesting thing. We are so caught up in labels of the person we are or the work we do or the things that we do, that we forget to actually go deeper, one level deeper and really ask ourselves, who are we? And we are the expression of energy in many ways.

Allison: All right.

Gaurav: Right? And when we think– Understand that, we can step into multiple roles, depending on what is needed and yet, remember that we are bigger than any of those roles that are being asked to us. Right? And that is the core.

Allison: What is your core?

Gaurav: That’s such a beautiful question. My glib answer is; my core is a silence that includes everything.

Allison: I like that.

Gaurav: Right? That– But that is actually the essence of who I am but I can also say that my core is about using my authentic self to contribute, to helping organizations lead the world in a very different way that leads to sustainable planet but that’s my expression of my core, right? Rather than that’s my core.

Allison: Well, thank you for sharing that. Leaning into our authentic selves, really identifying who we are at the core is the way to bring that forward and not get stuck into the titles or the idea of what we believe a leader should be. OK.

Allison: That’s a deep question to ask. What would you say, so I love the topic of fear? I love the topic of fearlessness or fierce and that some way unfear is a very untraditional word yet I feel like you’ve coined it. So what does unfear mean?

Gaurav: Yes, so unfear is not the same thing as fearlessness. In fact, there’s a lot of work that is now suddenly started happening in the space of fear and often, the unfear– Or the fearless word is being used because of psychological safety in the book, “Fearless Organization.”

I actually don’t believe that as a human being, you can ever be fearless and I don’t even think it is necessary that it’s the best thing to do because fear actually is fundamental to our physical survival. Unfear is not the opposite of fear, it is changing our relationship to fear. In fact, the reason why the word unfear– We created the word unfear is because it doesn’t exist so you can actually define it.

Typically, how people behave when experiencing fear is they get, they tend to to want to protect themselves, they get reactive, they shrink, unfear is reframing your relationship to fear in order to see it as an opportunity to learn and grow and in a slightly different context as a noun it is it is a it is a thought of it is an attitude of building of being resilient and being in mastery when faced with adversity

Allison: That’s a great definition. Why is fear a leadership killer?

Gaurav: Why is fear a leadership killer? Wow, that’s such a such a new thing. I’m so happy you’re asking that question because– Let me start by why so many leaders use fear?

OK, so the reason why so many leaders use fear is because in the short run, fear actually drives output. I mean, think about how much militaristic language exists in organizations, right? We’re going to this is a war out there and we’re going to win and destroy the competition and then there’s all kinds of fear language which is we– Let’s light a button up your light, right? A fire under people’s butts and this and that and all that stuff. Why? Why do we do that?

Because in the short run, it drives performance and given the nature of the– Of capitalism, we’re becoming increasingly short term oriented and yet, if you think about the long term impact of fear as a leader, there are many things that happen.

We start taking decisions in strategic choices, we make a very short term oriented, which in the long term can negatively impact the organization.

In a interpersonal dynamic, if I’m experiencing fear or if I’m creating fear when I’m experiencing fear, I either get overly aggressive in my response or I become overly passive in my response and similarly, the other person. You end up not engaging in difficult conversations at all or engaging them and win them really poorly and as a human being is an individual you end up often suppressing your own power in your own voice. That’s why fear is a leadership killer in many ways.

Allison:  How would– How can someone recognize when they’re doing that?

Gaurav: Because–

Allison: Yes, go ahead.

Gaurav: No, go for it.

Allison: I 100% can resonate of suppressing my own voice and if they’re young professionals’ situation, how can one recognize when that’s happening? And what do they do next thing there in that?

Gaurav: Yes. No, I think that’s a great question again. It’s very difficult to recognize that you you’re operating in fear where it’s easy to recognize certain behaviors and certain archetypes that we show when we are being fearful and we are having a reactive response to fear and we divide them into two groups. We divide them into the Fight Club and the nice club, right?

In the book and– In the Fight Club, the four behaviors you see is, one is, the behavior of a fault finder. In order to protect myself, I will point out all the mistakes in you and therefore I will feel superior as a way of protecting myself, right? And people in organizations, you’ve seen this, have you been in an organization where suddenly you’re in the throes of a presentation and someone just points out, hey, the font sizes is wrong on your presentation or majority of the people will tell you why things cannot happen and very few are there to support you and making things happen. That’s one archetype.

There’s another archetype which is about all about being controlling. Right? Often people who are in fear want to control the situation and hold everything tight because they feel that if they’re in control, somehow, they will be able to manage their fear and you can do it through hierarchy, you can do it through information, you can through a– Do it through expertise.

The third one is when you get excessively competitive with everyone else. In an organization, if you see silos, if you see that one person who always has to have the right last word, that is a fear archetype, right?

And then the fourth one in the Fight Club is perfectionistic, you become so obsessed with doing everything right and having a 200% correct. It’s often a prediction against, hey, I might make a mistake. Right? That’s one side.

The other side is the nice club which is basically the first one on working within that is the approval seekers. They– All they do is they want approval of others and they’ll change their point of view or they’ll change their mind. They’ll do anything to want to feel they’re part of the group and even though it feels like, hey, you’re being nice, you’re actually not allowing for those conversations that really need to have to happen.

The second one is the dependents and there are the minions in our language, who basically, often even though they say, Oh, the customer is really important. The only real customer they have is their boss and they’ll do anything their boss tells them ask them to do. Right?

The third one is the big guys who basically follow the rules, who will throw the rulebook at you anytime you do anything innovative and you say I did this because this is what the rule is and they will point out all the rules you’ve broken.

And the last one is the avoidance, which is basically people who refuse to make any difficult decision where they might get blamed if anything goes wrong.

Look for those behaviors. Look for if you are exhibiting those behaviors and ask yourself, what is the story you’ve created about the fear that you have that makes you behave that way? Because that is where the real interesting stuff lies.

Allison: Thank you very much for sharing the archetypes that you’ve outlined. Which one have you found yourself most commonly falling into?

Gaurav: For me, personally competitive.

Allison: Me too.

Gaurav: OK, so mine is competitive and by far, and I was the hardcore consultant that had the secret, the big agency and then I grew up, basically being told that you’re coming out of India.

I was— I grew up with the story. There are a billion people and you’re either successful or you’re nothing and it doesn’t matter how many people you push down to be there. Right? And that’s the story I’ve carried on I had to work with for the last 20 years, and there are times when I’m successful but there are times when I fall into that.

Allison:  Thank you for sharing that. I super appreciate that and I resonate with what you’re sharing, that’s super vulnerable. Thank you and your book, you talk about how everything needs to be framed from the inside out and I just would appreciate if you could explain that and maybe give us an example.

Gaurav: Sure. One of the basic principles of the book is that organizations don’t transform, individuals do and when a critical mass of individuals transform the organization transforms by itself.

Now, first step in this inside out is instead of looking at the organization has this amorphous thing, look at the individual. Then when you get to the individual conversation is do you look at behaviors or you look at what is driving the behaviors? And the Inside out idea is that fundamental to all your behaviors, is the story or the mindset that you have about life. All your behaviors can be explained because of the stories that you have in your head.

One of the things we talked about in the book, is that we have two superpowers. We, as human beings– Now different– I was hearing your previous podcast and someone else said the superpower was listening.

My– The two superpowers, I will tell you from our book are the superpower of imagination and language. We as human beings have created this whole world through our imagination. Someone imagined that Allison and Gaurav should get together and do a podcast and it happens. Everything starts with imagination and so to know what you’re imagining which is your stories is very important because your story is creating your future and whatever story you keep repeating to yourself as the truth and becomes your truth and that leads to the behaviors and the outcomes and those stories you do, you express through your language.

People talk about language is describing what is– I talked about language is creating the future. Be very aware of your language and your mindset because once I know your mindset, I can tell you exactly how you will behave and so if I can shift your mindset, you might shift your behavior when things are going OK. The moment you fall under stress, again, you will revert back to your old behavior, if you haven’t worked on the inside, which is the storylines that drive you in condition who you are.

Allison:  That’s a powerful– I mean, I– It’s something that I train on all the time but like the way you just positioned that as a gigantic takeaway. If you haven’t– If you didn’t catch that, rewind, listen to that one more time.

I feel like this is similar question but I don’t know if it’s a different answer. Let me kind of position in a slightly different way. How can you make a paradigm shift inside of a company culture? How would you go about that?

Gaurav:  The first thing you need to do is unique to help people recognize that there’s a gap. Right? And then the way you reckon make people recognize there’s a gap.

There’s two things you can do. Either you can create lots of fear which I would not recommend or you create a yearning for something more.

One of my biggest jobs early on in a transformation is to activate the minds of leaders for them to yearn for something more for them to see. Their mental models, then you get into actually transforming the mindset in what you do is you work with formal leaders in informal and in former leaders in build a critical mass in a coalition of people who work together on that and then finally, you create what is called a manifestation energy, which is how you programmatically implemented through the system. It’s an activation, then transformation and then manifestation.

Allison: Transformation, no activation, transformation, manifestation, proficient, fantastic. What happens or what is the best way to address when you actually have conflicting opinions about our companies like path? Like you can’t get everyone in a critical mass? What do you do? How do you do that?

Gaurav: The first thing we do is we talk about how the most problems that a company deals with a diversion problem in divergent problems or problems that do not have one right answer, we have multiple right answers. The first thing you say is, everyone doesn’t have to agree. Right? To agree is different to then to be aligned and so the alignment conversation is about, let’s try something and see what happens because it’s only in movement that you realize whether something is better or not. Right?

It’s about in alignment around trying something different in getting enough people behind that try but saying that that try doesn’t mean that’s the final answer. Right?

Everyone, even the people who disagree, can try and if it doesn’t work, then we go to the next solution and we go to the next solution because it’s in the experimentation that you actually create better outcomes. The core mindset, however, is still the same, which is moving from victim to mastery, which is to understand that you always have choice in the face of adversity but the choices could be a million choices and you actually have to cultivate those in order to explore what needs to happen.

Allison: Is exploring choices the best way to address adversity that you’re facing?

Gaurav: Absolutely. I think– Actually, if the first step to exploring is to explore adversity, is to embrace the idea that adversity is what truly tells you about whether you are an effective person or not.

One of my spiritual teachers once told me, got away, it’s easy to be a saint when you live in a cave. It’s easy to be a saint when you live in a cave. The real job of life is to live like a saint in relationship with your circumstances and others. Adversity is just an opportunity to learn, to express yourself and actually test how effective can you really be. Once you understand that, then you get to choice but if you collapse into the fact that you say, Oh my God, why is this happening to me? I’m a good person, why do bad things happen to me? That’s the wrong starting point because the– What you say is wrong is actually adversity, which is testing. Whatever you define as goodness.

Allison: And everyone can obviously define adversity in whatever way, right? So people can, yes, so I– Such a great tip. How– I just want to go back and capture that. A spiritual leader said that how you address adversity in a cave is different.

Gaurav: No, when you live in a cave, it’s easy to be a saint, right? Because there’s no adversity in a cave. You’re all by yourself. There is nothing except your mind everything else, but it’s only outside the cave that you start facing challenges and adversity. The real job of life is to live not to be in a cave.

Allison: Yes, that’s the takeaway, get out of our caves. I just want to make sure I have appreciated our conversation and what would be the best way for folks to either connect with you or find you?

Gaurav: Sure. There’s multiple ways obviously you can go to our website which is co-creation partners.com. You can find me on LinkedIn. You can also go to the go to the website unfear book.com If you want to read get hold of our blog, or just send me an email gaurav_bhatnagarcocreationpartners.com.  I am looking for fellow travelers so anyone who reaches out to me, I’m happy to respond.

Allison: I thoroughly enjoyed your book. Thank you very much for bringing it to us today. It’s been a fantastic conversation to speak with you. Thank you so much.

Gaurav: Thanks, Allison. That was really– I really enjoyed this conversation.

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