Leadership is about Forging Relationships

“In a nut shell, I believe leadership is about forging relationships and perpetuating communication centered on and around a common vision, goals, and values.” Leaders set vision, strategies, goals, and values in order to guide for desired action and behavior. Leaders are characterized by certain traits which distinguish leaders from non-leaders includes Drive, desire to lead, honesty, cognitive ability, self-confidence and knowledge. Leaders are defined by their personal core values and they lead with their hearts. 

In the winter of 1987, I was born in a farmer’s family and I grew up in a joint family of fourteen. Teamwork was not a choice, it was a necessity! I believe my greatest leadership asset is that I am socially resourceful. I can communicate effectively and am comfortable one-on-one or with a large group. I truly believe that learning from the experiences of others is an incredibly valuable resource. Learning about others is also a valuable tool. Exhibiting sincere interest in people empowers a leader with knowledge, perspective and insights they may not have considered. In addition, others are likely to increase their receptiveness to anything you have to say or hope to accomplish when they sense your genuine interest in their point of view. Genuine people who are true to themselves and to what they believe in turned into an authentic leader. They are more concern about serving others than they are about their own success or recognition.

My journey into leadership is full of peaks and valleys. Leadership has not always been an easy road for me, but has provided me with several challenges. One of my first experiences was in high school and has continued throughout my professional career. My first experience in leadership was my being elected to represent my high school-Birla school, Mumbai for a state level event named – India culture quest. We were team of 22 including dancers, singers, gymnastics, science innovation project team, and team to handle brainstorming and quizzes. I remember being so nervous not knowing how to lead or communicate effectively with my fellow students. It was my primary role that to engage and coordinate my fellow student and also represent our school as of the example for discipline and talent on a state level. I knew I could handle this challenge if I organized the team and prepared the charter. My charter was including everyone’s details about their strength and weaknesses. I organized all of them into their respective small groups based on their role in an event and asked each team to choose one leader among them. I distributed my responsibilities among these leaders and kept the track of quality of the performance. I also organized special event and outings to encourage my fellow students to engage them. This to me was my first experience in leadership and it helped me in college where I was pushed to organize and managed the annual cultural event named – ‘Odessy’. I felt challenged, but I knew by extending an outline of my high-school leadership. I agreed to commit that my leadership style improved a lot during those days. It became more authentic. Authentic leaders need to sustain high levels of motivation. Keeping that in mind I started my work by delivering motivational speech to my team and asked them to give best of what they have. I outlined my leadership style in such a way that my team mates should feel comfortable to speak up and share their views. My contributions allowed others to have a better understanding of the overall planning and execution of the Annual Culture Event. This also helped me overcome challenges and differences by expressing myself among different personalities, ethnicities, and cultures. I learned that leadership has multiple dimensions. Articulating the vision and managing the task are not only the responsibilities of a leader. It’s more than that. It’s to influence others by your core values, your unique characteristics and your authentic and positive approach. You will be most effective as a leader when you find opportunities that highly motivate you and utilize your greatest capabilities. One without the other is insufficient. To find them you must understand your deepest motivations and be honest with yourself about your capabilities. Being motivated by something you are not good at will not enable you to succeed as a leader, nor will pursue leadership roles that do not motivate you. But when you find the role that meshes your motivations with your capabilities, you will discover the sweet spot that maximizes your effectiveness as a leader. I also learned one more lesson that accept both success and failure. My every step, whether it is a mistake or success strategy, will always give me an uncountable experience. I have to learn through that experience. Never afraid of failures because each mistake teaches us the important lessons to succeed. I also developed my listening ability during the whole event. I gained the experience of discovering capabilities which I did not know I had.

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Another example of leadership includes my managerial experience at my company. The greatest challenge I faced was building a product team at my company. On November 7, 2012 Vice president of my company, Mr. Mahesh Patil, sent me an email and asked me to join him in the cabin. Mr. Patil just returned from a meeting with board of directors. He reported that the company facing challenges to beat the high market competition and we will lose thousands of customers if we are not able to improve our product’s features. As a recently promoted product manager, I was asked to lead the project. I never had experience of leading a huge team of 17 people before. In past, I was working as an associate product manager for the same product and hence I was pretty sure about functionality and technical constraints about the product. I decided to take the opportunity and to challenge myself to enhance my leadership graph. When I entered into my current position, I knew I had to make changes in the methodologies and product development process. The previous product manager had short of vision and neither organized research work, and process documents. The company relied solely on him, which caused inconsistency in product’s quality and customers’ dissatisfaction. I led and supervised 17 employees, coordinated the work of forty two people, and two months later implemented a solution.

In order to start with I formed four distinguished teams and re-defined responsibilities and tasks. During the initial discussion with Mr. Mahesh Patil and 5 senior managers, I suggested the methodology for solving the problem. I presented the feasibility of the proposed solution and an initial estimate of the costs, and operational implications. I convinced them that how the new methodology will give us an edge over our competitors and innovative marketing strategy will help us to regain the brand name. However, I felt I have not yet consider all the real time risk factors and it may turn into operationally premature solution due to lack of ability in handling the risk. I asked for more days to conduct trials. I knew that the financial consequences of failure would be tremendous and hence I was very much stressed by this project. Leaders do not succeed on their own. Every leader defined by the members of his team. Strong-support team provides affirmation, advice, perspective, calls for corrections when needed, and, above all, team bonding. I knew that I want to lead a team where I should create comfort and open environment so that during the hard days and low points, as a whole team we should not lose our boost to achieve the target. I knew that it is easy to divert by the expectations of others but as a leader my role is to grounded my team mates with their core values and help them to stay on track.

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In our first team meeting, I shared my strength and weakness and asked others to join me by expressing their thoughts. Three of seventeen Team members were not open with one other about their mistakes and weaknesses. Such things make it difficult to build a foundation for trust. Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. Instead, they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments. Again I felt challenged. Whether you are a leader or a team member, you can never take trust for granted. It was a big challenge for me to build a trust and create extremely harmonious and independent environment that embrace my personal values and principles. I took the opportunity and passed Quote of Trust and Accountability a.k.a. QTA based on our discussion. Our Quote of Trust and Accountability (QTA) stated as – ‘Trust lies at the heart of a functioning, cohesive team. Without it, teamwork is all but impossible. Unfortunately, the word trust is used—and misused—so often that it has lost some of its impact and begins to sound like motherhood. That is why it is important to be very specific about what is meant by trust. For me trust and accountability is what I perceive and conceptualize my core values and I am responsible to develop authenticity, integrity, knowledge, authority, respect for others, and trust’. We all agreed to Quote of Trust.

Next day I gathered my staff and I presented the issues, emphasized the significance of the business opportunity, and defined a timetable. I also asked my marketing team to evaluate the magnitude of the problem in other markets. I set the vision of our team and also specified the norms of team. I distributed the task among four teams and created guidelines of communication and execution. It was two-way communication session where I asked my teammates to share their views, expert knowledge and level of confidence. It was a great session we had. I learned that being with your team-mates face-to-face; inquiring about their work, their families, their personal lives, and their careers; and being open and vulnerable with them creates an intimacy with people. As we moved forward in the project, I able to developed the series of positive interactions, suggestions, and problem solving methodologies. Initially, few members of my team were hesitating to open up due to language barrier. I organized Saturday late afternoon party at my home. I invited all to join and made them to participate in the musical chair game. I had also organized activity exercises’ for my team. We had great fun. The enjoyment ended with musical evening where everyone was singing and all were connected to the music. I was listening to the music with closed eyes but I was experiencing the engagement and strong bonding as a team with open heart. I succeed to diminish the language barrier. Whenever I feel stressed or down, I close my eyes and recollect those memories of empowerment. The breeze of empowerment boosts me to stand again.

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