Practitioners Perspectives // February 20,2021

Establishing Your Leadership Legacy by Building a Strong Succession Plan

Featuring: T R Kesavan , Group President (Corporate Relations & Alliances) Tractors and Farm Equipment Ltd (TAFE), FICCI


T R Kesavan Group President (Corporate Relations & Alliances) Tractors and Farm Equipment Ltd (TAFE), FICCI

Your Team Reflects Your Leadership

What is one highlight in your career that you are most proud of?
Well, it is a difficult answer, because my career has been made meaningful through various experiences, positions, decisions at various points in my professional life. For all you know, maybe the best is yet to come 😊

For a wife who lovingly prepares a delicious meal for the family, will one dish alone be special? All that she has prepared would be the best, right? Likewise, my entire tenure has been dotted with numerous special moments.

But if I were to answer this more pointedly, I would say it is my ability to nurture teams, allowing people to grow, both within and outside the organization. As a leader I may not be able to individually be a specialist but if I am able to get the teams together and play a symphony then that is the mark of a leader. Are leaders doing that enough?

I do not like the word leader. Unfortunately, it gives the impression that people blindly believe that the leader must always lead, and its attendant misperceptions of micromanagement. I would rather use the word mentor (Guru may be more appropriate)

Most often leaders are unwilling to let go, and delegate their portfolios to their teams. They are insecure and hesitate to learn new skills to perform at a higher level. It is my belief that the process is as important as the results themselves. If you encourage teams to do things that are ethically right and sustainable, the results will then be a natural outcome and it would allow the leaders to become more strategic.

What skills, capabilities and behaviours helped you achieve your current leadership position?
When it comes to skills, it is more than just knowledge and application of that knowledge. For leaders managing teams all the following will be critical:

• Recognizing talent and competencies in people
• Identifying the right people for the right job
• Filling up the gaps with the right people if ingrown talent is lacking
• Mentoring them and providing them with specific guidance
• Discerning capabilities within their team members on their ability to execute
• Motivating them to aspire for greater results

I believe that: I can do it, but I alone can’t do it
If you are going to decide the actions of your team members, then you are not a leader. A true leader is one who allows his/her team to understand what they need to be doing and allowing them the freedom to do it themselves without too much supervision. Leaders who are micromanaging most often are not sure of their own capabilities.

Predominantly these are the learnings from my 47 years of working with teams and taking them from their unknown to the known.

Leaders are asked to achieve more in less time. In your opinion, what are the 20% actions that can get 80% of the results?
If leaders are asking teams to do more in less time, fundamentally, the calculation is not right. With multiple stakeholders, actions, and efforts it is possible to fast track the project, but even then, there is a limit to shortening the timescales. And it is a matter of Effort vs Results. People forget there is a breakeven point here too.

I have often heard the phrase – I need it tomorrow, which exerts enormous pressure on the team. But the question is, do they really need it so quickly? Therefore, early understanding of what is urgent and important, and what can be postponed vs what cannot be, is essential. Often the problem with leaders is that they get caught with unimportant things and wait for the important to become the urgent. Which is why most often tasks go wrong, and the team ends up feeling pressurized and more importantly they may not even meet deadlines.

Much like the Apostles of the Christ, your team holds the answer to the 80 – 20 Pareto principle – with your input on what is critical vs noncritical.

“So, why don’t we make it their job and see the results?” If things go wrong, do not allow that to cloud your opinion and jump to conclusions.


“The moment the transfer of responsibility from you to them happens, that is when their ownership and responsibility surfaces. You must not forget that you are not transferring accountability”.

What specifically can leaders do, to build their teams to be better than themselves?
Leaders in the context of working with teams can possibly consider the following to build a high-performance culture:

• Accept that you do not know everything, and be ready to learn from others
• Pick the best talent from what is available at that point in time
• Focus on honing their skillset and competencies
• Set the benchmarks for their teams and allow them to figure out the best route to achieve that benchmark
• Provide the exposure and support to your teams as much as possible
• Identify the generalists vs specialists
• Groom the generalists by providing them the right learning interventions that they seek, rather than thrusting it upon them
• Also, build the ability to let go of people who are not interested (in a specific task) and be ready to find new members.
• Most important as a leader (mentor) you should shoulder failures and the team shoulders the successes

All leaders have a higher purpose in life? How did you discover yours?
For me, it is as simple as, “Am I happy and am I making others happy”? The more you chase a “perceived” higher purpose the more unhappy you may become.

Purpose is a natural process that comes from within and gets manifested in the simple daily acts of help, love, and faith. Your purpose can be as simple as not hurting another individual knowingly through words or actions.

For example, if you have saved a child from drowning without thinking of anything else that is the highest form of purpose for that moment. Specially doing acts of kindness without seeking acknowledgement or appreciation is again the purpose being manifested.

In a leadership context, leaders whose greatness precedes them are a genuine breed of Gurus and their aura will be evident through actions and care. So, my recommendation is to go with the flow of life and enjoy its beauty and continue giving your best and motivate others to do the same.

What practices in family run organizations have impressed you the most?
The ability to take quick decisions that are intuitively the right decisions is one of the most important elements in family owned businesses. In professionally run organization decisions always need to be justified and backups showcased. And often the decision-making process becomes something that engages the interest of others and not a “result of your instinct”.

In publicly run businesses, in several instances, there are great leaders, iconic ones, who have delivered outstanding results for the organization. But what happens in this scenario is that, under overpowering leadership, others don’t get a chance to thrive as they look up to this leader for guidance and become doers rather than thinkers. Icons create the banyan tree effect.

So, the best of both worlds is what will be effective for any enterprise to flourish.

What do aspiring managers normally ignore in their journey to become leaders?
I have already stated that somehow the word ‘leader’ is itself not the right nomenclature.
At every point in one’s career journey there are three aspect that needs to be adhered to. If they are addressed, then leadership becomes intrinsic. We come to work every day to do the following in a joyous manner:

1. Work to ensure your boss is successful
2. Work to encourage your peer’s growth
3. Work to enable your teams are winning

Leadership is not a posture, it’s all about your team looking up to you. Aspiring managers must know that leadership is not authority and neither a harsh tone. Without genuinely caring for their people, no leader can ever be successful. A leader is always a people leader in action and spirit.


What is the leadership legacy you would like to leave behind?
If the people I worked with do not miss me, that it is the biggest legacy I have left behind. Which means, my second line and the other team members are upskilled and have the leadership maturity to take the baton without any discontinuity. If it happens, this can possibly be one of the most gratifying career experiences for me.

Missing me personally is not the bone of contention here. As a leader, if I have enabled a strong succession plan with an able set of leaders ready to step in and move the vision forward, then that is the biggest standing ovation for me.

What advice would you provide other leaders in managing organizational politics?
Firstly, please ensure that you are not the instigator of politics in work cubicles. Build your leadership muscle to let go and create only positive and forward-thinking topics to discuss. Discuss ideas and interests not people and problems. “Also remember if your personal brand is all about saying a big No to negative politics, trust me, negativity will not come anywhere near you”. So, your responsibility is to build your persona of a person with stature, composure and transparency. Lead with maturity and deeds, walk the talk, and automatically your equity within the organization increases.

T R Kesavan T R Kesavan

Group President (Corporate Relations & Alliances)
Tractors and Farm Equipment Ltd (TAFE), FICCI

An industry veteran with multifaceted experience covering Manufacturing, Design, Sales, Sales & Marketing, Product Management, and Government and Policy-making bodies, Mr. T. R. Kesavan is passionate in running business enterprises – creating, nurturing and handing it over when stable. He also likes to develop and mentor people.

No matter the size, if there is one binding factor that keeps the organizations together and moving forward, it is – its people strength. Not just in numbers, but more about talent, commitment, passion, excellence, high performance, innovation, and collaboration.

When executive leadership at the top is twilighting, an able and competent second in line is a must to take over seamlessly and smoothly without affecting any business faction. The onus largely lies with the executive team who set up effective succession strategies not just at the top, but across divisions and departments. If this is not in place even the most successful of organizations can come crumbling down.

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