I have been working for over six years now. During this time I have been part of three organisations, Samagra, where I joined as a Senior Consultant in 2018, being the third. It is that pivotal point in my career where both, the organisation and I, are excited to meet the leader within me. My aspirations, discussions with mentors, professional development conversations with my Manager – all centre around becoming a leader, within and beyond Samagra.
Leadership, it seems, is the buzzword around me. It has been ever since I started working. I have read numerous Harvard Business Review articles about what makes a good leader and what separates a manager from a leader, heard podcasts about how to mobilise people to achieve a goal or ‘hacks’ to become an effective leader, even debated with my friends about the artificially generated need for leadership as a by-product of capitalism. Through all the essays, articles, and discussions, I realized two kinds of leadership were being discussed – leading the self to outcomes and leading others to outcomes. I found personal leadership more appealing – here, the actor (me) was within my locus of control and I had a say in how I would behave. However, precisely this made personal leadership daunting – the actor has always been in my control. How then can I produce different outcomes with the same actor? Further, how does personal leadership enable me to lead others to outcomes?
Armed with these questions (and a touch of cynicism), I joined a three-day workshop on leadership organized at Samagra. I tend to learn better through models and frameworks and I was looking forward to find one on leadership that would help me define the concept, measure myself against a benchmark and systematically climb the rungs to become a better leader. Within the first five minutes of the workshop, I realized I would learn none of that. Instead, the workshop became an intensely personal experience.
Focusing on personal leadership, the workshop nudged me to examine my existing thought and behaviour patterns, underlying beliefs about myself I held dear, even images of myself that I fought hard to preserve and project to people around me. The workshop urged me to reflect on my interaction with my circumstances, how I engaged with my teams, and how I viewed myself as an individual.
The three days were emotional turmoil for me that immediately sparked important personal and professional action. One of the sessions encouraged participants to seek and share feedback with individuals they had closely worked with. Going around the room a few times, I identified the people I thought could best add to my knowledge of myself. This session was decidedly a high, as it reinforced some of my own beliefs, while also bringing to light strengths I didn’t even know I possessed.
With the highs, came the lows. I realised that it had been a significant amount of time since I had truly committed myself to achieving a challenging goal and not stopping before that. By the end of the workshop, I also felt extremely vulnerable – I had just laid bare my insecurities to a group of colleagues I was supposed to lead. Knowing my failures and doubts as they did now, would they still trust me and my ability to lead them? Finally, while the experience was powerful and gave me insights about being a better individual performer, I was still unsure how any of it would help me become a better leader.
Exploring this last question, I took a closer look at some of the leaders I look up to the most. Here is what sets them apart for me – they are stellar individual performers, they overcome the fear of failure or the vulnerability to talk about it, unwaveringly commit to the end goal and all of this they do with humility. The workshop made me more self-aware and helped me identify these traits within myself.
It was now time to step out of the training room and into the meeting room.
In the three weeks since the workshop, I have put the lessons I learnt into practice. I understand the gravity of commitment differently now, so I commit to things only when I know I will do whatever it takes to achieve them. A high benchmark that I intend to keep meeting. I speak up more often, consciously overcoming the need to preserve the image I had created for myself. I take more risks by acting in uncertain situations, actively finding ways to foresee and pre-empt failure, and communicating my limitations. These qualities, among others, define the leader I am committed to becoming.