I think a leader is someone who has a vision, takes responsibility for execution, executes it, and cares about people and team spirit. He also inspires and unites the team for a cause. The most important for me is responsibility. Someone without a vision can’t be a leader.
What are the most important traits of a leader?
The important traits that a leader should have are vision, taking responsibility for execution and uniting the team for execution.
As the leader of SSTL in India, how do you cultivate leaders?
I think here the question lies in empowering the people to make mistakes and accept those mistakes. Unfortunately, in a developing world we have much more hierarchy and often feel shy to speak-up, to accelerate the issues, to share the ideas and look up to the boss to charter the way, and then execute. If you think that there is a good person then accordingly give him responsibility, few ownerships and let him take the responsibility for execution.
Can leadership be learnt? Or how can a manager become a leader?
I think there should be some internal flame or some purpose to drive mobility inside a person. What is critical for a person is not just to develop but also seek opportunity to develop. A person can do a lot by attentive observing. Of course, the leadership of the group has responsibility for developing successive leaders.
What is the role of a professional leader in a promoter-driven company? How different is Russia from India?
I think in many companies, Russia is no different from India, promoters are leaders also. This could be a good thing or a bad thing. In some cases, some leaders cannot tolerate other leaders. At the end of the day, one person cannot do everything. Business is not led by just one leader but a collection of leaders. Even creating an atmosphere for thousands of executors will not work unless it is considered a natural monopoly, which ultimately leads to exploring some resource.
In fact, let me be a little provocative: professional managers are also responsible for protecting promoters from themselves. Because, even if professional managers have pulse and new ideas to do something good, in reality the role of the professional managers is to engage the promoters into discussion and create a framework that basically helps the organisation to follow the course charter by promoters to manage the associated resources.
What has been the biggest leadership challenge you’ve faced?
The biggest challenge that I faced was landing in India in July 2008, leading a team of 10 people.
Is India that bad that it became a challenge for you?
It is not India which is bad. India is a great country because it provides challenges. It was a personal challenge for me. Before that, I had an experience as chief operating officer (COO), chief financial officer (CFO), etc but here I was given a task to not just create a company, but to create a company and a brand with significance presence on almost complete white paper from the scratch.
What is your leadership mantra?
My mantra is based on a famous Russian saying “Per aspera ad astra”, when translated in English can be best explained as “Through hardships to the stars”.
Who are the leaders that have inspired you?
I personally admire three leaders who have noticing personalities because they had achieved some interesting things through their leadership qualities. Sergei Korolev, a famous chief designer of Russian space programme, Lee Kwan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore and a true statesman, and Mikhail Kutuzov, a Field Marshal of the Russia who won the war against Napoleon.
What is the best leadership decision you have taken?
I believe I am yet to take the best leadership decision. I have made good decisions but the best is yet to come.
What is the worst leadership decision you have taken?
One decision I can confess, which I really regret for not taking much earlier. Our biggest achievement as I mentioned earlier is clear establishment of brand in very short span of time in very competitive market. Our service basically focuses on data. Looking back, we should have started our data business right from day one. We started business one year after the launch. It took us another 6-8 more months to learn how to do things right.
Is that a lesson learnt or is that a decision that you should have taken earlier?
These are two sides of one thing. I should have been more thoughtful about the opportunities and should have been able to take the decision and make it faster.