Elsa Marie D’Silva, co-founder of Safecity and CSCLeader 2016, has considerable experience as an aviation professional and social entrepreneur. Her interest in bringing about social change to improve the lives of women, youth and senior citizens through awareness, interaction and education led her to found Safecity. Here she reflects on what being a ‘quick’ leader means to her.

I was recently asked to lead a webinar on ‘Quick Leadership’ for the Commonwealth100 online leadership development programme. 

What does it mean to be a 'quick' leader? It is one of the traits of an Open Source Leader, which is the theme that the Commonwealth Leaders programme is centred on. The Open Source Leadership model is a set of five interrelated character traits: Awake, Accessible, Interconnected, Trustworthy and Quick.

In our world today, technology surrounds us, bringing with it uncertainty, speed, efficiency, innovation and unprecedented change. It connects us with people across time and distance, overwhelming us with information and deluging us with stimuli. So how can we respond appropriately and become effective leaders who create change in such a fast-paced environment?

A 'quick' leader, in my opinion, is one who can scan the environment, sift the information available, make sense of facts and be able to make an appropriate decision in the shortest possible time. Of course, whether it is the right one can only be ascertained in retrospect. However, the ability to make a decision without being overwhelmed, panicked, scared or paralyzed is a skill that can be practised, honed and perfected. It is a requirement in today’s environment, both in the personal and professional sphere.

A great example of quick leadership is when Captain Sully saved over 150 lives, when he decided to land an A320 on the Hudson river after his aircraft had engine failure.

As I look back on my 20-year career in aviation, my current work as the co-founder of Safecity and my life in general, I do see myself as a quick leader. Not just in terms of responding in the quickest possible time but also in how I use data and technology to shape my work.

Quick leadership can be developed and here are some of my tips I shared in the webinar.

1. Be present and alert

Early on in my career, I was trained to respond in a crisis as a flight attendant and as a cabin safety instructor. ‘Situational awareness’ was part of our daily routine. We were prepared for any eventuality or disaster. Later, as a revenue optimizer and network planner, I had to constantly respond to market cues, supply and demand requirements. So, I learned that no matter how busy you are, develop your ability to be situationally aware. Look around you and process your surroundings. Learn to distinguish between the noise around you and hone in on the important cues for decision-making. 

2. Practice makes perfect 

They say doing something 10,000 times makes you an expert at it. Be good at what you do so that it becomes second nature and then find another thing to become good at. That way you can develop a repertoire of activities that become second nature, allowing you to concentrate on new stimuli.

3. Be open and flexible 

Throughout my career, I have taken up a variety of diverse roles and I continue to do so. About seven years ago, the airline with which I was working through a financial downturn and shut. It also coincided with a horrific incident of sexual violence in India. That was the impetus I needed to follow my purpose and choose to work on women’s rights, instead of taking up another corporate job. I go with the flow and am open to new experiences. This has allowed me to think out of the box, innovate, collaborate in unusual ways, course correct when things go wrong and try new ways to get my work done. It has also brought collaborators and partners my way, as though like attracts like.

4. Be mindful and stay calm 

Develop a daily practice of meditation that will allow you to maintain your calm under duress. Breathing helps. Turn the stress into positive action and don’t let it paralyze you. 

5. Build your systems 

The best decision-making depends on data, so make sure you have the right inputs. Create systems that will give you enough information of the right kind. Don’t forget that it is garbage in, garbage out.

In the airline business, we use historical data of people’s travel patterns to identify trends to help us make business decisions. Now, with my organization Safecity, we use the information we receive on people’s personal experiences to help us identify factors that cause violence, which in turn helps us think through possible local solutions.

6. Acceptance and forgiveness 

Have a Plan A, B and C, but at the end of the day, what will be will be. Not everything is within your control. Learn to sift through information quickly to identify those things that you can influence and change, and then do it. Learn to accept the things you cannot change and don’t be hard on yourself. I am constantly pushing boundaries with myself and my team, but I have realized that in the social sector, change can be very slow. Addressing behaviour and attitude change sometimes takes generations. 

7. Feedback and reflection 

Always reflect on your day and your actions. Build a feedback loop. This way you can evaluate what you did well, what you could do better and what you can change around you. 

As Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”