“How do women come out of poverty?” was the question that sparked my social entrepreneurship journey. As a cost and management accountant raised by a banker father and a very opinionated, independent mother, I combined my head, heart, upbringing and love for experimentation to co-found Buzz Women.
I had led a large team before but was very unhappy with the management style at my previous workplace. It was a tad bit autocratic. This made me swing to the other end of the spectrum when I set up my own organisation. I opted to be a democratic leader – one who would involve everyone on the team to make decisions, build consensus around issues, ensure everyone was heard, and overall be friends first, then boss.
As I started to build my team, my first hire was a very passionate and professional gentleman who took up the cause as his own. He was highly disciplined and loved working overtime. However, he started to dictate how I should build and run the organisation. Other team members found it hard to work well with him as he interfered with their work, stated constantly that they didn’t meet his expectation, and disapproved of any break during work. This led to a lot of conflicts. He also wanted me to fire a team member for vested interest. For weeks, I kept holding a ‘panchayat’ with all of them. Talking to them individually, then collectively, trying to find a solution to this growing problem. I thought I was being democratic while the whole time, I was just completely stressed and no closer to a solution.
Little did I realise that while I wanted my team to like me, I wasn’t being the leader the organisation needed. I lost a team member that day. He resigned calling me autocratic as I refused to fire anyone on the team. That’s when I realised my mistake; I had put my own interests over that of the organisation. My inherent need to be a ‘people pleaser’, needing everyone to like each other’ and being liked by everyone in my team was dedicating my actions.
At that time, it seemed like the best way to lead. However, subscribing to this method of leadership lends a lot of confusion within the team as to who is really the decision-maker. The onus of taking decisions lands on everyone in the process of consensus building.
As an entrepreneur, I have learned, you will never find the perfect teammate 100% of the time. It’s about making compromises but knowing that the organisation comes before any team member. It is also knowing that as a leader, you have a role to play and cannot shy away from it by making everyone else responsible for decisions. You can get inputs from all but finally, you have to own the decision and sometimes be assertive about it.
Now every time I am faced with a situation I ask “What would I do and then I ask, what should the leader of this organisation do?”. I always run with the answer to the latter question. I might still be a people-pleaser in my personal capacity, but as the leader of an organisation, that trait is shelved.
About the Author
Uthara Narayanan believes her purpose in life is to build human and social capital. She has been doing this through Buzz Women as a co-founder since 2012. Buzz Women equips underserved women by making knowledge, skills and tools that empower them economically, socially, personally and ecologically, available at their doorsteps. The organisation has reached 2.25 lakh women, in the last 8 years with 3500 women community volunteers in 5 districts of Karnataka. They have also been able to franchise the model to The Gambia and Georgia. They aim to reach 1 crore women by 2030 in all 30 districts of Karnataka.