Raju Bista, managing director of the Surya Roshni Ltd, a Rs. 3,500-crore conglomerate with interests ranging from lighting to steel pipes, spoke to HT on a range of issues related to leadership and management. Excerpts:
What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership to me is taking decisions, taking responsibility and treading where others may not want to tread. Leadership is all about passion and putting your thoughts into action after taking your co-workers and colleagues on board. A leader must stand by his work and decisions, irrespective of success or failure, and be willing to admit and learn from mistakes.
As a leader of the Surya Roshni group, what is your leadership style?
I follow a rather informal style of leadership, where I interact with my co-workers and make them comfortable, so that they can freely voice their opinions and suggestions. A lot of times, employees refuse to speak their mind if you follow the hierarchical order. As a leader, I must be accessible to my employees and take their inputs while formulating policies. That's how we can grow in our business. A leader must always remember that his greatest asset is human resource and that he is dealing with people who have the same instincts and emotions. Providing guidance is a primary job of leaders.
Do you think age has little to do with leadership?
I believe it's all about grasping the opportunity as and when it comes. In an increasingly globalised world, where ideas, entrepreneur zeal and passion are being rewarded, a number of young leaders are emerging in various fields. We recently had an example where a 13-year old has become CEO of a software firm. So, I believe in this day and time, when opportunities are many and you are respected for your ideas, there will be no dearth of young leaders.
As a leader, how have you negotiated the slowdown in the economy?
We believe that downturns, like the current one in the economy, make you think differently and make you think out of the box so that you can adjust to the prevailing situation and keep your head above the water. In that sense, even a downturn is an opportunity because if you have the right strategy in place, then post-downturn, you will come out stronger to perform better.
As a leader, are you open to debates with your co-workers?
Absolutely. I think it's important to take your colleagues along. It's part of my job to hear their views and convince them about my decisions. At the same time, sometime as a leader if I am 100% sure about my decision, about your instinct, then I do not feel scared to take a decision even if it's not a popular one.
Do you think leadership is an inborn trait or it can be acquired?
I believe that leadership is basically in the DNA. It is an inborn trait but it needs to be nurtured and cultivated. That said, leadership skills can also be learnt. We all have some leadership traits in us and some can be acquired over a period of time. You have number of successful leaders, who never got formal education and then you have number of potential leaders emerging from business schools. But somewhere you need some amount of leadership traits within you.
The world around us is constantly changing. How do you see change?
Change is the only constant, so one cannot complain. Change doesn't need to upset things or make them worse. It can mean opportunities, good ideas, new business or new products. We must remember that change is here to stay. We must expect the least expected so we must move quickly to stay a step ahead, always.
Who do you admire the most as a leader?
It has to be GE's Jack Welch. He joined GE in 1981 with the aim to make it the most competitive in the world. And he achieved that goal.
What is one important trait of Jack Welch that you admire?
Jack Welch believes in leading and not managing as the latter often means 'controlling and stifling people.' On the other hand, Welch's goal is to create a vision and make people passionate about their work. The idea is to energise, excite and inspire rather than depress and control.