The day with Hari gave me the chance to observe how he had built up his relationships with his team to be liked and respected as the CEO.
I remember Hari mentioning that he would liken PropertyGuru to a “jazz band”, rather than a “family”. Unlike a family, he could choose the members of the company; Like a jazz band, he could allow the individual members to freely perform according to their creative capacities, yet on a whole, still playing in harmony.
What I’ve learned from a day of shadowing PropertyGuru’s CEO
On the morning that I was about to start shadowing Hari Krishnan, CEO of PropertyGuru, at work, I sat down to breakfast of toast, eggs and coffee opposite the office. I was excited and nervous, and in such circumstances, I always liked soaking up the vibes of the environment to put myself at ease. Around me, sat a few attired in work clothes. I wondered if I would recognise any of those faces in the office later.
It had been four months since I submitted my application for CEOx1Day. At this juncture of making a transition switch from school to work, I was eager to jump at the chance getting a taster of management style in the working world. In addition, I have always seen myself as an inductive learner; I prefer to experience, observe and formulate my own judgement as opposed to merely consuming advice from publications.
The agenda for the day was uniquely tailored to reflect Hari’s typical schedule and to provide a diversified learning experience for me. There was a good mix of formal (meetings) and informal (lunch chat, coffee chat, Chinese New Year celebrations) sessions as well as interactions with Hari and/or with other colleagues at PropertyGuru. I will distill the activity-packed day into the three things that left the biggest impressions on me:
A Jazzband Playing in Harmony
It was interesting to hear Hari's perspective on likening PropertyGuru to a "jazz band", rather than to a "family". Like a jazz band, members are given free rein to perform to their individual creative capacities, yet on the whole, the team still produces a harmonious music. Unlike a family, the members of the team in the jazz band can be chosen.
I observed how this jazzband concept played out in the office. In a meeting with the Chief Technology Officer and Lead Data Scientist, it was heartening to hear their voice tingling with pride as they explained the projects that they were working on. It was clear that they enjoyed building the products and felt ownership of their projects. Such genuinely motivated employees can only be seen if they were given the autonomy to explore their potential. The analogy made me realise just how important it was to create an environment where both the company and team’s motivations were aligned.
The Little Things That Matter
The “little things” do not refer to the big, strategic actions in the company, but the small, barely perceptible actions that I believe can have a significant impact. These little things matter even more when the company is big. I found signals of this multiple times in the day:
There was a strong attention to detail in the design of the workplace environment. No clocks are present in meeting rooms so that everyone can be physically present. A pair of eyes straying away to the clock can signal a sign of disinterest (but yes, everyone is still punctual).
At the start of the day, I was given a desk filled PropertyGuru paraphernalia. In the middle of the day, Karen dropped another surprise note and gift to wish my day well. In a coffee chat later, Hari told me: “People love surprises. Pleasant surprises.” This is probably a forgotten, yet fundamental truth on what makes people happy!
An Authentic Leader
Prior to this day, Hari had struck me as someone very passionate about investing in people, down-to-earth, strong-minded, open to learning, and on a more personal side, interested in sports and committed to his family. Coming in to this program, I was really curious to see if all these were, you know, true.
From the candid sharing on his background, career choices, critical business decisions, the Hari whom I spoke to was really the Hari that I heard and read about in his media appearances. The colleagues at PropertyGuru also emphasised that he was incredibly transparent and upfront, and I could tell that they liked and respected him for who he was.
So… what makes a good leader?
A central theme of the CEOx1Day program revolves around helping us understand leadership. I have come to the realisation that often ideas of “good” leadership qualities are but ideas of others. Others have tried to define what good leaders should be and how we should strive to emulate those qualities so that we can be equally competent. In my opinion, what constitutes as a good leader, really has no single unified or normative definition. It is really up to us to see which are the qualities of a leader that we can personally identify with. If these ideas are our own, we accord greater trust and faith in the leadership that we work under. On an adjacent note, as a leader ourselves, if we have the confidence in exhibiting the qualities that we naturally have, then these traits will shine through genuinely and authentically to those whom we are leading.
To all students curious about what being a CEO really means, I would highly encourage you to apply for CEOx1Day. Unlike an internship, a mentorship program or leadership course, CEOx1Day offers a fully immersive, condensed and privileged opportunity to learn about a CEO’s thought process and leadership approach in his/her typical work setting. Nothing can get more real than that. More than that, CEOx1Day is not just a day-long, once-off shadowing event, but it has also given me friendships with the interviewers at Odgers Berndtson and colleagues at PropertyGuru.
Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to everyone at Odgers Berndtson for your dedication in creating a unique and best possible day for us participants and the participating companies. A massive thank you also goes out to Hari Krishnan and my hosting company, PropertyGuru. Thank you for your time, warm welcome and words of wisdom. Truly enjoyed meeting every single one of you! :)
Originally published by Alexis Lee on March 4th, 2018