Decisions taken under pressure usually are knee-jerk reactions. Downsizing is not a solution to a difficult situation,” says Partho Dasgupta, managing director, of IT firm NEC India. He spoke to HT on a range of leadership issues.
How do you define a leader? What are the most important traits of a leader?
I believe that a leader is one who has the ability to lead from the front in times of distress. True leaders are those who steer the ship when the waters are choppy. Fearlessness and risk-taking ability to execute on strategic initiatives are the key to leadership in any enterprise. A leader must possess a positive attitude.
He or she should also have the ability to takes risks and stand by his decisions. Most importantly a leader should have strong communication skills. The most important trait is the ability to listen and empathise. The best leaders are always the ones who listen to feedback from employees, partners and customers and act upon them.
As a leader of your group, how do you cultivate leaders?
Empowerment is the key to cultivating future leaders. It is important that people in an organisation have a sense of ownership and this comes only when you empower them with the right set of processes, tools, environment and decision-making capability. Micromanagement will never enable an enterprise to build a second rung.
Good leadership demands placing faith in people’s ability, giving them space to grow within the organisation and above all supporting their decisions. Two out of 10 decisions might be wrong but I would still live with the wrong decisions rather than taking away the empowerment.
Can leadership be learnt? In other words, how can a manager become a leader?
There is a famous adage about leaders being born not taught, which may not entirely hold true. Leadership can neither be learnt nor taught by any academic curriculum. While a majority of the business leaders come from sales or business development background, I think working up the ladder from the lowest rung in sales is always a good way to learn the ropes of the business.
What is the role of a professional leader in a promoter-driven company?
A promoter, in my opinion, is an investor. He will always hire professional managers to do the job for him. Professional managers have the right skill sets that are required to achieve results. Wipro is a very good example of professionals leading a promoter-driven company.
Since September 2008, the world has fallen into a maelstrom of serial crises. What is the role of a leader in these times?
Leadership has to look at innovation and improvisation as tools to grow the business in difficult times. True leadership quality comes to the forefront only when the times are tough. Downsizing is not a solution to a difficult situation. This job can be done by an HR manager as well. A leader is one who looks inwards at the organisation and looks at honing the existing skill set to create a profitable proposition.
What has been the biggest leadership challenge you’ve faced?
The biggest challenge that I faced in a leadership position was during the crisis in 2001. I was in the US at that time; the bottom had just dropped out of the global outsourcing market. Navigating the recession and building market share in that environment was quite challenging. The crisis of 2007-08 was also unprecedented but I think we weathered the storm in India much better than the rest of the world.
Do you think the role of business leaders has come under cloud — globally and domestically — of late?
In recent times the level of uncertainty that the global economy witnessed had not been experienced in decades. When leadership has to navigate such choppy waters there are no benchmarks for reference. Some amount of criticism in such times is justified. However, decisions taken under pressure are often knee-jerk.
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?
Communication is the key. Gone are the days when closed-door policy was a thumb rule. The new age leaders are dynamic and excel at the art of communicating. A leader has to communicate both the good news as well as the bad news proactively.
What is your one-line leadership mantra?
Failures should be seen as great learning experience as it pushes you to find the path to success. Arguably one of the greatest basketball players of all times Michael Jordan was thought to have nerves of steel. He invariably responded when the chips were down.
Who are the leaders who have inspired you?
I have been a part of the IT industry for more than two decades now and during this period I have always had great respect for Azim Premji. He believed in setting goals larger than life. He said, “If people are not laughing at your goals then your goals are too small.” This thought has never failed to inspire me and helps me to keep on challenging myself all the times.
What is the biggest leadership lesson that you have learnt?
Nothing in life should be taken for granted. Your most trusted assets can also turn against you. A watchful business leader should never be in a comfort zone, which, in my opinion brings in redundancy. You need to live life one quarter at a time especially in troubled times like these.
What is the best leadership decision you have taken?
I believe in going beyond the convention, breaking the norms. At a time when people said that the best way to grow the business was to go for lateral hires, we went the other way and went for freshers from premier management and engineering institutes.
What is the worst leadership decision you have taken?
To err is human. However retrospectively, I believe they are times when I persisted with managers more inclined towards things other than optimising performance.