Leading from the front and leading by example is what sets a leader apart from his followers, which is why leaders need to be self-disciplined, transparent and objective according to SD Shibulal, chief executive officer and managing director, Infosys. Excerpts from an interview:
SD Shibulal, chief executive officer and managing director, Infosys.
What is the role of a leader in a company such as Infosys with experienceddivisional heads who have clear cut goals to follow?
It is the leader's responsibility to raise aspirations, create hopes, deliver performance, drive transformation and lead from the front. It is true for Infosys and for any other organisation. I don't believe that organisations can run on an auto-pilot mode. For instance, when Infosys talks about aspiring for the next generation consulting and technology corporation it is my responsibility to raise and create that aspiration for all stakeholders such as clients, employees or investors.
Further, during the challenging times when there are uncertainties, doubts and lack of confidence the leader has to create hope. Leadership is about delivering performance and a leader needs to lead by example.
So what role do you see for yourself in steering the company at a time when there are talks of double dip recession in the global economy?
This is not the first time when Infosys is witness to a tough external environment. Similar challenges were present when Kris (current executive co-chairman of Infosys, S Gopalakrishnan) took over. Yet he ran the company well. So, I should take decisions and run the corporation. It all depends on a couple of things.
Number one is the strategic direction we are taking; we are aspiring to be the next generation consulting and technological firm in the next five to seven years. So that is an important component of all the decision making that I need to do. Second is the leadership performance that I want to continue. There has been a legacy of good performers and I wish to continue with that. Third is the environment in which we operate. Fourth is the style in which I will operate. I believe that if you can run a company "good" in good times then you can run it "better" in bad times.
But then how do you deal with laggards, people who cannot deliver?
As I said a leader's role is to drive performance and to manage performance over a period of time it needs to be based on data in a transparent manner, merit-based and objective. So as long as you can demonstrate that you have based your decisions on data, based on merit and is transparent, you can take any tough decision.
How do incidents such as the multi-crore Satyam scam, which put the Indian IT industry in a bad light, affect leaders?
When Satyam scam happened I was the COO of Infosys and I did not see any negative impact of it then and I do not see anything now. Clients too saw it as a single and one-off incident. It does create a situation where the clients will ask you a few more questions. But as long as your foundation is right, things sail through. Infosys' foundation is on running the business legally and ethically so the clients see it and move on. It (Satyam scam) was an unfortunate incident.
Let's talk about the big leadership debate - do you believe that a manager can become a leader?
A leader has to be an excellent manager but an excellent manager may not be a good leader. So when we talk about acquiring leadership skills, an excellent manager can acquire those skills and become a leader. An excellent manager can transform into a leader. Though they are two different roles yet there is no reason why one cannot transform from one role into another.
So you feel that leadership qualities can be learnt or are they are inherent in an individual?
All of us are born with certain leadership traits. I cannot think of any individual who does not have any leadership trait. Yes, some may be born with more traits than others, but leadership is something that can be taught and acquired. I believe that many of the leadership capabilities can be acquired.
What should a young professional cultivate in them right from the very beginning if he or she aspires to be a leader one day?
Anyone on this journey should realise that it is a marathon and not a sprint. So discipline in all aspects is an important thing. The most valued commodity in tomorrow's world will be ethics and values.
So when I talk about marathon, it covers the fact that it is a long and hard run that requires hard training and it is a transformation most marathon runners practice for ages.