Author - Shri. Rahoul Joshii, Director Elementz People Systems

Corus acquisition by Tata Steel in 2006 was a trend setter in many ways. This was India’s first major overseas acquisition of that nature and stature. It announced India’s global aspiration to the world in no uncertain terms. While it took 15 years coming after opening our economy, since that landmark acquisition, India Inc has consistently been acquiring businesses worth $ 6.25 billion per annum globally and has invested another $ 500 billion on international expansions in since then.

Interestingly enough, Accenture in its assessment of these businesses in their report called Indian Paths to Global Growth indicated that while there is very high commitment from India Inc towards these businesses (92%), only 35% of them met their revenue and profit targets and many of them are struggling to survive. The report attributes this abysmal performance to Indian leader’s unpreparedness, lack of innovation and cultural dimensions. Ivey Business Journal supports this view saying `there is leadership talent deficit, experience deficit and there is also leadership talent war in India resulting in overall leadership capability deficit’.

This phenomenon made me curious to dive deep with a spirit of enquiry. I was fortunate to have had an opportunity to engage with a cross section of industries over the last two decades. I built some understanding of this challenge through my leadership consulting practice, through my interaction with business owners/ leaders, study of their psychometric profiles, their strategies, through library research of various industries & business houses in India and discussions with my own fraternity of behavioural process consultants. I intend to present it here in the form of my hypotheses. This is not a presentation of my diagnostic but only an articulation my understanding of India’s Leadership Challenges. No way is this list complete; neither do I intend to convict India Inc or its people of having these challenges. I am only giving voice to my thoughts, my meaning making process and encourage your thoughts in support or to counter mine so that we enrich our collective understanding of what’s happening around. I believe that this collective wisdom will help us prepare ourselves better to face any leadership challenge in times to come.

Leadership Styles: Post 1991 protected businesses struggled to survive, new businesses emerged, competition increased, global giants entered India and the entire business scenario changed. Businesses faced polar challenges of survival and growth. Interestingly, leadership style used to cope with these polar conditions was common. Dominated by centralization, control, optimization, re-engineering, restructuring, ROCE and so on, it ushered in transactional style of leadership. Short term gains, tangible outcomes, command and control, standardization, transactional relationships became the order of the day. This came at the cost of a real focus on strategy, innovation, empowerment, latitude and hence capability building. Tilting the balance of leadership style towards being transformational is one of India’s biggest leadership challenges. We need more leaders who think long term over short term, strategic advantage over operations efficiency, leaders who foster innovation, allow experimentation and celebrate failure. That will ensure sustainability.

Leader’s Personality: In my work, I have consistently observed leaders across, struggle with dealing with authority and with their own self worth. Most of those leaders were found deficient in confronting or influencing bigger leaders, perhaps owing to the cultural norm of `always respect your seniors’. One research says, 85% of people in India have experienced some kind of abuse as children ranging from psychological rejection, `conditions of worth’ to physical (beating up by parents) and sexual abuse. This impacts the self esteem, besides many other factors. Unless consciously worked upon, this creates a deficient thinking about self in most people affecting their leadership potential. I have thus seen many leaders simply lack the ambition and many ambitious leaders lack the values required to fulfil those ambitions.

Leadership education: Traditionally in the industry, intelligence is worshiped and people are advised to leave their emotions away while at work. We are systematically trained for that. As a result, many talented people do not have a matching emotional intelligence. With that limitation, India could produce great technical experts but very few leaders who could build networks or sense the pulse of their people or influence key stakeholders. To make things worse, all Ivy League B-schools even today offer leadership training that is purely left brain centric talking about strategy, business modelling, analytics, digital and so on with almost no focus on self development and emotional intelligence. And this is when the latest research indicates that nearly 70% leadership capabilities are emotional.

Work for money: In our country, people still work for money, irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds. They look at jobs as a means of earning livelihood. There is a tendency of making career choices based on the earning potential of a profession. There is also a social status attached to jobs. With only making money and maintaining employability on their minds, leaders become risk averse, guarded and mediocre. At best they become `nice bosses’ but fail to create real inspiration.

Indigenous research: While researching on leadership, I was saddened to find hardly any original, indigenous leadership research available in public domain. We also don’t have a culture of documenting business history. As a result, formation and transfer of knowledge is a huge challenge. Many western concepts, models don’t apply to our context and people don’t even realize it. They go by the popularity, fad and follow things blindly.

Thinking big, thinking right: Even after 25 years of opening our economy and with such abundant talent in our country, none of our businesses top any global charts. I feel sad about that. Many examples in the recent past have shown us how business families and CEOs bleed their own businesses to near bankruptcy. We have a long way to go on ethical and moral responsibility of business.

I believe that India Inc is poised for a big leap. I see a tremendous potential in India story for we are the only country in the world to have highly talented and young workforce that has the whole world as its canvas. We have the capital, we have good trade relations, fantastic domestic market. Opportunities like this don’t come easy.

India has traditionally been inward looking and that’s what is required at this moment. We need to pause and look within. If we intend to transform Indian businesses, we must have leaders take time and interest in transforming themselves first. They will have to first work on identifying their inner demons and demolishing them, they will need to strengthen their self belief, their ambition, their morality, capability. This is the time for leaders to enhance their overall consciousness. That precisely was our strength during the vedic period and that’s exactly what will sail us through.

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