It took 21 years for Bharti Airtel to become what it is today. Having won hearts of more than 340 million customers in 18 countries, we are India’s no. 1 telecom operator, Africa’s no. 2, and the world’s no. 3 in terms of customer base. We have also pioneered innovations in several areas such as network experience, customer service, mobile money, music, movies and much more. But we cannot rest on our laurels. Telecom is tough with customers constantly raising their expectations. How does one sustain leadership in such a sector?

From our experience, we say there are two realities. First, our employees have to internalise the challenges of customer experience, imbibe a service mindset, and decide to make a living of service. But then, what motivates our employees to display such behaviours? It is our culture. What drives our culture? It is our leadership. So we come to the second reality. Our leaders have to live the right values, and display the right behaviours worth emulation. At Airtel, we call it Lead Right. In a way, leading right has been the hallmark of Airtel’s leadership. Let me share what we believe in.

Lead Right in 3 ways. Being alive. Being inclusive. Being respectful.

1. Being alive. Motivate teams to excel by being alive to all stakeholders. Understand and anticipate customer needs. We then expect our leaders to set clear expectations for their teams. Continuously raise the bar. Do not allow teams to remain static. Make them see the virtue of embracing change and innovation. Guide them with authentic, regular, and meaningful feedback. But most importantly, be a coach to your team. Understand their aspirations, help them achieve their potential, and grow further. And make employees’ dreams come alive.

2. Being inclusive. Deliver excellence through inclusion. Be fair and transparent by giving everyone an opportunity to bring out their best and excel. As long as the intention is good, never stifle ideation, innovation or even imitation. We encourage different points of view. Diversity does not respect hierarchy. We throw open problems and solutions to the wider employee network. We expect our leaders to be curious about themselves, and openly seek feedback from their teams. When leaders embrace this style of self-improvement, they start becoming more inclusive. At Airtel, we inculcate employee ownership by being inclusive.

3. Being respectful. Encourage teams to excel by giving them respect. We believe that the first step to reward and recognition is to accord genuine respect to every employee. So we fervently build and embed a culture of empowerment. We regularly ask folks who left Airtel what they miss the most? Over 90% say: we miss the empowerment. ‘Empower and build trust’ is our credo. We give credit to the teams unhesitatingly. Every quarter, we announce the financial results externally to the market. And we also announce another set of results internally to our employees – over 100 awards for customer centricity. We expect our leaders to treat people empathically, just as they would expect to be treated themselves. And we punish ourselves everyday by refusing to behave like a big, rule-driven MNC. Instead, we implore our leaders to be sensitive to the personal needs of team members. If you are still wondering what does being alive, inclusive or respectful have to do with market leadership, let me replay the same question that we are posed in every forum – investor, industry, campus or town hall: how does Airtel achieve the extraordinary?

And we say: Lead Right! By saying so, we are not just talking of the past or the present. This is how we see our future.