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Competencies for
Senior Manager Roles

includes research articles that focus on the

analysis and resolution of managerial and
academic issues based on analytical and
empirical or case research

Pradip N Khandwalla

Executive Summary

Senior Managers
Managerial Competencies

This paper identifies competencies that may aid role effectiveness at senior managerial
levels. It fills a research gap: while managerial roles and competencies have been studied
fairly extensively, their relationships have not been demonstrated. The performance of
senior level managers and therefore of the organization depends upon how well
they play their varied roles. In this paper, the roles of senior managers have been
categorized into nine strategic, nine operations-related, and nine leadership roles.
Strategic roles relate to such matters of long-term and organization-wide import as policy
formulation, setting of long-term objectives, articulation of a vision of excellence for the
organization, contributing to the organizations growth and diversification, procuring of
strategic resources and intelligence, etc. Operations-related roles cover implementation
of policies and changes, setting short-term targets, work allocation to staff, operating a
control system, crisis management, etc. Leadership roles encompass inspiring subordinates, developing effective relationships, getting cooperation, emphasizing core values
and norms, mentoring, fostering teamwork and collaborative effort, effective conflict
resolution, etc.
Forty-five senior manager-level competencies have been categorized into six groups
as follows:
competencies related to contextual sensitivity (power structure management)
management of initiatives
introduction of innovations
resilience and effective coping through problem solving
effective task execution
interpersonal competence and leadership.
The data were gathered from 73 managers attending training programmes for top and
senior level managers at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and several
associates of these managers. The ratings of each participant and his/her associates for
the participants role effectiveness and competencies were averaged to secure scores for
each participant. Correlation analysis was employed to identify relationships between
perceived role effectiveness and perceived competencies. The number of statistically
significant correlations between the 27 roles and 45 competencies was over a thousand,
suggesting a close overall relationship between roles and competencies. To focus only
on strong relationships, a cut-off of a correlation of 0.50 was kept. The key findings were:
There was a relative deficiency in playing leadership roles and in leadership and
interpersonal competencies.
There was greater proficiency in playing strategic and operations-related roles.
Two relatively weak competency categories were initiatives management and
introduction of innovations.
The senior managers main strengths were in the areas of task execution and
contextual sensitivity.
The number of core competencies (competencies strongly correlated with at
least 75 % of the roles in a category) ranged from 11 for leadership roles to 18 for
strategic roles.
Competencies varied considerably in the breadth of their impact on role
effectiveness there were six competencies that were core for all three
categories of roles (versatile competencies), while nine competencies were
specialized in their relationship to specific categories of roles.
The six competencies that were core for all three categories appeared to be those
that enhanced the credibility of the possessor to his/her associates, and possibly
thereby enabled the possessor to play so many roles effectively.
This paper concludes with several implications of the findings for management and
further work.





anagers play multiple roles especially at

higher levels in the organization (Mintzberg,
1973). Besides discharging specific responsibilities allocated to them such as those related to functions like marketing, production, finance or personnel
management, managers play strategic, leadership, operating, and other roles (Akhouri, 2002). A role is a
set of expected behaviour patterns attributed to someone
occupying a given position in a social unit (Robbins,
1998). The performance of the manager depends considerably on how well his/her multiple roles are played.
In turn, how well these roles are played by the managers
of an organization influences the performance of the
organization. The question, therefore, is: What are the
competencies required to play various managerial roles
effectively especially at senior levels in the organization?
In response to this question, we present data on a large
number of managerial roles and associated managerial
competencies from a study of 73 senior level Indian
corporate managers.


The following real life caselets illustrate the range of
competencies displayed by managers in playing key
strategic, operations-related, and leadership roles in a
corporate environment that is increasingly competitive,
turbulent, and complex:

Competencies for Strategic Shift

In a turbulent business environment, senior level
managers increasingly need to play the role of periodically
revising the corporate growth and competitive strategies.
This was the role Lou Gerstner played in the mid-1990s
at IBM (Hartley, 1997). He was brought in from McKinsey
to revitalize an IBM that had been devastated by huge
losses during 1991-1993. IBMs massive R&D investment
in developing new hardware in the 1980s had not paid
off and it had also been slow to enter the PC market.
Gerstner spent about a year incessantly travelling and
meeting internal and external stakeholders to diagnose
what had gone wrong in one of the worlds most
successful and dominant companies. He reorganized the
board and replaced half the members. He set up nine
task forces, each headed by a member of the Executive
Committee, to re-engineer the company. The new vision
that emerged was that of IBM becoming a pioneer of the


networked world. Mainframe development was reined

in by closing two of the three laboratories involved in
mainframe development. Instead, IBM launched eight
re-engineering projects to push IBMs core technology
into many more product lines. It emphasized the
marketing of components such as chips, offered network
services to large clients, and moved aggressively into
the emerging Asian markets. It offered systems to reengineer its customers businesses so as to cut their costs.
A vast array of hardware styled power architecture
(because of its computing speed and voluminous data
processing capability) was developed, spanning PCs,
palmtops, teraflops, and supercomputers so much so
that half the hardware sales came from products
introduced during the previous 18 months. Revenues
from services offered by IBM doubled between 1992 and
1996. On the other hand, many operating services were
outsourced to cut costs and focus more sharply on the
new strategic thrusts. In achieving this strategic
reconfiguration of IBM, Gerstner displayed considerable
visioning capability, analytical competency, the ability
to listen with care to IBMs stakeholders, communications
skills, doggedness and ruthlessness. In 1994 alone,
he fired 34,000 employees! IBM recovered from a loss
of $9 billion on sales of $61 billion in 1993 to a profit
of $6 billion on sales of nearly $80 billion in 1997.
S Venkataramanan performed an equally audacious
re-engineering job in the late 1970s on SPIC. SPIC was
an Indian conglomerate, mainly into fertilizers and
chemicals, whose promoters were the Chidambaram
business group and the government of the state of Tamil
Nadu. Venkataramanan, a bureaucrat, was brought in
as the CEO to revive an ailing company (Ravindranath,
1985). Venkataramanan talked extensively to the
companys stakeholders and got an expert diagnosis
done of why the company was ailing. Its capacity
utilization was poor and it was into several highly
regulated businesses with low profitability. The CEO set
about removing the constraints that were holding capacity
utilization down such as by investing in port facilities
and rail links to facilitate faster imports. SPIC embarked
on a vigorous diversification drive. Over the next few
years, SPIC diversified into LAB (an ingredient of
detergents), electronics, aluminum fluoride, maintenance
and repair services, project installation business,
contracting business, and computer magnetic tapes! It
aggressively launched several value-added new
products, such as by turning gypsum into a soil stabilizer.


It engineered this growth and diversification by

partnering other government or semi-government
enterprises. Not surprisingly, SPIC grew extremely
rapidly, increasing its sales from Rs 600 million in 1976
to over Rs 3,000 million in 1981, and recovered from a
loss of over Rs 270 million in 1976 to make a profit of
around Rs 260 million in 1981. Interestingly, in later
years, the bureaucrat who displayed such drive, business
acumen, and opportunism, went on to head the Reserve
Bank of India!

Operations Change-related Competencies

Frequently, managers need to play the role of bringing
about needed changes and improvements in operations.
To play this role effectively, managers need to possess
several competencies including careful planning of the
change desired, advocacy competency, an understanding
of the power structure, support building, and team
development. As an example, AD, a middle level manager
in an American company, wanted to get developed a
new measuring instrument for improving the quality of
the companys product (Kanter, 1982). But, there was no
support from his colleagues. So AD spent months trying
to develop data that would convince people how useful
the invention was. He went with his data to the bosses
above his boss to convince them to put up money for
developing the instrument. Since there was opposition
from a high level manager, AD gave prior coaching to
two participants in the forthcoming high-level meeting
for discussing the proposal to support his proposal.
Once he had the committees support, he assembled a
task force and took care to represent on it the
representatives of all the manufacturing sites. The role
of the task force was to advise the development team
on the development process and the appropriateness of
the end result for the companys operations. Notice the
astute political and coalition-building skills demonstrated
by AD as well as his team building capability.
An Indian example is that of P who was seconded
from the navy to an electronics public enterprise attached
to the Ministry of Defence (Khandwalla, 1988). P reported
to the head of a product division. The units performance
was declining and he found the corporate culture
paternalistic and risk averse. He also found overstaffing,
declining productivity, increasing customer complaints,
poor labour discipline, a growing feeling of stagnation,
and so forth. He made some attempts at change but his
boss poured cold water on the attempts. He decided to

gather data systematically to convince the management

of the need for arresting decline. He shared the data,
armed with charts and so forth, with some colleagues
and pleaded for change. Convinced, the group got an
internal diagnostic survey commissioned which was
persuasively presented to the management. The
management approved the idea of conducting workshops
of senior managers to discuss issues and evolve an action
agenda. An external management consultant was hired
to assist in the change process. A number of changes was
collectively instituted, including job rotation, group
incentive system, quality units, participative decisionmaking, and intensive managerial training. Various
systems, including long range planning, were strengthened. Values of customer satisfaction, quality, disciplined work, punctuality, productivity and so forth were
emphasized. There was greater decentralization. As a
result of these changes, labour productivity increased
by about 10 per cent per year and sales doubled in three
years. In catalysing so many operations-related changes,
P demonstrated strong courage of convictions, the ability
to dig deep into issues, energize apathetic colleagues
through persuasive communication, and build a change
agent team.

Competencies for Leadership Roles

Mr Krishnamurthy, CEO of a sick Steel Authority of
India (Krishnamurthy, 1987) and Lawrence Bossidy of
an ailing Allied Signal, US (Tichy and Charan, 1995)
illustrate the kinds of leadership roles and competencies
that can turn around sick organizations. Leadership roles
relate to visualizing big corporate goals, getting people
excited about them, inspiring superior performance by
the staff, etc. In the case of Krishnamurthy, as soon as
he took over the management of SAIL, he began meeting,
singly and in groups, managers and other stakeholders
of SAIL. He met an estimated 25,000 10 per cent of
SAILs gargantuan strength. At these meetings, he
listened intently to peoples views as to why SAIL was
sick and what could be done to revitalize it. He also
briefed them about the facts on SAILs situation. He
developed a vision of a vibrant, world-class SAIL, and
how it could be revitalized. Then, he invited the senior
managers of the company in batches of 80 to two-day
workshops at which the turnaround strategy was
discussed and Krishnamurthy personally coached the
managers. These managers, when they went back,
coached their subordinates. Krishnamurthy mailed a




document outlining the turnaround strategy called

Priorities for Action to all the employees, and the document
became the basis for brainstorming at plant meetings on
what could be done locally to improve performance. He
mounted a massive training initiative in which tens of
thousands of employees got badly needed training. He
also disciplined unruly unions when they resisted
redeployment of staff from overmanned areas to
undermanned areas. After years of sickness, SAIL was
turned around in one year flat. Notice the competencies
Krishnamurthy displayed as a leader dialogue with
the stakeholders that was a learning experience for him
as well as the stakeholders, their involvement in crafting
the turnaround strategy, the crystallization of a longterm vision of resurgence with a credible roadmap, the
involvement of the entire staff in local elaboration and
implementation through his communication with them,
the capacity for displaying an iron hand in a velvet glove,
and his commitment to human resource development.
In turning around Allied Signal, Lawrence Bossidy
displayed some competencies that overlapped with
Krishnamurthys but also some that were different. Soon
after he arrived at Allied Signal, he talked widely with
internal stakeholders to understand the companys
situation. He set about creating a sense of crisis. He
travelled to the companys locations with charts and
facts and figures showing how bad the situation was,
explaining that if performance did not improve,
everybody could lose his job. He organized a two-day
retreat at which the top management group hammered
out a consensus on seven core corporate values
customer satisfaction, integrity, people growth,
teamwork, speed, innovation, and high performance. He
made Total Quality Management the major instrument
for the companys regeneration. All 80,000 employees,
including himself, were given TQM training. About twothirds of the top and senior managers and nearly a
quarter of the staff lost their jobs because they were
found short on competence or commitment to Bossidys
vision for the company. Bossidy also ordered 6 per cent
per annum growth in productivity and fired those that
could not make the numbers for want of trying. Bossidy
met his top lieutenants several times for performance
appraisal. At the first meeting, he listened and shared
with the appraisee his perception of the appraisees
strengths and weaknesses. At a later meeting, he reviewed
the appraisees progress. There were three different
reviews of each executive: one for the executives people


management, one for strategy, and one for operations.

Again, those that fell short on the effort went. Bossidy
liked to lead through goals. Every year he set three goals
before everybody such as, in a particular year, achieve
financial targets, reduce cycle times, and achieve sales
growth. His appraisals emphasized meeting these goals.
Like Krishnamurthy, Bossidy used communication with
his subordinates as well as the rank-and-file to mobilize
them effectively for performance improvement. Both
stressed human resource development and the building
up of a strong, performance-oriented culture. But, Bossidy
combined a bold and credible vision with a lot more
coercive power. He set stretch targets and ensured that
they were achieved, not just with rewards, but also with
draconian punishment. While Krishnamurthy displayed
the competencies of a forceful mentor, Bossidys
competencies were more Napoleonic.
The purpose of this paper is to identify those competencies that are core, that is, facilitate excellence in
playing a large number of managerial roles. This paper
identifies core competencies for a set of 27 senior manager roles as well as core competencies for subsets of these,
like strategic, operations-related, and leadership
roles. Such an identification of core competencies can
facilitate a much more focused managerial recruitment,
selection, promotion, and human resource development
system for improving managerial role performance.

Early work (Fayol, 1916) indicated that the management
of organizations has certain unique functions (distinctive as compared to, say, those of the owners of the
organization or its workers). These functions are those
of setting goals, planning how to achieve them, controlling operations so that the organization stays on
course, coordinating interdependent activities,
developing and managing an organization structure to
get tasks accomplished, and leadership and motivation
of the staff. It was later surmised that all managers must
perform these functions, that is, in general, they need
to play the roles of goal setters, planners, controllers,
coordinators, organization designers, leaders, etc. Studies of what senior managers actually do at work led to
the identification of several distinctive roles such as the
figurehead, leader, and liaison roles, monitor, disseminator, and spokesperson roles, and entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator, and negotiator roles
(Mintzberg, 1973; Mintzberg, 2001). Some of these roles


may be generic to all managers; others may be more

specialized by industry, the managers level or function
in the organization, etc. (Kickul and Gundry, 2001).
There may also be cross-cultural differences among roles
or their importance to the organization (Pearson and
Chatterjee, 2003; Pearson, Chatterjee and Okachi, 2003).
For example, negotiating with, and managing, regulatory bodies may be a much more important role in the
relatively controlled market economies than in the free
market economies.

Competencies for Performing Managerial Roles

A critical issue is which managerial traits and competencies facilitate excellence in the performance of managerial roles. Early work focused heavily on leadership
styles. It was thought, on the basis of extensive behavioural science research, that the managers who were
good at demanding and facilitating high performance
from their subordinates and were also employee-oriented, considerate, or nurturant in the way they looked
after the needs of their subordinates tended to get better
productivity from their subordinates, and their subordinates tended to have higher job satisfaction, than those
managers who were only demanding or only nurturant
(Likert, 1961; Sinha, 1980; Stogdill and Coons, 1957).
Early research also led to the belief that participatory leadership of groups/teams yielded better results
in terms of productivity, morale, and performance continuity than authoritarian forms of leadership (Likert,
1961; Tannenbaum, 1966). More recent research indicates that transformational leadership visionary,
empowering, inspiring, trust-based leadership can
yield far better results than transactional leadership
that stresses mainly rewards and punishments (Bass,
1985; Burns, 1978; Tichy and Devanna, 1986). A number
of skills and attributes associated with transformational
leaders has been identified. Srivastava (2003), for instance, has sought to measure certain Indian business
transformational leaders on some 50 such competencies
and attributes.
Competencies in the form of useful motives, attitudes, and personality traits have been another fertile
area for finding determinants of managerial success.
McClellands (1975) research pointed to the power motive
and activity inhibition or self-control of managers as two
significant success factors. But, other determinants too
were located. Summarizing a large volume of Western
research, Campbell and his colleagues (1970) concluded

that intelligence, verbal skills, good judgment, organizing skill, effective interpersonal relations, hard work,
risk taking, pro-activity, dominance, confidence, straightforwardness, low anxiety, sense of autonomy, good
health, ambition, active participation in extra-curricular
and community activities, etc., contribute to managerial
The managers job is far broader than simply
managing subordinates. The manager has to operate
within the constraints imposed by the nature of the
organizations business, the phase the organization is in,
the power structure of the organization, its culture, its
objectives and priorities, authority and resources available and so forth. This requires high orders of navigational and communications skills, problem solving skills,
toughness, persistence, resourcefulness, flexibility, etc.
Boyatzis (1982) identified a number of competencies and
traits that distinguished high managerial performers
from average and poor performers. The competencies
were identified from prior research as well as through
the use of the technique of behavioural event interviewing. This technique involves the recall of critical incidents by managers and the analysis of these incidents
to cull out the competencies displayed.
A large number of competencies were initially
identified and were reduced to 19 competencies arranged
in five groups through factor analysis. The first group,
the action management cluster of competencies, consisted of efficacy orientation, pro-activity, diagnostic use of
concepts, and a concern with making an impact. The
second was the leadership cluster, consisting of selfconfidence, usage of oral presentations, logical thought,
and conceptualization. The third cluster, labelled human
resource management, consisted of the use of socialized
power (broadly, team building capacity), positive regard (belief in the effectiveness of others), effective
management of group processes (that is, ability to stimulate collaboration), and accurate self-assessment (objective view of oneself). The fourth cluster was direction
of subordinates consisting of developing others, the use
of unilateral power (giving commands), and spontaneity
(ability to express oneself freely). Focus on others was
the fifth cluster, and it consisted of self-control, objective
perception, stamina and adaptability, and concern with
close relationships/friendships. Besides these core competencies, Boyatzis (1982) also stressed the importance
of specialized knowledge. A discriminant function analysis was performed vis--vis ten of these competencies




to see how correctly as a group they classified 467

managers into poor, average, and high performers. It
was able to classify correctly 51 per cent of the sample
(Boyatzis, 1982).
Kanungo and Misra (1992) identified managerial
competencies that constitute managerial resourcefulness.
They differentiated between skills, which are quite
specific, such as greeting all customers with a smile, and
competencies that are generic, that is, skills that are
useable with some modifications in a wide variety of
task situations. The latter are particularly needed in nonroutine tasks that managers typically perform. Kanungo
and Menon (2002) conceptualized managerial resourcefulness as consisting of affective competencies (management of ones feelings and emotions), intellectual competencies (management of ones thoughts, beliefs, expectations, and mental processes), and action-oriented
competencies (management of ones intentions and action
orientation). Their measure of resourcefulness was a
predictor of the salary earned by managers in a sample
of Quebec managers in Canada.
The manager frequently has to play an innovator
or a change agent role in times of rapid change or when
the organization needs to change in a hurry because of
poor or declining performance. A number of traits and
competencies has been identified that may be associated
with effective change agentry. In a study of 165 middle
level managers, Kanter (1982) considered 99 of these as
innovators and change agents. Her study suggests that
effective innovators and change agents are comfortable
with change, have foresight, spot opportunities well,
have a clear sense of direction, and have fortitude, that
is, they do not easily get discouraged. They are tactful
but persistent and prepare thoroughly for meetings and
presentations. They involve colleagues and subordinates
in decision-making, generously share rewards with team
members, and can inspire team members to give their
best. They are also good at organizational politics and
have a knack for identifying and cultivating powerful
The foregoing is a long list of competencies that may
aid managerial performance. But, managerial performance can be broken down further into performance visa-vis a number of key roles. In that case, competencies
that improve the performance of each key role need to
be identified. We do not yet have clarity on which roles
are facilitated by which competencies. Interesting questions, therefore, need to be answered: Which of the


foregoing long list of traits and competencies contribute

to excellence in performing which roles or sets of roles?
Are there core traits and competencies, that is, traits and
competencies that aid the performance of most key
managerial roles, and, are there traits and competencies
that have a much more specialized contributory power?
At senior managerial levels where tasks tend to be
relatively unstructured and where how certain roles are
played can have substantial strategic, long-term impact,
which competencies are especially important for playing
such roles? Some tentative answers are sought in this
exploratory study of the role performance of 73 senior
and top level Indian managers vis--vis 27 roles, and the
competencies that were associated with these roles.
Answers to these questions can influence the practices
for selecting new managers and also HRD strategies for
managerial development.

An attempt was made to identify chief senior managerial
roles by asking a sample of 25 managers to list the roles
each played. These were mostly CEOs who were participating in a training programme at the Indian Institute
of Management, Ahmedabad. Content analysis of their
responses led to the identification of as many as 64 roles.
An attempt was made to consolidate these into a smaller
number, for example, by integrating similar roles and
by deleting infrequently mentioned roles and roles that
were not associated with the competencies that were
studied. This process led to a list of 27 roles.
These 27 roles can be broadly categorized into strategic, operations-related, and leadership/people management roles (Khandwalla, 1995). Strategic roles include such roles as policy formulation, planning of major
changes and innovations, securing of strategic intelligence, procuring of strategic resources, setting of longterm goals and strategy, developing a vision for the
organization, etc. Operations-related goals include policy implementation, implementation of changes/innovations, setting of short-run targets, work allocation,
maintenance of control system, monitoring of staff
performance, crisis definition, etc. Leadership/people
management roles include providing exciting challenges to subordinates, motivating and inspiring staff, providing support to staff, creating a climate of collaboration, developing effective relationships with colleagues,
and emphasizing the right values.
Two questionnaires were developed and pre-tested,


one to measure how effectively the 27 roles are played

by senior and top level managers, and the other to
measure how strong the managers are on each of the 45
different competencies. The latter instrument was largely based on earlier studies for measuring various managerial traits and competencies (Boyatzis, 1982; Kanter,
1982; Kanungo and Misra, 1992; Khandwalla, 1988). The
competencies included in the instrument ranged widely.
They covered contextual sensitivity-related competencies, innovation sponsoring capabilities, initiative managing competencies, resilience and problem solving
capabilities, task accomplishment-related competencies,
and interpersonal competencies.
For identifying the competencies that may significantly contribute to managerial role excellence, data
were sought from 73 senior and top-level managers
attending workshops on managerial styles and organizational effectiveness at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. For this purpose, each participant,
and, on an average, four of the participants colleagues
at work (superior, if any, colleagues, subordinates),
anonymously rated how well the participant practised
each role and the extent to which the participant possessed each competency. The ratings were done on 6point scales, in which 1 meant the lowest level and 6
meant the highest level. The scale for assessing role
effectiveness was: 1=participant does not play the role
while 6=participant plays the role extraordinarily well.
For measuring the strength of each competency, the scale
was: 1=the participant has the opposite of this trait while
6=the person definitely has this trait to a very great
extent. All the ratings about a participant were averaged
to derive the participants score for each role and each
competency for feedback to the participant during the
workshop. Tables 1 and 2 list the roles and the competencies and provide information on the average and
standard deviation of each item. For convenience, Table
1 provides the ranks of the 27 roles while Table 2 provides a similar ranking of the competencies.
Managerial competencies should facilitate effective
role performance. As expected, the roles and the competencies were highly correlated. The number of statistically significant correlations of competencies with roles
(at the 95% level of confidence, 2 tails) averaged 40.3 per
role. That is to say, on an average, about 90 per cent of
the 45 competencies were statistically associated with
the effectiveness of each roles performance. Even at 99
per cent confidence level, the average was nearly 36 (or

80% of the 45 competencies).

Table 1 indicates some interesting features of the role
effectiveness of senior Indian managers at least as shown
in this study. They seem to be more proficient at discharging their strategic roles and operations-related roles
than their leadership roles. The average ranks for these
three categories of roles were 11.4, 13.4, and 17.8 respectively (the larger the ranks average, the poorer is the
effectiveness). There is some corroboration also with
respect to competencies. As Table 2 shows, the average
rank of the interpersonal and leadership related competencies was 28.8 versus 9.7 for task execution competencies. As a group, the managers seemed to demonstrate far more effective task achievement capabilities
than effective staff management capabilities. The table
also indicates that senior level Indian managers may be
pretty savvy when it comes to contextual sensitivity;
they may be pretty street-smart in their respective organizational contexts. Besides interpersonal competencies there may be two other areas of relative weakness:
innovation-related competencies, and initiative management competencies. In an increasingly turbulent and
competitive market environment, these relative weaknesses may hamper needed changes and innovations in
the organization.
Since the objective was to identify which competencies may have specifically and powerfully contributed
to each role, the benchmark for strong association was
kept at a correlation of 0.50, much higher than at the 99
per cent confidence level. Table 3 shows the number of
competencies that correlated with each of the 27 managerial roles at the relatively high 0.50 and above correlation level. Even at this level, on an average, 15.5
competencies were correlated with each role performance. But, the variation was considerable and ranged
from 10 (for effective conflict resolution) to 28 (for policy
formulation and the conceiving and planning of useful
changes and innovations in ones area of jurisdiction).
Thus, roles varied quite a bit in terms of how many and
which competencies facilitated effective role performance.
Are there core competencies that enable a manager
to play most strategic, operating or leadership roles
well? To probe this, a thumb rule was adopted: if a
competency was strongly correlated (that is, had a
correlation of at least 0.50) with at least 75 per cent of




Table 1: Senior Managers Role Effectiveness




Key Managerial Roles

Average Score
(Std. Dev.)

Strategic Managerial Roles

Formulation of policies
Planning of changes and innovations in area of jurisdiction
Securing critically needed information and intelligence for formulating goals
Setting of long-term objectives for area of work
Securing an understanding of the nature of the organizations vendors, competitors, etc.
Articulating a vision for the future activities/impact of his/her unit/department
Contributing to the growth and diversification of unit/department
Procuring scarce financial, human, technical resources for the unit/department
Building up the image of unit/department
Average Rank
Operations-related Managerial Roles
Implementation of policies
Implementation of changes and innovations in area of jurisdiction
Setting of short-term tasks and targets for area of work
Fair allocation of the work to members of the staff
Seeking suggestions and help from clients in order to improve the services
provided by his/her department/unit
Operating an appropriate control system for the department/unit
Providing periodic feedback to staff and helping them review their performance
Rewarding/encouraging good performance
Anticipating and/or mitigating crises
Average Rank
Leadership Roles
Developing effective working relationships with colleagues
Getting the cooperation of colleagues in furthering his/her aims as well
as organization-wide objectives
Clarifying the culture (norms, values, and organizational processes) that should
characterize his/her department/unit
Motivating and inspiring staff to turn in excellent performance
Providing information and other resources necessary for staff to perform their tasks well
Providing proper guidance and counselling to staff members
Getting the staff excited by taking on challenging goals and innovations related to area of operations
Fostering a spirit of collaboration and teamwork in the staff
Resolving conflicts between staff members constructively; fairly judging disputes
Average Rank

the roles in a category (say, seven out of nine roles in

a category), then it was considered a core competency
for that category of roles. By this procedure, core
competencies were identified for each of the three categories of roles, namely, strategic, operations-related,
and leadership roles.
Table 4 lists 17 core competencies that were found
to have correlations of 0.50 and above with at least seven
of the nine strategic roles. To facilitate further analysis,
the category to which a competency belongs has been
shown in brackets. The six categories of competencies,
shown earlier in Table 2, are: contextual sensitivity
competencies (category A); initiative management competencies (category B); innovation-related competencies
(category C); resilient problem solving competencies
(category D); task execution competencies (category E);
and interpersonal and leadership-related competencies
(category F).
The composition of these 17 competencies is interesting. Initiative management competencies (category











4.19 (0.76)

4.06 (0.65)





B) and task execution competencies (category E) account

for 5 each of the 17 core competencies for strategic roles.
Category B consists mainly of competencies that facilitate the conceiving and launching of new projects/
initiatives/activities, and thus these may also be called
intrapreneurial competencies. Category E consists of
those competencies that facilitate successful execution
of tasks. There may be a clear synergy between the two
sets of competencies, especially in growth-oriented
organizations abounding in new projects. That is to say,
senior managers who are good at initiative taking and
at effective implementation of initiatives may be able to
play their strategic roles particularly well.
Table 5 lists 13 competencies strongly correlated
with at least seven of the nine operations-related roles.
Here again, B and E categories accounted for seven out
of the 13 core competencies. In addition, D category
competencies (resilient problem solving) were also
prominent. Indeed, there was a substantial overlap
between the core competencies for strategic and oper-




Table 2: Senior Managers Competencies

Managerial Competencies

Average Score
(Std. Dev.)

Contextual Sensitivity Competencies

Can quickly identify the power structure of the organization/system and get to know
what powerful people in it want or do not want
Can smell trouble before others do
Can quickly identify the dos and donts of the organization/system
Good at keeping eyes and ears open to what is happening around him/her
Keeps in touch with a wide variety of people and consciously develops a
number of informative and influential contacts
Has a knack for doing the right things at the right time in getting jobs done
Good at roping in influential people in the organization to support his/her ideas
Average Rank
Initiative Management Competencies
Likes new tasks and is quite at home in new settings and with new people
Gets new projects going easily and quickly
Makes persuasive presentations for proposals for new projects/activities
Gives credit liberally to people who have been helpful in getting project/activity going
Great at spotting and seizing opportunities that are beneficial to the organization
Builds an effective team for implementing new project/activity
Average Rank
Innovations-related Competencies
Keeps in touch with major developments in his/her field and with opportunities for
innovation in the organization
Often comes up with original solutions to difficult problems
Seeks novel or offbeat solutions in tough problem situations
Is impatient with traditional/conventional solutions to problems
Fine sense of timing for introducing changes or innovations
Average Rank
Resilient Problem Solving Competencies
Does not get disheartened in a tight corner and quickly tries to find a way out
Does not get unnerved even in hard choice situations
Takes criticism or failure positively
Not intimidated by big bosses
Can mobilize resources for a task even when resources are scarce
Generally first generates several alternatives before evaluating any of them
Can bring order even to messiest situations by systematic analysis
Thinks through alternative courses of action before taking a decision
Carefully maps out all the steps of a course of action
Average Rank
Task Execution Competencies
Puts out his/her best and expects to come out way ahead of others
Can be counted upon to play his/her part in getting jobs done
Likes taking up challenges that come his/her way
Tends to set for self stretch goals/targets and deadlines
Seeks and accepts personal responsibility for getting a job done
Wants to be on top in whatever he/she does
Known for following up on tasks for getting them effectively executed
Average Rank
Interpersonal and Leadership-related Competencies
Can take charge when things go wrong and provide guidance to others
Easy for this person to empathize with others
Is direct and open in dealings with others
Others turn to this person in their moments of emotional stress
Puts across his/her point of view clearly and persuasively
Is a patient listener and judges only after fully understanding the other person
Calmly gives to others a correct picture of his/her thoughts and feelings
At work, seeks suggestions and opinions of colleagues
Is at ease with others and enjoys close working relationships
Can inspire others and infuse them with his/her enthusiasm for a tough task
Visualizes big goals and gets people excited with his/her enthusiasm for a tough task
Average Rank





4.58 (0.77)
4.29 (0.64)
4.04 (0.69)














4.33 (0.63)
3.92 (0.72)
4.34 (0.85)
3.39 (0.64)
4.63 (0.61)
3.99 (0.84
4.15 (0.70)
4.28 (0.66)
4.34 (0.68)
4.15 (0.63)
4.02 (0.66)





Table 3: Number of Strong Correlations of Managerial

Competencies with Managerial Roles
Brief Description of
Senior Managerial Roles

Number of Strong
Correlations of Competencies
(0.50 and above)

Strategic Managerial Roles

Policy formulation
Contributing to growth of unit/function
Planning of changes/innovations
Articulating vision for unit/function
Securing of critical intelligence
Setting of long-term goals
Understanding the market environment
Procuring scarce resources
Building units image
Operations Managerial Roles
Policy implementation
Implementation of changes/innovations
Setting of short-term goals
Fair allocation of work to subordinates
Seeking help from clients
Operating a control system
Providing periodic feedback to staff for
performance review
Rewarding good performance
Crisis handling
Leadership Roles
Developing effective working
relationship with colleagues
Getting colleagues cooperation
Clarifying right norms and values to staff
Motivating staff
Providing resources to staff
Guiding staff
Exciting staff through big challenges
Fostering team work
Resolving conflicts
Understanding operating constraints
Range of Strong Correlations

Table 4: Core Competencies for Strategic Roles

Competencies Highly Correlated (0.50 and above)
with All Nine Strategic Roles


10 to 28




ations roles: nine of the competencies were core for both

sets of roles. This overlap is not too surprising. After
all, strategic initiatives are implemented by breaking
them down into specific action programmes which are
then carried out effectively and resourcefully.
Table 6 lists 11 competencies that were core for
leadership roles. Unlike strategic and operations-related
roles, no one or two competency categories dominated
this category of roles. Instead, there was a fair spread
across the six competency categories. Also, many of the
competencies that facilitated strategic and operations
roles also facilitated leadership roles. There were six
competencies that were core for both strategic and leadership roles and eight that were common to operationsrelated and leadership roles. This too may not be very
surprising. Leadership or effective people management
is needed to carry out both strategic and operational
tasks and, hence, several competencies that facilitate


Puts out the best and expects to come out way ahead of
others (E)
Often comes up with original solutions to difficult problems
Carefully maps out all the steps of a solution or a course
of action (D)
Has a knack for making very persuasive presentations for
proposals for new projects or activities (B)
Has a fine sense of timing when it comes to introducing
changes or innovations (C)
Is great at spotting and seizing opportunities that are beneficial
to the organization (B)
Competencies Highly Correlated with Eight Strategic
Likes to take on new tasks and is quite at home in new
settings and with new people (B)
Can be counted upon to play his/her part in getting jobs done
Likes taking up challenges that come his/her way (E)
Has a knack for mobilizing the necessary resources for a
task even when resources are scarce (D)
Gets new projects going easily and quickly (B)
Competencies Highly Correlated with Seven Strategic
Sets demanding goals or targets for self, and strict deadlines
that stretches him/her considerably (E)
Is known to put across his/her points of view clearly and
persuasively (F)
In getting jobs done, has a knack for doing the right things
at the right time (A)
Seeks and accepts personal responsibility for getting a job
done (E)
Can visualize big goals and gets people excited about
achieving them (F)
Has a knack for building an effective team for implementing
a new project or activity (B)

Note: Letters within brackets refer to the category under which the
competency falls (Table 2).

leadership roles may also contribute to strategic and

operational roles.
Certain competencies may be more versatile than
others in the sense of facilitating more varied managerial
roles. Among the 45 competencies studied, there were
a few that were core to all three sets of roles. But, equally,
there were also a few that were core only to one of the
three sets of roles. These could be called role-set specific
competencies. Table 7 lists the six competencies that
were highly correlated with at least seven each of the
strategic, operational, and leadership roles. These versatile competencies may be especially important for a
programme of managerial upgrading. By selecting
managers that have these competencies and by strengthening these in the existing managers, a quick across-theCOMPETENCIES FOR SENIOR MANAGER ROLES


Table 5: Core Competencies for Operations Roles

Table 6: Core Competencies for Leadership Roles

Correlations of 0.50 and above with All Nine

Operations Roles

Correlations of 0.50 and Above with All Nine

Leadership Roles




This person can be counted upon to play his/her part in getting

jobs done (E)
This person has a fine sense of timing when it comes to
introducing changes or innovations (C)
This person is great at spotting and seizing opportunities that
are beneficial to the organization (B)
Correlations of 0.50 and Above with Eight Operations
This person puts out his/her best and expects to come out
way ahead of others (E)
In getting jobs done, this person has a knack for doing the
right things at the right time (A)
This person seeks and accepts personal responsibility for
getting a job done (E)
This person has a knack for mobilizing the necessary
resources for a task even when resources are scarce (D)
This person has a knack for making very persuasive
presentations for proposals for new projects or activities (B)
This person has a knack for building an effective team for
implementing a new project or activity (B)
Correlations of 0.50 and Above with Seven Operations
This person can quickly identify the dos and donts of the
organization or the system he/she is working on (A)
This person is able to bring order even to the messiest situation
by systematic analysis (D)
This person carefully maps out all the steps of a solution
or a course of action (D)
This person is known for his/her ability to follow up on tasks
and for getting them effectively executed (E)

board improvement in managerial role performance in

the organization could be engineered. Reliability in
getting a job done, ability to anticipate and plan systematically, pro-activity in taking personal responsibility,
the capacity to mobilize resources in tight situations, the
capacity to build an effective team for new initiatives,
and a nose for timing new initiatives right may underpin
the senior managers versatility at playing a multitude
of roles.
Role-set specific competencies are core for playing
one set of roles but not the other two. These are listed
in Table 8. This information is useful for more finegrained managerial selection or development. Thus, for
example, if senior managers are not playing their strategic roles well enough, but are playing the operationsrelated and leadership roles well enough, it may make
sense to emphasize in managerial selection/training the
six competencies specific to enabling the effective playing of strategic roles.
An interesting finding of the study is that there were
significantly fewer competencies associated with the
leadership roles than with the strategic roles. Tables 4




This person seeks and accepts personal responsibility for

getting a job done (E)
This person is able to inspire others and is able to infuse
them with his/her enthusiasm for a difficult task (F)
This person has a knack for building an effective team for
implementing a new project or activity (B)
Correlations of 0.50 and Over with Eight Leadership Roles
This person can be counted upon to play his/her part in getting
jobs done (E)
This person often comes up with original solutions to difficult
problems (C)
This person is at ease with most people and enjoys close
working relationships (F)
This person has a fine sense of timing when it comes to
introducing changes or innovations (C)
Correlations of 0.50 and Above with Seven Leadership
This person can quickly identify the dos and donts of the
organization or the system he/she is working in (A)
This person is able to bring order even to the messiest situation
by systematic analysis (D)
This person carefully maps out all the steps of a solution
or a course of action (D)
This person has a knack for mobilizing the necessary
resources for a task even when resources are scarce (D)

and 6 show that only 11 competencies were associated

with the leadership roles versus 17 with the strategic
roles. There may be two reasons for this finding. First,
the study may have excluded some of the competencies
that are key determinants of leadership effectiveness.
Second, managers may not know well enough how to
transform their competencies into effective leadership
roles. Since as many as 45 competencies were studied,
the first reason may not be particularly valid. In that
case, the second reason may be more strongly operative.
This suggests, together with lower scores on the effectiveness of leadership roles and on interpersonal and
leadership-related competencies, a serious leadership
gap at senior levels in Indian corporate organizations.

Table 7: Versatile Competencies (Core Managerial

Competencies for All Three Types of Roles)

This person can be counted upon to play his/her part in getting

jobs done (E)
This person carefully maps out all the steps of a solution
or a course of action (D)
This person seeks and accepts personal responsibility for
getting a job done (E)
This person has a knack for mobilizing the necessary
resources for a task even when resources are scarce (D)
This person has a knack for building an effective team for
implementing a new project or activity (B)
This person has a fine sense of timing when it comes to
introducing changes or innovations (C)




Table 8: Role Set Specific Competencies (Core Competencies Specific to a Single Category of


Core Managerial Competencies Specific to Strategic Roles

This person likes to take on new tasks and is quite at home
in new settings and with new people (B)
This person likes taking up challenges that come his/her way
This person tends to set himself/herself demanding goals or
targets, and strict deadlines that stretch him/her considerably
This person is known to put across his/her points of view
clearly and persuasively (F)
This person gets new projects going easily and quickly (B)
This person can visualize big goals and get people excited
about achieving them (F)
Core Managerial Competencies Specific to Operations
This person is known for his/her ability to follow up on tasks
and for getting them effectively executed (E)
Core Managerial Competencies Specific to Leadership
This person is at ease with most people and enjoys close
working relationships (F)
This person is able to inspire others and is able to infuse
them with his/her enthusiasm for a difficult task (F)

This study has identified a large number of competencies
that seem to contribute to managerial excellence. Figure
1 summarizes the major findings of the study. It shows
the six core competencies associated with the excellent
performance of strategic, operational, and leadership
roles of senior level managers in the Indian corporate
context. It also shows those competencies associated
only with excellence in performing specific sets of roles.
The six core competencies seem to be goodwillenhancing. Reliability earns the respect of colleagues as
does the capacity to mobilize scarce resources in tough
situations. Planning ability, ability to time initiatives
well, and the taking of personal responsibility earns the
goodwill of higher-ups. Team building for an initiative
yields the support of ones subordinates. These competencies seem especially useful for enabling the possessor
to earn goodwill, a goodwill that can be utilized for
playing effectively a variety of roles, including some
contentious ones. Emphasis on these competencies may
facilitate a lot more effective decentralization because
it would augment the general management capability
pool of the organization.
A significant finding of this study is that seniorlevel Indian corporate managers may be less adept at
playing leadership roles than at playing strategic and

operational roles (Table 1). Also, they may not be as

proficient in interpersonal and leadership related
competencies as compared to, say, tactical or task
achievement related competencies (Table 2). Further,
fewer competencies seem to be associated with leadership
roles than with strategic or operations-related roles
(Tables 4, 5, and 6), possibly because managers may not
know well enough how to convert their competencies
into effective leadership. Given the need for Indian
corporate management to survive and prosper in an
increasingly turbulent and competitive environment,
leadership deficiency at senior levels may inhibit the
willing cooperation of stakeholders for high corporate
performance and for making needed changes and
innovations. This study also found a relative deficiency
vis--vis initiative management and innovation
There may be good reasons why the leadership gap
arises at senior corporate levels. In most companies,
even in developed economies, the route to a fast, upward
track for junior managers is through delivering shortterm results as per the bosss expectations and compatibility with the preferences and priorities of senior
management. Early socialization into compliance with
the power structure, rather than into an effective, empowering leadership, may spill over into senior management positions, thus creating a leadership gap. The
findings of this paper may, therefore, be relevant beyond
the Third World for appropriately crafting corporate
HRD strategies for managers. The institutionalization of
an empowering, participative style management throughout the organization can also lessen the leadership gap.
Management schools, preoccupied for most of the curriculum in teaching analytical approaches and the tools
and techniques of management, may also find it useful
to initiate their students in the core soft competencies
identified in this study and alert them to their long-term
Corporations of emergent market economies like
India face daunting challenges. Their managements have
to extricate themselves from the mindsets bred by decades of operating in an economy of stringent regulations,
corrupt practices, and crony capitalism. They have to
find ways for their companies to catch up quickly with
international rivals in productivity, product quality,
customer service, business ethics, innovativeness, and
so forth. This requires that their senior members play




their strategic, operational, and leadership roles far more

effectively than in a sheltered economy. For this purpose, besides functional and technical skills, many soft
skills need to be strengthened, especially competencies
related to initiative management and innovation management. In a sheltered economy, especially one of
shortages, getting production out is critically important;
strategy, innovation, and people management may not
matter as much. But, the rules of the game change in
a hyper-competitive economy and managers need to get
far more versatile and competent. This paper can help
managements to focus on the most critical competencies
needed to play these roles (Figure 1). These number 15
(six versatile competencies that may yield much goodwill to the possessor and nine role-set specialized competencies), just a third of the 45 competencies studied.
A focused attempt at developing these 15 competencies
in managers could have a large beneficial impact on the
running of an enterprise.
From an operational point of view, inculcating or

strengthening competencies may require their analysis

into sets of micro-competencies, and the benchmarking
of high levels of these. For example, the performance
reliability of a manager has emerged as a core competency in this study. To help a manager become more
reliable, it may be useful to analyse how a manager
comes to be seen as reliable in a situation where the
manager would be wearing many hats and pursuing
many commitments. Planning commitments and deadlines in interaction with colleagues, keeping a diary of
commitments, periodically taking stock of progress on
priority versus less urgent commitments, developing
standards of acceptable performance, role modelling,
seeking mentors who can help a manager learn how to
become more reliable, identifying thumb rules that
increase reliability, learning to coordinate with the stakeholders in any given situation, seeking feedback so as
to become more reliable, and so forth may be the microcompetencies that need to be strengthened to deliver
greater reliability. Concrete measures and benchmarks

Figure 1: A Summary of Major Findings

Core Competencies
Specific to Strategic Roles

Core Competencies for All Three

Sets of Roles
Reliability in getting jobs done
Careful mapping of solution
Seeking personal responsibility for
getting a job done

Excellence in
Playing Senior
Manager Roles

Preference for new tasks,

tolerance for new settings
and people

Strategic Roles

Capacity to mobilize scarce

Capacity for building effective team
to handle important new projects
Sense of timing for introducing

Preference for taking

Preference for setting stretch
goals and deadlines


Capacity for clear and

persuasive communication


Capacity to get new projects

going smoothly
Capacity to visualize big
goals and getting people

Core Competencies Specific

to Leadership Roles
Capacity to work easily and
closely with people
Capacity to inspire and
enthuse others

Core Competencies
Specific to Operations
Ability to follow up on tasks
and getting them executed




need to be developed for each of these and also processes

for acquiring proficiency so that the manager is clear
what high performance on each micro-competency means
and how to get to it. Simply exhorting a manager to
become more reliable is unlikely to deliver results. Much
work remains to be done to convert competencies into
specific skills that can then be delivered to managers
through training, job rotation, on-the-job experiences,
mentoring, etc.
Finally, the perspective of this paper is that competencies affect role performance. But, the reality may
also be the other way around: playing a role may incul-

cate needed competencies. The literature on corporate

turnarounds, for example, is replete with examples of
rank outsiders who came into a sick organization as a
CEO, quickly diagnosed the situation and understood
what needed to be done, dialogued extensively with the
stakeholders, and evolved and implemented an effective
turnaround strategy even when the person had no
prior experience of the industry or of turnaround management (Khandwalla, 2001). Roles and competencies
may well constitute dynamic, interactive learning systems. These need to be better understood for designing
effective HRD strategies for senior managers.

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Pradip N Khandwalla retired as Professor of Organizational

Behaviour from Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad in
2002. He has published a dozen books on organization theory
and design of organizations, turnaround management, creativity
and its management, public sector management, styles of

management, etc., and nearly 80 papers in refereed journals and

scholarly anthologies. He is now a management consultant and
serves on several corporate boards, institutional governing
councils, and government bodies.