Monday, June 27, 2011

Real leaders Don't Hide Behind Secretaries . . .

This weekend I came across an article on Mother Teresa and was reminded of my first meeting with her a good 30 plus years ago. I had just stepped out of my teen years and had a taken a job with a Christian agency editing a newsletter for them. I was also responsible for their Library of inspirational movies. One day we got a call from one of the sisters who worked with mother Teresa asking if we could organise to show her team an inspirational movie. When I said that we would be happy to do it, she asked me to meet Mother Teresa later in the day to decide which one should be screened.

I had heard of Mother Teresa and the good work she was doing and felt privileged to meet up with her. That evening I reached the Mother House the headquarters of Mother Teresa with a lot of excitement. I wanted to meet the saviour of the poor. As I walked into the compound I saw lot of activity, the sisters were unloading a huge trailer truck filled with baby food which had arrived from the port, a gift from some European country. I walked past the truck looking for the Office where I could announce my arrival and wait for the meeting.

Unfortunately there was no one in the office; it appeared everyone was helping out with the unloading. After waiting for a few minutes I asked a sister who was hurrying into the adjoining storeroom with as many packets of baby food her outstretched hands could hold about Mother Teresa. She directed me towards the truck and said that I would find her there. I had to ask again as I could not find her there ( I expected her to be standing around the truck or supervising the unloading) Some one pointed me to a frail Nun unloading the truck and said that is mother Teresa. I was taken a back! I did not expect the famous mother Teresa to be unloading a truck!

Soon I introduced myself and she said that she would be with me as soon as the truck was unloaded and then as an afterthought asked me if I would like to help out. Soon I too got involved in unloading the truck. Later when it was done, Mother Teresa sat down and talked to me about the kind of movie she wanted her sisters to see.

After that I met her many times but that first meeting will always stand out for me . I went back touched and inspired by this extraordinary lady. It was a humbling experience to see Mother Teresa unloading the truck. There was no need for her to get involved in that task as she had an army of people at her command and they could have got it done but she joined in!

It was only much later after I joined the corporate world and worked with a number of Bosses that the full significance of her actions dawned on me . . . Real leaders don't hide behind secretaries or closed doors, they are where the action is, with their troops, getting their hands dirty and extending Support to make things happen!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

From Mere Leader To An Extra ordinary Leader!

Yesterday I had the privilege to be on a flight with the founder-chairman of Infosys Technologies, N R Narayan Murthy, the poster boy of Indian IT revolution. I first spotted him as I was waiting for the flight to be announced. I saw him being accompanied by an airline official, going towards the gate. Later when the flight was announced I joined the long line that had formed to go through the gates and board the flight. Knowing the VVIP status that this outstanding Leader enjoys in India, I thought that he would have been already ushered into the aircraft and comfortably seated; imagine my surprise to see him standing in the line waiting patiently for the line to move towards the gate! The airline official kept pace with him as the line moved, making small conversation with this icon and ushered him into the aircraft.

As I entered the aircraft, I expected to see him seated in the first row of the economy session, but he was not there and was seated way back. I knew that he never flew Business Class on domestic flights but I did not think that he would even wave the privilege of occupying the first row of economy. The airline could have easily organised this, but knowing him as someone who does not like to cash in on any privilege that comes because of his status, this extraordinary leader would have turned the offer down.

On reaching Kolkata, he waited along with the other passengers patiently for the checked in luggage to come. Looking back, it was action speaking louder than mere talk and a powerful lesson in Leadership.

Authentic Leaders have no difficulty in saying ' No' to special privileges that come with the the status as a celebrity or VIP. These privileges often isolate the Leader from the people in general or people they lead and thus killing the opportunity to see firsthand the challenges the followers face and the opportunities to find solutions. Such privileges also inconvenience the general public or the followers. Then there are instances where the Leaders have gone beyond the normal privileges and asked for more, often breaking that thin ethical line and losing their credibility and the right to lead.

If you are a Leader take a look around you . . . What privileges do you enjoy that creates a distance between your people and you? Reserved parking, Permission to jump a queue at the cafeteria, Waived from wearing an ID card and or swiping the ID at the entrance, exclusive club or gym membership, No restriction of authorised hotels only during business trips etc are things most leaders take for granted. Saying ' No' to such special privileges gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your authenticity and creating not just followers but fans! Over a period of time such practices consistently practiced transforms you from a mere Leader to an extra ordinary leader.