Vincent Cobee, global head Datsun brand and corporate vice-president of Japanese automaker Nissan Motor, recently revitalised the Datsun brand that seeks to manufacture affordable cars in developing markets like India, Russia, Indonesia and South Africa.
Datsun's global journey begins early next year in India with its small car, Go, and the brand is expected to account as much as a third of Nissan's global sales in times to come. In an interview with HT, Cobee says a leader's emotional quotient should be as high as his intellectual quotient.
How do you define a leader? What does leadership mean for you?
I would define a leader as someone who is able to steer a group of people with multiple directions and mandates. It is very important for a leader to possess a bird's eye view of all perspectives. This is particularly important during times of crisis and uncertainty.
What are the three most important traits of a leader?
I would consider the elements of vision, integrity and empathy as most critical for any leader. Vision as mentioned earlier is necessary to keep in mind the long-term goals and vision of the team and the organisation at large. Impediments may come as short-term hiccups, so a broad, long-term vision and the ability to keep the focus on track is necessary. Integrity is absolute. A person who is accountable with unimpeachable integrity is the best worker. Despite errors and mistakes, I would depend on a person who speaks the truth and would deliver the same to all my colleagues and team members. Finally, empathy because as a leader one should also keep in mind that we are after all dealing with complex human beings. An emotional quotient as high as an intellectual quotient and empathy for people's difficulties are paramount.
As the head of a company that is being revived, how do you cultivate leaders?
I was myself cultivated and nurtured by seniors. I was given opportunities to take on more; tougher and bigger projects. I believe that if you provide opportunities and delegate to trusted people with potential and ambition, they automatically rise to the challenges they are presented and mould themselves as leaders. We can meanwhile coach and support them behind the scenes, so that they succeed and learn on what they have begun.
Can leadership be learnt? In other words, how can a manager become a leader?
Leadership can be learned, but through strong mentoring and attempting increasing difficult challenges and by succeeding in those challenges. A manager attempts any assignment from a management point of view, but a leader is the outcome of the assignment if it is successful. Success is a measurement of a leader on whether he is able to grow with others and by taking them along for the success they enjoy together.
What is the role of a leader in times like these when the macroeconomic indicators are uncertain?
During uncertain times, a leader must be aware of the risks and perils of doing business. Growth cannot be the only indicator for all business processes. One must be clear about the objectives and the main values - accept, and communicate about the uncertainties; do contingency planning and most importantly, stay calm during the uncertainty.
Do you think the role of business leaders has come under a cloud globally of late?
No. Maybe, the proportion of real leaders is decreasing due to the professionalisation of business. Also, the public and media are more interested in numbers and economic failures than in human factors and leadership traits of people. Business leaders cannot be held responsible for all failures, though they can be held accountable for their strategic and tactical decisions alone. The global environment and interconnectedness of the world has a lot to do with the way business is conducted around the world and this also has a bearing in why companies succeed and fail, particularly for a business which is trans-national.
Leaders have to often carry the cross of other's wrongdoings and inefficiencies, the global banking sector today, for instance. What role can good leadership play to counter balance this image?
As a leader, one must endeavour and ensure that public trust in private enterprise is maintained. Private enterprise remains one of the key engines for economic growth and public trust in the sanctity and efficacy of private enterprise must be held intact.
What is your one-line leadership mantra?
Ask for forgiveness, not for permission.