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business Leaders > interviews > Bhaskar Bhat
Bhaskar Bhat
Clear and prescient ranger

Bhaskar Bhat, the managing director of Titan, says that a leader has to be a blend of manager and visionary

There's a big difference between managing and leading. Managers are adept at keeping the wheels of business running smoothly on a daily basis whereas leaders, according to Bhaskar Bhat, managing director, Titan Industries, "are those who are able to craft the future and align the stakeholders of the company in working towards achieving that future." While a manager will consider his

  work cut out for him if a purpose already exists, a leader will revisit the purpose to keep it in tune with the evolving needs of the organisation.

In the real world, however, leaders have to be a mix of manager and visionary. Says Mr Bhat, "Unless you show extraordinary performance in your journey to being a good leader and prove your managerial capability, organisations don't throw you up into leadership positions."

Leadership has to claim responsibility not only for the present state of the organisation but also for its future. How that task is performed is immaterial. In most cases the leader is not even required to perform the task himself; he must be able to get it done. Good leaders set the organisation's interests above their own and ensure that all current actions combine to create a desired future for the organisation. "But you can align the organisation with the future only if you deal with the present in an active and hands-on manner," says Mr Bhat. "The goal of a company may be to grow to a certain extent in a certain manner within a few years, or to improve profitability or to gain more respect. In seeking to fulfil this goal, it has to effectively deal with its present reality and ready the organisation for the future."

This can only happen if the leader does not shy away from finding workable solutions to all problems. The leaders of Titan Industries are an excellent example of the proactive bent required to solve problems. Mr Bhat recalls a time when the company survived an era of low growth, poor profitability and high costs. "All these problems helped in bringing the management together to solve them," he says.

One problem that Titan identified was its high wage bill. The company addressed this by inviting employees to avail of a voluntary retirement scheme and by negotiating a new wage agreement with its trade union. Simultaneously, Titan, with the help of an external consultant, crafted a new strategy for the next five years. Getting stakeholders such as its board of directors and the Tata Group to understand the situation and its inherent problems was another necessary exercise. "We went through a lot of pain, but the entire leadership team felt we had to crack these problems in order to secure our future," says Mr Bhat.

If Titan is now ready to accelerate, credit is due in large measure to the honesty and determination with which senior leaders embraced solutions that seemed difficult. Communication, suffused with transparency and trust, helped involve stakeholders in the process and reminded them that the senior leadership and they were a team working towards a common goal. Says Mr Bhat, "To me, working with a team and as a team player is important. I think people generally feel comfortable in a leadership team if the leader takes responsibility for underperformance on critical issues."

The achievement of these objectives fulfils only part of the leader's job. Leaders are also called on to produce more leaders, as opposed to mere followers. They must have a well-articulated succession plan in place so as to de-risk the organisation. The corporate culture, too, must encourage leadership. "Wherever leaders have not emerged," avers Mr Bhat, "it is the organisational culture which is to blame. At the same time, the leader has an important role in fostering that culture."

Mr Bhat speaks highly of the positive culture within Titan Industries. "Most of the current behaviour of our employees and the organisation was influenced by the behaviour of the senior team in the early days. The initial culture was one of encouraging innovation and creativity rather than regimentation and bureaucratic behaviour." Leaders should actively seek leadership potential in subordinates.

The human resources department is also responsible for putting in processes to identify managerial and leadership performance. It should also recruit people with the right profile, and work towards training and retaining good people and growing them into senior leadership positions.

Where expertise is not available, companies have no option but to recruit from outside. Says Mr Bhat, "I would rather risk giving an important assignment to a proven company employee than bring in an outsider. Such people grow into those jobs very quickly because they understand the organisational culture. Wherever the culture is very strong, like in our company, the rejection rate of externally recruited people is also very high. If these recruits don't culturally match, they become misfits. They are unable to perform or they face a hard journey to be recognised by the organisation. Finally, they get marginalised from the mainstream."

The importance of blending into the culture also emerges when it comes to doing business overseas, a fact of life in these times of globalisation. "Good Indian managers are usually successful in overseas markets," explains Bhat. "Since India is a complex and difficult environment in which to operate, managers find themselves able to cope with the problems that other markets throw up. This does not necessarily mean that good Indian leaders will be able to lead a new set of guys who are culturally very different." Grasping this important difference will enable more managers to evolve into leaders even as they seek to guide their organisations into the ways of further productivity and growth.

This interview is courtsey of tata.com

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