g (^) i
S+B: Your book’s core idea — that great leadership is “holistic,” which means it
tackles difficult problems with strategic intent — suggests that executives in India
and elsewhere have a huge potential for influencing society’s development.
GOPAL: Yes. Transactional leaders are concerned about technical issues. How are
you going to manage functions like
finance and marketing? At the corporate
level, managers have to put all the
pieces of an enterprise together when
there are conflicts and tensions.
Then we get to the holistic level.
The holistic leader asks, “How does my
company fit into the society and the community, and with government?” In a project
I’m involved with at Mumbai’s S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research
(SPJIMR), we are studying the question: What is the holistic leader’s role? We
believe he or she is the shaper of an institution that is an integral player in society.
S+B: What do you mean by an “institution”? Is that just another word for
GOPAL: Not really. An institution is an organization that has been strengthened
with long-life attributes — with structures, systems, processes, people, and talent
— to make a sustained contribution to the world at large. The leader must
continually shape the institution, and in the process, help keep it from being
corrupted or overreaching. Even a well-built house won’t stay forever that way
unless the institution is committed to it.
That is distinct from a company, which is [made up of ] just a bunch of
transactions. The leaders just want to make it a little more efficient than [it
was] when they started. The leaders of an institution, by contrast, want to be
capable of much bigger things. America had leaders of this sort at the end of the
19th century: Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and Henry Ford created
S+B: And were accused, sometimes justifiably, with being exploitive competitors.
GOPAL: These original shapers were not perfect. They did a lot of things that
“The holistic leader
asks, ‘How does my company
fit into the society and
the community, and with