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HindustanTimes Mon,22 Dec 2014

'Right now there is a huge leadership vacuum'

Rachit Vats, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, July 04, 2012
First Published: 20:42 IST(4/7/2012) | Last Updated: 01:21 IST(5/7/2012)

For Vinita Bali, one of India's popular business figures, leadership is about pursuit of excellence, which eventually helps achieve success.

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Bali, in-charge of Britannia, believes that besides other things leadership is foremost about ownership and accountability. In a freewheeling chat with the Hindustan Times she reveals various facets of leadership.


Is leadership ingrained or can it be nurtured?

It's not just embedded in one to be a leader. Leadership is fairly multi-dimensional where it's a question of one's own initiatives, the experiences and the context of those experiences.

A part of it is contextual and a part of it is an innate desire to do something different and meaningful. For me leadership is about taking responsibility to change something for the better.

It could be an ideology, a product, and a cause for the country or the environment. But yes, all leaders display great courage and responsibility.


Do you think we have nurtured enough leaders after Independence?http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/7/05_07_12-buss23.jpg

We certainly have leaders who have shown leadership skills in different and difficult circumstances. Leadership is not a flash in the pan, or about being opportunistic.

It is about consistency. It's a marathon and not a sprint. If you look at some of the emerging industries such as software or biotechnology; all of which is less than 20-25 years old.

If you look at the art, or even Hindi cinema; the way themes have changed are all brought about by people who have had enough of status quo.


So, do we have enough leaders…?

Right now there is a huge leadership vacuum. As a country we are continuing to struggle to emerge an effective democracy. We have to learn to prioritise on what is more important. 

Also, in many ways it is tougher to be a leader because you got many more and multiple agendas to cater to. Over a period of time we are dealing with both greater complexity and ambiguity.

Thus the leadership skills themselves have to be very different. It is not about looking up to a leader. We are learning to deal with how do you have conflicting agendas and yet make progress.


You made an unconventional choice early in your career when you chose to work in markets such as Nigeria and South Africa. What was the core reason behind this?

In the 80s, it was quite unusual for somebody from India to go and work in the marketing. Nigeria was an unconventional choice but to my mind it was an opportunity to go and really make a difference.

The attraction was to walk into an unfamiliar territory and do something about it. That worked really well leading to a second opportunity in South Africa in 1994.


Any particular lessons that you picked from making this choice?

When you are thrown into an environment you are not familiar with, the learning ability increases. You become more adaptable and you learn how to establish credibility in a shorter span of time.

Also, I have developed another hypothesis that it's easier to bring about a change if you are an outsider. So, if you look at it from a macro perspective the biggest change agent before Independence was Mahatma Gandhi who more or less was an NRI. He did not have the baggage of the context and reality.


What are your core leadership traits and has it evolved over years?

I don't shy away from taking ownership and accountability. All leaders must have large amounts of energy and enthusiasm, especially when you are looking at creating a large change.

Leaders pursue excellence that leads to success. Pursuit of excellence is inspirational and I see it in sportsmen and in artists. I wish there was a greater pursuit of excellence in the corporate world.


Who do you look up to?

Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi are two leaders I admire. They stood for principles and emerged with no semblance of any deterrence after years of isolation.

Then there are other source of inspirations including Steve Jobs and Richard Branson who created and did things differently.


Do you think leadership comes easy to a woman?

Leadership is genderless. Either you have the qualities of a leader or you don't. Leadership is timeless.


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