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Wednesday, Dec 04, 2002

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`One-man leadership is not relevant'

Vinay Kamath

Mr Arun Maira


One of the biggest challenges confronting Indian businesses in this time of transition is able leadership that can see the big picture in an increasingly global economy. Recognising the critical role that leadership will have to play as pressures of performance mount, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has taken the initiative in organising a series of seminars on `leadership in changing times' which offers insights into the success stories that have defined the face of leadership in the country. Mr Arun Maira, Chairman, Boston Consulting Group, India, will be chairing the session in Chennai on December 5 prior to joining BCG, Mr Maira worked with Arthur D Little in the US for several years. Mr Maira spoke to Business Line on the eve of the seminar. Excerpts from the interview:

On the definition of leadership

I do believe that leadership is a process. It is a relationship between people. My best definition of leadership is this: a leader is he/she who takes the first step about something he/she deeply cares about and in ways others then wish to follow. There's something about a person's own desire to make something happen and the way it is done, and that invites others to come along.

On the current business environment and the paradigm change for leadership.

The nature of leadership which will be required in the current global business environment is very different. It's a trend, and cannot be avoided; many people and many organisations have to work together to produce significant change in today's world. That's the whole thing about globalisation; many more things are connecting together and more easily than happened before. Any action that somebody takes promptly has an effect on something else near by. Sometimes, the source of this action are very far away.

So, you have to think much more systemically than required to before and be able to see the big picture and parts of that big picture as well. Also, many parts can and will influence each other. So, it's the ability to create alignment and consensus among people, who don't necessarily subscribe to your authority, as you can only have authority over one part. You have to influence the way others work. Even at the organisational level, it's the same paradigm — you may want your organisation to grow a certain way and you must have the courage to start doing that, but in a way that other organisations are willing to support you. So, today it's an individual thing as well as an organisational thing; that I will lead my organisation in a way that other organisations won't trip me up and allow me, collaborate with me, in going my way.

So, this quality of leadership is required at the multinational level. So, today you need a different approach to leadership than this charismatic one man on a horse and everybody follows the way he points. Those models of army leadership are not relevant for most situations in the world

On leadership examples in the Indian context

I can give you examples of three different organisations. BPCL, a public sector company. Today, people at BPCL are being pinched by private companies. They had focussed for four years on getting passion and alignment into their organisation. There are two pillars for its change, people driven and customer driven. People were the internal part and making a difference to customers is the external part. And, it had to provide service to customers which was quick, innovative and at the lowest cost. That comes back to the internal organisation. To be quick, innovative and have the least cost you need to organise yourself internally. So, BPCL is good example. Tisco, has developed leaders very well and the third one is HLL.

On family-run organisations and leadership

More and more organisations are realising they have to professionalise. There have been examples of Eicher, whose promoter stepped back saying the management has to be professional, and the more recent example of the Murugappa group doing the same thing. Then, of course, the example of Anu Aga with Thermax.

They are three interesting examples where families are saying that we own large shares and we will continue to own them, but we want a system where professionals can call a lot of the shots with decision-making powers. That needs tuning up as they go on.

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