Out-of-the box Leadership / Leadership From Within

post by Pratima Rao Gluckman:

daughter once told me, “Mom, I am awesome. I am good at math. I run fast. I am
better than my brothers. Right?” As I looked into her darling eyes as she was
desperately seeking validation, I thought, “This is where the problem lies.”
It’s cute when a four-year-old thinks she is better than the rest. And yes, I
want to encourage her to think that way, because it will build her self-esteem
(as this is important for girls). But the problem is that adults feel that way
all the time. Adults don’t say it aloud because it’s not cute anymore. But we
think it.

Stereotyping starts at a very
early age. Each of us believes we are better than everyone else around us. We
believe specific groups of people who think and look like us are better than
the rest. And so we begin to stereotype. We put people into little boxes, label
them, and thereby create boundaries. We divide women and men into separate
boxes. We place different races and cultures in separate boxes. We box people
based on their sexual preference. As we compartmentalize, we grow up developing
strong values of what is right and wrong.

Who gets to break these boxes,
silos, and stereotypes? Brave, self-aware and fearless people.

When a brave person comes in,
breaks open these boxes, and removes the labels, slowly changing the mindsets
of people—that’s when a change occurs. Real change. That’s what a true leader
does. Someone who is fearless, someone who is not afraid of criticism, someone
who believes in making a difference will destroy the boxes. Someone who is aware
of the power struggle between genders, races, and cultures will transcend the

You can become one of these
brave, fearless leaders. First, you need to tell yourself that you are not
better than someone else. You must say to yourself that you are not better than
someone else because your skin color is different, or because you are more
educated, or because you are better looking. You should be grateful that you
had the opportunities that came your way, but that doesn’t mean you are superior
to the rest. However, this is hard to do. Because you then need to internalize
that. You must go deep into your subconscious and undo all the wiring. You must
become aware of your strengths and weaknesses. You have to know who you indeed
are and what you stand for.

And you need to forge these
changes from within before you go out to change the world. Once you can
genuinely transform yourself from your childhood beliefs, biases, and
stereotypes, you can transform others, because when you see the change in yourself,
you know what change looks like. While you transform others, you know what to
look for, and most importantly that change is occurring.

So where do you begin? Start
with awareness, just noticing your thoughts as you go through the day. It’s a
meditation: you don’t need to analyze and judge every thought and reaction.
Thoughts come and go, with the power to shift your
all the time. For instance, you meet an interview
candidate who seems older than you expected. Your first thought might be, “I
don’t think she will be the right culture fit because she seems different from
the kind of people we hire here.” Let that thought pass through your head.
Don’t analyze it any further. Give that person a chance, because you never
know—your internalized bias may be kicking in. So let other thoughts in as
well. Now after you interview the candidate if you still feel that person is
not right for your team, sure, pass her up. But you have opened your mind to
other aspects of this person.

To be effective leaders, we
have to know ourselves well. From the inside out. Once we have an awareness of
ourselves and the factors at play in our personal environment, we will be able
to make better decisions for ourselves and for other people. Change comes from
within, and in today’s world, we need this more than ever.

Pratima Rao Gluckman, author of
Nevertheless, She Persisted: True Stories of Women Leaders in Tech, knew she
wanted to be an engineer from a young age. She attained a master’s degree in
computer science (University of Texas at Arlington), a master’s degree in
chemistry, and bachelor’s degree in instrumentation engineering (BITs Plain
India). Currently, in her field of enterprise software, she is Engineering
Leader at VMware and manages a team of engineers.