Leadership is who you are when you think you’re not being watched

Communications professionals often work closely with leaders. Many times, while making a presentation, in my slide with the communications channel mix, along with intranet, social media and PR, there was a box named leaders. If we now acknowledge influencers as an impactful channel of communications, we come to the realisation that leaders were always influencers – of culture, of vision and strategy, of public policy and even personal goals and work-life balance. 

Many leaders perhaps don’t understand the power they have by just existing, even if they are not active on social media. In fact, leaders leave the greatest impact when they don’t even know it, which is why true leadership is about who you really are, and not a set of public personas you have cultivated. 

I’ve learned much from every leader I worked with. Early in my career, I worked closely with a CEO, who perhaps wasn’t the best public speaker, but he inspired every person in the company. He would walk around the floors every day and talk to people with a smile on his face, an anecdote or two about technology or culture and which were the good restaurants to eat at. He learned about the real status of projects, how people felt to work at the company, and their ideas for work and life. At the end of a conversation with him, you always felt energised, empowered to take action and motivated to do more. 

One day my phone had died on the long commute to office, and I was late to a meeting with him. I was anxious; it was after all a meeting with the CEO! I reached quite flustered, also due to the fact that the morning rush was more complex since I had a small child. After I apologised profusely, he told me he had a gift for me. He leaned over and took out something from his drawer – it was a power bank. (At that time these were still new and only being given out at mega events as cool tech giveaways.) He said, “Nandini, your phone can never die. You must always be reachable, now more than ever.” As I began with a reply that was meant to acknowledge his time and my tardiness, he continued, “Not because of work, but because you have a child.”

I took this gesture with me forever – it was a stressful moment for me with career, a high-profile meeting and a child conflicting at the same time, and he took the pressure off me with that one simple act of prioritising my life over my work. 

Leadership is more than power point presentations and review meetings – I always feel that the direct role of a leader is to inspire. That is the one task that cannot be outsourced. The same CEO continued to inspire, when he demonstrated cheerfulness and optimism during an integration, where he had to step down from his role. At the all-hands meeting, he talked about the future and how positive it was going to be. He took every question from across cities, beginning his answers by calling out to that person by their name – no small feat for a workforce of over 6000 people! 

The lessons I learned from him were many, but most importantly – to connect with people on your team personally. At the most stressful meeting, it’s important to see the person, not the goof-up or the delayed target, or the lost revenue. Because that’s the turning point for that person, who will then go out of their way to work for you and the company. 

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Nandini Naik
Nandini Naik

Nandini is co-founder of BlueInk Content, pursuing the ideal and inspiring, following her conviction that original thought and powerful stories can move the world. She writes to learn about herself and the world - about writing and communications, family, food and fun, nostalgia, and people who inspire her.

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