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Leadership lessons from life in India (part two)

Insight

09 September 2019

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Each year, Lane4 sponsors one of its employees to volunteer with Mumbai-based charity The OSCAR Foundation for two weeks. It uses football to create youth role models in low-income communities in India.

In part one of this two-part blog, Lane4’s 2019 OSCAR Fellow shares his reflections from Mumbai - drawing out leadership lessons for the world of business.

Adam is a Client Solutions Consultant at Lane4, specialising in People, Change & Transformation. In addition, he is Chairman of one of Lane4’s partner charities, Behind Every Kick.

In part one of this blog, I shared seven leadership lessons for business from my time volunteering with OSCAR (Organization for Social Change, Awareness and Responsibility) in Mumbai. In Part Two, I will share eight further lessons – one for each day that I was in India.

8. Offer ‘freedom within a framework’ and accept that many heads are better than one.

Having suggested that you ‘cut the corporate jargon’ in part one, I’m very aware of the irony of using a term like ‘freedom within a framework’. However, in OSCAR there was a real resistance towards hierarchy, and so it was crucial that senior leaders set a direction that aligned with the organisation’s strategy, whilst allowing those who would be implementing the strategy freedom to make it work.

No one knows the community better than those who have come from it, and OSCAR have the luxury of having staff members who still live amongst those who they are trying to support. As such, they often know better than those senior leaders who are removed from the environment within which the ‘product’ is landing. This means that problems are best solved with the input of many, rather than a group of six or seven who sit at the top table.

Try offering your people direction and guidance, as well as clarity regarding where there is and isn’t opportunity to flex the process. This will improve problem solving, encourage people to take greater ownership over their work, and boost innovation, leading to measurable performance shifts.

By meeting them in the middle in this way, your people will feel empowered throughout the business, shifting culture and improving performance as a result.

9. Celebrate success at every opportunity.

There is often a concern that celebrating success means paying people more or funding extravagant events to demonstrate that ‘we value you’.

Whilst these are obviously effective strategies that employees welcome, they are not the only solution. The value of a ‘thank you’, delivered first-hand, in the moment, was of significant importance on multiple occasions - particularly in a business culture that often demonstrates the typical ‘parent-child’ relationship.

By appreciating someone’s effort, as opposed to merely the output, a leader can have a noticeable impact on their people. This was particularly clear when OSCAR employees were teaching English, a topic that many of the young people deemed themselves to be poor at (even when they are quite good).

Appreciation of the effort they were making, in addition to motivational and developmental feedback for the output they were creating, had a noticeable impact on their physical demeanour. Smiles reappeared (in the wettest of monsoon conditions), the pace increased, and energy returned - much to the pleasure of the ‘leadership team’, who also benefitted from the improvement.

Think about whether you are doing enough to celebrate the people at the bottom - their impact might surprise you.

10. Drop the ego and learn, learn, learn! As well as sharing what you already know.

Having spent a fair amount of time with senior leaders, one of the most refreshing things about my time with OSCAR was how open everyone was to the prospect of learning.

Understandably, many leaders and organisations have the belief of ‘what can you tell me about my organisation that I don’t know already’, but by thinking in this way, you are immediately on the defensive - looking for reasons to dismiss another’s ideas, rather than the opportunity that comes with learning from others.

The lack of ego from those who I met in India - many of whom were particularly successful within their given domain - meant that high-performance conversations occurred regularly.

These conversations were built on trust, mutual respect and a sense that ‘this person might know something that I don’t and can learn from’. This mentality, in combination with an unbelievable desire to share what you have personally (even when it is very little from a material perspective), was one of the most inspiring things about those who I met.

By being willing to share your lunch - a novel example I know - a domino effect was created. People wanted to be part of the community, sharing what they had to offer, no matter how big or little the contribution.

Consider this within your organisation: are you holding onto your knowledge as a source of power without considering the impact that you might be having on those around you?

11. Don’t take yourself too seriously and smile!

On my final day in India I was lucky enough to go and observe a group of young leaders in the community.

Young leaders are football coaches who themselves have progressed though the OSCAR program. As had been the case throughout my time in India, they were polite, professional, well prepared and eager to do a good job.

I noticed something whilst sharing my feedback regarding the session however; the only time they smiled was when we were reflecting on some of the things that the young people had done throughout the session. They had been so focused on doing a fantastic job for OSCAR and the young people who they were serving that they had forgotten to have fun - the exact thing that they wanted to create for those who they were leading.

By pointing this out to the group, along with the impact that their smiles had on me and my enjoyment of the session, we were able to get to a place whereby they were excited to deliver their next session - not just so they could develop the skills of those who they were coaching, but so they could have a good time themselves and provide a sense of escapism that OSCAR so often delivers.

Is your organisation an environment where people can be child-like, without being childish? Are your people able to bring their best selves to work? Could you do even more to encourage your people to be themselves when in the workplace? And, what might you do to show more of yourself when leading others?

12. Appreciate the fantastic opportunity that you have and make the most of it.

I appreciate (and agree with) the expressions ‘you create your own luck’ and ‘the harder I work, the luckier I get’, but one of the strongest feelings I experienced whilst in India was the sense of luck - to have been born where I was, have the parents I have and be given the opportunities that I was given at a young age.

While many of the people I met know no different than what surrounds them every day, I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty that I had been brought up with so many of the ‘tools’ required to make the most of opportunities.

This appreciation of opportunity is something that I believe all leaders could benefit from - particularly when facing challenging circumstances.

When you’re riding the wave of success, recognise that there are many out there who would give anything to be in your position. Make the most of the cards that you have been dealt, do everything that you can to influence the deck that you have, control the controllables and accept that not everything is going to go to plan.  

13. ‘Your guest is your god.’

Something that stuck with me from my trip was the saying ‘your guest is your god’.

Shared by a colleague when enjoying some after work drinks, I felt that the sentence perfectly epitomised the experience that I had in India and the care that people demonstrated when hosting me. Whether it was in the office, out at lunch, working in the community, or exploring the city via moped, I was always made to feel like I was the most important person in the world when someone was engaging with me.

This mentality - within the context of the work that I typically do on a day-to-day basis - made me think of how much better many (including me) could be if they chose to adopt this mindset when working with colleagues or customers alike.

The conscious decision to treat your ‘guest’ as your god drives all the behaviours necessary to create a memorable experience that has people wanting more.

Whilst the ‘moments that matter’ might do exactly that - matter - there are also those seemingly unimportant events that actually combine to influence our overall experience.

Why not treat every moment as one that matters and see the impact it has on your relationships and performance as a result? Whether it be a customer or an employee who has come to you for support, give people the time and energy that they deserve.

14. Recognise that energy, enthusiasm and curiosity are contagious - use them wisely.

There were many times when I was present during a conversation that was taking place entirely in Hindi.

Rather than removing myself from the conversation or asking for it to be translated in real time, I chose to observe and see if I could determine:

a) what the conversation might be about - was it something ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ for example;

b) the impact the person ‘leading’ the conversation might have had/be having;

and c) the quality of the conversation, meaning whether or not it was two-way and if both parties had taken something from the interaction.

Whilst doing this, I was reminded of the impact of communication’s different facets, notably our body language, volume, pitch and tone. I did not understand the language, but it was amazing how many times I could correctly infer the answer to my questions just by listening and watching.

It became obvious that appropriate energy, enthusiasm and curiosity (to name but a few) were contagious, and as such, could be used to heavily influence the output and quality of a conversation.

Consider this within the context of your next interaction or presentation. Are you giving what you hope to receive from your audience? If not, what might you need to change in order to bring about a different response?

How can you close the gap between your intention and your impact? A fantastic way of developing this skill is by having someone observe you and provide feedback. Alternatively, you may wish to record yourself and notice those habits that you might not necessarily have been aware of.

15. Acknowledge the risk that comes with assuming.

There are a number of stories that I could share when referring to the topic of assumptions, but the ones that stand out most are those where I was asked if I was bored – or even told I was, as was the case on a number of occasions.

In those quiet moments of reflection or contentment, it was often the case that my peers or the young people took my ‘energy’ to mean that I was bored. This couldn’t have been further from the truth.

As somewhat of an extrovert, I prefer speaking to thinking, and commonly display quite outgoing behaviours. However, in those more introverted moments, I was reminded that what we face and see might not necessarily be what is going on for the other person.

I am constantly reminded of this when working with young people in particular. That one person who you thought was disengaged at the start of the session suddenly shares a moment of insight that stops you in your tracks.

Consider this as a leader - what assumptions do you need to challenge? What personal biases do you need to be aware of? And, who holds up a mirror for you, so that you can understand the impression that you give to others?

Conclusion.

So, there it is! 15 leadership lessons from 15 days in India.

It was a trip that will stay with me forever. As was the case when working with OSCAR, if there is one thing that you have taken from these blogs that might be of interest or make you think differently, fantastic. If there is one thing that might make you behave differently or perform more, even better!

In the spirit of Lesson 10 (‘Drop the ego and learn, learn, learn! As well as sharing what you already know’), I would love to hear your thoughts and discuss any of the points that you might agree or disagree with, as well as hearing your leadership life stories.

Thanks in advance, Adam.

 

 

Behind Every Kick uses the power of sport to develop young people. The charity empowers both sportsmen & women to discover that the skills they are building on the pitch or court, can be harnessed to unlock a lifetime of wider opportunities.

The OSCAR Foundation (Organization for Social Change, Awareness and Responsibility) is a Mumbai-based football for development non-profit focused on creating youth role models in low-income communities in India. Each year Lane4 offers a member of staff the opportunity to visit OSCAR for two weeks, in order to support its continued growth.

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