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"A leader should be courageous, honest, fair"

None   April 24, 2013
First Published: 21:35 IST(24/4/2013) | Last Updated: 00:03 IST(25/4/2013)

Melt Van Der Spuy, managing director, Eli Lilly and Company (India) Pvt. Ltd, the 10th largest pharmaceutical company in the world, joined the firm 18 years ago as a sales representative. He was has appointed as the MD of Indian Operations in 2011. Spuy says that leadership can be learnt and shares his leadership mantra with HT. Excerpts:

How do you define a leader?
A leader can be described as an individual who is capable of aligning a group of people to a commonly-identified cause with tremendous passion and commitment - and as a result brings about an extraordinary result. The leader must have the ability to connect to the heart of the people that he/she will be leading.

What are the three most important traits of a leader?
To be courageous: there are many things you can learn in solitude but courage is not one of them. To be honest and act with integrity: yes means yes, no means no. To be fair and consistent with every individual in your organisation: there are no favourites.  

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In your own company, how do you cultivate leaders?
We have various processes to help us effectively recruit, assess and develop people with leadership capabilities. The best way to develop leaders is not by classroom training sessions on leadership but by giving them challenging assignments. Abigail Adams was right when she counseled her son John Quincy that "hard times are the crucible in which character and leadership are forged". 

Can leadership be learnt?
Yes. Character forms a critical part of leadership. Many leaders fail as a result of character issues. The building blocks of character are virtues such as prudence (be wise) and fortitude (be courageous) to name but a few. Human beings are not born with these virtues but they are to be developed through the attainment of knowledge, difficult life experiences and having the right mentors to help guide our development. 

Since 2008 the world has fallen into a maelstrom of serial crises. What is the role of a leader in these times?
In these challenging times, the role of the leader is more critical than ever before. Many people have lost their faith in leadership due to the many public examples of personal failures of leaders. As leaders, we have the responsibility to fulfill our roles with excellence and integrity. We also know that no matter how tough the market is that we are working in there will always be winners and losers. It is also important as leaders that we don't quit in the challenging times - there is an African proverb that says "calm seas don't make skillful sailors"! It is almost always in these challenging times that we learn most about ourselves as leaders and as a result grow has human beings and our ability to lead.  

Do you think the role of business leaders has come under cloud - globally and domestic - of late?
Yes. There are too many examples where leaders have failed the people that they serve. The primary safeguard against corruption and financial disaster is not tighter controls but making sure we recruit, develop and appoint people of integrity into leadership positions. Most malpractices don't happen as a result of ignorance to the laws that govern a country or a specific industry - they happen as a result of a leader's failure in judgment and character. It is important as we develop people that we look into the continuous development of key virtues that will form their character. There is simply no substitute for a solid character.

Leaders have 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?
Within your own organisation you are responsible for every person you appoint into a leadership position. This is one of our most critical task as a leaders and one where our success rates needs to improve dramatically. We don't always control what happens in our environment but we have significant control over who we appoint as leaders. Reality is that in every market no matter how tough - there are always winners and losers. Appoint the right leaders and you are much more likely to be a winner!

What is your one-line leadership mantra?
Top results with integrity! It is not only "what" we achieve but "how" we achieve it. I believe that as leaders we need to spend an equal amount of time discussing and reviewing both the "what and the how" of the result.  

Who are the leaders that have inspired you?
Nelson Mandela - political prisoner jailed for 27 years - reconciled South Africans and ensured peaceful first ever multiracial elections.    

Theodore Roosevelt - Thomas Marshall, the US vice-president said that "Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight"

What is the biggest leadership lesson that you have learnt?
Captured in the famous words of Harry Truman - "You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit." I think we have all met people that are more concerned about keeping their boss informed about their great accomplishments than recognising the people below them that got the job done. The leader needs to make sure the right people are appropriately recognised for their efforts.  

What are the best and worst leadership decisions you have taken?
Early on in my career there were a few cases when I waited too long to make a people-related change in a critical role. As I learned from these experiences early on, it has helped me in more recent roles to act quickly where it was needed and as a result bring about positive results.


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