My leadership journey started with resistance.
Being committed to History Trunkies, my platform for Indian history education and innovation, yet reluctant to take a week away from my workspace. Which is located in my home, a lively ‘co-working and living’ space with shifting desks depending on the volume of my children whom I share it with.
A change of environment and routine felt intimidating to me, but I was drawn to the idea of being on a Common Purpose leadership programme with others from South Asia. It took me back to ideals I started with two decades ago as a bright-eyed student exploring issues of education, community cohesion and leadership within and across minority communities in England. Being pushed to represent particular community, gendered or ideological perspectives for institutions I worked for, it wouldn’t be long before cynicism crept in and I questioned my capacity to be a change-maker. Though I never stopped writing and researching for change, and have spent many years enabling leaders as a Creative Coach, ‘leadership’ was not something I wanted to acquire.
Until this week.
Throwing myself fully into conversations with other participants from breakfast to midnight snacks, I listened, talked and learned so much more than I could have imagined about my own biases – like that around the cultural intelligence of South Asian women in leadership roles. I met young female leaders from India, Nepal and Bangladesh, many of whom chose to return from lucrative degrees and prospects abroad to set up ventures, notably leadership training for women in their respective developing economies. Many were leading projects in specialized areas like sustainable energy, reflecting their high energy and enthusiasm, which I found infectious.
As we journeyed together through concepts like Leading beyond Authority, immersion visits and then design thinking for the educational challenge ‘Access to education using technological innovation’, I found myself often surprised and personally challenged.
Especially when I saw the visual of mapping my Leadership Context: I was spending around 70% of my time in my inner circle of authority (which happens to be my family space), 2% working with my colleagues and 28% with external stakeholders. This hit me as an ‘aha’ moment. I had co-founded a project that I passionately wanted to take forward, yet I spent the majority of my time in idea-isolation – assuming that over a dedicated period of time, the idea would be realized.
In the space of 5 days, I learned with others who were also working in idea-isolation – whether in bureaucracy laden government offices, or as a lone teacher self-developing, or only meeting industry insiders in film or NGO spaces – and the thinking was flourishing.
The richness came from collaboration– experimenting with a common challenge, seeing solutions from other perspectives and acquiring new ones during our visits. We created and presented a prototype project – C-Interest ‘Career in the Clouds’, a portal that gave young people a chance to align education with their deep interests and strengths rather than being market-driven.
I’d started my journey as an individual with hesitation and finished with my biggest take-away: being decisive and risk-taking, being part of a team and sometimes taking the lead. Not waiting for change to happen, but taking ideas to the dance-floor and letting them go wild. And waking up the next morning, sleep deprived but in leadership mode – committed to the challenge within a team and seeing through a prototype solution with courage to put it out there.