Naina Lal Kidwai, group general manager and country head, HSBC India, spoke to Hindustan Times on issues ranging from the importance of values, the need for a consultative approach and the role of intuition in decision making. Excerpts:
How difficult is it to lead a foreign bank at a time when the banking industry world over is going through some uncertainty?
We have to learn to live in uncertain times. It is all about volatility today. But you require the same skills that you required in the early 2000s to able to steer through. It is flexibility and having a strategy in place but what is critical today is to review constantly. You need to keep continuously reviewing and redefining those strategies while keeping your eyes and ears open. You also need to be aware of competition.
How do you manage to drive your employees to perform especially when your bank is looking at slashing jobs?
It is realignment and not downsizing — realignment because of upgradation of technology and people do understand that. There have been changes in the sizes of different teams and there is a requirement to have fewer and better.
Is it difficult for leaders to motivate employees when there is uncertainty about jobs and increments?
Let's be honest. There is dead weight everywhere and companies decide what is dead weight and there are people today who do not have a full day's work, so it is important that those people are willing to move to new areas or places and often they are unwilling and companies are left with little choice. Your skill set needs to constantly enhanced and often people do not want that. In any organisation priorities change, products change and you need to move with that.
But yes, morale does suffer if you suddenly see your friend not there anymore and I am sure there are cases where people who need not have gone have had to go, but again those who are in the organisation must sustain and have patience and understanding of the situation. At the same time, organisations must reassure people that they are not on the list and such an exercise does not happen again and again and that they must now focus on work. I feel if organisations have to resort to downsizing, they should do it in one go so that there is no apprehension or fear among the employees who are there.
What is the mantra of success?
Besides being open and flexible you need to have a consultative approach, though it cannot be a committee based decision making process. When my senior management meets, we do have disagreements. I would be worried if everybody agreed, there should be some disagreements. I challenge everybody and I need to be convinced but I am the first to accept if I am wrong, but again only if I am convinced. The way we disagree must be constructive.
What do you do if there is no emergence of one voice and as a leader you need to take a quick decision?
When disagreements become ugly, a CEO's role comes into play. Let me tell you when my top team is not in agreement I have often taken decisions intuitively. Somehow, intuitively you know it is the right decision.
How often have you taken decisions based on just intuitions?
Almost all the time. Intuition gets honed with experience. Today I can rely on my intuition. Intuition laced with experience is the key.
What is critical to leadership?
Values. Building values is the key and you need to choose the right people and train them. You need to be open and ready to listen to your people. If you are too centralised, if you are not listening, you will miss the bus, you need to be closely in touch especially where your customers are interfacing and like I said, you should be aware of competition.
Is it difficult to be a woman leader in India compared to the western world?
I don't think so. In India it is much easier for a woman to be a leader because of the social and family set up and family and children are taken care of. You don't need to bother about them whereas the case is not the same in the West. I have seen women finding it much more difficult to juggle between the two and managing both ends is naturally a lot difficult there, they have to practically do everything on their own and that is tough.