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Grandmothers are special.

When we are small kids, they are the higher court of appeal in our trysts with our parents. We can always count on our grandmothers to have our backs. When we are young, we love their food and stories. As we mature, we try to seek their advice based on their experience. As they grow old, we sometimes see ourselves in them.

I lost my grandmother a little over a month ago. She lived a long and fruitful life. As I reminisce about her, I realised that in her own subtle way she taught me some important leadership lessons. While it may not have been her intent but her actions in those situations left a lasting impression.

FACE THE CHALLENGE

What she did: My grandmother was English-illiterate. While she knew Marathi, Telegu and Hindi well, she didn’t know a word of English. Her youngest son is in US and about 30+ years back had had his first child. As is the Indian custom, he requested his mother (my grandmother) to come to US for some support. Our biggest worry was how would she be able to transition flights in an international airport without knowing a word of English. Imagine landing in London Heathrow or Paris Charles De Gaulle airport and having to figure out your connecting flight’s terminal and gate without being able to read or speak English! Of course also to fill out the various immigration forms and explaining to the American Immigration officer on purpose of her visit!

While we were worried sick, Grandma embraced the challenge head-on. She carried small strips of paper with her written in English with request for help. She would get down at these international airports, find a policeman or a good samaritan and show him the paper. And thats how she caught her connecting flights and he immigration questions. I was 10 when she was facing her challenge.

Leadership Lesson #1: Whatever challenges come in your life, don’t run away from them – face them and address them. There will always be a solution to deal with the challenge and overcome it. You just have to look at the challenge, analyse it and work on a feasible solution that can be executed.

There will always be constraints. You have to work with the given constraints and overcome the challenge.

CONQUER YOUR FEAR

What she did: Its 1pm in the afternoon. Four small kids ranging from 4yrs to 12 yrs (my sister and I & my cousin brother and sister) are happily playing in the house while my grandmother is in the kitchen. Suddenly she hears a collective scream. As she steps into the room she sees four petrified kids cowering in a corner with a big bat hovering around the room. Its daytime and so the bat is essentially blind. We are scared and so, I think, is my grandmother. But she calmly leads us into another room, closes the door, gets a broom and the next thing we hear are some shouts and some bashes. A few minutes later, grandma’s ushering us back into the playroom and the poor bat is flying away through the open door on to the tree outside. We all looked at grandma as if she was a superwomen.

Leadership Lesson #2: When you start something new in life – a new role, a new job, a new skill, a new  team, a new project  – you will face fear. You may feel afraid of the change and be worried about what comes up next. The key is to overcome the fear. Fear is always in the mind and you have to learn to block it out mentally and do the job at hand.

That incident of my Grandmother overcoming her fear with the bat had a lasting impression on me. I’ve always attempted to push the envelope of fear with adventurous activities like bungee jumping, sky-diving, Everest base camp trek and now venturing out on my own as an entrepreneur.

ASK THE RIGHT QUESTION

What she did: Many moons ago when I was a young man, I was going through a major upheaval in my life having to decide between sticking with the current plan to which I had committed but would not make me happy and a new plan which was not guaranteed would come my way at all but I wanted to make a try at it. My entire family was rallying around me and giving me advice on which path to follow. As I struggled to balance the differing views and make a decision, I went to my grandmother for her advice really not expecting much. She just asked me one question – If you make a play for the new deal but it doesn’t come your way, would you still be happy or would you have regret that you let an existing deal slip away for something that didn’t happen?

A little soul searching to answer that question cleared the path for me.

Leadership Lesson #3: When trying to solve a problem, whether yourself or with your team, the most important task is to ask the right question that cuts through the data, the analysis, the viewpoints and addresses the core issue. At times it can be an emotional response that helps you solve the problem. Finding the right question to ask is not always easy but once you have asked it, the reply seems to clear the air much better. The 5-Why principle may help sometimes which says that to solve any problem, 5 progressive Why’s will get you to the core.

Since that day I’ve tried to emulate my grandmother’s lesson and have found that it is quite effective. Just asking the right question has solved many an issue for me and my teams.

These were some of the Leadership Lessons that my grandmother bequeathed me, knowingly or unknowingly.

So what are some of your lessons from your grandparents? Do share with us in the comments section below.

Thank you for taking time out to read through this and I hope it adds some value to you.

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