I have this recurring dream: I am standing in the middle of a suspension bridge, and I have to decide which way to go. There are two different directions and both seem to lead someplace new…

Time Hop

I remember how much I hated being a leader as a child. The reason was that it required being constantly in the spotlight and giving directions to people. It also required you to have a certain clarity of thoughts and actions. Before I elaborate, I must confess that I am the queen of procrastination. And until my previous job, which almost forced me to lead a team of three members, I really didn’t have much experience as a leader. But the stints of leadership kept surfacing when I went for camps where they would train you to be in the wilderness, or when I had to babysit my niece and nephews. The first lesson in leadership that I learned was to trust myself and my instincts.

My sister’s friend recommended the Common Purpose South Asia Venture, a 5 day offline workshop that focused on leading beyond authority. Leadership beyond authority seemed like a very new and different approach to the organizational leadership that I had seen, and I felt insecurity growing inside me. Was I really good at being a leader? I asked myself. Another voice inside my head said: You might as well find out. This year I have been on a mission to leap into things I have never done before. And so I decided I would attend this workshop. I think it was by far one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

First, because of the workshop that was conducted by Munira Sen and Elsbeth Dixon. It showed us that there isn’t always a right answer to every question and that every person you encounter will have a different way of looking at things based on where they come from. I learned that it’s essential to listen to every person with an open mind.  The third principle is actually the crux of being culturally intelligent.

There are two things that stood out in the exercises conducted in the workshop. The first was the Chatham House Rule: It encourages everyone to speak freely regardless of where they come from. The second was an exercise where we had to share a personal challenge we were grappling with in front of a close-knit group while they patiently listened. After they asked a few questions about the challenge to understand its complexity, they spoke about me by making me a fly on the wall and pretending I didn’t exist. When I shared my problem on my second day I marveled at how my whole group patiently heard my problem without judgements and how this task forced me to look at my problem from other perspectives. Often when I am struggling to solve a conflict, I wish to get away from it and analyze it from a distance. This exercise helped me so much that I immediately went back home and journaled about what my group thought of my challenge. Another lesson this taught me was that often the solution to a problem is within us – we just fail to take a holistic view of it or even fail to reflect on it before reacting. I would compare this experience to an almost spiritual way of dealing with something once you are free from attachment.

Then there were immersive walks where we were instructed to just observe, ask questions and take everything in. Elsbeth gave us a beautiful analogy of how these walks could be experienced after two days of understanding our power sources and deconstructing what each one of us was as a leader. She said ‘Think of these as the moment in which a dancer finally decides to leave the dance floor and gaze at the floor from the balcony.’ Her words inspired a plethora of ideas. This was precisely what I needed in my life, to examine and experience my internal conflicts from the balcony of my mind.

I recently read an article on zen thinking that stayed with me, because what it taught me was something I experienced at this workshop. The conclusion of it was that all through life when we undertake a project or even do something, we are most likely to focus on the outcome but in doing so are prevented from experiencing the journey or process to the fullest. The more we focus on the journey each one of us takes to reach the goal, the more we will be fully present and enjoy fulfilling the task! So when you decide to attend this workshop (and believe me, there are many reasons you should do so), remember to enjoy the journey!

Each of us came from diverse backgrounds, countries and professions and had very different reasons for attending the programme. Some people were there because they wanted to be better leaders; others because they had a business and needed a team to grow it; and still others to network.

If I told you the programme would transform your very core or even force you to go on that journey you’d been meaning to take for a long time, I would be lying. It most definitely won’t give you a ‘eureka’ moment, but what it will do is let you know yourself better and give you a chance to decide what you want to learn and take away from it. It will throw you into a pool of self-reflection with people around you who you might never expect to connect with on so many levels.

If you had asked me a few days ago whether it was possible to establish friendships that might last for a lifetime with people from different countries, I would have hesitated before saying ‘yes’. But after this workshop, I would shout out ‘Hell, yes!’

I realized that every person has something to teach me: Sanmita taught me to be fearless and patient, Insiyah taught me to say less yet observe more, Munira taught me how to lead gracefully and become a poem in motion, Elsbeth taught me to not be afraid of evolving as a person. There are so many others I wish to name but won’t for the sake of space!

I have this recurring dream; I am standing in the middle of a suspension bridge, and I have to decide which way to go. There are two different directions and both seem to lead someplace new. Most times I feel like the desired destination isn’t always the one that I picture clearly in my head. Now I feel like I know myself enough to take a step.