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Learning Leadership with The Beatles

1 year ago / by Preetam Kaushik

The global market for leadership training is worth $366 billion, and leadership books are so popular because they serve as an inspiration for improvement and change. But with so much information available out there, figuring out which to listen to and apply into your workspace can be overwhelming.

Every team and leader faces leadership problems at one point or another. This was true in the pre-pandemic world and it is even more so in the current “new normal” we’ve transitioned into. It’s certain that managing teams and enterprises in the post-pandemic world will not go back to “business as usual”. Leaders will need to be quick-thinking, compassionate, open-minded, and strategically oriented as a result of technological trends like automation, digitalization, and hybridization, which force workers to master skill sets outside of their professions.

This is why Shantha Mohan’s latest book, “Leadership Lessons with The Beatles,” stands out. Not only does it serve as an actionable handbook for leaders but also contains within it something that is severely lacking from corporate culture – the ability to be human.

The Beatles to the Rescue

Most books about leadership are either dry instructions on how to become the ruthless alpha executive in the corporate jungle or a guide to faking it till you make it. While they serve their purpose, “Learning Leadership with the Beatles” is a playful outlier that actually uses Beatles songs to impart leadership knowledge. Each chapter is delightfully named after a Beatles song and a connecting nugget of wisdom from Shantha Mohan. When asked what inspired her to do this, she explained, “The Beatles have inspired me since I was a teenager in engineering college. They were the leaders in their field, and hearing their songs made me think of a leadership attribute or skill. There are numerous books on leadership. I wanted my book to have a unique theme.”

“Leadership Lessons with the Beatles” lays out sixteen ways to become a better leader, each tip takes inspiration from a Beatles song and the meaning it holds for Mohan. For example, “Get Back” makes her think about going back to seeing the world through childlike curiosity and how important that can be for leaders.

In each chapter, Mohan introduces the reader to core skills that great leaders cultivate, in themselves and their teams. She does this through many of her own personal stories and experiences, and also through tales from successful organizations like PepsiCo, Microsoft, Tesla, Starbucks, and various others. She confesses “I wish I had read a book like this when I started my leadership journey.”

Women Who Run the World

Mohan draws a lot of inspiration for the book from her own leadership journey. After she received a Ph.D. in operations management from the Tepper School of Business, she joined Consilium, a software company, as a software engineer, but eventually became their worldwide head of software development, where she led teams around the world from different cultures. After that she ran a consulting company for a few years and eventually co-founded a retail analytics company. Today, she mentors individuals in leadership, career decisions, higher education, and entrepreneurship.

Her advice to women in tech who aspire to become effective leaders is quite simple, “Be bold. Take risks. Build your tenacity and navigate all the twists and turns you will encounter in your leadership journey. At times you have to be a mountain climber, looking to reach the peak, and other times you are a river flowing through diverse terrains, shaping them and overcoming obstacles. Learn from failures and press forward. And don’t be afraid to ask for support from your family and colleagues.”

Mohan lays a lot of emphasis on succeeding with the help of others, which is the polar opposite of the prevailing hustle culture that tells leaders that emotional bonds will hold them back. She explains, “We live in turbulent times with enormous stress, and leaders must make time to take care of themselves, in addition to their families and teams.” Mohan’s earlier book which was published in 2018, Roots and Wings – Inspiring Stories of Indian Engineering Women throws light on lesser known stories of pioneering women engineers, some of whom succeeded through the support and sacrifices of their families.

The Future is Human

Even the best business leaders constantly have to overcome obstacles. While these challenges are in themselves quite a handful, the remote or even hybrid way of working can magnify these issues and make them harder to recognize and address. In order to cultivate and retain talent, leaders must focus on the human aspect of their people strategy. That’s the only way to develop the next-generation of leaders.

Mohan explains: “With all the changes in the future and the talk of machines taking over our lives, it is crucial more than ever to think about humanistic ways of leading. It is not about technology and disruption. Instead, it is a playbook for technical leaders to excel with their teams, no matter what technology brings in the future.”

A Unique Perspective

“Leadership Lessons with the Beatles” is not just for people who are already in leadership positions but also for ones who want to get there someday. The book serves as a reference for the situations the readers might encounter in their careers in the tech space.

Mohan encourages her readers and the leaders she mentors to constantly upskill themselves. She says, “Because technology disruptions are given, a leader needs to be a lifelong learner. In today’s digital world, leaders who harness technology to help them lead with the power of data and analytics can accomplish much more than those who don’t. At the same time, knowing how to amplify human intelligence with AI and ML will be crucial because success is through enlightened teams.”

Mohan’s mix of experience as a leader in tech and now as a mentor gives her a unique perspective which focuses not on quick success but on sustainable growth. She summarizes her experience thus, “As a software engineering leader, I was thrilled to be creating and leading teams and seeing them succeed in solving business problems. Now, as a mentor, my scope has expanded tremendously, and it is a joy to be able to help my mentees in their quests to achieve their aspirations.”

Wrapping Up…

Mohan has given current and aspiring leaders around the world a relatable and actionable book which they can use to develop the crucial skills they need to create a workplace which thrives and a team that everyone wants to be a part of. The fact that the Beatles are a guiding force within the book is an unexpected but welcome added bonus for the readers.