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Hardheaded, Softhearted

Sunday, April 20, 2014
Leadership consultant Krish Dhanam gestures as he makes a point during his presentation at Select Seminars Inc.’s Leadership Conference, themed Key Strategies for Leading Change and Transformation at the Radisson Hotel on Wrightson Road in Port-of-Spain on April 9. Photos: Maryann Auguste

Rick Belluzzo and Krish Dhanam are living embodiments of their brand of leadership philosophy, touted in their book “Hardheaded & Softhearted: Lessons from the Boardroom to the Break Room”. The duo were the feature speakers at Select Seminars Inc’s Leadership Conference, themed “Key Strategies for Leading Change and Transformation”.


The title derives from advice Belluzo received from Dave Packard, one of the founders of Hewlett Packard who told him, “ to be a successful leader, you need to be hardheaded and softhearted.” In explaining the concept further to the group of executives gathered at the newly opened Radisson hotel on April 9, being a hardheaded, but softhearted leader involved combining high levels of skill (IQ) with matching levels of emotional intelligence (EQ). 


This ability, they said, had become critical as business leaders struggle to keep up with change in today’s fast-paced economies. These changes create disruptions in every industry and Belluzo and Dhanam believe it is imperative that executives not only be able to steer their companies through these times of trouble, but also effectively communicate the need to change and their vision for doing so to employees.


Belluzzo’s style of communication is direct. By their own admission, Belluzo is the ‘IQ’ half of the equation. The former Hewlett Packard (HP) and Microsoft executive shared the information that he gleaned at the helm of Fortune 500 companies in a simple, straightforward manner. Chief among his advice is for leaders to embrace and, where necessary, create disruption. 


Belluzzo defined disruption as an industry “being thrown into a state of confusion” when game-changing developments, such as new technologies, appear on the horizon. He illustrated the point with an example drawn from his own experience at HP, which under his guidance, was able to move from a position of insignificance in the market to leadership. Going back to the early 1980’s, Belluzzo painted a picture of an HP struggling in an industry dominated by impact printers. 


He said when the company heard of the disruption called non-impact printing, they had to make a quick decision, switch to the new technology and possibly get the jump on the market leaders or continue to lag behind trying to catch up. Belluzo said their decision to change their focus to non-impact printing at that critical time was responsible for HP’s dominance of the digital printing market currently.


According to Belluzzo, as traumatic as a disruption might be, it should always be embraced for the opportunities it presents. He also warned the executives present to be careful in identifying what were true disruptions to their industries and what were passing trends.


Belluzo, the son of Italian immigrants to the United States, says this background heavily influenced his approach to leadership. He encouraged the corporate leaders present to work hard and to be themselves, as employees will always see through the inauthentic executive. While Belluzo was concerned with the ‘how-to’ of dealing with disruption, his partner, Dhanam handled the need for communicating well with employees during disruptive times.


Dhanam, himself an effusive and charismatic speaker, is representative of the EQ element of the philosophy. He handled his subject matter with lightness and humour, underscoring the importance of gratitude and the human touch in times of trouble. An immigrant to the United States from India, Dhanam credits a chance meeting with late motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, as giving him his start on the road to writing “Hardheaded & Softhhearted” with Belluzzo.


He said leaders must be able to tell employees in times of disruption why change needs to happen, as well as communicate the benefits of the change and identify influencers who can carry the message forward throughout the company. Dhanam emphasized the need for consensus on whatever changes a company needs since he says “laying down rules without [building] a relationship, will always lead to rebellion.”


Dhanam says no significant change within the company can happen without gratitude toward the employees who will make it possible. He said that transofrmation in any company culture is hard and this is why it is important to say “thank you”. Attendees at the day-long conference had a chance to interact and have questions on issues within their own organisations addressed by Belluzo and Dhanam.


They also had the option of taking photos with the two speakers, as well as having their complimentary copy of the book autographed by the authors. Group Marketing Manager of Guardian Media Ltd., Cyntra Achong, also made a short presentation to the audience. The group had partnered with the event organisers and distributed copies of the Sunday Business Guardian to those present as well as offered limited time free acces to the Digital Guardian.


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