Refresh: Five Leadership Asks

The last year has been a great year of learning for each of us. The pandemic made us familiar with a host of issues — from diseases to vaccines to health and mental wellness to working from home to government and non-governmental controls.

On the positive side, it has given us the opportunity to reflect, reset and revisit the basics in many ways. We get into the new financial year in our part of the world shortly.

Here are some personal reflections on working on oneself to continue even stronger one one’s leadership journey.

Each one is a leader of one’s own life, and beyond that as well, depending on the different roles we play in our teams, family, organization and society. We need to therefore lead ourselves, and sometimes others, and the contexts for leading can be trying sometimes.

Here are five areas where leaders could focus more, given the learnings of the past year, and some degree of musing on what could follow in the years to come. These areas have always been important for leaders, but they have become even more significant as we move to the future.

In each of these areas, I have tried to frame three critical questions that leaders could ask themselves. Of course, there could be other questions, and this is just a start.

Trust: This is perhaps the most needed aspect of our times, between individuals and governments, between people and institutions & among individuals as well. This has never been more evident than in recent times. As leaders, here are three sets of questions to mull upon.

  1. What is my core model in trusting someone based on? Information & evidence, action in line with commitments or how s/he behaves with me? Note that all three can be deceptive in their own way.
  2. How do I actively plan to create trust in people or communities around me? Is my day to day behaviour reflective of my intent to create trust?
  3. How much do I trust my own senses and judgment? Do I have safeguards against biases and blind spots? We all have our biases, but being aware of them, their impact, and consciously working to manage them better can beget more trust. The other aspect of trusting oneself is about confidence. The better one’s self awareness about own values and pre-dispositions, the better the chances of trusting oneself with courageous actions, even on significant issues.

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.” – Albert Einstein

Balance: This last year, with its shroud of uncertainty, has brought back to us the value of staying balanced inside. Balance has many dimensions depending on how we see it, but here are three things which leaders could think about in context of balance. When thinking of balance, personal anchoring is one way to think of it. A sense of calmness, flexibility with firmness and personal well-being can come from the deep anchor inside each of us.

  1. How well do I balance the ‘here and now’ with the long term in my approach to myself, my teams and my initiatives/projects? This is less about juggling and multi-tasking, more about removing the clutter in our minds and focusing on what really matters.
  2. Can I hold many contradictory ideas and thoughts together and be comfortable with them? This makes us uncomfortable, and is not always easy to communicate as people around may see is it as vacillation or worse, indecisiveness in a leader.
  3. Can I balance the different roles I play? These may include roles in the family, profession, society and most important-the role towards taking care of the self. For some, the last few months have highlighted the value of the last one.

Resilience: This has always been important to those playing the long term game, and realising that we’re running a marathon called life. Thinking of careers like a marathon and planning for the long haul has been seen to be advantageous as well. The more the uncertainty, variability and chances of failure due to unknown circumstances, resilience with personal balance takes on even more importance. Leaders may want to reflect on some aspects of resilience in day to day life.

  1. Am I willing to be vulnerable and open about my ups, downs and failures? Resilience is as much an act of bouncing back and becoming tougher as we go along our journeys.
  2. What makes me lose sleep? And what are my coping mechanisms? While there is a case for not losing sleep over anything, all of us only loose sleep when (hopefully) it is something really meaningful and important to us. And it’s a good thing. The sleeplessness can allow for reflection and positive action, if dealt with rightly. If small things make us uncomfortable, and sleepless, maybe some correction is worth thinking about.
  3. What’s my learning mechanism from any failure? Sometimes we deal with failures either by ignoring them, by underplaying them, or by submerging ourselves into other aspects, especially after a significant failure. It is almost as if it did not happen. Or we react emotionally and violently rather than calmly, and in a reflective, thoughtful way, allowing us a concrete positive course of action.

“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”― Nelson Mandela

Judgment: Given the nature of uncertainty, we have to make choices and decisions on a daily basis for ourselves, and often for others. The impact of our decisions and choices can be very small to very large depending on our roles and context.

The quality of our judgment plays a key role in not just building trust and relationships, but also in creating the appropriate impact in the context. History tells us that this is not an easy one to gauge and is mostly seen ‘after the action’. This quality of good judgment also differentiates leaders with wisdom from those with mere intelligence.

Try reflect on these three questions.

  1. When do I get into a state of ‘living with status quo’ because I will not have to make a choice or decision? Not making a choice is of course itself a choice and maybe contextually relevant sometimes. Having said that, staying in the same place in today’s time does not guarantee safety. More important, decisiveness, even if leading to short term failures, is likely to open up many more opportunities for success. Not making a forward looking choice-the opportunity cost could be very high.
  2. Who do I go to for advise? And when? Very often judgment can improve or otherwise based on what insights is one getting from various sources. Leaders can sometimes be gullible and people around them do not want them to hear the bad news. Not everyone who may be a well wisher is the best advisor. In fact, critiques will often be helpful to engage with when determining a course of action, they will help uncover all the flaws and allow for course correction. Many are also guilty of providing lots of information without insights, not really aiding the leader’s decision making process. The timing of getting advise is equally important — at what stage of your own choice making process do you consult others — too early, too late?
  3. Am in willing to take a leap of faith at times and move rather than keep waiting for more information and analysis before deciding? Qualities related to entrepreneurship are extremely valuable in these times, irrespective of the organisational context. One thing that characterises entrepreneurs is their ability to take a calculated gamble. They realise that if they leave it too late, the value creation options would pass them by. Many leaders tend to hold up the organisation since they cannot decide. In these VUCA days, this can be even more risky.

Purpose: The four elements we spoke about earlier — Trust, Balance, Resilience and Judgment in many ways revolve and integrate around purpose. Purpose not only drives an inner energy and hunger, it can help drive a whole ecosystem including other people. It can also generate a sense of wellbeing and continuity, especially during turbulent times. So here are some questions for leaders to reflect on in this context.

  1. Is my purpose big enough? Most folks overestimate what they can do in the short run and underestimate what they can achieve in the long run. Another way of putting it is that our dreams are not big and purposeful enough. Often our potential and capacities are used in a limited way because we aim smaller and shorter.
  2. Is my purpose contributory in nature? Everyone has self interest. But in terms of a purpose, if it is only for the self and near and dear ones, we may be missing one of life’s great energisers. Research tells us that leaders with a purpose beyond oneself can not just impact a bigger universe, but can create an ecosystem that is long lasting and impactful beyond any one individual. More importantly, selfless contribution gives each of us a drive and inner fire of a very different nature. And people with a purpose lead happier, more fulfilled lives.
  3. Is my purpose something I am willing to fight for? What am I willing to give up or sacrifice for my purpose? If we continue to operate in a comfort zone where there is little or no sacrifice, chances are that the purpose is a bit of a low stretch, and not meaningful enough. There is also a good chance that it would leave the individual dissatisfied in terms of any outcome and impact.

“Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it” ― Buddha

(Two photographs above are attributed to Ameer Basheer and Elia Pallegrini through Unsplash. The leadership model is registered to the writer)



Bimal Rath. A loving heart is the truest Wisdom.

Executive Coach. Student of Leadership in all walks of life. Loves uncovering potential in people. A helper.