A majority of successful business leaders, says DLF chairman KP Singh, have a personal stake in the success of their company, which is not just financial but also emotional, though good leaders also need knowledge and charisma. The trailblazing realty tycoon spoke to HT about his leadership style in an interview. Excerpts:
How do you define a leader?
A leader has to be a multifaceted personality with a sound knowledge of his subject. He should be very hard working. You will never find a good leader who is lazy.
Three most important traits of a leader are: knowledge and charisma to earn respect, good listener with ability to inspire and motivate people around and to be a hard working team builder with a lot of common sense.
As the leader of the DLF Group, how do you cultivate leaders?
The low key but highly effective people that I had in my team were picked up on the merits of their grassroots connect, since assembling land was a major challenge, and for that I needed people who can communicate and connect well with the farmers. For the rest of the challenges, since it was a very testing time for DLF to cope with all kinds of roadblocks and attacks, I knew I had to be at the helm of affairs myself with hands on approach.
Can leadership be learnt? How can a manager become a leader?
Yes, leadership can be learned. It can be in the genes, to some extent, but merely genetic traits have no meaning if it is not harnessed by training. Some of the great political leaders don’t necessarily come from political families but they have a great knack of mass connect.
What is the role of a professional leader in a promoter-driven company and how difficult is a transition from one generation to another?
As the head of DLF family, I was aware of the next level of leadership challenge and it is here that I was monitoring my son Rajiv Singh who was shaping up as one of the finest corporate professionals, both in terms of strategy as well as tactical delivery. I always knew his determination to evolve a new model of DLF’s leadership. Time has changed, the style has changed and the requirements have also changed.
The term promoter with a negative connotation is a loose term, in my opinion. You call them promoter, but I call them initial investor. They are the one to have an investment, stake, vision and emotional attachment to be passionate about the enterprise. The best companies these days, nine out of 10, I would say are those which are run by promoters who are great professionals. Why Reliance Industries is doing well is because Mukesh Ambani himself is a great professional.
Which leaders have inspired you?
My flair to take people along and learn lessons even from critics was something that rewarded me with the mentorship of two great legends—George Hoddy and Jack Welch. Hoddy taught me a lot about leadership, team work, management and business strategy. Jack Welch instilled in me a burning desire to think big and aim to be number one.
What has been the biggest leadership challenged that you have faced?
I would say the biggest leadership challenge was to convince policy makers to allow private sector to play a pro-active role in India’s urbanisation. Along with this I had to also face the challenge of assembling thousands of acres of land without any legal hassles and mostly without any money.
What is the biggest leadership lesson that you have learnt?
The biggest leadership lesson I have learnt is that a leader is the one who inspires people with his knowledge. One must have the spirit to not give up, something I very strongly believe in and hence my autobiography is also titled Whatever the Odds.
Is being seen more important than doing for a leader?
It’s only doing, doing and doing. You can only lead by example. It’s not about inheriting or taking over a leadership position. You have to earn the right to lead. Skill and ability are very important and so is integrity. There has to be your blood, toil, tears and sweat before you expect others to contribute and commit. I don’t believe in the concept of leadership in terms of ‘a leader’ and ‘followers’. It’s not about commanding but creating ideas and thoughts and beliefs that are infectious. As a leader you may have the vision and the talent but leadership truly manifests when there are people who share the same belief. Have the same vision and goal.When someone starts a movement, the people who join in have great character. I have huge respect for them. They are large people.
-Prasoon Joshi, chairman and CEO, McCann World Group India and president McCann South Asia
The big question in business is: How much should you be seen and how useful is it? Do you want to be a rock star/politico-type byte-dispenser and ribbon cutter or you would prefer to be a case-study staple or a quarterly-result obsessor? The “image management” question that hovers over CEO heads, is always a work in progress.
In this era of show-and-tell, showmanship sometimes dominates “perform or perish”. Indian businessmen are uncomfortable at that cusp. So, no surprises then, that an INSEAD study of India’s top performing CEOs does not include more than half of India’s most “admired” business leaders. Admiration, we assume, being a combo of results with visibility. But as for performance, it’s still rarely dependent on how visible you are.
- Dilip Cherian, founding partner, Perfect Relations