Monday, May 14, 2007

Entries from my Leadership Journal

During the MBA program, Dr Bill Blake,our Associate Dean taught us the Leadership course. Every day after the class, we had to reflect and write our thoughts. I was going through my journal entries today ( I wrote these in September last year), and there were a few that I thought I could put them here so that I can read them later in life.!

Session 1: Qualities of a Leader

"A good leader inspires others with confidence in him; a great leader inspires them with confidence in themselves"

"Leadership" is a subject for us this term. We have HBR readings, cases to discuss, guest speakers sharing their experiences. The subject is taught by Dr. Bill Blake, the Associate Dean for MBA programs.

Dr Blake asked us to list the qualities that we want in a leader. There are 54 of us in the class from 15 different nationalities and it was surprising to see that all of us wanted the same qualities in a leader. At the end of the session, our class answered a questionnaire to determine their top 4 characteristics in the leader .Here were the results:
• Inspiration
• Forward Looking
• Honesty
• Competent

Once the results were published, Dr Bill shared another set of results with us. This was the results of a survey taken by people (millions of them) from different continents. They too had to list the top 4 qualities. Below are the results from that survey.
• Honesty ( 88%)
• Forward Looking ( 71%)
• Competent (66%)
• Inspiring (65%)

What is interesting to know is that our class too picked up the same 4 qualities for a leader as that in the world survey. An immediate conclusion that I can draw on this sample data is that no matter which place of the world you are from, leaders across the globe are expected to have these qualities.

Session 02: Values Based Leadership
As a person, what do values mean to me?
As a leader, what values do I believe in?
I often wonder what these meant to me and today things are clearer.

"What do values mean to us? We all talk about honesty, integrity, respect for others etc. But if you want to know what you value, spend a minute thinking about the things that you spent your money last year on. You will know what you value most"

"If you want to know the values of an organization forget about their Mission Statements,vision etc. Look at their budgets. Values are best judged by what you spend your time on and your money on"

Sometimes you hear someone speak and every word that the person spoke stays in your mind for a long time. Today was one such day. For the leadership class, we had a guest speaker. No, the person who addressed the class was not any business tycoon. It was a lady with a golden heart. Sister Elizabeth Davis was the President and Chief Executive Officer with the Health Care Corporation of St. John’s from 1994 to 2000.As Sister Elizabeth spoke about her experiences and shared her wisdom, a strange feeling built inside me. I am being honest-her thoughts on leadership were very inspiring. During her tenure at the Hospital, Sister Davis helped oversee the hospital a major reorganization in Newfoundland.During that time with the Hospital a number of services were integrated. She had to take some bold decisions-like closing some hospitals and this was no easy decision for a nun. As she spoke about her experiences, I could feel the pain and a clash in her views.

She made a very interesting point that caught my attention. Toronto is the only city in the world that has the maximum diversity. The city is very diverse (44% non Canadian origin) and has folks from various parts of the world. It is important for us that we just not acknowledge diversity but also appreciate it.True learning comes from there.We must realize that we do not live in a changed world anymore, we instead live in a world that is constantly changing. So, no matter where you work, appreciate diversity and make that your strength. A variety of people get different ideas, fresh perspectives and this will help you solve a problem better. We must hope that moments of incredible change are also moments of incredible opportunity. In the organizations we work in the future, there will be multiple cultures. It takes strong leadership to knit them together and make the best use of them.

She also talked about the nature of people. She mentioned that humans have a tendency to get discouraged very easily. So, as a leader, it is up to us to make encourage them. I remember reading an article in HBR that said that leaders are often very lonely. So, I asked her if she ever felt discouraged and low at times. Yes, she said. At times, she found it tough to get people to produce their best. She also mentioned that in her leadership role, she had realized that the greatest reward comes from helping people know how good they are.

Towards the end of the speech, she showed us the picture of the Inukshuk. It is an ancient symbol of Inuit culture traditionally used as landmarks and navigation aids. Look at the picture and the granite statue represents a human form with outstretched arms. Each inukshuk tells its own story, perhaps pointing to a good source of fishing or hunting, perhaps showing the path to the next inukshuk. Whatever the message is, one community is sharing the fruits of its learning, sharing its wisdom with another community. For centuries, the Inukshuk is used a guidepost that provided direction to thousands of people. Leadership is something like that. Leaders provide directions and show the path to their people. The Inukshuk is made up on broken stone and like the broken rocks used to create the symbolic inukshuk, sometimes we must break rules , make mistakes, work with our people to provide the right direction. This is one speech that was truly inspiring. The speech received a thunderous applause.In the future, every time I think about my values on leadership, Sister Elizabeth's words would flash into my mind.

Session 02: Values Based Leadership
A few days earlier, in the Leadership class, the students were asked to participate in the “Alligator River Story”. We were given a short overview of the situation and were asked to form an opinion .We were to individually rate the most offensive and most defensive character in the story.

As I read the story, I got a clear picture of what the situation was .It hardly took any time for me to make a decision. The situation was crystal clear for me. I knew which character was right and who was wrong.

Prof Bill Blake then asked then class for their responses and tabulated them on the white board. To my surprise, the answers for a lot of us varied. There were no correct answers but I was curious to know why individuals chose different answers. My classmates provided their reasoning on how they picked their most defensive and offensive character. I must admit that none of us were wrong.

This activity had some key learnings for me. I realized how a lot of us take decisions in life based our on our experiences, background and education. I could relate to why certain people in the class stuck to certain decision. Their culture, religion clearly was the guiding factor in this decision. The question was the same for everyone. However, the decisions were different. The individuals pictured the story in their own circumstances and beliefs and took a decision and justified it.

The Prof then changed the story – He changed the gender of the characters and asked us to evaluate our decision. The class thought about it for a few seconds but their decision remained unchanged. I found that extremely interesting.

This incident brought in an important realization within me. As I sit and type this piece, I realize that I have my own set of takeaways from the class apart from the values based leadership. I now believe that the decisions we take in our life are based on two factors – one based on our experiences, background and upbringing. Second, based on our core values - that have become an integral part of us.As we grow older and experience different things, the first factor sometimes undergoes a change. But the core values are the one that guides us and helps one make a firm decision.

As leaders of tomorrow, we need to realize something important. We need to keep our core values intact but at the same time be open to new ideas, perspectives and change. When I first took my decision about who was most offensive, I thought I was definitely right. But when my classmates provided their reasoning, I realized that they too had a point. I learnt that I should stop making any decision based on certain assumptions or t listening to the other side of the story. With the world becoming flatter and a greater focus on diversity at work places being made, we are bound to interact with people from different countries, religion and culture. There will often be an internal clash within us on our value system. We need to make a fair decision and not be bound by external appearances, perception. We should evaluate a change and if we feel that it is right, accept it.

I know that this sounds easier than said. But working on this exercise had learning for me. Every time, I take a decision based in a jiffy, I will stop for a second and remember the Alligator story. I will question my assumptions and find out if they are fair and not biased.

Session 04: Culture Factor in Leadership

None of the men in the class will talk
Once Prof William Blake mentioned this, there was a 10 minute conversation that took place in the class where only the women in the class participated.

Should Ellen Moore have submitted her resignation? Should she have fought against the system or should she have meekly given up to the situation and accepted defeat. As the ladies in the class gave their views, the men grew restless. They wanted to put their point across, get themselves heard and comment on what was right and what was not. They were not allowed to speak. Yet, a few of the men grew restless, broke the rules and spoke up.

“This is how the women feel in a society that stresses on equality but don’t allow the woman their share of rights”, said one of my female classmates to me.
Yes, she had a point.

The Ellen Moore case that we discussed today had a lot to take aways for me. It was a lesson for me that focused on cross cultural relations and discrimination. The work place today consists of people from diverse backgrounds. We all want to work together and in such case, it is very important that we respect and appreciate other’s cultures and views.

I come from India, which is extremely diverse. I for sure had accepted that this kind of diversity in me. But when I moved to North America, I found that the values and actions in this part of the world was something that I was unaware of. I must admit that I got a culture shock and found it uncomfortable to interact with people who were not like me or did not share the same opinions and belief as mine.
So, when I lead a team tomorrow, I need to make an attempt at understanding and accepting diversity. Awareness, exposure, comprehension, conviction and maturity are the qualities that will make me an ideal manager to lead a team that is diverse. Diversity brings creative ideas and is an asset in the organization. As a leader for tomorrow, I need to understand cultures, identity biases, prejudices, and stereotypes and should be willing to challenge and change certain practices.

Session 05: Work Life Balance

The class today that Dr Bill Blake took was on Personal Leadership development. One of the slides that he showed us was of his dog called “Brigus”, a golden doodle. He mentioned that he takes his dog out for a walk every morning and this has been an experience that he likes doing a lot now. During the walk, he takes his time off things and this keeps him fresh and energetic throughout the day. Here is when he mentioned to us the concept of living life “moment by moment”.

We, the students of the MBA class have set ourselves very high targets. We often feel that this is the age where we can work hard, not take care of our health and mental state and in the later phase of life lead a healthy life. Dr Blake mentioned to us that this could be an illusion. He stressed to us the importance of balance and asked us what would be the most important thing that we were hoping for in the next few years. Was it money, was it the challenge of job, and was it the level of responsibility at work was it achieving a work life balance.

There were only a handful in the class who mentioned that they would have a balanced life at the first work place after graduation and would work towards maintaining it . Others expected to work hard through the week and if necessary on the weekends too!
Dr Blake asked us to work towards achieving a balanced life and gave some personal strategies such as being organized, having goals and remaining fit.

He showed us a slide which talked about “Where are you going?”. There are various factors in life that decide on what we are. Our values, psychological needs, assumptions, expectations, fears, knowledge and skills are some of the factors that determined who we are and where we intend to go. As a leader of tomorrow, it is important for us to figure out what it is that driving us to this pattern. As a leader, it is important for us to have balance in our life, know our real self, set personal goals and practice transformational leadership.

While working out the balance in life, we need to reflect and decide on the question that Dr Blake asked us.

“Is being CEO a destination or a stepping stone”?



At 7:06 AM, Anonymous how to format a personal statement said...

There will be more of the possible consequences by the students to discuss in detail and by the time it will proved to be much better to put every possible details.


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