Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The leadership and succession 'Mystery'

It was nerve wrecking for the markets when the news broke out last evening, about the ouster of Cyrus Mistry, the Chairman of Tatasons, a company that has gained truly global scale. A succession that was much talked about, and made headlines then, as it did today. This was in certain ways similar to the clean up at Infosys sometime ago.


Tatas have enjoyed great reputation and 'Corporate Governance Premium' over several years. The stakeholders were stung by the decision, and most surprisingly since it was completely unanticipated, something that markets do quite well ahead of events. While what and why it happened is a debatable subject, it opens up an important area around organization building for top executives and entrepreneurs to take cognizance of.


This was a large Indian global corporation, that came into limelight due to media and investor community interest. The phenomenon though is quite widespread where most of them live in today and 'hope' that things will move on like this forever. Fewer senior managements are actually consciously planning, developing and investing on the future of businesses, be it family managed, or professionally managed businesses. In my experience, very few have convincing answers when quizzed about the futures of their business, probably because they have not been confronted with the right questions themselves for longish time. I have known a few who many who are holding on to the status quo, 'hoping' that things will happen with 'intent' than action, and quite a few on the other hand, who are silently working on their future.


The fact that feeble number of businesses stay relevant in their current models, succession planning becomes even more important, when companies and entrepreneurs have to sow their futures. The spearheads have to spend quality time in identifying, building and smoothly transitioning their businesses into future. There may be some important areas worth pondering to ensure this doesn't remain a mystery anymore;


  1. Fears around delegation: Conviction about a reasonably hands off delegation, once a decision is taken, overcoming fears and sense of 'competition'. Good leaders have always believed future will be bigger and brighter a it gets newer perspectives and styles. I have used 'reasonably' to provide for risks. There are examples where mentors have stepped in to salvage when required.
  2. Alignment with 'Values': This has been in taking rounds since time immemorial and most leaders like to build clones. The reality is that adherence to dysfunctional values may be suicidal. Businesses evolve and so do adopting relevant yet 'functional' values may be the order of the day. In many ways, this is about reinventing a self imposed homeostasis.
  3. Organizational adjustment: Organizations, specially those with legacy, develop inertia and take time to adjust and embrace styles and diversity. As long as integrity and strategy are in consonance, sufficient time may be required to inculcate new thinking and a 'buy in.
  4. Investing on 'skills': Leadership can be developed, and there is enough evidence to suggest this. Opportunity, learning, building emotional intelligence, communication and consistent focus on 'future' skills over just daily and weekly considerations are some tools to build leadership and succession. This is not just financial investment, but requires time, effort and energy on 'identified' people. Leadership skills are above and beyond the functional or executive skills after a point of time. Letting potential leaders explore that area for themselves helps in the longer run.
  5. Space for performance: Constant goading, tracking, frequent course corrections are forms of imposed learning which soon turns out to be a recipe for disaster. Instead, 'Accountability' and cognitive learning works out better for permanence and retention of skills. Leadership is in many ways, about managing uncertainties, and ready answers tend to suppress it.
It is time that leaders took cognizance of the need to be conscientious of  their succession plans than just replacing people on positions. After all, leadership is about the right decisions for business and its sustainability and longevity, and that is the hallmark of leaders who are remembered for good.


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