Removing the leadership barriers in your mind
Published on: Sunday, September 15, 2019
By: James Sarda


COMPETING against 35,000 speakers from 142 countries and emerging champion is no walk in the park even if public speaking is what you think you have been cut out for. Manoj Vasudevan knew it was not a skill he was born with but one he had to acquire with help from being a Toastmaster. In 2017, he did it by being Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking. 

But how he went from one level to the next is another story that necessitated taking a hard look at where he was and what he had to do to get to the next.

It happened one day when he found out he had been crossed out from the yearly pay rise at the large multinational corporation that he served. Until then he had no complaints. He got to travel a lot and was happily getting what he wanted. 

There was no promotion, no pay rise, no new position. He took notice of this and asked his boss who looked him straight in the eye and said he didn’t have what it takes to get to the next level.

“I was very disappointed but was also thankful to him at the same time for being truthful. It was a reality check for me,” he told the audience at the recent 37th Sharjah International Book Fair in the United Arab Emirates to which Daily Express was invited.

“I was frustrated, disappointed and sad. My friends said the same thing. They said my problem was that I was an engineer and that nobody valued an engineer.” They said that if he wanted to be successful in his personal and professional life he had to make a life-changing decision and get a MBA.

So he quit and pursued a MBA at Imperial College in the UK. Two years passed and still nothing happened. “Yes I did learn new skills and met new people but nothing changed in any tangible way.”

Manoj then decided to step back and review his life and where he was heading for a second time. This time he decided to look at people who were really successful in their personal and professional life. He said he didn’t realise then the truth about what motivational guru and who he considers the world’s leading leadership thinker, Marshall Goldsmith, said.

“He said ‘what got you here won’t get you there’. What he meant was that you are here at your stage in your life because of certain strategies you implemented and certain choices that you made. 

“And if you want to get to another level, be it in business or life you need new strategies. You need to make new choices and new decisions.” 

Once again Manoj took a step back and started looking at people who became successful in their professional and personal life and realised some core skills he needed to master. These included the ability to connect, the ability to communicate, the ability to network and the ability to sell yourself.

“I realised that these were the core skills you need to master. If you don’t, no matter what you excel in, you will always be performing below your true potential,” he said to the audience which included members of the Sharjah Royal Family whose book fair that initially aimed to promote the reading habit in the Arab world has since become the world’s third largest and beacon for intellectual thought. 

Hence, Manoj considers himself as having become a leadership expert through trial and error. “You can be a leader by time, not necessarily by birth,” he said. How one can predict whether he or she will make it in leadership is narrated in what he calls “The Mousetrap Way.” [See separate story].

So he left his job and started learning these skills. He started three companies that got him interacting with people from 46 different nationalities. “It taught me so many things I never learned before and I began seeing issues not just from my perspective but from other perspectives.

“I even began coaching people including CEOs. I was not only coaching them but learning from their journey, their experience and their perspectives”

Manoj said people often asked him what was the one thing he learned from talking to all these leaders. “The one thing that stands out for me is that most people in high positions are ordinary people like you and me,” he said. 

From his observation, research and experience with clients, he realised that some people are truly exceptional. They are born with skills, talents, traits and gifts that made them exceptional. “You drop them in a group and they will emerge as a leader.” These are the leaders by birth.

But what if you were not born with these skills. Do you still stand a chance of becoming a leader that others will admire and follow?

What he also observed was that most people in high positions would say they were not born to lead but picked up hcertain strategies, habits, routines that under the right circumstances transformed them from being ordinary individuals to extraordinary leaders.

These he called “leaders by design”. The question is, he said, if you can become a leader by design no matter what skills you were born with, what do you need to become a leader that others would admire.

“When I did my research, what I found was slightly different from what I read in leadership books.” The steps one needs to take to become a leader by design is told in the mousetrap folktale. 

“As you listen to this tale, think about your life and the people you meet and what the lessons could be,” he said.





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