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'Leadership is giving people enough space'

business Updated: Feb 29, 2012 22:51 IST
Sachin Kumar
Sachin Kumar
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

A three-decade veteran at mortgage lender Housing Development Finance Corporation (HDFC), in what is only his second job - the first being with Tatas-promoted Indian Hotels - Keki Mistry, 57, has played a critical role in the lender's transformation into India's leading financial services company that also dabbles in banking, asset management and insurance. Leadership, he says, is about having the courage to take responsibility when there's a goof-up and also about not interfering in others' work. Excerpts from an interview:

How would you define leadership?
Leadership is acceptance. It is not forcing others to do things your way but giving people enough space.

What are the qualities of a good leader?
A leader must have a clear vision of what the organisation needs to do. He should be able to articulate and make people understand the vision. The vision must be translated into corporate goals that must be well defined and capable of being measured.

A leader must be approachable to his colleagues. He should be willing to listen to suggestions and should not impose his ideas on others.

A leader must be able to take decisions. He must accept his mistake in case of wrong decisions. This brings a feeling of transparency to his staff. He should be lavish while praising colleagues for a job well done.

Which kind of leadership style is best?
Leadership styles could be different. You can have a leader who likes to be hands-on and wants to know every detail of what is going on in the organisation. Another style is to adopt a hands-off approach, ensuring that corporate goals are met in an ethical manner without getting involved in micro management. It's not that one quality is good and the other is bad, you can have equally successful leaders using different styles.

What is your leadership style?
My preference is to be a little hands-off. If you start getting into every detail, then you are interfering in other's work. The two most important things are creating an atmosphere where your staff does not fear to come to office on Monday and have a transparent policy.

What leadership advice would you give to your daughter?
I would suggest that she learns from people around her. Also, I would tell her to never lose sleep over something since things do not always go your way.

What is your leadership advice to young professionals?
Patience and integrity is key. They should not aspire to become a leader the next day. As you learn, pick your way up in life and you will automatically develop leadership qualities. Not every decision you take will be correct. Admit those mistakes. Every person has the potential to become a leader.

Can a manager become a leader?
Yes, you need to be someone who has learnt his way up, understands the work, keeps an open mind and gives flexibility to people. As managers grow they understand corporate goals, the organisation's culture and automatically become a leader. There is nothing like a born leader.

How do you nurture leadership at HDFC?
At HDFC we try to create an environment where we can identify good people and entrust them with greater responsibilities so that they can be tested out under different conditions. In a few cases, we have even moved some of our people to head other businesses that we have undertaken.

We believe that an individual who joins the organisation has a lot to contribute to the long-term goal. He should be willing to be in the organisation for a long period, not someone who looks at HDFC as a stepping stone.