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‘A true leader is open to criticism’

Kazutada Kobayashi, president and CEO, Canon India, has spent the majority of his 33-year career working overseas in Germany, the Netherlands, Philippines, Taiwan, Macau, Mongolia and Hong Kong. Kazutada Kobayashi tells Himani Chandna Gurtoo

business Updated: Feb 14, 2013 01:23 IST
Himani Chandna Gurtoo

Kazutada Kobayashi, president and CEO, Canon India, has spent the majority of his 33-year career working overseas in Germany, the Netherlands, Philippines, Taiwan, Macau, Mongolia and Hong Kong. Kobayashi is currently steering the helm at Canon India, overseeing the management of the company and leading the company to growth in the Indian sub-continent. On the personal front, he is a keen sportsman who enjoys tennis, golf and fishing. He also likes to try his hand at cooking and is a passionate traveller who has visited more than 30 countries. An expert in handling cultural differences and language barriers, Kobayashi feels India has great potential to breed leaders. Excerpts from an interview:

Who is a ‘leader’ for you?
Being an expat, I regularly face language barriers, but I am an expert in handling such cultural differences. A leader is one who establishes his team, bring results and prove his capabilities irrespective of geographies. For me, he is some one with extraordinary communication skills, one who is well understood by the member of his organisation, in terms of organisational goals and objectives.

Who is your inspiration?
Steve Jobs, co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Apple Inc, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States. I really look upto them as they had an exemplary macro and micro economic perspective. And yes, I really appreciate Ratan Tata, the former chairman of the Tata Group, and look upto some of his decisions, keeping in mind the challenging business environment in India.

Being in a leadership role, how do you build a following?
I need not to build it, if I know the fundamental of respecting human resources. To secure, build and progress with your team- mates, colleagues, seniors and even trainees is an art. A bad leader is someone who believes in progressing and walking alone. I believe in nurturing, listening and progressing with my staff and hence, they become my followers.

Three most important traits of a leader?
A leader is someone who is open to criticism, one who has the courage to sort out critical matters without cribbing about them and obviously, one who has extraordinary communication skills. I believe a leader is always a team person.

So you are open to criticism, meaning that a leader must be open to debates and discussions on his decision. Right?
Absolutely! I will be happy if my colleagues would guide me and help me in picking the best. No one can survive in his own world; you must accept and consider others’ point of view. But yes, one should draw a fine line between ‘genuine’ criticism and ‘emotional’ criticism. I am not very fond of emotional critics.

What was your best decision?
I believe, my decision to work in India, develop a market here will be the best in terms of career progression. Having spent 25 years in markets overseas, I still find the market here in India extremely fresh, niche and challenging. Even customers here are different from those of other geographies, with a different set of cultural values and disposable incomes.

And the worst decision?
I don’t have any to share. Neither have I planned to have an answer in the future…

The world has witnessed deceleration in the broader economy. For the last four years, the globe is under a severe economic crisis. What is the role of a leader?
The economy is stagnant and the role of right leadership becomes hugely important in such a scenario. Such crisis means a good leader should have long-term perspective, a brilliant motivational spirit and an enigma to infuse energy across the organisation and his team.He must have a list of plans to survive — brilliant, well tested plans. If his goals are clear, it will be much easier for his team and organisation to endure the current scenario and sail through the rough patch. The leader cannot go into a shell, he is the one to draw and announce strategies and he should have the ability to take everyone along.

A leader has to be dominating and authoritative. Is that true?
For me, a leader is a mix of authority and motivational spirit. He may be critical at times and may put the team under pressure to perform but he must be a friendly and smiling character as a norm. You cannot dominate set of people if they actually do not respect you.

Then, why we don’t see many leaders around? What is the major trait that goes missing in those who have exemplary capabilities but still fail to lead?
It is their communication skills and respect for human resources. The core value is to earn the respect by respecting the team and the team’s work. Only a true leader knows how to earn respect. Others fail to recognise the fact that they are leading only because their team is working.

Do you think an organisation empowers one to lead in his own style or a leader must have in-born traits to lead?
Well, organisational powers are vital and play a critical role in developing the style of a leader. However, an organisation is always result oriented and generally, allows a leader to develop his own style. Personally, my organisation is on my mind 18 hours a day and my leadership style gets influenced by the needs and goals of my workplace only.