Who is a leader ? Is he a person who has been divinely gifted with the powers to influence people ? And most importantly, how do you transform yourself from a manager to a leader ? These were some of the questions that kept me occupied while I was in thirty six hour long aeroplane travel from India to America. Gladly, I four months down the line as a Humphrey Fellow, I have got an answer to some of the most intriguing questions on leadership.
Aristotle said ‘Knowing oneself is the beginning of all wisdom.’ At the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, I had the first brush with the reality in knowing myself. We did a colour psychology test among the Humphrey fellows to access our own personality. It came as a surprise to me that although all the Humphrey fellows jelled around so well, we still were different personalities ! While most of Most of the people in our group were Blue or Orange, standing respectively for the more affable and outgoing, I was the only person in the group of ten having a personality best described as green.
The discovery that I am a ‘Green’ made opened for once more the floodgate of previously unanswered questions. Why do, at times, need a personal space of my own- even at times shutting doors to all external communications ? Why do I always keep looking for the ‘bigger picture’ in every possible event, friendship and relationship ? While most other people take decisions at the drop of a hat, why does it take me hours and sometimes days to figure out what exactly I want ?
The other important assessment of our personality happened at the Thunderbird School of Global Management. The test, aimed at accessing our Global Mindset helped me understand that the ‘passion for diversity’ and ‘diplomacy’ and to become global leaders needs to go up if I want to become a leader of global appeal. Ever since then, I have strived to inculcate new friendships.
The element of ‘servitude’ in the leadership as a concept is something that I would give the credit to my the Humphrey seminars. Mother Theresa and Mahatma Gandhi were the two figures that immediately came to my mind. The two exemplary leaders from Indians empathized with the problems of the masses, and led them with a moral conviction to serve.
The American experience in general has helped me to recalibrate my communication skills. I learnt the power of active hearing. We spend years learning how to write and speak. But do we have the training to enable us to listen others ? While eager to get out point across, we often ignore the views of other person completely. Even if we listen, we do that to reply and not to understand. To quote from Stephen R. Covey’s book- The seven habits of Highly Effective People, I learnt that it is most important to seek first to understand others before getting understood.
Effective team communication is another important lesson that I learnt here. This semester, we had two team activities. During the first assignment, we barely managed to stitch our acts together. The most important reason was that we were not communicating well within the team. We were unclear of our roles and how these roles would collectively collaborate towards a team exercise. During the second assignment, however, we corrected the old mistakes and made the expectations explicit from the very beginning. More such exercises would be needed to perfect the team exercises, but atleast I now have my way.
Building consensus is very important for a team leader. But how do you build the consensus, if there are disagreements in the way the team members analyse the situation. Martin Luther King Jr., in his impassioned speech against Vietnam war, said “a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a moulder of consensus”. The consensus, I have come to realize that building a consensus cannot happen without respecting the differences and encompassing the diversity in ideas.
While I may have learnt a few lessons on leadership in these four months, Entrepreneurship is an area where I want to sharpen my saw. I don’t want to keep doing things that keep me in high job demand. I rather want to be an entrepreneur, an unpopular choice in a ‘financial security’ driven job market. Even if I be an employee, I want to design and create new products and explore new ways in which media can become more relevant for the masses. After all, if the aim of the captain would be to preserve the ship, he would better to keep it at the port forever !