Like A Boss | LIC Chairman MR Kumar on why a ‘gentle but firm’ leadership style works, the importance of empowered decision-making, and more

Like A Boss | LIC Chairman MR Kumar on why a ‘gentle but firm’ leadership style works, the importance of empowered decision-making, and more

Managing a Rs 32 lakh crore-plus corpus, safeguarding crores of Indians’ life-savings and goals, and playing the saviour-in-chief for the government – this is all in a day’s work for the Life Insurance Corporation of India.

Clearly, helming the big daddy of life insurance is a herculean task. Add to it, the mammoth job of managing over one lakh employees, besides nearly 12.87 lakh individual agents. But LIC chairman MR Kumar prefers to do the heavy-lifting with a “gentle, but firm” approach.

He took over as the chairman in March 2019, after having worked with the insurance colossus in various capacities and departments for over three and a half decades. He had joined LIC as a direct recruit officer in 1983.


Now, he has the responsibility of steering India’s largest institutional investor through uncharted waters as it readies itself for the country’s biggest-ever IPO (initial public offering) next year. In an exclusive interview with Moneycontrol, MR Kumar shares his views on his management style, how he likes to start his day, whether he prefers to be feared or respected and so on.

What time do you like to be at your desk?

Mentally, I think I am always at my desk, which I am told is not good. I catch up on the mails at around 8 am and repeat this every four hours or so. I like to reach the office a little early so that I have some time to go over the day’s schedule and prepare for the meetings ahead. This is also the hour when I prepare myself for the expected and the unexpected.

Where is the best place to prepare for leadership: at business school or on the job?

Business school gives you sharp insights. However, there is nothing like learning on the job - hands-on.

Are tough decisions best taken by one person or collectively?

Ultimately, the final call has to be taken by the boss. A consultative process prior to taking the final call may or may not help but is certainly desirable.

What is your management style? Centralised or decentralised?

It is a mix of both. I believe that that people down the line should be empowered to take decisions independently. However, the organisation also benefits in some cases from centralised thought-process and decision-making.

Running a large organisation like LIC is not an easy task. Is being a tough taskmaster a better approach or does gentle persuasion work?

Gentle but firm is my style and I believe it has worked for me. That would mean being selective about when to be gentle and when to be firm.

Do you want to be liked, feared or respected?

I would never want to be feared. To be liked and respected is not in my hands but I would cherish that.

A business outside of the insurance sector or a business leader you draw your inspiration from?

It would be difficult for me to name one, as I have been inspired by many. From each of them, I have learnt valuable lessons on leadership.

Which management book has influenced you the most?

The management book that has influenced me most would be ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins. The title says it all. According to him, good is the enemy of great and that is why we have so little that becomes great.

Do you socialise with your team outside your work?

Occasionally, when we have something to cheer about.

What would your management advice be?

Staying committed and taking people along with you works in any environment however challenging it may be.

 19/10/2020   Money Control