Neil Prasad, regional managing director, South Asia, G4S, a multinational security solutions company, spoke to HT on a range of leadership aspects including the challenges of managing a workforce of more than 130,000 people. Excerpts:
How do you define a leader?
To me a leader is someone whose capability to inspire others is second only to his ability to take informed decisions and command. One who has the ability to motivate and inspire people around to make them believe in what he is doing.
What are the three most important traits of a leader?
Deep-rooted commitment to the goal and achievement of the vision; honesty and integrity, ability to delegate; and courage to take risks.
How do you cultivate leaders, especially in a service such as yours where you have to create different layers of leadership managing large number of people?
We understand the importance of the need to train employees and identifying leadership potential. It is important to recognise the potential of a person at an early stage and to have a robust human resource programme in place. Being a service-driven business, it is extremely important for us to spend a lot of time and energy in planning and training leaders. We are also a cross-culture employer with global presence and an essential part of our leadership entails understanding cultural nuances and we take due cognisance of this in our training programmes.
Can leadership be learnt? In other words, how can a manager become a leader?
There are natural motivational leaders and leaders developed through processes. The organisation needs to realise where the different qualities are required. Managers with that drive or rather “fire in their belly” to achieve such heights inevitably become leaders. So yes, I believe leadership can be learnt, however, great leaders usually possess a natural ability.
What is the role of a professional leader in a promoter-driven company?
I have largely worked in professional set-ups and have limited experience of operations in a promoter-driven company. Both promoters and professionals bring their own skills to the table. In a promoter-driven organisation, the leader brings professional and technical knowledge to the table which transfers the promoter’s investments into profits. For the promoter at the end of the day it is his vision, investments and leadership that can make or break the brand. The professional leader, on the other hand brings in more often than not a democratic work style and a non-vested point of view. The goals are the same; however, the time scales of process implementation would be shorter.
What is the role of a leader in times of economic crises?
Economic crises are perhaps the most trying time for any leader. It is during these tough times, the mettle of a leader is truly tested. When business challenges mandate tough decisions that impact people a leader has to tread carefully. During this time the leader has to take a role of protecting the key members of the organisation and finding solutions that circumvent the slow-down in the growth of the company.
In such times, you have to be a businessman, while remembering that your decisions impact people and not commodities. It becomes imperative for a leader to lead by example during trying times. The easiest route that weak leaders take at a time like this is cost cutting. An accountant can cut costs; a business leader grows the business to circumvent difficult situations.
What has been the biggest leadership challenge you’ve faced?
I would say that whenever you take on a new role you have to be careful not to rubbish the old leadership, while carefully extracting all the “right things he or she did.” Be large enough to accept and recognise these issues and then manage change from a closed organisation to an open organisation. The challenge for me was to create customer focus in the organisation that was very inwardly thinking.
Leaders have to often carry the cross of other’s wrong doings and inefficiencies, the global banking sector today, for instance. What role can good leadership play to counter balance this image?
The buck of business stops at the leader’s desk and he or she is responsible and accountable for the conduct of his or her employees. When an internal negative situation arises staying in denial and being defensive is perhaps the most fool hardy decision perhaps you can take as a leader. Accept, investigate, fix responsibilities, take corrective measures and put in action damage-control plans. This to me is what a good leader should do when faced with tough times.
What is your one-line leadership mantra?
Get the right people every time in the relevant positions, motivate, recognise and reward regularly.
Who are the leaders that have inspired you?
Iron lady- Maragaret Thatcher, founder and chairman of Virgin Group Richard Branson and my father RR Prasad.
What is the biggest leadership lesson that you have learnt?
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. In a business like ours, situations change very quickly and you need to take quick decisions which may seem perfect choices in the given time but you learn to handle difficult situations while maintaining a calm exterior. Never feel that you are always right and never stop learning from all around you. I never ask anyone to do something that I would not do myself.
What is the best leadership decision you have taken?
We have created a “Wish Centre” for our employees, with the objective of providing a platform to employees for voicing their concerns and grievances. The concerned department processes the case and attempts to resolve it within a period of 7 days or it gets escalated to me. This helps keep a pulse on a business in India which employs over 130,000 people.
What is the worst leadership decision you have taken?
I recall taking a decision without the “triangle test” on the future of an employee. It turned out to be wrong but I had the humility to reverse my position.