Nikhil Nanda, joint managing director, Escorts Ltd, has the overall responsibility for managing the group’s agriculture, construction and engineering businesses. Nanda, an alumnus of Wharton Business School, Philadelphia, spoke to HT on a range of issues on leadership. Excerpts:
How do you define a leader?
For me a leader has to have passion, an attitude and a correct state of mind. He should be able to crystallise the vision that needs to be achieved by the group of followers. A leader must give his people a sense of purpose, an objective to achieve, and be able to rally people towards this cause. He should be able to push the envelope and refuse to accept anything remotely close to mediocrity. A leader has to depict courage in action. A leader is someone who inspires a team of followers by earning their trust and respect by setting a good example and being competent at what he does. A leader makes tough decisions and prepares the team for the stress that will follow. He motivates them in times of change and manages the change in order to help the team achieve the collective goal.
What are the three most important traits of a leader?
I would say interpersonal skills, passion and spontaneity. To be a successful leader, you have to have traits of being a people-centric person. Passion is the fire in you to pursue your goals and make it clear to everyone what is important and what is not. Thirdly, he has to be spontaneous in a way. That is, he should have the capacity to weigh conflicting options, to be able to make hard choices when both options are good or bad. It is about mental agility.
As a leader of the Escorts Group, how do you cultivate leaders?
At Escorts, we seek out to people with potential, who are creating positive changes, even in small ways. Leadership programs are held at selected intervals for senior and mid management levels that encourage co-ownership, bring about cross-pollination and thought leadership.
Can leadership be learnt? In other words, how can a manager become a leader?
Absolutely, yes. Leadership can be both, learnt and cultivated. Some people are natural leaders but that doesn’t mean others cannot be. Strong people skills, having a clear vision of your goals and genuinely working towards it, and also inspiring others to achieve the same are just a few traits that can help one step up the ladder.
What is the role of a professional leader in a promoter-driven company?
The role of a leader is to motivate people around him, engage with employees in a way that resembles an ordinary person-to-person conversation, more than a series of commands from top officials. It’s the professional leader that gives shape to the entrepreneurial drive of the promoters and gives an institutionalised framework for achieving the goals set. This is critical to building an institution.
Since September 2008, the world has fallen into a maelstrom of serial crises. What is the role of a leader in these times?
Every crisis is an opportunity in itself. The prime role during a crisis would be not to let negativity creep in the organisation. Motivate the employees to believe in themselves and the organisation. The fundamental principles of an organisation must always remain strong, the core values must never be compromised and one must invest in product development that enhances the value to the customers.
What has been the biggest leadership challenge you’ve faced?
Taking care of 15,000 employees is not an easy job. If you are not able to motivate them, you are a failure from day one. Shouldering this responsibility is my passion. Some of the biggest are to bring about a cultural shift, break old habits and old mindsets and make space for the team members to bring in an innovative culture that allows for mistakes. Fulfilling all this in a collaborative environment is a challenge in itself.
What is your one-line leadership mantra?
To create an environment and a culture that brings out the best in individuals. To achieve that, my focus is to create values within the organisation.
Who are the leaders that have inspired you?
The beacon for me has been my grandfather, H P Nanda. In many ways he was “tomorrow’s man”. He always carried a visionary approach to his decision-making and instinctively knew that if not today, the benefits would flow tomorrow. People placed their trust in him, even as he exhorted them to excel, always knowing that he was there for them. He and JRD Tata, another person who has been a big inspiration for me, were contemporaries. They were both fearless leaders who were focussed on not just creating a company but with that bringing a change in their society.
What is the biggest leadership lesson that you have learnt?
That leadership is not about “you”. It’s about building your people and your company. We as leaders are mere custodians to ensure the continuity and purpose of the enterprise.
What is the best leadership decision you have taken?
My best decision would be that to surround myself with the most competent team and ensure to harvest their talents and in the process meet the aspirations of building a great enterprise for the future.
What is the worst leadership decision you have taken?
Mistakes are inevitable since they help you shape up as a mature and balanced leader. So we make mistakes in our day-to-day lives. I learn from my mistakes, though I can’t recall a mistake that’s hounding me even now. I have a tendency to listen more than talk. So, before I take a decision, I ensure that I’m surrounded by people whom I respect in terms of their talent and experience. So decision-making, to that extent, becomes easier. That consensus, perhaps, helps in reducing mistakes.