The 69-year-old Godrej Group patriarch, Adi Godrej says leadership is certainly no popularity contest. Good leaders, he says, even when they take decisions not liked by all, owe it to their subordinates to explain the rationale for such decisions. Excerpts from an interview:
What’s your leadership style?
I don’t want to comment on my leadership style but I will tell what leadership is to me. It’s about doing the tough things. One must have a clear vision of the future and work to see how it can be achieved and how your people can contribute to achieve that vision.
So does a leader needs to be ruthless?
I won’t like to use the word ruthlessness. One has to be clear that one can’t pander on every opinion. One has to keep in mind the long-term interest of the organisation. Tough decisions are needed to be taken sometimes and that is the major distinguishing points of good leaders.
So does a leader has to be a loner?
No, but neither he has to be popular. You must be respected by your staff. Tough decisions can also be respected. Communication is very important. If a leader just makes a one-line announcement that is not a good thing. They must explain what it is.
Any instances of tough decisions you have taken in your life?
There are many. For example, in our joint-ventures (JVs), some years work very well when the interest of both the parties are being met, but after a while, there is not much to learn from each other. In that situation it is better to be frank and clear that a restructuring is the best way forward and one must be open about it and get it done.
Has your leadership style changed since the time you joined the group?
Oh, there has been a lot of change. I am much less autocratic now. I have become a better listener than what I used to be when I was younger. Things are very different today than when I first joined the group. Leadership styles and dimensions must change with times.
Your children are active in the group. Do they seek any advice from you?
Well, they give me more advice! But I think all three are very passionate and they are very good communicators. Often I find their advice appropriate.
Do you think you have been able to create leaders in your organisation?
Well, we have a good succession planning process in our organisation and over the years in each of our verticals we have had better leaders to head the business.
Has your succession plan been charted?
As far as my succession is concerned I don’t want to comment on that. It is not for public consumption.
But can a non-Godrej surname holder become the group chairman?
As of now our plan is that the chairman of the group and the chairman of various group companies shall be from the Godrej family.
Is hands-on training necessary to become a good leader?
All our family members joined as management trainees. Then they rose in the organisation. I think hands-on is absolutely necessary.
Did you also start that way?
No, because at that time our business was much smaller and I started taking leadership decisions at a very young age because I was the first management graduate to join the business.
Who do you draw your inspiration from?
I have great admiration for leadership that was passed down in ancient Greece. So Socrates was Plato’s teacher and mentor. Plato was Aristotle’s and Aristotle was Alexander’s. That is a leadership transfer that I have always admired. Other leaders that I admire are Nelson Mandela who enabled South Africa to be the most successful African country. I admire Margaret Thatcher as she took some difficult decisions in a socialist Britain which was not doing well economically.
What particular trait has been common between all these leaders that you have mentioned?
The common factor in good leaders is wisdom. You do not have to be the most intelligent person in the world but I think wisdom is very important to choose to do the right thing.