Nano: Ratan Tata grows beyond business

25 01 2008

What is the impact of a leader’s values on his business decisions? As leaders move up on the value hierarchy, do they start thinking more about society and about making a difference ? This seems to be true going by some of the important decisions made by various leaders.

Everything that we do is to fulfill a need and by doing that, we get satisfaction . 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-actualisation .

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-actualisation’ . A self-actualised person is set to develop deep social interest and compassion.

I do agree that a Rs 1 lakh car would sell more than a Rs 2 lakh car and the large number of potential customers would add to Tata’s profits. At the same time, I would like to look at the possibility of Ratan Tata operating from a higher level of self-actualisation when it comes to the Nano project.

According to Ratan Tata, “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.” If we connect this to the fact that Ratan Tata declared himself as chief personnel officer, acting as a change agent to facilitate best HR practices in his organisation, possibly we are looking at a shift in focus and values.

“I think that in everybody’s life there are certain moments of satisfaction. You feel that after that has been achieved, it is a nice time to step away or change gears and that’s why I said that in an ideal world this would be a good time to step away.” Do these words reflect his self-actualisation stage according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?

Are we saying the decisions of leaders would be influenced by the hierarchy of values that he operates from? Yes, and this seems to be the truth. “I will be thrilled and privileged if the board asks me to continue as non-executive chairman while the role of chief mentor would be going to a smart person,” said Infosys’ Naryana Murthy.

This shows the characteristic values one demonstrates while operating from the self-actualisation layer of the Maslow hierarchy. We also know that Bill Gates said about his intention to handover his responsibility for software strategy immediately and reduce his involvement in the company progressively . Bill Gates also said he would switch his attention to philanthropy—working on global health and education.

Interestingly, the Airtel campaigns over the last three years show a movement towards a higher level of hierarchy. It started with ‘Express yourself’ and then moved on to ‘Connect to your loved ones’ and now has reached a state where the campaign talks about ‘Dissolution of barriers’ .

This need is about giving back, enriching others and championing a greater cause. This relates to the Body Shop website that reminds visitors, “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, that’s the only thing that ever does.”

So, if we can map, understand and predict the values and hierarchy of the leader, we may be able to predict what would influence his/her critical decisions .

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