A Study of Leadership Roles, Styles, Delegation and Qualities of Indian CEOs

By T. V. Rao
Chairman, T V Rao Learning Systems Pvt. Ltd.

Raju Rao
Consultant, T V Rao Learning Systems Pvt. Ltd.

Soumya Dixit
Research Associate, T V Rao Learning Systems Pvt. Ltd.

This study  identifies the effectiveness with which various leadership and managerial roles are performed by  Indian CEOs.  Using 360 Degree Feedback 26 CEOs were studied.  They were good at managing their seniors, but weak in inspiring and developing their subordinates, culture building and long term goal setting. Their leadership styles were largely developmental. Delegation, activity level, positive thinking, communications, etc. were their strengths and  reactiveness, irritability,  low empathy, patience and participative nature were weak areas.

Keywords: Leadership 1, 360-Degree 2, Indian-CEOs 3.

Leadership has been defined in so many ways and by different authors and experts. Tichy  and Cohen (1997) the authors of  “Leadership Engine”  points out: ” The scarcest resource in the world today is the leadership talent capable of continuously transforming organizations to win in tomorrow’s world. The individuals and organizations that build Leadership Engines and invest in leaders developing other leaders have a sustainable competitive advantage.” (p.8)

According to Tichy and Cohen:

  • Winning leaders with a proven record take direct responsibility for developing other leaders
  • Winning leaders can articulate and teach to others about how to make the organization successful. They tell stories about their past and explain their learning experiences and beliefs
  • They have well-developed methodologies for teaching others.
  • Leadership talent can be nurtured and it is never too late or early to develop one own leadership abilities and talent of others.
  • Leaders are normally viewed as those people who motivate one or more people to do a specific thing.

Various studies and recent literature (Tichy and Cohen, 1997, Hessebein and Cohen, 1998, Goleman, 1998, Smart, 1998, Ghosal and Bartlet, 1997, Pfeffer, 1998) on leadership indicate the following:

  • Leadership is critical for Business development or for any form of development Leadership is not anymore limited to a few.
  • Every one’s leadership competencies can be developed .
  • They need to be developed and multiplied for growth and survival It is imperative for managers to explore their talent and develop their leadership competencies for their own good and the good of their organizations
  • Self awareness is very critical first step in developing their leadership talent
  • Organizational programs and plans are required to develop leadership talent and leadership development programs do help developing the same.

If leadership is so critical and the future of corporations depends upon having as many leaders as possible it is critical for corporations to develop more and more of leadership talent. Many leadership programs focus on specific traits rather than any comprehensive qualities. This is because it is difficult to have any one quality focussed. Team building exercises help develop team building skills. It is for this reason many organizations have attempted in the last one-decade to use the 360-degree feedback as Leadership development tool. In India also it is becoming popular.

RSDQ Model of 360-Degree Feedback
TVRLS (a consulting company based in India) has developed a model for Indian Top and Senior Management in terms of managerial and leadership competencies needed, which is termed as the RSDQ model (Roles, Styles, Delegation and Qualities). This model of leadership and managerial effectiveness views effective management and leadership as a combination of four sets of variables. These are: Roles performed, the style of leadership, delegation and qualities.

Roles: The extent to which the individual plays various leadership and managerial roles and activities. There are a number of roles, which have to be played by every manager in order to be effective as managers. These are both transformation roles (leadership roles) and transactional roles (managerial). Some of these are: Articulating, communicating and monitoring vision and values, Policy formulation, planning and goal setting, Introducing and managing new technology and systems, Inspiring, developing and motivating juniors, Managing juniors, colleagues and seniors, Team work and team building, Culture building, Internal customer management, External customer management, and Managing unions and associations.

Each of these roles had both transactional and transformational activities. For example,  “articulating  vision and values for the organization”  is a transformational activity,  “monitoring to ensure that the values are followed” is transactional activity.

Styles: While effective managers recognize all the leadership roles and perform them well, it is not only the roles or activities that determine the effectiveness but also the way in which they are played. The model envisages that managers may play most roles well, devote time and effort but could be insensitive to the style with which they carry out these activities. Rao (1986) has classified the leadership styles, on the basis of the earlier research at the Indian Institute of Management, into the following: (i) Benevolent or Paternalistic leadership style in which the top level manager believes that all his employees should be constantly guided treated with affection like a parent treats his children, is relationship oriented, assigns tasks on the basis of his own likes and dislikes, constantly guides them and protects them, understands their needs, salvages the situations of crisis by active involvement of himself, distributes rewards to those who are loyal and obedient, shares information with those who are close to him, etc. (ii) Critical leadership style is characterized as closer to Theory X belief pattern where the manager believes that employees should be closely and constantly supervised, directed and reminded of their duties and responsibilities, is short term goal oriented, cannot tolerate mistakes or conflicts among employees, personal power dominated, keeps all information to himself, works strictly according to norms and rules and regulations and is highly discipline oriented. (iii) Developmental leadership style is characterized as an empowering style, where the top manager believes in developing the competencies of his staff, treats them as mature adults, leaves them on their own most of the times, is long term goal oriented, shares information with all to build their competencies, facilitates the resolution of conflicts and mistakes by the employees themselves with minimal involvement from him.

Developmental style by nature seems to be the most desired organization building style. However some individuals and some situations require at times benevolent and critical styles. Some managers are not aware of the predominant style they tend to use and the effects their style is producing on their employees.

Delegation: The RSDQ model considers level of delegation as an important part of a senior executive’s effectiveness. This dimension has been included because most senior managers seem to have difficulties delegating, especially those effective managers who get promotions fast in their career. In view of these experiences, delegation has been isolated as an important variable of leadership. Those who delegate release their time to perform higher-level tasks and those who don’t continue to do lower level tasks and suppress their leadership qualities and managerial effectiveness.

Qualities: The model envisages that managers should exhibit qualities of leaders and world-class managers (e.g. proaction, listening, communication, positive approach, participative nature, quality orientation etc.). Such qualities not only affect effectiveness with which top-level managers perform various roles but also have an impact on the leadership style and hence are very critical.

This study aims at answering the following questions: 1. What  are the various roles and activities the Indian CEOs  perform extraordinarily well? 2. What roles and activities are they weak at performing? 3. What are their predominant styles of leadership and supervision? 4. What is the impact of their styles on their subordinates? 5. What are the  patterns of delegation? 6. What are the qualities they exhibit and what do they lack?

The Instruments.
These issues were studied using the results from 360 Degree feedback on an instrument based on RSDQ model of TVRLS. The questionnaire had five parts: the first part dealt with Leadership and managerial roles and an assessment of how well he performs these various roles pr teach of the 75 activities associated with various roles? The questionnaire measuring these consists of 75 items grouped under the various leadership and managerial roles explained earlier. Each CEO was assessed on a six point scale where a score of 6 represented that the CEO performs that activity or role extraordinarily well (percentage score of 100), 5 represents that he performs that role or activity very well (80% score); 4 represents that he performs that role reasonable well (60% score); 3 represents that he performs that role satisfactorily (40% score); 2 represents that he performs that role not so well and rather unsatisfactorily (20% score) and 1 represents that he performs that role very poorly or very inadequately (0% score).

The second part consisted of a Leadership styles questionnaire that assessed the style of dealing with 12 different situations like managing rewards, managing conflicts, managing mistakes, assignment of tasks, communication etc. For each situation three alternative styles that are supposed to most characteristic of Indian Managers (on the basis of previous research) were presented and the assessor was asked to indicate which of the extent to which each of the styles characterize the individual. The respondent is expected it distribute six points between the three styles using six points. The points were later converted into a percentage score. The style average was calculated using the average score obtained by each candidate on the style item.

Delegation was measured using a 10-item scale that measured various symptoms of delegation or non-delegation. The extent to which the candidate exhibits each of these symptoms was assessed by the percentage of assessors checking the items.

The fourth part of the questionnaires consisted of assessment of the extent to which the candidates each of the 25 qualities of leaders. A seven point semantic differential scale was used where  “+3” score that the quality is extremely characteristic of him (100%) score, “+2” indicated that the quality is somewhat characteristic of him (84%), +1 indicated that it is a little characteristic of him (67%); “0” indicated that the quality is as much a characteristic of him as the negative part of it, “-1 ” indicated that the negative side of that quality is more characteristic of him than the positive side (33%), “-2” indicated that the negative side of it is more characteristic of him (17%); and “- 3 ” indicated that the quality is not at all characteristic and the opposite of it is most characteristic of him (0%).

The Sample.
The sample consisted of 26 CEOs from Indian organizations. These are all different organizations consisting of manufacturing sector, services, information technology, consumer electronics, financial services etc. The organizations are located in different parts of the country. The CEOs are all those responding to the 360 Degree Initiatives. They all belonged to organizations that are interested in using 360-Degree feedback as a development tool. Each of these CEOs was assessed by their colleagues, subordinates and their seniors (other Board members etc.). In all these 26 CEOs were assessed by 373 Assessors. The number of assessors ranged from 2 in one case to 38 assessors in another case. The assessment of others was only taken into consideration for the purposes of this paper. Self-assessment was not taken into consideration. It was assumed that the combined assessment of other persons is representative of the actual performance of the individual CEO.

The study is based on 360-Degree feedback and is only indicative of perceptions of the assessors. An actual observational study may indicate the actual roles performed, time devoted the impact etc. This study at best could be limited by the perceptions of the assessors and suffers the usual limitations of 360-Degree feedback studies.

Trends of the Effective Leadership and Managerial Roles: Top five effectively performed and the bottom five less effectively performed roles by the Indian CEOs:

Tables 1 and 2 present the five best performed and five least well performed roles by Indian CEOs. The group as a whole scored the highest and lowest respectively on these items. The tables also present the range of scores among the 26 CEOs studied.

Table 1: The five most well performed roles of CEOs in Indian Corporate sector. 

S. No Item content Average % score Lowest %score Highest %score
1 Communicating effectively with the boss, keeping him informed and maintaining good interpersonal relations 82 66 100
2. Understanding The expectations of the boss and the top management and trying to meet them 81 65 100
3. Influencing the thinking of the boss and getting his support and resources 76 53 91
4. Taking guidance and learning from the experiences of the boss 76 61 92
5. Liaison with top functionaries and the top management to keep them informed of developments 75 48 92

Table 2: The least effectively performed roles of the CEOs

S. No Item content Average % score Lowest  %score Highest  %score
1 Working with the unions and office bearers to control sloppiness, incompetence and indiscipline 56 40 80
2. Carrying the unions along to contribute to the organizational goals and standards 58 33 90
3. Monitoring to ensure that all the organizational values are followed by the staff 60 44 77
4. Motivating the union representatives to have positive influence on the staff to maintain the image of the organization 60 38 100
5. Providing periodic feedback to his juniors and other staff. 61 43 80

The top five of the well performed activities in Table 1 indicates that the Indian CEOs are good at managing their seniors. They communicate and liaise well with them, understand their expectations, take guidance and also influence their thinking. Most of the seniors for these CEOs include their Chairman, Board Members, and other full time Directors.  The Indian CEOs are weak in managing their unions and also in providing periodic feedback to their juniors. Three of the five least well performed roles deal with managing their junior  employees.

A further analysis of the data revealed that culture building, inspiring and developing staff by investing time and effort on their development are assessed as the least well performed activities. It seems from the 360 degree Feedback data that the top management are still busy impressing their seniors than juniors. If they have to be good leaders, they need to shift their focus to competence building of their juniors.

            Table 3 presents data on 10 transformational roles performed by the Indian CEOs. The data indicate that Indian CEOs perform transformational roles much less effectively than transactional roles. All the roles they perform well as is evident from Table 1 are transactional roles. Even the well-performed transactional roles are limited to effective management of boss and seniors. Transactional roles with the unions and staff seem to be relatively poor.

Table3: How Indian CEOs fare on Transformational Leadership Roles?

S. No Item Average % score Lowest

% Score


% Score

1 Inspiring staff with vision and values 64 39 91
2 Learning from Colleagues and benefiting from their experience 66 51 86
3 Policy formulation for the unit in relation to various issues like business development and staff management 66 43 92
4 Introducing new systems of management to manage various activities and operations effectively 67 36 86
5 Articulating the culture that should characterize the unit 67 45 94
6  Setting long term goals and objectives 68 43 88
7 Evolving strategies to improve customer satisfaction 68 44 87
8 Understanding business environment and opportunities to make an impact 75 44 96
9 Setting personal example in terms of following vision and values 72 43 97
10 Articulating vision for the unit 70 43 90
Leadership Styles

The analysis of the Leadership Styles indicated that the Indian CEOs are predominantly developmental in their style for example: when mistakes are made they tend to encourage people to learn from their mistakes (53% score) rather than protecting the subordinates and salvaging the situations themselves (34% score) or getting emotional even for minor mistakes (13%) . When conflict arise they encourage people to solve their problems in such a way that they develop capability to resolve conflicts in future (58% score) rather than giving their judgement and making the employees dependent on them (30% score) or reprimanding the erroring side (12% score). The development style was indicated in the way they take decisions, the way they assign the tasks, the way they communicate and the way they treat the juniors in other matters. In all this areas their benevolent or paternalistic style was about 30% as compared to 60% developmental style and 10% critical style.

As a result of this developmental style they seem to be creating certain amount of empowerment. The data also indicated that even the 30% of paternalistic style which is characterized by value for relationships and a tendency to favour few of their subordinates leads to a substantial degree of dependence. About 30% of their subordinates perceived them as favouring a few. This is a high percentage. The Indian CEO is in transition. Most organizations in the past used to be managed with a paternalistic style. This style seems to create dependence while it also gets loyalty and hard work. Juniors of the CEOs who predominantly use paternalistic style were found to have high degree of dependency and at the same time admiration for the CEO. However, only some of their juniors reported has learning from them. They seem to work in order to maintain relationship and out of admiration for the boss rather than out of enjoyment of the work.

While developmental style was the most predominant style for all the CEOs. There were a few CEOs who scored high on critical style. This CEO’s were found create resentment among their subordinates and some of them felt that they are unable to learn much while working with such CEOs. Such CEOs found the 360 degree feedback very helpful and prepared plans to change their styles.


The extent to which the symptoms of delegation or non-delegation are exhibited by the CEOs is presented in Table 4. The table indicates that the Indian CEOs in general are delegating type. The table indicates that in general the Indian CEOs are perceived as delegating about 74% of the time. They generally prefer their subordinates to check with them when problems arise. On all the other areas the delegation seems to be reasonable good. There is however a great degree of variation among the CEOs on the extent to which they delegate.

Table 4: Extent of Delegation/non-delegation symptoms exhibited by the Indian CEOs

(Higher the percentage less the delegation)

Sr. No Indicator of delegation Average % score Highest % score Lowest % score
1 He generally prefers his juniors to wait for his return rather than take decisions in his absence. 19 98 0
2 He does not leave routine decisions entirely to the lower levels. 24 100 0
3 Generally his in-tray piles up quite full with files and papers when he goes away on tour. 22 95 0
4 He is cautious and does not let his subordinates take even minor risks. 17 95 0
5 He spends time on activities and problems that he was handling before his last promotion/or his previous job. 18 70 0
6 He prefers his subordinates to check with him whenever a problem arises in an on-going project or assignment 55 100 0
7 He likes to keep himself fully involved in everything being handled by his subordinates. 32 80 0
8 He likes to be consulted even on matters where a rule or precedent already exists. 24 95 0
9 We often wish he would not spend time doing work which we can easily handle. 17 81 0
10 He is often rushing to meet deadlines. 29 58 0
Overall 26 62 8

Behavioral Qualities

The assessment of the 26 CEOs on 25 behavior Qualities is presented in Table 5.  The CEOs in general are rated very high on almost all the 25 behavioral qualities. However they scored high on the following qualities. The percentage scores are given in brackets. A score around 80% can be treated as a high exhibition of that quality (the opposite of it is only 20%).

Table 5: Top 5 high scoring behavior qualities of the 26 CEOs.

S.No Behavior dimensions Average % score Lowest  % score Highest  % score
1 Clear and persuasive communication rather than unclear and long winded communication 85 68 100
2 Active rather than passive 85 57 100
3 Takes positive approach rather than negative approach 84 70 95
4 Change oriented rather than status quo oriented 83 63 97
5 Encouraging rather than discouraging 83 70 97

The five qualities on which they scored relatively lower are presented in Table 6. (Percentage scores given in brackets).

Table 6: The lowest scoring five behavior qualities of the 26 CEOs

S. No Behavior Quality Average % score Lowest % score Highest % score
1 Empathetic rather than corrective (68% score indicating that they could be 32% corrective) 68 46 87
2 Participative rather than authoritarian 69 36 92
3 Calm and composed rather than irritable 71 33 100
4 Patient and accepting rather than impatient and intolerable 71 48 100
5 Proactive rather than reactive 71 43 90

An analysis of the open ended questions asking their assessors to mention their strengths and weaknesses revealed that technical knowledge, activity level, dynamism, delegation, interpersonal skills, hard work, and flexibility were more frequently mentioned strengths. On the other hand,  open mindedness, change orientation, and communication were more frequently mentioned weak areas. As a great degree of variation was found it is difficult to conclude any of these as commonly shared strengths or weaknesses.

Conclusions and Recommendations

In terms of Tichy and Cohen (1997) Indian CEOs have a long way to go for the following reasons as evident from their 360 degree feedback:

  • There is a great degree of variation in the effective performance of roles, styles, delegation and qualities. This indicates the need for 360 Degree feedback as tool to create more self awareness.
  • They are not yet taking direct responsibility for developing others as They seem to do little to inspire and develop their juniors.
  • While they are good at articulating their vision, and communicating the same to their juniors, the impact of this gets limited they are not able to teach others about how to make the organization successful. They are still operating at conceptual level and are reluctant to share their past and explain their learning experiences and beliefs
  • They are not spending adequate time and effort to develop their own leadership abilities and talent of others. Their investment in the 360 degree feedback is just a beginning.


In sum, Indian CEOs seem to be good at boss management and weak at managing Unions and also on transformational roles. They seem to perform less effectively the transformational roles. Among the transformational roles their strengths lie in articulating vision for the unit and influencing the thinking of their seniors. On a large number of other areas like culture building, inspiring and developing staff etc. they need to develop a lot more. Future leadership programs should focus on their change management skills. Their styles are predominantly developmental. Professionalism seem to have set in to a good degree in terms of their styles. Only in crisis situations like managing mistakes and conflicts their paternalistic style seem to come to surface. They seem to delegate a good deal. High activity level, positive thinking, communications, change orientation etc. are some of the notable strengths. Proactivity, cool and composed nature, empathy, patience and participative nature could be developed more to make an impact. Some of these roles and qualities could be developed. Leadership development programs could be focused on the above-indicated gaps.


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