First Among Equals: ‘T-R-E-A-T’ Leadership for ‘L-E-A-P’ in a Knowledge-Based World: Prof. Vishal Gupta, IIM Ahmedabad

Gupta forces on the fact that leaders exist everywhere and that anyone can be a leader. The book is highly relevant for the Indian market also giving both global and local perspectives. This highly organized and systematic work of Prof Vishal Gupta might inspire many management students to become better leaders in the ever-growing knowledge base world.


The ways of leading individuals with a similar knowledge base have been a question in the contemporary world. Leading the people who are creating knowledge in different fields is a coming up issue in the professional world. The book First among Equals: ‘T-R-E-A-T’ Leadership for ‘L-E-A-P’ in a Knowledge-Based World published by Bloomsbury publication in the year 2020 is a well-researched work by Prof. Vishal Gupta. Prof. Gupta started his career as an electrical engineer. Later while doing his doctoral in Human Resource Management from IIM Lucknow he decided to work upon the relationship between the knowledge workers and leadership skills. Presently he is working as an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad. The 304 pages’ book is a product of extensive research work by the author and his personal experiences regarding the problem questions and gives detailed and practical solutions for the same.

The author starts with discussing the problem statement thoroughly, explaining the world of knowledge creators. He gives the example of InMobi Group’s employee functioning and trusts the firm has in its employees. He shows how the alternative workplace concept of InMobi Group and talent management policy is resulting in increasing the performance of its employees. The advancement of technology in the last decade and rapid changes in the workplaces has increasingly contributed to development in a knowledge-based world. The world is changing from the perception of how much one knows to how fast one can learn and relearn. The workers whose primary capital is knowledge are knowledge workers, the ones who ‘think for their living’. In other words, for whom the main job revolves around exploitation, accession, and explorations of knowledge are knowledge workers. They are the target population of the author in the book. 

Knowledge workers are a crucial component of the economy of any country. Knowledge workers may comprise of professions like scientists, academics, and creative and management professions while the fields they work in are highly varied from transportation and logistics to banking, agriculture, public health, information technology, and pharmacy. It is difficult to name a field without the involvement of knowledge work in it. As the importance of knowledge work author mentions that while the world is largely turning towards a smarter digital world, the one kind of work that will always be dominated by human beings is knowledge work. In the group of knowledge workers, it is assumed that every member has a similar knowledge base. The book is appropriately entitled ‘First among Equals’, as the author believes that knowledge brings everyone to a similar level. There is no place for hierarchy when it comes to knowledge and everybody should be treated equally. The leader among knowledge workers has to be the first ones dealing with challenges and failures related to work. The author hence deals with leadership issues among the people with the same knowledge base where the term ‘Equals’ means the individuals with the same knowledge base and the term ‘First’ represents the leaders of that group.

Author Vishal Gupta during his first job observed that the people who were in some kind of leadership roles were often perceived negatively. The negative perception ranged from being indifferent towards subordinates to being incompetent at the knowledge work itself. This in turn was affecting the overall performance of the employees. The seeds of identification of the problem were hence sown at the early stage of career. His times as a doctoral student of management attracted his interests towards the faults in leadership that are still being practised in our organizations and how it is resulting in a ‘waste of talent’.   Leadership means influencing the subordinates and inspiring them to achieve a common goal.  The success of an organization largely depends upon the kind of leadership it is composed of. The leader who can motivate its team to achieve the target of the company and strategies the way they handle their team members and can bring out the best of them greatly influences the company’s functioning and productivity. The leader not only focuses on the needs of the company but also the desires, growth, and talent management of its subordinates.  It becomes slightly easy to lead a team with the members being less experienced or less knowledgeable than the leader. But in this knowledge-driven world where every individual is on a similar level of their knowledge base, it becomes difficult for a leader to lead the team. While these leaders are technically trained but a majority of them do not possess the interpersonal skills required to be a good leader. The author Vishal Gupta identifies this as his problem statement that what are the skills are required for a leader to lead a team of individuals with the same knowledge base. 

Primarily he worked amongst the organizations working in the area of Research and Development to establish a relation between leaders and knowledge workers. He also aimed to understand the aspects of leadership that are required to enhance the ideation and implementation of knowledge in their subordinates. While the course of his research he also observed that leadership existed at various levels. His research work led him to identify the attributes required for leadership in a knowledge-based world and he structured them into an easy-to-remember model named as T-R-E-A-T model of leadership. The model shows five competencies of a good leader collectively called a TREAT. 

The competencies are Task orientation (T), Relationship orientation (R), Empowering (E), Authenticity (A), and Teambuilding (T). 

The model at its basic stage was a product of 52 in-depth interviews of CSIR scientists taken by the author. The model obtained from the interviews was then tested on 584 scientists of different laboratories which resulted in its modification. Further, the final model presented in the book is a result of all these procedures combined with the author’s observation and experiences with many organizations. Author Vishal Gupta’s book relies on two basic principles related to being a leader that is everyone can be a leader and a leader is also a follower (hierarchy exists in organizations where a leader is also a subordinate to someone). 

The T-R-E-A-T model given by the author for the leadership in a knowledge-based world is simple and systematically presented by him so that it is easy to remember by leaders of knowledge workers. The five ideal behaviours in leaders namely task orientation are when the leader focuses upon the task that needs to be finished to accomplish a common goal. 

The behavioural approach of a leader should be task-oriented. The second one is relationship orientation, which is a team member-oriented approach, ensuring their satisfaction and well-being. The third one is empowering, where the leader should ensure sharing of powers rather than autocracy and also giving autonomy to their subordinates. The fourth one is authenticity, referring to the honesty and genuineness of the leader within the workplace. The last competency is team building, which is when the leaders ensure the cohesiveness and being together of the team members ensuring their productivity and performance. The model is presented in a systematic framework. The author has supported different aspects of the model with real-life examples and case studies he has personally acquainted with or found during his research work. The main basis of the book represents the model as a critical structure of leadership behaviours among knowledge workers. 

The subsequent chapters of the book deal with another concept of L-E-A-P introduced by the author. L-E-A-P translates to the components of work that encourage the knowledge creators L-E-A-P consisting of Learning (L), Enjoyment (E), Autonomy (A), and Performance (P). Prof. Vishal gives an insight that how his leadership model can have a positive influence on the LEAP of the workers. The author through his work found that knowledge workers are looking for these components in their work. They wish to learn, unlearn and relearn new things every day, they want freedom while they work, have the power to make their work-related decisions, and also work in a team of knowledge workers where the experience is enjoyable. These components have a positive influence on their performance at work and in turn, increasing their productivity. The first example of the InMobi Group discussed by the author can be seen to have an unusual employee policy. Also, motivation is given to the employees there was not commonly seen in workplaces giving an example of the author’s TREAT leadership model. 

According to the author, even if out of the four anyone of the component of work is not fulfilled the performances of employees are not at their full potential. For instance, if the leader only focuses on the performance of his subordinates the other factors of learning, enjoyment, and autonomy of their work is affected which eventually has an impact on their performances. Vishal Gupta gives an insight into different components of work as learning comprises of gaining newer knowledge regularly and growth is observable in employee’s skills. This has been reported by the author that the priority of knowledge workers is to seek knowledge over anything. When they see no development in their learnings, knowledge workers tend to get bored and disinterested in the allotted task. The next one is enjoyment, which according to the author comprises quality of experience and value of work among the employee. Autonomy is the next important component of work meaning having knowledge workers having the freedom to work in their manner while this gives a feeling of autonomy also enhances their creative performance. The last component of work is performance, the aspect that the organization car about mainly which is doing the allotted work. The author has shown through various examples and excerpts that how these components are interdependent and have an overall influence on the success of the organization. 

In the subsequent chapters of the book, the author showed the relationship between the model of TREAT leadership and LEAP work components. He has dealt with every component separately and extensively to show the relation. In the process he establishes the relation as the leaders in an organization play a very important role in managing the learning, enjoyment, autonomy, and performance work components among their team members. Hence, the author states that TREAT leaders can ensure LEAP work components. In the further chapters, the three concepts of fairness at the workplace i.e. treating the employees impartially, promoting positivity among the subordinates where negative approach and thoughts may lead to lower productivity, and the third one being, motivation especially focusing on autonomous motivation among the employees to handle difficult tasks at hand. The three concepts are dealt with deeply by the author and have shown how these can have a positive influence on the performance of the employees. 

The book ‘First among Equals’ by Vishal Gupta is designed in an uncomplicated style and easy-to-read and remember language. The concepts are presented in a systematic, easy to grasp yet scholarly manner. The book is an extensive research work of the author across the last decade. A significant and remarkable part of the book is that every chapter starts with a quote by eminent personalities like Gautam Buddha, JRD Tata while also including positive Chinese proverbs. The author has also presented stories and excerpts from the lives of eminent personalities which motivate the reader to apply the concepts in their lives.  It also presents a tool that can be used as a self-awareness scale or a scale for the leaders to test the TREAT leadership qualities. 

The book can be placed under the self-help genre while also providing practical solutions for organizations to grow hence, can also be called an Analytical and Strategic book. 

The book hence focuses on leadership competencies required for an organization’s success. Vishal Gupta forces on the fact that leaders exist everywhere and that anyone can be a leader. Although the book has been focused on knowledge workers the leadership techniques are also applicable for anyone who aspires to become a good leader. The book is highly relevant for the Indian market also giving both global and local perspectives. This highly organized and systematic work of Prof Vishal Gupta might inspire many management students to become better leaders in the ever-growing knowledge base world.

(The given article is attributed to Deepak Bhatt, Head, HR & Strategy Development, Astron Packaging Limited, Ph.D. Scholar at Academy of HRD, India and solely created for BW People)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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