We’re passionate about the world of work, and how we can make it better. To help satisfy our curiosity, we’ve launched an interview series where we pick the brains of experienced leaders, business owners, managers, and individual contributors to get their thoughts on how we can collectively build better workplaces.
We’d love to get to know you a bit better, tell us a bit about your backstory.
I am the son of South Indian immigrants to the UK. So I felt pressure to conform and do the “right” things. I went to universities like Cambridge & Oxford and worked for companies like Strategy& and eBay. In retrospect I am glad I did. I met amazing peers and mentors and learned so much.
But there was always a yearning (perhaps inspired from many summers in India) to make a bigger difference. So, for 10 days I founded a non-profit called STiR Education, which reignited the motivation of 200,000 teachers in over 35,000 schools and 7 million children in countries like India, Indonesia and Uganda. I was awarded an OBE and Honorary Doctorate for these efforts.
Through these efforts I became the world’s leading expert in intrinsic leadership. I wrote a book, “Intrinsic”, which has just come out in the US. It’s all about how we can reignite our motivation for ourselves and others in these challenging times—in our work, careers and also personal lives.
I have been supporting leading companies like L’Oreal, Shopify, Skyscanner to bring these ideas around Intrinsic Leadership to their leadership and workforces, through my organisation Intrinsic Labs. I also teach Intrinsic Leadership at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School.
If we were to ask a friend to describe your personality to us, what would they say?
Thoughtful, emphatic, caring, well networked, and someone who loves new ideas.
Thinking back to your career journey, what’s an interesting story that stands out?
I’m of Indian origin, so I believe in the idea of Karma. I spent 15 years as a CEO myself and know how hard and lonely leadership is today. Especially in this current world where there are few predetermined answers to the challenges we face, and even fewer “right” answers. So it’s wonderful to now have the chance to support CEOs and senior leaders across sectors to grapple with these challenges. It’s like my career has gone full circle.
It feels like so many of the “old rules” of leadership aren’t fit for purpose anymore. It’s a great chance to practically reinvent them with amazing leaders I work with. I use a “Guided Journey” process that helps them look at the direction they're taking, how they keep themselves and their teams motivated, and how they can fully nurture the potential in themselves and others.
What’s the most impactful lesson you've learned over your career thus far?
I think it’s that even the best leaders these days feel pulled in so many different directions—from the demands of boards, shareholders, employees and communities. That’s the inevitable fact of leadership today.
The key is not just to let yourself get pulled in the direction of those with the loudest voice.
Really stand for something. Have a deep intrinsic direction that comes from your unique vantage point on the problem. Know what deeply motivates you and your teams. And know how to nurture the very best potential in others, from whatever background they come from.
If we can do these three things well, we’ll be much better leaders—and enjoy our journey as leaders far more.
Thanks for giving us some insight into who you are! Let’s jump into things. When you hear the phrase “build a better world of work”, what comes to mind?
I think it’s about creating a world where all our motivation and talents are nurtured. Today, workforces mostly work not just for people who look and sound a certain way, but think and act in a certain way. They therefore exclude so many people from being their best selves at work.
It’s harder than before, but if you can do these things, you can engage people in a way that was never possible before. That’s what I mean by Intrinsic Leadership.
For you, what’s the main blocker you see as standing in the way of building a better world of work?
We need to create workplaces where the ingredients of Authenticity, Connection and Excellence come to the fore. That means getting rid of the “mask” we wear as leaders and really standing for something—particularly something that we care about in terms of serving our customers, employees and communities. And making sure that our teams understand what we stand for and why it matters so much. That drives Authenticity & Connection. But it also means that we can really help our teams see the need for Excellence rather than apologise for it.
What’s one thing within our control that we can practically do to build a better world of work today?
I think that we all need to become better Nurturers—people who take others to places they wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise. Nurturing is different from traditional managing, coaching or mentoring. It’s about building that Authenticity, Connection & Excellence in others. Nurturing can definitely be developed, and we can develop cultures of Nurturing in teams and organisations—something that I spent a lot of time on.
What are some immediate steps someone could take to become a better nurturer or to grow a nurturing culture?
First of all, really commit to being a Nurturer.
Then identify a couple of potential people who you think you could nurture and chat to them to see if they would find it useful. Agree norms and expectations. Then have an initial conversation to really understand where they would like to go and how you could deeply support them through your Nurturing.
Once you have started the journey with a couple of people, you will start to be able to extend your Nurturing style to other areas of work and life.
Can you share one thing you’ve experienced, seen, or read about that is leading us towards a better world of work?
With Intrinsic Labs we are building a really exciting network of Leaders—across sectors and around the world—who are committed to building these new rules of Intrinsic Leadership together. Please reach out if the Intrinsic Leadership Network is of interest.
And the chapters on Work & Success in my book “Intrinsic” provide some powerful pointers on how we can reignite our motivation in our work and careers.
I’m curious, thinking about building a better world of work, is there a company and/or leader who stands out to you as someone we should follow? If so, what are they up to?
Please watch this space—over the coming months I am going to be interviewing and profiling a number of unusual leaders who are breaking the mould.
How can our readers follow your work?
Please follow me on LinkedIn (“Sharath Jeevan OBE”).
You can pick up a copy of “Intrinsic” on Amazon or your favourite bookseller.
And please visit Intrinsic-labs.com to find more free resources and sign up to my newsletter.
Thank you for adding your voice to People Managing People’s interview series on How to Build a Better World of Work!
It’s such a pleasure. Building this work of better leadership and work is a huge passion.