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Monday, January 12, 2009

Leadership 2

Dr. Neela Onawale gazed across her solid old desk at Vickie and I with her usual implacable look and started to explain. As the founder, director, operations manager, and lightening rod for the Deep Griha Society (www.deepgriha.org) she just didn't have the time after all to attend BootCamp.

Luckily Vickie and I were not surprised by her statement. We had heard this before from other Chief Executives and senior managers. Luckily we had also somewhat recovered from the marathon of flying from Halifax to Montreal to Zurich to Mombai over some 22 hours, and then the hair-raising midnight ride from the madness of Mombai roads to the chaos of Pune, India. During that ride my daughter, Allison, who had managed to organize this teamwork session, brought us up to date on the latest wrinkles including her concerns that some of the key people may not attend after all.

Just having Dr. Onawale, as she is respectfully addressed by her staff, find time to see us turned out to be a big deal. She was sharing her office space with two consultants and working out organizational changes to be presented to, and approved by, her board. Additionally, Neela has always been involved in all the daily operations of Deep Griha because she started the Society single handed as a young medical doctor responding to the needs of the thousands? in the Tadiwala slum. So her door is never closed, and there is a constant round of heads popping in and out like jacks-in-a-box to see if she is free.

Now with us comfortably seated in the chairs of honour in front of her desk, the chai and lemonade graciously offered, Neela began to explain. We learned how over 30 years ago she began providing medical services to mothers and young children, then food programs, then educational programs, then adult learning, and on and on. Each development responded to the need underlying the visible issue. Each was designed to empower the beneficiary. Each required staff, space, equipment, planning, pleading, and good luck to build the social support fabric. And all funded by donations.

We could see the fatigue of all these years of lonely effort on her face. And we could also see the results: a multi-story concrete building right on Tadiwala Road at the main entry to that slum area, every nook and cranny of space utilized for medical assessments, schooling, skills development, daycare, cooking and feeding, and the newest, most urgent work of HIV/AIDS awareness and care. She recently had returned from a tiring fund raising trip to the United States and now had critical organizational decisions and proposals to make to keep all this moving. She hoped we would understand and not be offended.

I looked at Vickie for support, drew in a large breath, and responded with the reasons why Neela should find a way to attend.

During the closing ceremonies of that retreat, Vickie and I saw again how BootCamp just works. And we had seen why Neela is such an excellent leader.

We saw:
  • Courage – throughout her life, her story of Deep Griha, and immediately as she overcame her fear of taking yet another week away from the helm
  • Patience – we watched her deal with all the interruptions, and our plea for her to attend BootCamp without an off-hand dismissal; each business issue brought to her during BootCamp was handled in due course without interrupting BootCamp
  • Respect – no staff member, consultant, visitor was a bother or a burden; each person was accepted on their own merits; all BootCamp participants of any caste or background were treated as equals
  • Decisiveness – having heard the rationale, the arguments for or against, Neela made her decisions and stuck with them in spite of other's emotional or irrational reactions
  • Firmness – Neela dealt with all storms with resolve to stick by her decisions without wavering
  • Connection – she demonstrated repeatedly a strong relationship with her staff of caring and understanding throughout BootCamp and in her office
  • Vision – her dreams for Deep Griha's beneficiaries inspire everyone she meets; they can picture the great results she is striving for

As you can gather, Neela delighted in BootCamp, and we delighted in her.

Next week, some of the academic research into Leadership, OR something on IT Service Management. Would you like to choose?

2 comments:

Luke said...

Another great story. Sounds like she already came with a Vision - did you have to work on getting the team to a Shared Vision?

I'd like to hear more about Leadership.

Pixie Stevenson said...

Great post, Paul. I invite you to read "Tribes" by Set Godin. John & I talk about the qualities of leaders often. Are they born with leadership attributes? We ask that because we are both considered to be leaders however reluctantly.

p.s. Enigma Marketing Coach is finally live, let me know what you think.