Sun, July 21, 2024

'Tough paths can make leaders stronger'

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Arun Rana

International Development Professional

An international development professional, Arun Rana has over two decades of experience in areas of banking, private sector promotion, project management, agroforestry value-chain growth, international trade, journalism and communication that includes various executive and managerial roles. He has also worked extensively with the highest levels of Nepali bureaucracy, political parties and expatriates. He is the former Country Director, ICF Nepal.

Currently, Rana is involved with Samriddha Pahad and Rato Bangala Partnership Outreach Programme as board member. He is also active at Manavsewa Ashram as its advisor. Prior to that, Rana was with GIZ and Nepal Investment Bank.

Rana holds a Master’s in International Affairs/International Finance and Business from Columbia University, New York and a Bachelor’s in Communication from Goshen College, Indiana, US. He shares, “During my grad school at Columbia University, I got an opportunity to work as a short-term consultant at Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, and it was a great learning experience for me.”

In this edition of Business 360, Rana shares his views on leadership and what it means to him. 

How do you define leadership? 

I have never thought about defining leadership but if you ask me about how I take on my leadership role then it would be a three-pronged approach, i.e., sustainability, talent and goodwill that are intertwined. What I believe is for any leader pursuing the leadership role, sustainability matters. Sustainability leads to a secure and bright future. Secondly, good talent is needed. For a leader who wants to do something better and make a change, they need those who are talented and skilled. A vibrant and motivated team always make things smoother. Lastly, it is goodwill; the goodwill of a company and stakeholders will add value to the work delivered. When there is sustainability and good talent, goodwill tends to be there and when there is sustainability and goodwill, there is a tendency to attract good talent. Hence, this has been my focus or my mantra while leading.

Is leadership ‘acquired’ or ‘inborn’?

For the most part, leadership is acquired and then it’s both, but then it is mostly acquired. In order to be a successful leader, more hard work is needed as opposed to more intelligence. I am sure that there are innate qualities that come but then it is more of a nurturing which plays a greater part in terms of leadership. Also, some leadership occurs genetically, for example, daughters of XYZ tend to be successful and go up very rapidly because of family ownership and all. Well, it will definitely help you to climb the ladder but in terms of inbuilt intrinsic nature, a lot has to be done.

What are ways to win over people or to create influence?

I believe one should focus on the empathetic side of their work, for example, whether or not my junior colleagues are wanting to come to work. If your junior colleagues are not wanting to come to work, then there is something wrong. Teamwork is shown by the motivated team members.Therefore, to motivate and win them over, creating a fearless environment is important. When there is fear there is no creativity and no creativity leads to machine-like (automation mode with less awareness) work. When there is no fear, there is creativity which means. You can be liberal while becoming politely assertive. 

The other thing that one can look into is the emotional side of things because if you are emotionally sound, you want to give your energy and do more work. The top priority should be the emotional health and well-being of an employee. 
Creating a fearless environment, giving them opportunities and incorporating both personal and professional growth helps to create an impact. Personally, the supervisors that I have had in the past provided me with the space to debate with them, and to be open and this helped me a lot. I believe people will follow you when your intentions are better. 

One incident that has tested your leadership ability and the way you handled it.

While working in an organisation, I had to lead teams, for example, a team looking into programmes and also an administrative team. As a leader, I had to facilitate the uneasiness that used to arise at times while working together. Believe me, leading a team and making everyone satisfied with their work might not be so easy. First, I try to facilitate my colleagues in such a way that they themselves will sit for a negotiation and solve the conflict on their own. But if that does not work, I try to become politely assertive. Further, even if a majority (i.e., in management team) has supported a cause, I may overrule it because sometimes the majority may not be right.

What aspects of your personality have helped you to serve various roles in the past?

Basically, my tendency to network which tends to happen effortlessly is one of the characteristics that has helped me deliver in various roles and situations. I believe this is one of the few qualities which could be inherent for me. Although I am an introvert, most people might perceive me for an outwardly oriented because for work-related matters, I tend to connect, talk and learn more from people I meet. When you are in a leadership position, it is essential for you to know about various fields even if that is not your area of expertise. Therefore, it is key to my growth. 

The other aspect is that I follow a slightly democratic process. During my roles in various organizations, I used to consult with the concerned team members following which I reached a conclusion and that conclusion would accommodate most concerns. Having said this, sometimes it used to be so hectic for me because everyone used to have their own perception and to make things work better, while aligning with their thoughts was challenging too. But I used to manage because I used to enjoy doing that. 

I believe it is okay to make mistakes and I share the same with my colleagues. I used to tell them that one should never be afraid to make mistakes. But it is key to learn from the mistakes while getting better by time. Lastly, the politely assertive side of me has helped. 

What would you suggest to effectively lead a team?

To effectively lead a team, you must have people skills. Every staff member should enjoy doing their work and the feeling should be ‘I want to go to office, there is so much fun’. You can only effectively run a team when your colleagues start thinking that they are getting paid for having fun. What I mean is hard work is there but then all the hard work comes effortlessly when you enjoy your work. 

Additionally, some dealings are contextual because every member of your team is different as they come from various schools of thought. It is futile to expect the same kind of support from each and everyone and treat them in the same way. You must be able to guide people in such a way that they become more productive. One size cannot and does not fit all. 

How can a leader prepare for the unknown?

A leader should always be ready for the unknown because nobody knows what the future holds. We must be mindful and accept the fact that the political situation can change anytime and if you are working on grants, donors might not be as supportive as they were previously, human resources can leave you anytime. Therefore, it is always better to have a backup plan. I could be working in a project and there could be a political change during the span, in such a situation, the team should be guided to have an adaptive mindset and should be ready to change their priorities. That is how life is also and the beauty of life is that it is not predictable.

When should a leader pass on the baton?

There could be an official plan for passing on the baton but then what I believe is a leader should only pass on the leadership role when they have fulfilled the goal of creating an impact, making a more progressive and productive working environment, making improvements in their own personalities, and has identified someone to take over. The organisation must work on creating leaders preemptively. This will ultimately set a legacy and create more sustainable and longer-run changes. 

Is there any ideal leader you look up to and why? 

I look up to the veteran actor, Madan Krishna Shrestha. I admire his simplicity, humbleness, realistic views and down-to-earth personality. I believe he is one of the few people I know who has an in-depth understanding of life and is a realised individual who doesn’t complain about the things life has put forward. With qualities like these, many people in his industry have idolised him and tried to imitate him. He is a great motivator. By watching people like him, I have learned to respect others and understood that the more simple you’re, the more respect you receive.

What would your advice to young emerging leaders be?

If you are having turbulence and failures in life, the only thing I would like to suggest is to take it as an opportunity. My father said, the failures are the path to success. There will be storms the life throws at you at times, but practice the art of witnessing as it is without interpreting. The other thing is if a person has everything perfect and has not encountered challenges or is running smoothly then they might not have learned much. They may not be deeply rooted in being.

Further, emerging leaders must be ready to do hard work, be punctual and last but not the least, disciplined. Tough paths make leaders stronger. Once again, learn to look at the situation as they are because if you look at the situation as they are, it will not affect you, however, if you try to interpret it, it will affect you. 

You have closely worked with bureaucrats and politicians in the past. From that experience, how do you view leadership in the government?

Looking at it from the government perspective, stability is difficult in the government because of the frequent change in leadership. But the upcoming and new generation leaders are very smart, learned, practical and well-exposed. The leadership is changing so frequently that you need to start from scratch whenever we need to work closely with them. 

Looking at the political side of the country, I do not see a genuine worry for the country. Previously, leaders used to have traits like honesty, loyalty and discipline. Although there are a few good people in politics, in general, I do not see someone who really cares and feels accountable to the citizens and humankind. Having said this, I have a positive perspective for the future because a new breed of politicians have entered the fray and are working aggressively to bring about positive change. 

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JUNE 2024

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