One of India's 48 billionaires - the latest Forbes rich list ranks him at 270 with a net worth of $4.1 billion - Uday Kotak, 53, vice-chairman and managing director, Kotak Mahindra Bank says leadership is about being disruptive and thinking out of the box.Excerpts from an interview:
What would be the defining trait of leadership, according to you?
Leadership is building a team having a common purpose, and executing that purpose. It is about identifying an opportunity in advance and most of the times people see it after it's gone. For example, nobody saw an opportunity in tablets but Steve Jobs. Even the consumer didn't know that they have a need. So when an opportunity flows most people ignore it. And once you get that opportunity, your ability to execute it - that is the key difference between success and failure. There are many visionaries but success is with the person who executes that vision. People underestimate the importance of execution.
How do you identify opportunity and execute it?
You have to follow your own instinct. Humans have a tendency to think that it is too risky, or I can't do that. In India we have two diseases, what I call needling and tolding. You ask any manager and he will say we need to do this - in that case why don't you do this. And second is tolding - I have told him, or passed on the work to someone else. Why have you told him, why haven't you done that yourself.
What is your leadership style?
I like to build consensus, but once I'm clear about something then I decide. I try to carry my team along but I am not scared to take a decision if it is not popular.
I also think leadership should not be predictable. If it's too predictable then people know that if they behave in a particular manner, then the boss will react in a set way. But unpredictability does not imply inconsistency - you have to be consistent in your philosophy but must have the ability to think out of the box.
Any such instance of unpredictability you can recount?
It was not an easy decision for us to buy back the Goldman Sachs stake in 2006. The predictable thing was to sell out but we finally looked deep inside and went with our conviction - which brings to another important issue about leadership. That the line between conviction and foolhardiness is very thin.
Has the job of a leader become tough in times of a slowdown, especially when he has to take a decision on downsizing?
Every downturn is an opportunity because if you have the right strategy and you execute it right, then post-downturn you have chances of getting a higher market share.
But often employees are the last to know about developments. Is that due to a lack of respect or is the leader too scared to tell the truth?
I think it is both. It is extremely important to carry your team in good and bad times. And when leadership does not have the trust of its people, it's a huge sign of weakness of the firm. The two most important constituents of any firm are customers and employees. With both these categories I put disproportionate importance to trust. Conduct of a person builds trust and trust is fragile, it has to be nurtured. A firm must give as much importance to internal communication as to external communication.
So where do most leaders go wrong?
Most of the times people struggle on the 'who' and lose the sight of 'what'. It is not about who is right, but what is right. Stick to the principle of what is right and manage the who separately.
Which historical leader do you admire most and why?
Mahatama Gandhi, he was the smartest negotiator in the world. What negotiating leverage did he have when he went to the queen in a dhoti and yet, he shifted the negotiating leverage in his favour - as if saying that I am half naked because of what you have done to my country. The way Gandhi used fasts as a negotiating leverage, smartly, time and again, that too in era of no mobiles - he is the one of the smartest negotiators history has seen.