Magic of Mentoring: Leave a Legacy, Not Just a Mark!

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on December 01, 2012

The mark of a true leader doesn’t sprout from his towering presence in all achievements for the company.  Instead it comes from the fact that his absence shall never be felt; for he has left behind a legacy of leaders ingrained in the company vision and abreast with the company’s developmental blueprint.  Many a business moguls make a fatal mistake of not preparing the right second-in-command, an heir apparent at crucial junctures of time.

Consequently, the once iconic and influential business leaders drag into an extended presence in the company’s boardroom till the very brilliance of their persona dims into a black hole of degenerative energy.  Upon their retirement, companies suddenly realize a sense of abandonment- an absence of direction for the way forward. For far too long these companies relied on one man to chart the development waters and navigate the companies through market perils and challenges. The void left behind upon exit of a great leader, if left unchecked for a long time; turns into a septic wound that causes more harm than good.  There will be no clear consensus on a roadmap of success for the company. The people who were living in the shadow of a successful, tough talking, almost autocratic Chairman, will not be confident in taking right steps or building a renewed vision for the company.  As a result, market performance and position of the company will take a hit. While observers will cry and remember the glory years, the wise would learn a lesson and prepare aright succession plan so that there is a smooth transition during the period of change of guard. Men may exit; the battles rage on. Hence it is appropriate to build leadership legacy before legends bid adieu.

Rise of the Modern Mogul

For a brief moment in time one witnessed the might of Alexander the Great for having a virtual control of what was known of the civilized world.  But could he ensure the dominion last even a decade? Sadly, there was no one inspiring enough to take reins after the fall of Alexander and in a short span Ancient Greece saw its empire reduce and retrace from the Himalayan boundaries to a couple of hamlets around the Mediterranean sea. Contrary to this, one can’t help but applaud the Moghul dynasty which covered a territory none lesser than Alexanders, but managed to exert dominion for centuries. One of the reasons for this was the discipline of ‘breeding emperors’- training young princes and potential heirs into the arts of combat, jurisprudence,  territorial control, public management, arts appreciation and diplomacy. This produced a series of kings more brilliant than its predecessor. No wonder then, the modern world addresses corporate champions as ‘Business Moguls’

A costly mistake

Far too often business empires which seemed impregnable shake and bundle up like a house of cards the moment its visionary leader steps down.  Take the recent example of the sad demise of Steve Jobs, who built Apple Inc from scratch and achieved the pinnacle of digital dominance with its unique and innovative products which were always the technological trendsetters. Jobs untimely death raised numerous questions for the way forward. Who shall be the next leader? Will he be as creative as Jobs? Should we stick to Jobs’ talisman to technological success or chart a new way forward? Did Job’s death also shroud many cutting edge products which were a figment of the genius’ imagination? Jobs were known to bring out one innovative product after another, virtually every year. After his death, Apple has only managed to deliver minuscule upgrades to popular iPhone and iPad and salvaged some ground by winning a lawsuit from its aggressive Asian rival Samsung.  Things would have starkly been different if the late Jobs didn’t wait till the period post his pancreatic -cancer detection to mentor a new CEO.

The fame and accolade an enterprising  chairman achieves also contribute to his Hubris. In many cases it swells an inner ego that ,’I am indispensable to this company and nobody can  govern the organization better than me’ . Great leaders should know the right time to ‘let go’. Chances are, if you have been living in the enigma of your greatness all this while, it will be difficult for you to a perceive a person who shares a vision for the company and can lead when the time comes. Instead of crafting a mould of excellence by mentoring, great leaders often take the only wrong step in their brilliant career of appointing a namesake dummy to warm the Chairman’s seat in their absence.  The company is bound to feel the effect of absence of dynamism and urgency in action crucial to keep the organization on track to achieve its developmental goals.  Many a times, the board of directors might invite a rank outsider who may exhibit leadership, but at the cost of erosion of company’s values and goodwill.

The ugly spat between Ambani brothers post the death of  Dhirubhai Ambani is well known. It was shameful to see two brothers inheriting the rich Ambani legacy knock at the court’s doors to settle disputes. Had the Late Dhirubhai shown prudence and clearly outlined the role of each brother in the operation of Reliance empire,  it is possible the fortunes of the company would be much better than what is. A good example in this regard is the allocation of operational environments among members of the Mahindra and Birla families. This is ensuring each individual excelling in their own sphere and not invading in the other’s territory.

One of the best succession plans exhibited in modern history is by Mr. Ratan Tata, who not only chose a competent successor in Cyrus Mistry after a year long screening and approval from all stakeholders, but has also made Mistry his apprentice in the final lap of Business journey. This has ensured Mistry absorbs the quintessential values of leading Tata Sons in the correct ‘Tata’ legacy and there is no proverbial slip between the cup and the lip when Ratan Tata retires from active participation in company matters. Tata's physical presence may disappear, but his acumen, vision and values shall never fade away as the baton of succession has been tacitly handed to the right protégé. Such smooth transitions boost investor confidence and don’t hurt share prices, keeping the interests of even the everyman shareowner in good stead. Inspired by this, NowrosjeeWadia& Sons has also rolled out a succession plan wherein JehWadia shall be mentored in a leadership role to be at the helm of affairs when father NusliWadia steps down in a year’s time. To avoid a power-imbroglio akin to Ambani Brothers, the elder son Ness Wadia has been given equal equity and presence across all boards of Wadia& Sons enterprise- Bombay Dyeing, Bombay Burmah and Go Air.

Prepare to prosper

Mentoring can be perceived as a single activity to deliver dual benefits. Apart from creating a second line of attack, it boosts junior employee morale and the difference is seen in performance and achievement of objectives.  By spending time with your subordinate or team members and sharing industry insights, market alerts, tips on task execution etc. you build a feeling of involvement and commitment an entrust  faith in a young executive bursting with energy and talent.  If you choose to remain aloof and nonchalant about the growth of the young executive, you sow seeds of indifference in the young mind, who will not feel the connect with the company. He will feel his presence is not adding value to the company and will feel is neither wanted nor welcome. He will grab he first chance to bail out of the company, affecting your own business objectives and leaving operations in disarray.  Senior managers should be educated to make mentoring as a part of their KRA. Doing so will  allow  imparting of right company values, work ethics, business culture,  technological practices and team building skills among the  corporate community. It will spark a feeling of oneness and belonging, which is crucial for an employee to contemplate long term association with an organization.  Chances are, he might forgo a high-paying career offer and continue his stint at the organization where he is deemed a valuable contributor.  By the time senior managers are given higher duties, their apprentices are neatly oiled to execute the task with same vigor , ensuring a smooth transition. Creating a work environment which breeds wise mentoring will go a long way in the organization achieving its business targets and never pausing for the want of good leadership.

This article has been authored by Adil Marawala, Corporate Communications – L&T Power.

(The writer is a Senior Executive Officer-Corporate Communications at L&T Power, Vadodara with a seven year background as Sr. Correspondent and Copy Editor- TheTimes of India (Response))

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