Director of Tata Sons, R Gopalakrishnan offers tips on leadership at work!
Ramabadran Gopalakrishnan joined Tata Sons Ltd, after working with Hindustan Unilever for three decades in various capacities, including as chairman of Unilever, Arabia, before he joined Tata Sons Limited as executive director in 1998. With 45 years of experience in all the rungs of management, R Gopalakrishnan authored his first book on vital lessons for subordinates and managers in 2007. His third book, What the CEO really wants from you:
Four straight As, was published last month. Mirror speaks to the author on important takeaways from his new book.
Excerpts of the interview:
What was the impetus to write the book?
I found that there were enough books on the habits, practices and behaviour of a great leader. But handling the journey towards becoming a great leader is an unmet need. Aspiring leaders cannot emulate the behaviour of those who have already assumed positions of leadership; else they would be misunderstood. That is what brought the book to my mind.
Do you find a chasm between the expectation of the CEO and the capabilities of the managers/team leaders?
Yes, undoubtedly. When we are subordinates, we expect a lot more from our bosses and organisation than what we think we owe them. This creates an asymmetry of expectations. This asymmetry is at the heart of unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
How have the dynamics between the boss-subordinate changed over the years?
Everything in the world has changed, and so has this aspect. However, the boss-subordinate interaction is a relationship, not a defined object. That relationship is threatened by shorter attention spans and the advent of the digital economy. Relationships require time to nurture and blossom — whether it is boss-subordinate or family. There is data suggesting that people are changing jobs more than before. There is also data suggesting that divorce rates are higher than before and that more people seek happiness because they find it elusive. These examples elucidate and support my point.
The Tatas are known to be traditional workspaces. What are the challenges that the Group faces while hiring young talent, who may be used to work environments that are unlike the Tatas?
I do not think Tata faces any special challenges. Like many organisations, Tata too has developed its employment brand to meet the needs of new segments of employees. It is also satisfying that the Tata Group’s attrition rates tend to be a tad lower than its peers. The Tata Group has always been strong in mentoring. There are stories of inspiration and mentoring that are legendary — how John Peterson mentored JRD Tata, for example. There are senior managers who acknowledge the mentoring influence of a Russi Mody or Sumant Moolgaonkar. Tata mentors quietly and effectively. Of course, there is always room for improvement.
In an increasingly globalised world, what are the challenges that professionals face to keep abreast of workplace dynamics?
Developing software to anticipate the needs of organisations and bosses and then setting out to meet those needs. This is much like how a marketing person would sense, serve and satisfy consumer needs. That is why I have argued in the book that a good subordinate should think of the boss as a sort of ‘customer’ without becoming supine or a yes-man.