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Pragati Leadership has three decades of experience working with leaders across corporate sectors, in which time we have fine-tuned the style of wholesome leadership that stands for business success alongside socially- and ecologically-sensible actions. Through the Pragati Leadership Inspiring & Successful Leadership Awards 2022, we applaud leaders who have practically demonstrated this leadership philosophy and put Purpose, People, Planet, and Profit at the heart of their operations. We hope that their motivational leadership style will inspire others to carry forward their work.

Our thanks to Dr. Shikha Jain (Director – IMDR), Dr. Ganesh Natarajan (Chairman, 5F World, Lighthouse Communities & Honeywell Automation India Ltd.), Tarun Sharma (Founder, Yodda, Former CEO BMC Software India, Board Member, Global Logic India), and Vibhas Joshi (Author, Coach, Facilitator, and Former Board Member, SAS Research & Development, India), who kindly put in the efforts to identify the 2022 IT Industry awardees.

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For his exemplary, people-centric approach to leadership and talent, the jury selected Nitin Deshpande (President, Evolent Health International) among this year’s winners. Mr. Deshpande spoke of the high esteem in which Pragati Leadership is held, in acknowledging how honored he felt at winning the award. He said that the first thing he had tried to inculcate, right from his first job, was how does one learn from others? Inspirational leadership, he opined, should be about learning rather than leading. 

He recalled that his first job involved working with a team wherein every single person was older than him – he had just finished college then – and knew much more about what they were doing. As he had no experience whatsoever, he told them that he was there to learn from them. It worked so well for him that he, in a sense, continued doing that ever after.

Next, he recalled questions from people about how he grew his teams so well and so fast, to which his answer was “just hire the right people and let them do whatever they want to do”. He restricted himself solely to supporting them, especially if they have a challenge. Even there, he was not telling them what to do but only being the sounding board for their ideas and opening up some possibilities. Mr. Deshpande felt that this approach to inspiration as a leader works well, and it also involves spending less time than the time taken doing work allocated to someone else.

The follow-up to the above question, he added, is about knowing who is the right person. It is never the person with the right labels, the right accent, or the right clothing, according to him. It may not even be the person with the right skills, observed Mr. Deshpande, noting that that may come as a surprise. He emphasized a fit-for attitude instead of skills, elaborating that even a person with a one hundred percent skill match is not necessarily the right one to hire, as skills can be taught and usually need to be learned and relearned. On the contrary, he felt that attitude is something that lasts a lifetime. 

He advised leaders not simply to say they were available, but instead ensure they were truly available to people, and give the people working with them the confidence to walk in and talk about their issues. He cited as an example how someone approached him asking for help in dealing with their wife’s medical issues, which had nothing to do with their work but demonstrated their readiness to engage with him. He mused that, at one point in one of his jobs, his HR executive had given him feedback to cut down the time that he spent with people, which they felt was excessive and probably took away from the time for doing other things. He recalls responding by saying that it was his job to talk to people. 

Mr. Deshpande expanded on the theme, adding that being available to people also relates to having genuine empathy. He noted that one could talk as much as one liked about empathy but only if it came from one’s heart would it touch the other person’s heart. No matter what words are used, they are not going to impact the person. He gave the example of a recent annual event wherein families were attending. Many family members talked about having worked with him somewhere and said “we came here only to meet you”, which he found heartwarming. Ultimately, he concluded, jobs and companies are about people, so leaders needed to relate with their people and have an engagement with them to offer effective leadership and motivation.

Nitin Deshpande leads Evolent Health International and founded Evolent’s office in Pune. Since then, he has successfully managed and developed the local team to support nearly all Evolent Health Services products and services, including product development, client delivery, IT support, and health plan operations. Mr. Deshpande brings over 37 years of experience in software for the healthcare, manufacturing, and systems management domains, including executive leadership roles at several software and services companies. He was earlier President of Allscripts India, led BMC Software India as President and CEO, and was previously COO of Geometric Ltd.