Article (August-2016)


Call for leadership at all levels...

Walter Vieira

Designation : -   President of Marketing Advisory Services

Organization : -  Mumbai


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When I think about leadership, my mind races through many scenarios. I recall the incident of the farmer in ancient Rome, who was in his field, when he heard that the city was under attack. He left his plough, and rushed to defend the city. He took charge. And when they won, and the attackers repulsed, he went back to his field, and to his work. A classic case of successful situational leadership. 

And then, I think of the person I met at a 'journalist interview' which I was doing. He had been the Chairman of a large successful multinational for over 20 years and had retired. I asked him if he was enjoying his retirement. He told me that he was still getting used to it. He had got accustomed to arriving after everyone else at a meeting. When he entered the room, all eyes turned to the door. Everyone sat only after he did. The car was always ready at the hotel portico - with the doorman holding the door open. All this was a past. Now, no one took any notice of him, in the same hotels and in the old environs. It made him feel defeated after more than two decades at the helm of his career!

Now, when I see quick changes at the top- because of changing scenarios at many companies, I feel CEOs can no longer think of bank on the old style 'permanence' which was more or less inclined towards a belief that they have arrived - and they will stay there till they retire, or till they choose to go. The Roman farmer's style of situational leadership is coming to stay. And new kinds of businesses are making situational leadership relevant. 

Changing times, therefore, calls for leadership at every level of the organization. Leaders will have to have Technical, Human and Conceptual skills to survive and be truly effective.These skills have to be in lower doses at lower levels in the organization, and in higher levels as one goes up. Thus there have to be leaders of teams in the security, in the warehouse, and in departments on the factory floor. Leadership is not only at the top-where there will only be the Chief Leader, who motivates and evaluates all the leaders at different levels. 

This will also call for Leadership with a balance of the head and heart. Many leaders lead with their heads- and this is most common. Some try to lead mostly with their hearts - which is seldom successful. Leading with the right balance of head and heart, is the least common- but is the most effective combination. It is recognizable when it is there - Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and perhaps, even Lee Kwan Hew. But it is difficult to empirically specify the right combination and the right doses.


Many years ago, I went to a manufacturing unit in Maharashtra. They manufactured motorized mini-tillers. There were 400 workers, and not a single supervisor. There were teams of 10, reporting to the owner. The team was responsible for delivering a certain production level every week. They got a share of the profits of the company, besides their salary. The accounts were transparent.If anyone in the team was not pulling his weight, the rest of the team dismissed him, and also selected a replacement .There were 40 team leaders who reported to the owner. They all moved in tandem. Here was a leader in rural India who was using head and heart to manage a corporate entity.

When Century Enkawaswas at the height of its glory- the CEO, Dini Gaitonde, spent 25% of his time helping members of his staff and their families with special medical treatment, or difficult school admissions, or other obstacles they faced in Pune.He believed in creating a Century family- not just a group of well compensated workers. Gaitonde's involvement with his staff was so empathetic, that he became a father figure who they loved- and not just a CEO they respected. That is perhaps also why, Century Enka was a favorite of Dalal Street, until the business environment changed much later.

Jack Welch has always said-"Leaders need to build self -confidence in their subordinates. This is their primary responsibility, only then will you get the best out of them". And this can be done best if the leader knows how to balance qualities of head and heart, as some of our great leaders in corporate world do. Mercifully, we can still find them.