‘Leadership is influence’, that’s the theme of our discussion today.
There are many definitions of leadership. The one I like is by Warren Bennis. He was a great expert on leadership. He says, ‘Becoming Leader is synonymous with Becoming Yourself. A leader must be authentic; the word authentic is derived from its Latin root, which means being the author. So, a leader must be the author of his own creation.’
Sujata Deshmukh, who is leading expert on the subject of leadership and I have been working on a project and we are studying life histories of a few leaders. Let me share a few with you.
Stories of Leaders
Dr. Soundarya Rajesh is a celebrity today. She is a leading expert and champion of Inclusion and Diversity, and she is considered as the originator of the ‘Second Career opportunities for women in Corporate India.’ She was always a brilliant student and was employed with Citibank. When she sought a job again with another organization after her maternity break, they held the break in career against her and declined to consider her for the job. Remember this in spite of her enviable academic and career record. The injustice propelled her to establish Avatar which is her organization to support second career to women. She has provided employment to thousands of women. Dr. Soundarya continues to influence the corporate world on diversity and inclusion. She is the author of her own creation, as Warren Bennis says.
Naveen used to work in the company where I was also working. He was a highly skilled employee. After he left the company, we offered him a contract because he was a very trustworthy person with outstanding technical skills. That, in retrospect, was the inflection point in his career. He grew his contracting business rapidly and also learnt the skills of managing an organization. He kept reinventing himself. Today he owns a 100 Cr company in Mumbai.
The Inflection Points in Our Lives
I spoke of inflection point in the life of Naveen. It came when we requested him to work as a contractor for our company. Inflection point means a turning point. For Soundarya Rajesh the turning point was the rejection by an organization because of her break in career.
It is my observation that there are people who are born with a great desire to do something. They are passionate about it. But many of us are not born with such passion to do something. However, inflection points seem to come in every person’s life. My understanding is that if you are authentic and find your purpose, which a turning point throws in your lap, you rise as a leader. It is important to capitalize on the turning point events because they define us. That is the way we start becoming author of our own creation.
A Few More Instances
Dr Baba Amte saw Tulsiram, who was a leprosy patient and a living corpse, and it changed his life forever. He dedicated his life to rehab of leprosy affected persons. Girish Karnad, the famous playwright, read Mahabharat and the story of Yayati captivated his mind. The last act of Chitralekha’s arguments with Yayati played vividly in his mind. He wrote the play ‘Yayati’ which catapulted him to fame. Dr Taru Jindal chose to improve District Hospital in a remote place in Bihar. She faced tremendous resistance to change, the task seemed impossible, but finally won the Kayakalp award from the Government of India for being the best district hospital in Bihar. She met her inflection point there.
These men and women were not born with any passion to change the world. Leadership books ask you what are you passionate about. Most people will mumble some answer because they are not clear in their mind what they are really passionate about. The inflection point sends them on a path of self-discovery and leadership.
And that requires heightened awareness. Baba Amte was acutely aware of inequality. Girish Karnad was brought up on stories from Purana, Mahabharat and Ramayan. He was deeply influenced by the plays which presented aspects of social issues. Taru Jindal studied medicine because her grandmother was bed ridden and she had to do health care for her. Dr Taru’s sensitivity for rural health care grew strongly when she studied medicine.
Inflection Points and Increasing Self-Awareness
It appears that there is some way in which a person’s past experiences and inner world bring inflection point to him or her. Heightened self-awareness provides the spark. There are some easy ways to do it. Meditation and introspection are two ways all recommend. My experience is that writing is a kind of dynamic meditation, I have been writing morning pages for almost fifteen years. When you get up, you pick up your tea and write three pages. That’s morning pages. I know people who have been at it for thirty years and they are leaders par excellence.
Let me turn now to career. We can divide our career in three parts: Learn, Earn and Return. We must keep learning the skills and knowledge of our profession, but the emphasis is stronger in the first ten years of our career. The next phase requires focusing on earning because we have a family, and ought to provide decent living to our children. This too has emphasis for ten years. And the last remaining years we must focus on ‘Returning’ which is really giving back to the society as a professional, and being a role model for your small little world. Leaving a legacy is a tell-tale sign of leadership.
Our Response to Conflicts Defines Us
Ratan Tata helped those affected by the terrorists’ attack on Taj Hotel. This has caught attention of people across the world. It proves a point: ‘our response to a conflict defines us.’
People in power tend to use it to resolve the conflict. But conflicts are best resolved through dialogue. When we recognize that the importance of non-violent language, we are already on the path of creating a collaborative culture. Conversations unfortunately receive poor attention in leadership development. The rule is ‘change the language to change the culture.’
We have to check our language at home and at work place for creating a collaborative culture. There are several books on this subject. A healthy culture of dialogue is the biggest legacy we can leave for our family and for the work place. It is the quality and depth of conversations which distinguishes a great organization from another.
Explore Your Talent
Dr Raja Ramanna was a nuclear scientist and also a great pianist. Dr Abdul Kalam was also a scientist and played Rudra-Veena. Closer home, the renowned spine surgeon Dr VT Ingalhallikar is a Poet, Exponent of Hindustani Classical Music, Ghazals, Award Winning Lyricist, and an Eminent Photographer. Dr Anil Awchat is an author, plays flute, paints, sculpts and is a renowned Origami expert.
A BBC article ‘Why some people are impossibly talented’ mentions that ‘The research suggests we could all gain from spending a bit more time outside our chosen specialism.’ And it adds, ‘Nobel Prize-winning scientists are about 25 times more likely to sing, dance or act than the average scientist.’
Dance and music are considered as dynamic meditation forms. Pursuit of exploring talent enriches our life; it also increases our sensitivity to issues in our life. To address societal problems during his later years, the physicist Bohm wrote a proposal for a solution that has become known as “Bohm Dialogue.” Sensitivity creates empathy, the hallmark of a leader.
The point I am making is that if we wish to author our own creation, there are many ways. We should identify the inflection points in our life story. We should be open to influence, be focused on writing our unique story. You cannot say ‘I will influence people’ because whether or not to get influenced is their decision and they make it on the basis of what they can draw from you.
That is the final stage of leadership which John Maxwell postulates. ‘People follow you because of who you are and what you represent.’ That is what Warren Bennis means when he says ‘‘Becoming Leader is Synonymous with Becoming Yourself.’ And Maxwell says, ‘Leadership is simply influence’.
(Address delivered at the Leadership Summit of Grameen Foundation on Dec 10, 2021)
Vivek S Patwardhan
Pic courtesy: Tom Mussak on Unsplash. ‘Turning Point’.
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”