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Mr Om Prakash Bhatt (OP Bhatt) is the Chairman of Tata Steel Limited and a Board Member at Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC), Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) and Standard Chartered Bank. He started his career in State Bank of India (SBI) as a probationary officer in 1972 and retired as the Chairman of SBI in 2011. I had first met him when I was participating in the Director’s Club programme conducted by Hunt Partners, designed to prepare individuals to be effective Board Members.

In our conversation, we spoke about how leaders should think about whether Board roles is something they should consider and his thoughts on what it takes to be an effective Board Member. More specifically, he talks about the distinction between the skillset and the mindset required to be an effective Board Member. He dwells on how leaders often need to build new muscles of influencing that their corporate career that they may not have built during their career. We also discuss the critical role of a Chairperson and how he/she can get the most out of the Board Members.

This conversation is likely to be of specific value to individuals who are considering getting onto Boards and are curious about whether it is the right thing for them and what it takes to be effective in a Board.

Published in Oct 2018.

Transitioning to becoming a Board Member

Mr. Bhatt talks about how Chief Executives should be thoughtful about deciding which Boards they want to get onto. They need to have a very clear “Why” before they take on a Board role. He also goes on to discussing the key behaviors that leaders need to embrace and let go as they transition from leading a Company as a CEO to influencing a Board. He underscores the criticality of a contributing mindset and says that it is possibly a greater indicator of effectiveness and fulfilment than competence on a topic.

Being an effective Chairperson

Mr Bhatt talks about the criticality of the Chairperson to build good one-on-one relationships with each of the Board members so that he/she can facilitate effectively during a Board discussion. He mentions that the biggest contribution a Chairperson can make is to orchestrate the discussion in the room effectively to ensure that all the relevant voices are heard and the group makes a robust decision.

Making good Board decisions

Mr OP Bhatt talks about the role of a Chairperson in ensuring that good decisions are made. He talks about the situations where sometimes not making a decision and seeking more information is better than suboptimal decisions. He also discusses how he would handle divergent opinions on the Board by facilitating a more nuanced conversation that embellishes the issue and the nuances come out.

Chairperson versus CEO - Leadership nuances

Mr OP Bhatt talks about how the leadership context for a Chairperson in a Board is very different from that of a Chief Executive in a Company. He talks about the hierarchy in an organization with KPIs, Metrics and other variables that gives the CEO control over outcomes. He contrasts that to the context in the Board where individuals have to be nudged and cajoled to carry on tasks that might be critical for the Board.

Ensuring Board members add value

Mr. Bhatt talks about the criticality of a Board review to ensure Board members get tailored, actionable feedback that can raise the bar on the performance of the Board. He talks about the importance of the role of a Chairman in processing the feedback that he/she is given as part of the process and in how he/she leverages that to get the most out of each Board member.

Seeking and giving feedback

Mr Bhatt talks about the tact with which Board member should provide and seek feedback. He specifically underscores the criticality of the role of the Chairperson in ensuring that he/she doesn’t have a blind-spot in the way he/she is performing. He discusses how some effective Chairpersons find the subtle opportunity and timing to elicit timely feedback from some select Board Members.

Attitudes that have driven his career

Mr Bhatt talks about how in every role he has done, he has tried to look for a “plus” which is an additional dimension beyond what is expected in the role. He also talks about the importance of understanding the criticality of the service you provide in the life of the consumer.

In Summary - Playing to Potential

Mr Bhatt talks about a simple habit that he has found helpful in his journey over the years. He talks about the role of the conscious and the sub-conscious mind and how that can be leveraged for self-development. He talks about how he reflects for 5 minutes at the start of the day and at the end of each day and the difference it has made to him over the years.

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