Business Today

'You Must Lead by Example'

Courage is the topmost trait of leadership, which means you refuse to back down, come what may.
A.M. Naik   New Delhi     Print Edition: January 14, 2018
'You Must Lead by Example'
A.M. Naik, Non-executive Chairman, Larsen & Toubro (Photo: Rachit Goswami)

Around 30 years ago, Naik and his colleagues were in Mumbai's Powai workshop, working late one night as there was a problem with the machinery. After some anxious moments, they finally left the workshop at 2 a.m. The next day, at exactly 8.20 a.m., Naik was standing outside the company office's punch card machine and asking the workers why they were late. They said: We left at two in the morning! Naik replied, "Coming to work on time is your duty. Going back home after duty hours is your pleasure."

You can excel in leadership only if you are a role model. You must lead by example.

My mantra for work is very simple. It is passion, commitment and devotion. This cannot come from outside. It has to come from deep within you - only then will it be sustainable for months that will become years and years that will become decades, and decades that will become - who knows - half a century!

So I say this to you - be passionate about the tasks given to you. If you are uninterested and half-hearted, you are doing your job and yourself a disservice.

If you have passion, you will always want to be in the thick of action. Right from my early days, I could never remain a passive spectator. The chair given to me in D4 building was empty most of the time. My then boss Mr Baker asked someone about me and was told: Mr Naik is always in the workshop. If I had continued to sit in the chair, and attempted to supervise operations from there, I would not have reached the position (where) I am today. Wherever I have been in the last 50 years - at the workshops, in the old Group II, as CEO and later as Chairman - I bring in action with me. And it is action that marks you out as a leader.

People say that in the course of 50 years, I have found innovative solutions, thought out of the box, and overcome difficulties. I think it all boils down to one simple but irreplaceable characteristic - courage. I learnt this when I was a child. My father told me if you are in the right, you have nothing to fear. Courage is the No. 1 trait of leadership. Courage does not mean being abrasive or aggressive. It means you refuse to back down, come what may. There can be no compromise on your core principles.

In the early years, business at Hazira was slack. Vijay Kumar Magapu, the former CEO and MD of what was then known as L&T Infotech and a former head of the Hazira manufacturing complex, recalls those days with dry wit. "We had a phase when we were all dressed up but had nowhere to go. The workshop was capable of doing various things, but we had no business at all, no orders. So we all sat down with Mr Naik for hours and thought: What is wrong with us, why no orders! We realised that we were not reaching out to the market. So Mr Naik just picked up his bag and broke into the very cold atmosphere of government officials, requesting proposals. His style was to charm them, show his passion and be very persistent. A manufacturing man selling and succeeding!"

Naik himself, though, can be refreshingly honest about his imperfections. "You have to (be) introspective on your strengths and weaknesses," he says. "Weaknesses are something you have to think especially deeply about - and be most worried about. Total elimination of weakness is not possible, but you have to reduce them.

(Excerpted from The Nationalist, with permission from HarperCollins India).

By A.M. Naik, Non-executive Chairman, Larsen & Toubro


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