Yogesh Agarwal, managing director and chief executive officer, Ballarpur International Graphic Paper Holdings BV or BILT, part of the $4 billion (Rs. 22,000 crore) Avantha Group, feels that a leader must lead from the front with the ability to “cut the noise” and focus on the real issues. He spoke to HT on a range of aspects on leadership. Excerpts:
How do you define a leader?
I believe that just as every individual has a unique fingerprint, every leader, too, has a unique style. This unique style is normally based on the leader’s personal values, commitments and his or her sense of purpose. At the same time an effective leader is genuine and speaks for what he/she believes in. They operate at the highest levels of engagement and look for opportunities within the organisation as well as the eco system. By cultivating a personal and professional style, a leader needs to walk the talk and must provide focus, purpose and direction to the organisation and its employees.
What are the three most important traits of a leader?
In my opinion, the most important traits of a leader are — ability to motivate and energise the team, external focus and ability to see beyond day-to-day realties and ability to strategise for achieving goals. However, the common denominator for all of the above mentioned traits is ‘intellectual curiosity’.
How do you cultivate leaders in your organisation?
At BILT, we believe that ‘culture makes leaders and leaders make culture’. Good leaders are precious to any organisation and it is imperative to identify and develop leaders of today and tomorrow. I am also of the view that this responsibility falls on organisations and on future leaders as well. Current leaders must be enabling, and emerging leaders need to build trust with their leaders. This allows for a smooth transition, ultimately a win-win for all.
Can leadership be learnt? In other words, how can a manager become a leader?
Some are born leaders but inculcating leadership skills at a young age also help in developing leaders for the future. In today’s time, a true leader needs to have a single-minded determination, a drive to take ideation to practice and bring as much wisdom as possible to bear on their daily decisions. The trick to be a good leader is an interdependency of three key factors i.e. thinking, acting and influencing each day.
What is the role of a professional leader in a promoter-driven company?
A professional leader in a promoter-driven company complements the promoter’s risk-taking ability with incisive execution plans and skills. A professional leader further complements with focus on deliverables, domain expertise and understanding to meet targets, energise teams for meeting organisation goals.
Since September 2008, the world has fallen into a maelstrom of serial crises. What is the role of a leader in these times?
In today’s era of globalisation, no one is impervious to the impact of global events and influences. However, I also think that any leader, who challenges that challenge with an opportunity to lead well during difficult times, will be the one who will excel. Also as more than 60% of the world lives in greater than 5% GDP growth regions, there is still much to achieve.
What has been the biggest leadership challenge you’ve faced?
In my opinion, the biggest challenge is on how one can keep oneself fresh and energised every single day to engage with employees and organisation at large.
Do you think the role of business leaders has come under cloud — globally and domestically — of late?
Leaders of many businesses still continue to earn respect worldwide be it GE’s Jeff Immelt, India’s Ratan Tata and many others around the world.
Leaders to often carry the cross of other’s wrongdoings and inefficiencies, the global banking sector today, for instance. What role can good leadership play to counter balance this image?
A good leader has to ensure that the standards are continuously raised and never lowered for any excuse. I don’t think every industry is tarnished by the same brush like the banking sector overseas. In India, the banking sector is respected, and so is the manufacturing sector.
What is your one-line leadership mantra?
To me, the leadership mantra is ‘tomorrow is infinite’; however, the core value of ‘intellectual curiosity’ remains unchanged.
Who are the leaders that have inspired you?
There have been many “key” influencers at different times so I can’t really name just one. Primarily, I have been inspired by the whole ecosystem of my superiors, colleagues, customers and competitors who imparted the precious gift of knowledge to me.
What is the biggest leadership lesson that you have learnt?
I believe it is all about flexibility and adaptability and not about forecast and predictability, especially in a world that is changing faster than ever before. Besides, staying focused on big picture while managing the micro issues and therefore “cutting the noise” to reach to the real business issues are some of the lessons I have learnt over the period.
What is the best leadership decision you have taken?
The best leadership decision was to acquire Sabah Forest Ltd, Malaysia (SFI). This was the first ever and land mark acquisition overseas by an Indian paper company.
What is the worst leadership decision you have taken?
I think the worst decision that any leader can make is indecision or sitting on the fence. At the same time, I think that mistakes are healthy as they provide insights and help you to mature as a leader, but repeating the same mistakes or failing to create a solution is terrible.