5 Mantras of Great Thinker Prof. C. K. Prahalad

C.K. Prahalad has spent most of his life thinking about how companies run. He has consulted to the likes of AT&T, Philips Electronics, and Sony. Now he’s in the hot seat as chairman of Praia Inc. Here’s what he has learned so far.

# When the going is roughest, leadership matters.
# Successful managers embrace discomfort.
# Great leaders stay on message.
# It’s not one person. It’s not the team. It’s both.
# Think? Act? Balance the two.
When the going is roughest, leadership matters. In times of trouble, Prahalad says, “leaders must behave like emotional and intellectual anchors. There are no external cues now. The critical issue is about faith, passion, and, most importantly, authenticity — so that people know you are not pretending. People can see a sham.”

Successful managers embrace discomfort. “If you do precisely what you’re supposed to do,” Prahalad says, “and you’re boxed in, then you’re going to do that very well.” But if pressed to do things that aren’t in your normal job description, he says, the challenge can push you to a new level of achievement.

Great leaders stay on message. For Prahalad, nothing is more important than reminding people what the company stands for. “I spend a lot of time talking about what we’re doing in terms of strategy,” he says. “You have to give the same message over and over again.”

It’s not one person. It’s not the team. It’s both. A painting of a pack of wolves in Prahalad’s office symbolizes the combination of leadership and teamwork that pervades successful organizations. “With wolves, solidarity is first,” says Prahalad. “But when they hunt, they change roles. The implicit hierarchy depends on who does what.” In an organization, he adds, “one unique person makes a difference, but you need teamwork to make it happen.”

Think? Act? Balance the two. Says Prahalad: “In a company like ours, if we want to do something, we can just call a meeting. But in a small company, you have to exercise caution and build your own personal dampers so that you don’t act on everything. Sometimes not acting may be smart. But if I get the feeling that everybody’s becoming so thoughtful that nobody’s doing anything, I want to go and light some fires somewhere.”