How to create your unique style of leadership

An effective leader never tries to copy anyone’s style of leadership; here are some principles that have helped a senior executive become a better leader

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“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

In all walks of life we look to leaders to show us the way ahead. So developing the personality traits that make a good leader is of great importance, particularly to those who aspire to lead in the future. Within the context of an organisation, young employees often ask me what they should do to develop leadership skills in themselves. I always have the same response. “Be yourself. That is the greatest trait of a leader.”

But people have different ideas about leadership. Some define it as a gift. They think leaders are born with a special type of charisma that helps them climb up an organisation ladder quickly. Others are of the opinion that to lead is to control, and that being the boss is to command and compel others to bend to one’s will. I disagree. But leadership isn’t backseat driving—it is leading from the front.

Gone are the days when companies ran as dictatorships. Depending on your charisma is not enough either. The role of a leader today is to be a mentor who inspires the next generation of leaders. An able leader energises people through effective communication, not control.

I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to lead businesses in some of the most exciting and dynamic parts of the world—India, Africa and the Middle East. As a leader, I shoulder the responsibility of creating effective leaders to drive our business forward in many countries. I need to inspire many young leaders to be themselves, to do the right thing and to excel in what they are good at.

I have learnt that leadership begins with who you are and then it is about what you do. I share with you the key principles that have helped me to be a better leader.

Decisions

In my view, when in doubt, do the right thing, and do it with confidence. One of the biggest responsibilities a leader shoulders is to make decisions and the issues are rarely simple. What I have learned is that doing the right thing for your customers, partners and your team is always the most robust choice.

But how do we decide what is the right thing? I believe values can help us here. Leadership has to be built on a foundation of values. While vision gives direction, values set the boundaries. Values help us in making decisions at times of crisis.

For example, in any business one of the chief responsibilities of the leader is to make a profit. This can be done in the right way, such as by making the operations more efficient, building relations with suppliers and customers and creating a great product that people want; or the wrong way by taking a shortcut, such as compromising on quality to cut costs. For me, compromise is out of question, even if it is an easier option. The reason is clear—it is not the right thing to do. It is a boundary that my values have set for me—that playing to win is not the same as playing dirty.

Besides, I believe that in the long run, doing the right thing would bring success.

While vision gives direction, values set the boundaries. Values help us in making decisions at times of crisis

Determination

Leaders must constantly make and meet aggressive commitments. So determination is needed to develop high expectations and then meet them. A leader who can demand more from himself or herself can also expect more from others. That is why my second principle has been to stay determined; it is critical.

Let me share how we do this at Nissan. As I write this, we are expanding our dealer network. A step-by-step approach is necessary to building relations with partners and training staff. My team members are travelling around India every day. The work takes time but I am always encouraging the team, urging them to stay determined and be optimistic about our bright future.

No matter what the compulsion, there is one thing which should never change and that is your strong determination to stay the course and win.

Diversity

Today, many of us work in multicultural, multinational and diverse work environments. We work with teams of people who come from different places, speak different languages and report into different hierarchies with varied targets and incentives. To lead them we should aim to embrace diversity.

Having worked in different industries and in different countries has helped me appreciate the value of diversity and has also taught me to not place any limits on myself. As leaders, we need to have a lot more empathy and sensitivity—not just for people who are similar to us in race and mindsets, but also for those from others countries and cultures. We need to be able to respond and interact with people from many different backgrounds at the same time. We need to learn to be open-minded and expand our cultural boundaries. To accomplish
this, we must strive to create borderless organisations
and influence through knowledge. Also, we need to be active instead of reactive, and shape ideas instead of responding to them.

Your leadership style

“Leadership is a style,” said Jack Welch, the famous former Chairman and CEO of GE. This thought has influenced and guided me in my journey as a leader. I believe that successful leaders endeavour to develop a style that is true to their personality. They all pursue and deliver their goals, but they have their own unique way of providing direction, implementing plans and inspiring people.

The lesson here is to not try to copy anyone else—rather to work on our own unique style. If you succeed in this, your leadership will shine through.

My personal experience

Looking back, my career has been very varied. I started out in the plastic industry, specifically in petrochemicals. Later, I was invited to run a car transmissions manufacturer. Along the way I worked in Germany, China, and Indonesia, as well as Japan. Now I am part of Nissan’s top management team and the head of the Africa, Middle East and India with a mission to expand the company’s business across the region. I have enjoyed every phase of my career.

What my experience has taught me is that I should not limit myself. Experiences in different fields and with different people provide great value. They equip me with knowledge, a broad perspective and a useful network. But I have to stay humble, flexible and thoughtful while staying determined and loyal to my values.

This was first published in the April 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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