BT:Good afternoon gentlemen, and welcome to this round table on Global Leadership: The Next Generation. It’s a valid topic not just for the IT/ITES sector but for Indian industry as a whole. For the IT/ITES sector, global leadership assumes significance, given the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. Let’s begin by trying to figure out how does one go about equipping potential leaders with the necessary knowledge, skills and tools to drive a company’s vision and meet its strategic objectives.
BT:Kris, what are the demands on leadership as organisations today—perhaps your organisation too—become bigger, more complex, more international, and face fiercer competition?
Kris Gopalakrishnan: The demands have definitely increased. That’s because changes are taking place much faster. And one needs to respond to these changes much faster. Having said that, when you look at leadership itself, you need to separate the leadership model, the leadership process—how you identify a leader, how you measure a leader, how you accelerate a leader’s growth—from what is transitory in nature. A typical organisation should start with a leadership model. Once you have that in place, then you say: Today, I need somebody to run Japan. Then you go back to your leadership model and describe the attributes required in a person who will run the Japanese operations.
BT:I think all of us in India are more caught up in this wave of Indian companies going international. But obviously the reverse is happening too. Peter, how was it for you when you came to India, purely from the cultural point of view?
Peter Altabef: It (a foreigner coming into India) calls for appreciation. And that applies to any geography you expand into: What is the sense of the people on the ground, and how do you nurture the people on the ground. At Perot Systems, over 30 per cent of our global workforce is Indian.
I do agree that you can’t take a person from one geography, put him in another geography and expect him to be at ease. On the other hand, I also do believe that leadership is fairly universal.
BT:Let’s debate one of those universal leadership dilemmas: Why is it that many good managers do not succeed in graduating into great leaders, and why do some of the greatest leaders come unstuck because they get jaded?
Som Mittal: One big phenomenon in leadership today is that CXOs, CEOs and the like are much younger. So, in a very compressed time they are expected to pick up decisionmaking capabilities and leadership qualities that many of us took much longer to develop.
If many good managers don’t become great leaders, it could also be because they’ve achieved things materially little early in their life. So that passion, that urge to excel isn’t there. We just need to keep creating challenging situations for them.
BT:In such complex times, would the concept of “shared leadership” make sense, as it appears to be getting more and more difficult for a CEO to know it all. Can responsibility and accountability be a collective effort?
Nayar: I disagree... The next generation of leaders has to be able to manage this next generation of employees who would shun hierarchies, who would shun strictures, who would shun discipline, who would want more value, more innovation and more collaboration. If that be so, unlike manufacturing, and unlike an army, the value in an IT services company gets created in the interface between an employee and the customer—not between CEO and the customer. And that interface is by far the most important in running (IT services) businesses. So the global leader does not only have to manage these people, who are different in nature, but he also has to realise that he is not the one creating the value, but it is the interface that is doing that.
Thus, in HCL, we have launched an initiative that’s called: “Destroy the office of the CEO.” In my mind, this whole CEO mantra as one who is a larger-than-life decision-maker, a visionary is something that belongs to the past. The younger generation and the next generation of business imperatives are about CEO accountability of making the enabling functions happen to create a collaborative environment, to create openness, to create a learning ground, so that people can create value at the interface where the leaders don’t participate. So, the relevance of leadership in tomorrow’s world is a question mark. And it moves away from this thought of a single man taking a decision to being more an enabler. And if you are more of an enabler, you will be able to create significantly more value. My belief is that of shared leadership or shared accountability— a more provocative word is inverse accountability, where the leader is accountable to his employees, which does not exist today. We believe in democratic values in our day-to-day life, but we don’t run organisations democratically. Reverse accountability, of a leader to his employees, will become a necessary imperative, and once it does become a necessary imperative, shared leadership automatically emerges. Shared leadership is not amongst 5-6 people but amongst teams.
BT:Let’s shift to another topic. You can arm a leader with all the competencies in the world, with all the knowledge, with all the tools, but how important is ‘emotional awareness’ for a leader?
Altabef: It’s critical and I don’t think it’s missing in the best leaders. There have been some studies that have said that 30 per cent of the value of a firm is created by the quality of its leadership. And 70 per cent of that quality is created by leaders being empathetic. I would say that it’s not just about leadership, or even business; people who understand their strengths and weaknesses, and those of the people they work with—they’re just more successful people.
BT: Som, is it important to be nice?
Mittal: I don’t think we have a choice… it’s often said that it’s lonely at the top. I disagree completely. I believe that if a CEO is willing to, and has the courage to, expose his vulnerability, then the amount of support he gets from his team is enormous. They don’t see you up in the hierarchy, behind a façade of bravery and charisma. Personally, I have seen people responding to me as a leader well in such circumstances, offering me support when I never asked for it. Now that’s a different kind of shared leadership.