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Ratan Tata is a visionary and no one would have any doubts about it if they glance through his
stint in Tata. He is a futuristic leader who looked ahead with a powerful vision. In 1983, thirty
years ago, he authored a document that was unofficially called the Tata Plan when the company
was under the leadership of JRD Tata.
The group got Ratan Tata to draw up a blueprint for the future. At that time he recommended
that the group should seek substantial growth in international operations. He also suggested
restructuring the group to address the global opportunity better. Another example of his futuristic
vision is Nano. What drove me a man on a two-wheeler with a child standing in front, his
wife sitting behind, add to that the wet roads was a family in potential danger, said Ratan
Tata, while explaining why he went for the Nano.
Visionary leaders are the builders of a new possibility that never existed before, working with
imagination, insight, and boldness. They present a challenge that calls forth the best in people
and brings them together around a shared sense of purpose. They operate from a positive intent
and alignment with a higher purpose. They are social innovators and change agents, seeing the
big picture and thinking strategically. Both globalization of Tata and introducing Nano to India
are just two smaller examples of how visionary Ratan Tata is.
Being just a visionary leader is not just enough. A lack of self-knowledge is sometimes the most
common everyday source of leadership failures. Having facilitated several top management
workshops and coaching senior leadership for a while, I strongly believe that self-knowledge and
alignment of values to action is the most important leadership trait and Ratan Tata demonstrates
this well.
To perform at your best, without sacrificing yourself to achievement, is to operate from a
foundation that is anchored solidly in what is most important and most enduring in ones life.
The question leaders need to ask is how who I am is influencing what I am doing now? Ratan
Tata is known as a value-based, socially-focused leader who operated from a higher purpose that
is beyond the balance sheet.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that humans operate as if they have a hierarchy of
needs. His research focused on the motivations of people who were successful in their lives.
According to Maslow, the primary human need is survival. When we are able to master survival,
we shift the focus of our consciousness to the establishment of relationships, so that we can feel
safe and protected. When we are able to master the art of relationship building, we shift the focus
of our consciousness to satisfying our self-esteem needs. Once we are able to feel a sense of self-
worth, we shift the focus of our consciousness to self-actualization.
We continuously grow towards a higher stage, and in that highest state, we become a better
human being and this process of growth is termed by him as self-actualization.
A self-actualized person is set to develop deep social interest and compassion. Keeping this in
the context, if you look at the purpose statement of Tata, it reads, At the Tata group we are
committed to improving the quality of life of the communities we serve. Anyone who visits
Jamshedpur will know the meaning of this purpose statement and how well this statement is
expressed and executed there.
The third thing that makes leaders successful is their ability to create and develop a set of leaders
in their organizations. Through TAS (Tata Administrative Services) and other leadership
initiatives, Ratan Tata was able build a cadre of leaders who demonstrate the Tata values and
contribute significantly to the organization. A common leadership thread runs through and across
different Tata enterprises and there is a strong link to the group values and purpose. There is a
distinctive leadership profile and leadership development agenda at the top; a leadership engine
that takes care of early planning and picking the right people for the future and training them to
take on bigger responsibilities.
Though there are different models around leadership, mostly all successful leaders do three
things. One, with a vision and purpose, add value and create a new possibility. Two, build next-
in-line leaders and leadership pipeline. Three, be a role model, authentic and self-aware. Ratan
Tata is an ideal example of a leader demonstrating all these three things.