Carnegie Mellon University

Integrated Innovation Institute

Engineering + Design + Business

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May 25, 2022

Learning Leadership With The Beatles

By Jess Ignasky

Dr. Shantha Mohanoffers valuable insights about leadership and business as a mentor to Integrated Innovation Institute students at Carnegie Mellon’s Silicon Valley campus. 

Her latest book, Leadership Lessons With The Beatles, highlights sixteen ways to become a better leader, each featuring actionable tips and anchored in a well-known Beatles song. Dr. Mohan shares the inspiration for the book, her own leadership journey and style, and how The Beatles influenced her writing. 

As a senior software engineering leader and entrepreneur, Dr. Mohan has had no shortage of leader experience throughout her career. When developing the idea for the book, she turned to her 30+ years of experience leading engineering teams to guide the advice that she shared.

“The complexities of today’s world demand that a leader harness all the power of their teams to solve problems and achieve goals. When you get promoted to manager, the technical skills don’t quite translate into leading teams. I wanted this book to be a source of learning for those starting their leadership journey." 

Dr. Mohan’s own leadership journey started after she received a Ph.D. in Operations Management from the Tepper School of Business. Then, she joined Consilium, an enterprise software company. 

While at Consilium, she progressed from software engineer to project leader, manager, director, and eventually worldwide head of software development. She also led her own entrepreneurial journey by co-founding the company, Retail Solutions, a leading technology company enabling CPG manufacturers and retailers to optimize their market position and drive greater profitability. 

“I have learned over time to use situational leadership, which is about using different leadership styles depending on the situation. There are times when you want to be a visionary. There are times when you use a coaching leadership style. During a crisis, you want to be decisive and authoritative,” she stated. 

shantha-with-book-2.jpgDr. Shantha Mohan proudly holding her book

So how do The Beatles factor into leadership? 

“The Beatles were innovative leaders of the music industry in the 1960s who took risks throughout their careers by experimenting with distinct elements of music,” Dr. Mohan explains. “They embraced their differences, strengths, and weaknesses and created music that transcends generations of music lovers. Their music is timeless, just as certain principles of leadership are.” 

Dr. Mohan’s love of The Beatles started early on when she was an engineering student in India. 

She elaborated, “The Beatles music always lifts me, soothes me when I feel down, and inspires me to do my best.” Naturally, their work made its way into her book. “Each of the song titles [in the book] has an associative meaning for me. When I think about one of these titles, I think about a leadership characteristic. For example, the title “Get Back” makes me think of getting back to being curious, and I am reminded of the importance of curiosity to leadership. Their song, “We Can Work It Out” is my anthem for dealing with conflicts.” 

Beatles songs featured in Dr. Mohan's book

While leadership has changed over time, Dr. Mohan remains optimistic about its future. 

“Leadership has gone through many changes in the last couple of decades. We have come to realize that outstanding leadership is not about being authoritarian and exercising control. It is not about the intelligence quotient but emotional intelligence. Today’s leaders are conscious that they don’t have all the answers. They work with their teams to figure out solutions to complex problems they face."

"Leadership is about caring for those you lead. The future of leadership will be where the heart and the head come together and leaders choose to lead with compassion and mutual trust.” 

As for her favorite Beatles song, Dr. Mohan couldn’t explicitly say. “I don’t have one favorite song, just like a mother doesn’t have a favorite child! Depending on my mood, I love one song or another. I do have a favorite Beatle—Paul. His creativity and longevity in the music business are unparalleled.” 

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