First generation entrepreneur Ronnie Screwvala is a pioneer in the television, entertainment and gaming industry. Screwvala, managing director, DisneyUTV, and founder trustee, Swades Foundation, spoke to HT on various aspects of leadership. Excerpts:
How do you define a leader? What are the most important traits of a leader?
A leader has to lead from the front, and lead by example. Most importantly, a great leader must build credibility and trust all around - with colleagues, customers and the public at large. Integrity of thought and word cannot be relegated to second place at any cost. It is also important to inspire, as with inspiration, you can get colleagues and others to turn the impossible into the possible. This is particularly true in times of crisis as at such times, everyone looks up to the leader for answers and solutions.
Can leadership be learnt? In other words, how can a manager become a leader?
Leadership has to come from within, and, if you look at yourself as a manager, then chances are that you may not emerge as a leader. It has to come naturally, instinctively and needs to be embedded in the DNA of the leader. In some ways you can "learn" or "train" leadership qualities and how to take charge, but, in my view, real leadership in areas such as entrepreneurship is more of a natural process.
What is the role of a professional leader in a promoter-driven company?
I think a lot is being made, incorrectly, of this "professional" versus "promoter" debate. This argument sometimes creates the impression that founders and promoters can never be professionals. I think an optimal combination of a professional leading and a promoter heading an organisation can inject dynamism into it. The promoter brings on the table his risk taking ability, pioneering spirit and quick decision-making, backed by action. A professional leader can add to this with sharp execution plans and skills, an unwavering focus on deliverables, in-depth research and a thorough understanding of the consumer and the rigour of a strong review process.
Since Septr 2008, the world has fallen into a maelstrom of serial crises. What is the role of a leader in these times?
Part of the reason why the world fell into this maelstrom is that a small minority of heads of companies thought they were great leaders and let their perceptions overtake reality. These leaders closed themselves to feedback on ground realities. These are traits every leader should consciously avoid, for these are the precise reasons that cause leaders to fall off the cliff.
Leaders often carry the cross of other's wrong doings and inefficiencies. Take the global banking sector today, for instance. What role can good leadership play to counter balance this image?
Leadership is very individualistic and cannot be generalised. A leader has to be viewed as a distinct entity and cannot make up for the inefficiencies of others. Actually, in each industry, one will see some clear leaders who stand out clearly, demonstrating that it is as much about the individual himself as much it is for the specific sector. Stay the course in your own belief and performance, and that will be noticed and respected.
Who are the leaders that have inspired you?
More than individuals or personalities, there are certain situations that have inspired me.
For instance, the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which held out great lessons in leadership. To see the entire management and staff, irrespective of seniority, thinking of every client in the hotel as a guest even at a time of such a grave emergency, was a remarkable lesson on ownership, commitment and pride in your work. This is a direct reflection of great leadership - of leading from the front, of credibility and of standing by your beliefs at all times.
What is worst decision you have taken as a leader?
Not taking a hard call to pull the plug on something even when all the signs pointed otherwise and not knowing at that moment that it's wiser to cut your losses and walk. This inability to take a tough call when needed can lead to some of the worst decisions.
What is the best decision that you have taken as a leader?
Staying the course clearly is not only one of the most important aspects of a leader, but also the hallmark of a resilient organisation. Resilience is the key to long term success and to being a great leader. Also, it is imperative not to give up when failure knocks, as it will many a time.