Anil Sardana, managing director of Tata Power, believes changing Delhi's corruption-ridden system was a big leadership challenge. He spoke to HT on a range of issues on leadership. Excerpts:
How do you define a leader?
A leader is the one who has passion to leave legacies, for which posterity would remember his contribution. A leader must thus build teams, which share his conviction and remain motivated to deliver their best. A leader has to be a friend, a philosopher and a guide in true sense of every word. Emotional intelligence is a key attribute required for a leader as empathy, social skills and self-awareness are key skill sets required to distinguish an outstanding performer from others.
What are the three most important traits of a leader?
I would say that clearly defining the goals and objectives and aligning each of the teammate for a shared vision; thereafter pursuing and engaging teams to deliver the best; thirdly, putting in place a cycle of continuous learning and improvement are the traits that a good leader must possess and demonstrate.
As the leader of your company, how do you cultivate leaders?
Building good to great performing teams has to be one's passion. Once the traits as indicated above are being pursued, there would be several colleagues in the team who would show tremendous resilience to out-perform and there would be a few who would show signs of alienation or slow start. It is important to see such green shoots early and ensure that a well designed 'Leadership Development' program is put in place. The delegated work orientation helps leaders to hone their skills on-the-job. Besides, counselling, discussion with leaders in the team including discussions about their aspirations, career path, strengths, and developmental plan, are the key processes adopted towards cultivation of leaders.
There is a high involvement of department heads and senior leaders in talent management and succession planning process. A concrete developmental plan is chalked out which is regularly monitored for implementation. We do not stop here, we also discuss our talent at Tata Group level - in which top leaders of the Tata Group engage in developmental discussions, which are recorded for implementation. Besides, each leader is encouraged to announce his target legacies that he or she would like to pursue. This helps leaders undertake initiatives and actions, which help them, achieve good performance.
Can leadership be learnt? In other words, how can a manager become a leader?
Yes, leadership can be learnt and cultivated. Besides natural leaders, a good manager can be groomed to be a good leader through talent management and leadership development process.
What is the role of a professional leader in a promoter-driven company?
The role of a professional leader is no different in a promoter-driven company. A professional leader here should be more conscious of his role to keep his team isolated from the promoters, and guide and steer the team, so that they deliver towards growth of the business so as to create value for all stakeholders.
Since September 2008, the world has fallen into a maelstrom of serial crises. What is the role of a leader in these times?
The true test of a leader is during crises, as to how he motivates and steers the teams through these challenging times. Also, it's important that a leader demonstrates strong ethical values and commitment to clean and transparent governance, so that his team always remain with their head above water.
What has been the biggest leadership challenge you've faced?
As practicing leaders one faces several challenges in career. For me, change of management at power distribution in Delhi, which was harbinger of corruption, widespread manipulative practices with pathetic customer services and dilapidated infrastructure, to be corrected was one of the big leadership challenge. As one looks back, today the business is profitable with benchmark customer practices and robust infrastructure.
Do you think the role of business leaders has come under cloud - globally and domestically - of late?
There is increasing need for participative and engaging form of leadership. These are challenging times and a lot of commitment and involvement is required to ensure success. I would say even today there are several great business leaders who are leading their companies to success.
Leaders have to often carry the cross of other's wrong doings and inefficiencies, the global banking sector today, for instance. What role can good leadership play to counter balance this image?
If short-term measures for profitability and vested interests override the fundamental traits, it leads to the kind of issues one has seen in some of the industries. The 'rut to earn' and 'living to earn' are greed that destroy the correct behavior of a leader and must be watched by the key senior stakeholders.
What is your one-line leadership mantra?
Build teams with conviction to perform and thereafter there is nothing impossible.
Who are the leaders that have inspired you?
I am lucky to have worked with phenomenal leader like Ratan Tata, who has not just inspired me but helped me develop tremendous empathy for human eco-system and society.
What is the biggest leadership lesson that you have learnt?
Honesty, sincerity, humility and empathy remains ones pride possession and thus should remain integral to ones persona all the time.
What is the best leadership decision you have taken?
To have served large customers and build affectionate teams by accepting the role at Delhi for change management of distribution business.
What is the worst leadership decision you have taken?
Having not promoted a NGO and having launched myself into corporate life.