Leadership insights from India


‘India – isn’t it really crowded, dirty and poor?’

Yes it is.

It is also fabulously rich, diverse, deeply spiritual, and incredibly inspiring. The people are warm and generous, happy, and incredibly self-motivated.

What can we learn from India? Plenty. Here are some brief insights for you from my latest two week trip with a group of 26 rural leaders, on a leadership program that I was facilitating with the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation.

1. “Give, grow, go.”

This was courtesy of Dr Kiran Bedi, India’s famous first female police officer. She is one of India’s most-trusted and respected leaders. She is ethical and values-driven, quick to point out corruption and lack of morals, as well as quick to acknowledge others for effort and self-responsibility in their own life. She is also famous for her leadership in Tihar, the world’s largest and most notorious prison, with 10,000 prisoners rank and rife with corruption, drugs, abuse, and appalling conditions. In 3 weeks she had transformed Tihar into an ashram – a place of learning. She flung open the doors to non-government organisations, encouraged teaching of prisoners by their fellow prisoners, and fostered prayer, meditation, and community development within the prison walls. When she was transferred to another posting a few years later, the inmates rioted to protest her departure! Dr Bedi now supports a number of social charities, including the Navjyoti Foundation which focuses on free educational services for inner city kids, rural education, and fostering empowerment in rural areas through self help groups.

This quote – “Give, grow, go.” – was her answer to the question to ‘how do you keep going day after day – what keeps you motivated?’ Kiran explains, “It’s simple – I am selfish. When I give to others, I grow. When I grow, I go – I have the energy to do more, be more, become more. It is in the giving that I receive and feel good.”

Coach’s question: Where are you giving? Where are you receiving? Are you growing? Are you going?

2. “Sustainability is more than just plant cycles.”

This was from Dr M. Sharma, at ICRISAT – the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. Dr Sharma was answering a question about the success of various research projects. He explained, “Success and sustainability is not just about balancing the Ph of the soil or improving the nutritional content of food. What good is healthy soil or nutritious vegetables if the farmer cannot get his produce to market or receive a decent price for his crop? In some parts of India the rate of suicide among farmers is very high. This is not sustainability or success. All needs – environmental, social, spiritual needs to be considered together as inter-related components for healthy bio-eco-social system. That is why we focus our efforts not only on research into better nutritional outcomes, but on entrepreneurial and supply systems as well.”

Coach’s question: Is your leadership thinking focused on one small part of the problem or the whole of the system? What effect is your work having on social, political, economic, environmental systems around you?
3. “You are never as crap as you think you are. And you are more inspiring than you can imagine!”
Ok this is actually MY quote. This came after listening to the various concerns of the participants about their performance and engagement with the group. They are at a stage in their group and personal development where they are questioning everything – their performance, their role in the group, their thinking and attitude and aptitude. This is a natural by-product of being on challenging leadership program that asks them to look with new eyes at issues, circumstances, and the world in which they live and work. When you start to question the way you have thought, the way you have engaged previously as a leader, self-doubt can creep in.
My advice to the group was this: ask the questions of yourself without the criticism. Don’t beat yourself up for imagined failings. Learn from mistakes; try new things; accept when things don’t work out so well – these may be opportunities for tremendous breakthrough. You are never as bad as you think you are! And you are often your own worse critic. Some compassion for yourself goes a long way. Plus if you are not so hard on yourself, you will be able to have compassion for others who are struggling on their journey as well.
Coach’s question: Where are you judging yourself too harshly? How can you take the lesson without the criticism? How can you make use of mistakes as learning instead of punishment?
palace2Ever a land of contrasts and duality, this is the Chowmallah Palace in Hyderabad. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty exist side by side in India.

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