The first time I heard about the Master Class on Leadership, I was hesitant. I was already a BBLT 3 graduate, and felt that I knew most of the concepts of leadership that would be taught in class. On top of that, I had piles of work to do at the office, so when one of my colleagues asked me to join the four-day long class, I did so without much enthusiasm. Little did I know, however, what the Master Class had in store for me!
From the very beginning of the Master Class, I, along with the rest of the group, were thoroughly engaged in leadership learning. Each and every discussion that we were having was being turned into a dynamic learning experience. In the first session, we delved deep into the role of leadership and authority. As the discussions progressed, we got drawn into a heated debate on the subject. Personally, I am not a big fan of confrontations, so, at one point, I became frustrated and looked towards Khaled Bhai, the instructor, to intervene.
When he didn’t intervene, and the debate ensued, I had no choice but to come out of my comfort zone and engage in the conflict. After a while, Ejaj Bhai, the lead instructor for the course, came up and pointed out that the role of Khaled Bhai was that of an authority and we, the participants, were trying to depend on him for solutions to our problems. Through an enabling environment in the classroom where we could experience the difference between leadership and authority through our own interactions, we could learn to exercise leadership in the absence of authority.
We also learned firsthand how to diagnose problems in a system by taking the time to observe our own group dynamics. The day ended with a homework on watching the movie “12 Angry Men” and critically analyzing it through the learnings that we had done in class. Now the first time I had watched “12 Angry Men” was with my parents, when I was more interested in Disney cartoons rather than a black and white drama with 12 men debating in a room. However, now that my interest in movies had extended beyond animated fairy tales, I was able to immerse myself into to the film. Throughout the movie, I was able to diagnose multiple interpretations of what the cast was saying in the movie by utilizing the analytical framework I had learned in class, and started to see the movie in a whole new perspective.
One of our pre-requisites for attending the course was to write about a personal failure. So on the second day, the entire class, along with the facilitators, critically analyzed one leadership failure case through multiple dimensions. I realized through this exercise that it is very important to reflect back on your failures—something that I vow to do more frequently going forward.
In the following sessions, we learned how to mobilize a system by persuading the various stakeholders in it. In each and every intervention that was made in the group debate, we realized how effective to get the support of our fellow group members. Through the exercise, we looked at the finer details of persuasion and rhetoric and how it could act as a strength in mobilizing a system.
The day ended with an unusual homework assignment. We were asked to reflect on our life’s priorities and rank them in order of importance. We were also asked to reflect on how we have worked on those priority issues over the past three weeks, and whether we have done the work proactively or after being motivated by others.
That night, as I sat to do the homework that I was given, I started to deeply reflect on my life’s priorities. All of a sudden, I felt very vulnerable. These were my hopes, dreams, ambitions, and obligations that I was putting on paper for others to see. I realized that there were so many passions and priorities that I wanted to pursue, and sadly, for a few of them, I hadn’t done much to take the work forward. This exercise helped me to put a perspective on my life’s goals, and made me realize that I had to prioritize some things over others.
The next two days were spent analyzing our individual leadership failures in small groups. This was challenging on multiple levels. First, we were required to share our biggest failures to a group who weren’t necessarily our closest friends. On top of that, to sit and listen to others so critically analyze your failure from multiple angles was intimidating. However, the entire group was so compassionate and understanding that by the end of the sessions, I felt that I had taken away valuable learnings from my own as well as others’ failures. One of the last sessions of the Master Class was the case-in-point practice teaching session, where each of us would teach one leadership topic to the rest of the class who played the role of BBLT students. The fact that this was a daunting task is an understatement. The experience truly forced us to come out of our comfort zone, improvise, and be open to facing failures in a challenging environment.
By the end of the four days, I realized how important it was for me, even being a BBLT graduate, to have done this course. There were so many things that I had learned earlier when I was enrolled in the BBLT course that had slipped my mind and the Master Class had served as an important opportunity to realign myself with my goals and priorities. The class had challenged us to act courageously and skillfully when exercising leadership. It also challenged our own values and beliefs and how it influenced the decisions that we had made in the past. Through this reflective journey, we confronted the risks and dangers of practicing leadership, faced chaos and conflict, and pushed ourselves to challenge the values that are deeply rooted in our hearts.
Here are the 5 key takeaways for me from the Master Class:
- Leadership is an activity, not a position. Leadership is not person-centric, rather, leadership is work-centric. And one can exercise leadership with or without formal authority. .
- To practice leadership, you need to get out of your comfort zone. Like many others, I tend to avoid conflicts but in order to practice leadership you need to get out of your comfort zone and face the issues that you are most uncomfortable with.
- When people react negatively to any of the changes you propose, they are not resisting you, they are resisting the role that you are playing. When you ask for people to change or do something that will compel them to go outside of their comfort zone, they will resist the role that you play in their lives. In doing so, they are not lashing out against you as a person, and therefore you must not be disheartened in the face of criticism. Which brings me to my next point–
- Be compassionate. When people show resistance to a change that you suggest, be compassionate to them. Realize that they act in this fashion because they have something to lose and be empathetic and understanding.
- To influence people, your words need to touch their hearts. Using logic to influence people is not always enough. With the right set of skills and authenticity, you will need to tap into the causes that people feel deeply passionate about and only then will you be able to create allies.