Wow. I’m in India. That’s crazy! It first hit me when we were flying over India at night and I saw the lights of Ahmadabad. The city was huge, sprawling all over the place, and it simply kept going and going and going.
Despite the fact that I’m in India, not all of my immediate reality is foreign. I look out the window and see mountains, but I also hear car horns. The nature is beautiful but the Woodstock School is in a mixed forest with lots of western flora. The country’s most popular language is Hindi, but here people typically speak English. At first glance, not everything is new.
This is the case at first glance. However, leadership requires context and understanding. For example, in my limited studying of India I have learned more about religion and Tamerlane than I have about the British rule of India. I can easily pass the British influence off as foreign and not concern myself with it, but the fact is that the British have influenced the modern India severely, so ignoring it and focusing on more ancient historical aspects would be ignorant. Understanding India in the context of western influence will be a challenge for me.
A challenge to my leadership in India will be the lack of traditional American manners. I’m someone who always tries to be polite and I generally expect the same in return, which means that I typically expect a please and thank you and for negative feedback to be constructive and have a positive tone. However, this is not the norm in India. They do not say please or thank you, not out of disrespect, but because it’s simply not what they do. Additionally, they are often brutally honest, which I am personally not used to.
This will be a challenge for me because I will have to have more self confidence in my actions. I cannot expect a thank you as affirmation, but rather, I will need to have the confidence that whatever I did was right. I also will have to be open minded when receiving brutally honest feedback for leadership aspects that I can do better. I will work through this month to make sure that I am not discouraged from these tough realities.
If someone is a leader in America, does that necessarily make them a leader in India? Or in China? Europe? My answer would be no, which implies that leaders are made, not born. Sure, someone may be born with some inherent leadership ability, in the same way that a longer achilles tendon makes someone a naturally better high-jumper (The Sports Gene is an interesting book, I recommend). However, even that naturally better high-jumper would have to work and practice to achieve an elite level. Similarly, a leader must practice and refine their skills in order to be successful. An element of leadership is understanding the context of one’s environment and empathizing with the other members of a team. Thus, a leader in America would not inherently be a leader in India.
While it’s important to understand others, I think debatably the hardest part about being a leader is actually acting on that understanding by being cognizant of how you interact with others. For example, as president of my fraternity I intended to be open-minded about other people’s ideas and opinions. I think, overall, I was open-minded. However, I understand that I did not show this. When I would receive an opinion contrary to mine, I would consider it seriously, and I was a harsh critic of many of my own actions. But while I did appreciate hearing other opinions, I forgot to actually thank people for sharing their thoughts and was poor at explaining, if I did not use their suggestion, why I did not use it. While understanding others is hard, actually acting on that understanding is, to me, even harder.
I am excited about developing this aspect of my leadership ability and furthering my understanding of India. I am also excited for my body to adjust time-zones. While leadership development is a never-ending process, hopefully my body will adjust to the time-zone by the time of my next blog post.