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‘A leader must earn respect’

Shahnaz Husain, chairperson and managing director of the Shahnaz Husain Group of Companies, is a pioneering Indian woman entrepreneur. She sparked a trend that drove the growth of the herbal beauty business in India. Excerpts from an interview:

business Updated: Feb 27, 2013 18:52 IST
Himani Chandna Gurtoo
Himani Chandna Gurtoo
Hindustan Times

How do you define a leader?
A leader is one who has a vision and then inspires others to believe in it and achieve it with confidence. In fact, a leader inspires others to believe that nothing is impossible.

How do you build a following?
Innovative ideas go a long way in inspiring others to recognize you as a leader. One should think big and present the big picture and make others believe that it can be achieved. One should be able to make others a part of your dream. The human aspect is also important….to reach out to others, at the human level, especially during tough times. It is important to realize that one cannot achieve anything alone. It is the effort of the team as a whole that counts. Appreciating the efforts of others and commending them is important.

What are the three most important traits of a leader?
A leader should have a vision and a dream, with a burning desire to realize them. The leader should be a role model. The ability to develop a team and motivate it towards achieving goals is important. Belief in the importance of team work is what the leader should develop in the team. The leader should also have the foresight to envisage the routes to success, as well as the problems that can befall, so that they can be prevented in good time.

What was your best decision?
Extending my salons and other ventures through a unique franchise system was my best decision. Today, our franchise system is a highly successful business model with tremendous international goodwill.

And the worst decision too?
My worst decision was to postpone my talk at MIT from last year to this year. I wish I could have changed the course of destiny of the students by teaching them the secret of my personal success formula. I repent having wasted so much time.

Since September 2008, the world has fallen into a maelstrom of serial crises. What is the role of a leader in these times?
The reason why the world fell into the maelstrom is that some leaders lost sight of ground realities. At such times, introspection is needed, to analyse what has gone wrong and take the steps to improve them. The business world is a dynamic one and one should be aware of developments and changing trends, go in for innovative changes, find new markets and new products. It is during difficult times that the trust of the people in the leader is put to the test. The leader’s conviction and good communication help to tide over the crisis. The leader cannot go into a shell, but should have the ability to take everyone along.

What type of relationship must a leader share with his team mates?
The pursuit of excellence and the ability to work hard are very necessary. So are, drive and focused determination. The team recognizes these qualities and is motivated by them. The leader should have in-depth knowledge of the different aspects of the organization. Also, the ability to delegate responsibility on the basis of trust is also important.

‘A leader has to be dominating and authoritative.’ Is that true?
A leader should command and earn respect. One does not have to be dominating and authoritative to do so. A leader commands respect with vision, focus and the ability to translate ideas into reality. Also, by being the person others look up to during times of crisis.

What is your style of leadership?
I always say that I rule with my heart and not my head, because I am emotional and believe in the human and personal aspect. I believe in being emotionally supportive. To show care and concern at the human level helps to build loyalty. We have employees who have been with us for decades, seeing the organisation grow from its infancy.

You are competing with leading global brands like Unilever, P&G and others. How do you lead your sales team when they complain about the growing penetration of such companies?
I motivate and build up confidence by emphasising our plus points - that we have a head start on other companies, with a track record of over four decades. We have already established brand loyalty and a global network of ventures and distributors. We also look at the current scenario and how we can improve on it - in terms of establishing more points of purchase, especially in malls and supermarkets, and also how we can remain ahead of the competition with new launches and innovations.