“Women attribute their success to luck, hard work, and help they received from others, while men attribute their success to their core skills.” says Sheryl Sandberg in her book, Lean In. But that quality to give away success to someone else, is a very common trait of a wise leader, quotes Lao Tzu in The Tao of Leadership: “A wise leader is not collecting a string of successes. A leader is helping others to find their own success”.


Why then, there aren’t enough women leaders around?

It seems like a paradox: women have inherent leadership skills – empathy, intuition, creativity, multi-tasking, goal-driven and so on, and still we are not seen in such roles. The Diversity Team in Labs India decided to take the matter in hand and created a program to prepare 30 women who are not yet managers in the company, for leadership roles. The Strive To Lead program was born. 

The program did not hold any strong dogmas and did not give any prescription for leadership or preach theory. It taught us how to lead using our inherent potential as women – with intuition, with care and simple tools that can aid us while we battle our ways in projects and teams, between work and family.

The most admirable aspect of the program is its design that brought learning at 3 levels: awareness, relevance and practice, all just by meeting twice a month, outside our normal scope of work. Sometimes the process was tacit (for example, we did some inner engineering to awaken the leader in us) and sometimes very explicit (for example, we learnt basics of finance and marketing).

Awareness

At the level of awareness, the program brought to light, issues around gender diversity, awareness to our own strengths and weaknesses and helped us find our leadership purpose. A 3 day offsite broke the myths, assumptions and inhibitions we have in ourselves and made us see new possibilities. One of us took to painting, someone else took to exercising everyday, a third person started keeping a journal. The program was called ‘Breaking the Glass Ceiling’ and in our own way, each of us broke our own ceilings of being a mother, a wife or a worker and leaped out to explore and experiment beyond.

Relevance

One can quote Steve Jobs and read other clichéd case studies on leadership or one could look around to be inspired by real leaders all around us. The program took the latter approach. The Diversity team got the 30 women meet some of the top senior executives visiting the company. We were shadowing them and observing how they engage with people, drive meetings and run the show. We had breakfast meetings with executives from the board where they shared their leadership and career challenges openly with us. 

We read poems from children books and blogs of people we can relate to,  and got under their skin to understand the nuances of leading. We were taught the basics of management functions – HR, marketing, finance by our own management heads, leading those functions. While, on one side it was mind boggling to read and understand the company’s balance sheet, on the other side we had so much access to our own company leaders, and how they run the organization. Books and case studies might have left our mind, but our leaders and their experiences have left a lasting footprint in our heads. Admirably, the program made the whole learning very relevant to our roles, to the jobs we do and how we can lead our organization when the opportunity turns up.


Practice

At a practical level, we were taught very simple set of tools to effectively drive meetings, projects and small teams. From learning to conduct meetings that are result oriented to getting group consensus in teams as large as 50 people to learning to write effective emails to anyone, we were exposed to very simple frameworks. The team is now busy finding and doing fellowships in every department possible, to bring life to our learning.

This program is a case study to all those aspiring to create a change (of any kind) in the organization organically, holistically. If you are looking for a secret recipe to make the change, here is one to refer to. As for us, the participants, there is more work to be done. We are striving to lead.

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  1. Jelena Perfiljeva

    Visvapriya, thank you for this great blog! Not sure who rated it 3 stars, but I hope my 5 stars (and more to come, I’m sure) will offset it.

    Lao Tzu quote brilliantly describes what in my view the Leader actually is. Many times people we call “leaders” are rather managers, manipulators or tirans. Unsurprisingly, many “leaders” (especially male ones, cough-cough) seem to leave by “The Art of War” rather than the work you’ve mentioned.

    But we live in the times when so many things are being re-defined and this includes the meaning of leadership. To me the many wonderful SCN community leaders (The specified item was not found. and Tammy Powlas are just the top of the list) are no less important than Sheryl Sandberg or any other executive.

    This is not to say that women should not strive for the business / career / financial success and be equally compensated for equal work, but to highlight the diversity of leaders and various ways they contribute to our success.

    Thanks for sharing and I’m looking forward to reading more about the progress this wonderful group will be making.

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