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Home > Business > Special

What makes a visionary leader?

Surinder Kapur | April 11, 2007

The word "vision" is used so frequently that it has become almost a cliche and thus, at times, a challenge to fully appreciate the concept. More often than not, we immediately think of the term as it is used in "our vision and mission statements".

In a world where the term "vision" has been used so often, what does it mean to be truly a visionary? Real vision and true visionaries take not only their companies, but often the entire society to another level of development.

India has produced an impressive list of corporate visionaries that includes names such as JRD Tata, Dhirubhai Ambani, A V Birla, N R Narayana Murthy, H P Nanda, Keshub Mahindra and more recently Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani and Azim Premji.

The list of Indian visionary leaders in the corporate world is ever expanding´┐Ż. Each one of them, having started from scratch, have built international empires. All these visionary leaders have a "noble" mind that has made them look beyond just business interests and focus on "societal" interest as well. They want to serve society through their businesses and beyond.

So what is it that makes a visionary leader so? A visionary perseveres, usually through a wide variety of challenges, uncertainties, personal short-comings and setbacks, and has a strong connection with higher wisdom. Most visionaries are able to identify opportunities or a string of opportunities over time that stir up a crazy passion held deeply within.

All this apart, a CEO has to be forward-looking in order to be a visionary; he has to have a big vision, which goes beyond the current businesses.

He needs to have a focus on the future, understand the market and technical trends, and be capable of overcoming resistance to breakthrough. A visionary CEO normally works on the premise that all solutions to a given situation are right and explores many possible solutions with this belief.

Given this hypothesis, only a forward-looking, positive and open-minded attitude can lead to the best possible results. A visionary CEO thus works with a forward rather than a backward focus.

He asks the questions, "How can we achieve the goals/results and what solutions will increase the probability of arriving at a solution", rather than asking "what's not working and why". A visionary CEO continuously challenges himself rather than blaming the others.

A forward focus enables the CEO to expand his horizon and look at ideas with a fresh perspective, rather than considering the ideas through a narrow window. The focus is on identifying the latent needs of the customer and meeting those needs, thus expanding the market.

The business environment in India is changing faster than in any other country in the world, both developed and developing. The speed of change in India is several times greater than other countries, making it one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

Essentially, this also means changing, and often undefined, needs of the customer being created at a similar speed. Future focus essentially means that the CEO must be focused on achieving a breakthrough.

This does not, however, mean that the CEO loses control of the past and the current business. He needs to have the three eyes of the Buddha as explained by Professor Shoji Shiba, the world-renowned professor of quality and expert in breakthrough management.

These form the three eyes of the Buddha - the past, the present and the future. The CEO needs to make sure that the current business is not killed in the process of creating a breakthrough, yet he needs to move forward with a focus on breakthrough. He needs to build a team of passionate leaders who will support him in his breakthrough endeavours and those who will run the existing business as efficiently.

A visionary CEO builds a business that will lead the company to future growth, while keeping the core values and core business constant. He draws a fine balance between the past, present and future and build businesses that continue to grow over time.

JRD Tata built the Tata group from a small industrial shade in a remote area of Jamshedpur and single handedly created the most trusted and widely respected Tata empire.

It takes commitment, passion and perseverance to make a visionary CEO, which, if developed, can lead businesses to another level of growth. Understanding the importance of building visionary CEOs for the Indian manufacturing industry, the Confederation of Indian Industry will launch in July, the Visionary Leaders for Manufacturing programme.

The programme is being planned under the guidance of Professor Shiba. It is a unique partnership between the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council, CII, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and Chennai, and Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta. The programme has received support from Japan International Cooperation Agency.

This programme is targeted at senior managers from the manufacturing industry. Other courses under this programme will be focused on CEOs and executives. The idea is to develop 100-150 visionary leaders of the Indian manufacturing industry to lead the manufacturing sector to become innovation-led. Most of all the programme will focus on building visionary leaders with a noble mind, the most important aspect of a visionary CEO!

Surinder Kapur is chairman, CII Mission for Manufacturing Innovation, and chairman and managing director, Sona Koyo Steering Systems.

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