Heading a vertical transportation company, as the president of Otis Elevator, and heading a quality assessment and certification company as the CEO of Bureau Veritas all within a space of three weeks, may be fraught with challenges, says Didier Michaud-Daniel, but it certainly doesn’t cause any vertigo, because the job of a leader is to motivate and inspire, not to get into the nitty-gritty. Excerpts from an interview:
As a leader, are you nervous shifting from one industry to another?
I have been in Bureau Veritas (BV) for three weeks. I have been meeting all the people who are going to report to me and I must say it’s a great team. There was a BV 2015 plan which was already in place — my job now is to achieve this vision. So I can not say I am nervous, but yes, it’s a challenge.
What’s the difference in your leadership roles at Otis Elevator and at BV?
Otis is a company which is into manufacturing elevators and escalators. BV is a service company. I have to learn about the products. But when you are used to leading people, you can lead everywhere in the world.
If that is the case, then why do some leaders fail when they shift industries?
I think you need to adapt your ego to the values of the firm. If you try to manage a firm or lead with the culture you were in before, you will fail. You can take the good things you learnt in the past but need to adapt your personality to the new company to be accepted by the team because most of the time it’s not the issue of the technicality of the job, it’s an issue of rejection from the team.
How have you adapted?
I have 100 days induction which has started already. I was in Shanghai last week, I visited shipyards as I was not familiar with the marine vertical.
But if there was a disagreement between you and a domain expert at BV, as a leader, what would you do?
I would apply my common sense. The people who are working for me are extremely professional — my job is not to do their job. My job is to lead them and achieve an objective. My job is to motivate the employees.
So how would you describe your leadership traits?
It’s respect for people, first before anything else. I am direct and transparent — which means that people know quickly what I feel and what I want to achieve. It’s quite a simple type of leadership.
You say you are direct — so does that mean you are blunt and don’t sugarcoat your critical reviews?
No, when I think I can do something softly but honestly, I say it. If I think something should be improved, I try to tell the people, but keeping their cultural sensitivities in mind.
How do you deal with non-performers?
Most of the time I have met people who are performing. When you explain to the people what you expect from them, they do it. So very rarely did I have an issue about performance. When you are a leader you have to assess people quickly and to understand who could do what. Give them the job where they will perform and also enjoy their job. You need to have passion for your job.
You have also undergone a management course at INSEAD – so can leadership be taught, or is it ingrained in a person?
I think it’s ingrained. You can improve it by going to INSEAD for instance because what you improve is clearly not your leadership style but what you improve is your knowledge about various things that you need to know when you are leader.
Are you saying everybody can’t be a leader?
No, I don’t say that. I think everyone can be a leader – it depends of course on the circumstances of your life.