There is a need for a portfolio of leaders who could collectively demonstrate leadership in situations that involved strategic thinking, operational excellence, leading and managing changes and transitions and dealing with crises. Here are some suggestions in building this portfolio.
Adaptation and rigor:
This is biggest advantage of India.
Mr.X who, like many other global executives, straddles multiple worlds simultaneously, has this interesting take on his decision style. When he is in Bangalore, he says, as he drives in to work he’s already made some pretty big decisions like squeezing past the truck through the left while an auto ahead of him is attempting to go right and is there enough clearance to go between the two buses ahead locked around the turn and so on. By the time Mr.X reaches work he has already made decisions which have quite literally saved his skin by inches. In contrast though, when Mr.X is driving to work in Northern California, he gets into the car and realizes he has reached his destination only as he reaches the parking lot ready to start taking significant decisions to earn his keep.
While (mildly) exaggerated and clearly a sweeping statement, this points to an unconscious competence that many Indian decision makers evolve dealing with extreme ambiguity, a skill that figures on the radar screen of any self-respecting competency model for a global company. Given the relative institutional vacuum and the tangled web of rules and regulations that business leaders in India have had to work in for decades, studies have also shown that Indian managers themselves believe that they have a stronger capacity to adapt and to deal with difficult environments than leaders from other countries. While the environment is far more business friendly now, this earlier learning-by-doing perhaps serves to explain in small part why in the current wave of globalization a fairly significant number of Indian companies are punching above their weight, besides the growing demand for Indian leadership talent elsewhere in the world.
International experts’ work on leadership development has shown that Indian companies seem to do consistently well on execution. It was noticed this especially in companies that have a large number of engineers at leadership levels. This is possibly because strong technical expertise, often combined with management education have translated into strong project management skills, including the focus on processes and rigor in project management.
Flexibility is the key:
It is not wise to assume that in the current phase of globalization most if not all of the globalizing Indian companies work on the flat world model of one global organization rather than the traditional multinationals which work as multiple local organizations. As a number of studies have suggested, Indian multinationals have grown in a number of ways and in different phases. Companies may actually need to build their abilities to go regional. The strong regional strategies of companies like TCS and Cognizant, and these companies stand out because software companies are the ones most likely to be “born global”. Companies like M&M first introduced the Scorpio in other emerging markets like Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh, and later in the Middle East and South America, as these countries were similar to India in a number of respects.
The company is now distributing the car in the U.S., thereby going global, region by region. Companies like Bharat Forge, Tata Steel and Hindalco have been able to become successful “global consolidators”. A number of companies, especially in the pharmaceutical sector have shown both increased mergers and acquisition activity abroad. Some like GVK Biosciences and Nicholas Piramal have become low-cost partners for international clinical trials and research; others like Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories and Ranbaxy are now strong competitors in many countries.
Research shows that a blend of global, regional and national strategies work in various permutations, but in order to take advantage of a wide variety of strategies, companies need to be able to build a flexible leadership pool. Usually this would require great change management, strategic, operational restructuring as well as crisis management skills. To expect one leader to have all these skills would be unrealistic and unsustainable. Therefore, a company will need to build a pool of leaders, each possessing these skills in varying degrees, which can handle these situations as they occur simultaneously across countries and across functions.
Getting things done:
However, all leaders need to develop their ability to manage talent across borders. At a minimum, Indian companies need to stress upon the following abilities as a part of building their talent leadership capabilities:
Valuing diversity including respecting diversity in various forms, including cultural self-awareness, social, gender and most importantly, thinking diversity Managing and influencing laterally, working collaboratively across silos and through building networks and alliances
Building the global mindset – understanding trends and patterns of global business and taking a problem solving approach to making decisions that reflect both local and global priorities.
Leading virtually by developing a level of interpersonal effectiveness to not just transact but communicate and inspire in a world that is no longer face-to-face. Building relationships that go beyond the transaction can build, maintain and leverage networks.