Exploring the challenges of being a leader who comes from any kind of minority – gender-based or otherwise
“Leadership is not a position or a title, it is action and example”- this belief has always inspired me to strive to become the kind of leader I would admire and look up to. A great leader is not only the driving force behind an organisation, but also the key which unlocks the potential of all employees and puts them on a path of personal growth.
In a corporate setting, leadership is the constant act of imagining what an organisation can be and aligning the vision of all stakeholders to walk the same path, even if it means allowing them to take the lead and taking a step back yourself. Understanding why your organisation is important to the society, which needs of the society your business is able to meet, and why the organisation matters in people’s lives; will define the overarching vision of a company.
Today, being a woman leader in India has a number of pros but not without a fair share of drawbacks. The perception of a woman’s role in the workplace continues to be that of the second lead and not the hero of the set-up. This may work in your favour, as most people will underestimate you and then be easily impressed by a ‘thinking woman.’ But this bias against women may also pose a huge challenge when your employees and partners decide to undermine your authority.
On the other hand, women entrepreneurs have a competitive upper hand of possessing a high emotional intelligence level which enables them to think and act in a way most men may not. Research shows that women leaders are more likely to collaborate and form business partnerships than men, which in many cases can impact the business in a huge and profitable way.
Leadership is all about striking a good balance between short-term and long-term goals, assets and liabilities and top-line and bottom-line. It also entails being able to strike a balance between professional and personal life. To achieve this balance, the most important characteristic to be nurtured by a leader is a strong emotional quotient, which comes more naturally to women.
Self-awareness is an important attribute for a consistent and sustainable leadership; this starts with understanding oneself, the strengths and weaknesses of one’s character and how this impacts one’s reactions and thought process. This self-understanding is the deciding factor between good and great leadership.
As business owners, we wear two hats in the professional space – that of a shareholder and manager. Juggling between the two can be quite complex, especially if you have other shareholders. The dynamics of the boardroom play a big role in whether the leader feels supported or not.
A leader, who enjoys great support from shareholders, can focus all of his or her time and mental bandwidth on the growth of the business. As a manager, business is already complex and you have to constantly juggle between shareholders, customers, employees, regulators, suppliers and alliances, in an ever changing environment with no set rules. As a shareholder, you have the additional responsibility of ensuring that no shortcuts are taken in the process.
For a business owner, balancing between these two and recognising which hat to wear at what time and having enough self-awareness to not let one interfere with the other is very crucial.
Secondly, being a minority in India and in business can be seen as a disadvantage or an advantage. Whether you are a woman; a non-MBA professional; a very young adult; physically challenged or from a non-business family, the best thing about being an entrepreneur or a leader is that in the long run, markets are free, democratic and agnostic. The only winner is a sustainable business model that provides something useful to a lot of people and has a differentiator. The disadvantages are all temporary, and can be possibly converted into advantages in the long run.