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'Indian CEOs poor in execution of concepts'

A new book The Indian CEO – A Portrait of Excellence starts off as an effort to recognise the best traits of Indian CEOs, reports Suman Layak.

business Updated: Nov 28, 2007 22:42 IST
Suman Layak

American personality psychologist David McClelland proposed a content theory of motivation in his 1961 book, The Achieving Society. The theory is often referred to as McClelland's Theory of Needs. He proposed that a human being's basic needs are determined by his/her early experiences and can be classified under achievement, affiliation and power.

Tharuma Rajah takes a lot of pains in explaining the theory. "Achievement is like winning a deal or writing software codes. Affiliation is the various relationships that you forge through life, and power is when you are able to influence others to do what you want them to do." Rajah explains that while a young executive should be high on achievement, as he grows older he should be more satisfied when his power needs are met. "It is very important to manage your needs. You should not look at your need for affiliations to be satisfied at the work place. It is best satisfied at home with your family. And at home you do not look to satisfy your need for power, he says, adding, "…at home you let your wife take over."

The concept of managing the needs is the basis of the book that Rajah has co-authored with four other writers. The Indian CEO – A Portrait of Excellence started off as an effort to recognise the best traits of Indian chief executive officers. However, it has also ended up finding some areas where Indian CEOs have often missed a trick. It goes back to the Theory of Needs, as the authors show how CEOs in India are largely ruled by their achievement needs, instead of power as it should be. "They are great when it comes to strategising and conceptualising. They are great entrepreneurs, but are poor in execution as they are mostly driven by the achievement needs," Rajah says.

The book had started as a project for Bharat Petroleum Company Ltd (BPCL) being conducted by consultants Hay Group Signe M Spencer, a senior consultant with Hay, Gaurav Lahiri, a director of Hay Group at London, along with Rajah, who is the regional director for Hay in Asia, teamed up with SA Narayan, the director of human resources at BPCL and Seetharaman Mohan, executive director of human resources at BPCL, to write the book.

In the first chapter, titled Indian Leaders: Challenges in Execution, the writers say: "In the case of Indian business leaders, there is a dark side to their strongly developed intellects and achievement drives – a relative absence of tuning in to other people. In fact, at times they are so focused on entrepreneurship and strategy that they neglect the task of energising their teams. However, when they do energise their teams, they get much better results…"

They add in the next paragraph: "More striking is, however, their lack of attention to others, especially as individuals – one on one. While Indian CEOs showed empathy and compassionate responses to entire groups or classes of people, the missing piece was a discernment of individual characteristics of the people closest to the leaders."