Becoming Leadership Fit: Lessons from Timothy. J. John

The best of research and superb practices in every field, as practiced in the advanced Western countries, spins off very good insights into many a concept. Leadership is one such, where there is no full stop. Some dimensions of how any aspiring leader needs to become fit are discussed in this article, based on insights from Timothy J. John, an expert in this field.


As a leader, you need to be fully aware of yourself. You also need to understand your subordinates. How you do this is always a work in progress. There is no full stop and you cannot relax at any stage. This is because the global work environment is so dynamic. The big giants of yesteryears, who were dominating the industrial scene like the JK and the SPIC groups or the Modi group, that were so successful during the license-raj, permit-raj regime, are all in the doldrums. They have been replaced by nimble footed new warriors who have understood all the requirements of the leadership game.

Be that as it may, it does mean that you need to focus on your strengths and go ahead. Timothy J. John has provided superb insights into what he calls as the four levels of leadership. This has been published in an interview that he had given to the journal, Smart Manager. ( March-April 2019, Vol 18, issue 2, pages 8-9).
As usual, we will take the quotes as given, without any editing and then collaborate the same with well known documented examples. It should be noted that if one is thorough on the four levels of leadership, he or she can become an effective leader. All that he or she needs to do is to finetune the skills when he or she faces any situation at work and learn from all the experiences.

"In my experience, there are four levels of leadership: technical, interpersonal, personal and complex process skills". He then goes on to elaborate on each of them. We will now take each one of them and then explore the Indian examples.

Technical level of leadership

"Technical includes knowledge about your domain, your business, and your industry. These are foundational and your depth of knowledge in this area is often a prerequisite for higher levels of leadership."

The best-known example is a giant of the engineering industry called A.M. Naik, who was the CMD of Larsen&Toubro for over three decades. He had such a superb technical knowledge that several leaders in the industry often looked up to him to give the impetus to the business that was so badly needed. In fact, he was the sole agent of the transformation of Larsen and Toubro, into a global engineering conglomerate and also a financial superhouse. Larsen&Toubro Mutual Fund is well known to be a good player now. It is bound to become a very big player in less than five years from now.

Similarly, it was the late Deweshwar who was instrumental in making ITC the vast diversified conglomerate that it is today. His depth of knowledge as far as the technical skills were concerned, was simply superb. The technical expertise is very strong with the TVS group. Each and every business has a very big focus and their managerial styles have a huge technical focus. Their technology is world-class and the process that they build around the technology is world class too. Their rejection rates are even better than the Six Sigma rejection rates of 3.4 per million. For example, Brakes India Private Limited is the sole supplier of brakes systems to Suzuki limited for all models of Maruti Cars in India. The simple lesson is that the TVS group has understood what it takes to succeed in their business areas, at the global level.

Inter-personal level of Leadership

"Inter-personal skills include collaboration, conflict management, and emotional intelligence. These reflect your ability to work across organizational boundaries and with different points of view. "It is a well-known fact that Anand Mahindra, the very dynamic Chairman of the M&M group has this skill in plenty. His ability to carve out a niche in the highly competitive SUV segment is very well documented. For instance, he had given full freedom and resources to a very young team that worked round the clock and came out with a stunning design for Scorpio, the blockbuster SUV that was a true game changer. Mr. C.K. Renganathan, the CMD of Cavinkare, an Rs.2000 crore company and the owner of superb brands like Indica hair dye, the Chik, Nyle and Meera shampoos and so on, is reputed to score very high in this area and is reportedly superb in motivating a bunch of former Unilever experts who are always empowered to do what whatever it takes to succeed in the market.

Personal level of Leadership

"Personal skills include the executive presence, public speaking, project management, and time management. It is described on how you are showing up as a leader"

For decades, the big boss of Infosys Technologies, Shri Narayanamurthy was the first to enter the office and also the last to go out. His time management skills were superb. So were his project management skills. His ability to work with a very diverse range of managers from around the world was appreciated in many HR conferences. He is still considered a Guru of sorts, as far as Personal leadership is concerned.

Complex Process Skills level of Leadership

" Lastly, complex process skills include strategic acumen, managing change, problem-solving and motivating and developing the team".

Cut to each of the leaders whose leadership excellence was discussed above. Add to this list Mr. Kumara Mangalam Birla, the big boss of the Aditya Birla group. His strategic acumen has been simply excellent. His group is very strong in Mutual Funds. He might exit the cell phone business totally if reports are to be believed. This group is a world leader in aluminum and is a formidable leader in cement. He totally managed change and brought in very young blood. For example, he was able to rope in Mr. Samkrupt Mishra, of the then Hindustan Lever on board as HR Chief, giving him the freedom to make dramatic changes. Mr.Mishra is well known to have masterminded the total transformation of the group and it now stands on the pinnacle of glory in most businesses. Each of the aforesaid business leaders had this in excess.

In politics, Mr. Biju Patnaik, the Chief Minister of Orissa, is known to be a fabulous process skill leader. For instance, even when he dramatically brought in industrialization, he never neglected the farmers. His preparation for the recent cyclone, where he personally supervised operations, was appreciated by all leaders, including those of the BJP. He was and is never communal and is seen as a very popular leader, only because he is incredibly honest and can easily rank on par with Mr. Modi of the BJP. The latter is well known to be soft on some of his own party hardliners, but Mr. Patnaik is well known to be totally different. The secular fabric of Orissa is too good. There are other examples too. Mr. Nitish Kumar of Bihar, who is doing a splendid job, in spite of huge constraints, is another. In the field of sports, particularly cricket, Mr. M.S. Dhoni stands out for excellence in this area of leadership.

Back again to business. Mr. V. Krishnamoorthy, the former CEO of BHEL, Maruthi Udyog, and SAIL was an outstanding leader, who was so high on this level of leadership. His strategic acumen in identifying markets for different models of Maruti cars was simply superb. His acumen in laying stress on Human Resource Development, in the turnaround that he successfully managed at SAIL, is now well recorded and documented. Similarly, the late Mr. Kurien of Amul masterminded the strategy to make the product a global success. Its identity with the common man was too good.


When we take simple threads of wisdom from experts and then put that in particular contexts of success of any variable in the real world, we learn quite a lot from such experiences. Leadership is one such skill. The aforesaid discussion is particularly relevant to any person, at any level. It is up to the individual to maximize all learning alongside the four areas described above and make such learning work for results of a tall order.

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Author: Natarajan03 Jun 2019 Member Level: Gold   Points : 6

A nice article about leadership. Most of us have some level of leadership skills which just need to be identified and groomed by our superiors. Once this is done, we can develop our skills as time goes by.

In the first level, a good grasp of the subject, an eye for detail and a vision about the future in terms of factors affecting our line of work or firm will go a long way in making us better leaders.

I feel inter-personal leadership would succeed and blossom when we realise and respect the contribution of others working for us. We need to avoid micromanaging the show and give the teams space and leverage to produce results.

Once we attain this, we need to raise the bar for ourselves and set an example to others working for us. When we lead from the front, people would be inspired and put in efforts to improve their efficiency too.

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