How to be a truly inspirational

Part 3 - Own It Up

(This is an 8-part series on leadership by Rajita Bagga.)

Dear Readers

It’s lovely to be back with all of you again. Hope you had a wonderful week. I had a great one myself too. I celebrated my birthday last week and it was so lovely to get messages and wishes from my family and my friends all over the world. No matter how much we achieve and how much we earn, it’s this love that feels like the real wealth of life.

Many of you continue to share how you are benefiting from the 8-part series on “How to be a truly inspirational leader”. I am learning and benefitting from your inputs and feedback too.

I want to share with you an experience I had this week that needed me to demonstrate the second quality that we talked about last week, “No Double Standards”. A situation happened in our community where I had to take a decision which would impact two people- one was well-known to me and the other was relatively unknown. It gave me a chance to become aware of the relationship biases in my mind and how they were shaping my thought process. Ultimately, when I stood up for what was the “right” thing to do, instead of the “easy” thing to do, the feeling of fulfillment was worth the little heartburn.

It would be nice to hear your experiences so that we can learn from each other and grow together.

Some of you wrote me to ask, why have I not yet written about qualities like “being a visionary, and “goal setting”, as these are the starting points of great leadership expression. I totally agree and these are crucial responsibilities of leadership. If we don’t know where we want to go, even the best road can’t take us to our destination. It is incumbent on the leader to show the direction to his/her team, ensure they are all aligned to that common vision and feel invested in it. This is a huge strategic task of the leader.

However, in this 8-part series, it was my desire to focus on the more tactical, behavioral tasks of the leader. What we face on a day-to-day basis, in the countless interactions with our teams and stakeholders. I believe that our character and reputation in the long term is shaped by the continuum of our behavior in the short term. In my experience, our teams remember the small things, far more than the big things. Even today, it doesn’t cease to surprise me when someone, who has worked with me 15 years ago, recounts an experience where he was inspired with something I did. More often than not, I don’t remember the incident. But they do. I am sure you have also had experiences like these. That is the long-lasting impact of a positive behavior. Although, I reckon of a negative one as well.

On this note, today let’s reflect on the third quality to be a truly inspirational leader - “Own up”

Breakdowns, setbacks, and failures are a part of life. Sometimes our effort falls short, the team doesn’t live up to the requirements, and things don’t measure up enough. On other occasions, no matter how well we plan, things do go wrong. In the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world we live in, no matter how water-tight and perfect our efforts are, so many dynamic and ever-changing factors affect our plans. When things don’t work out as planned, it can be frustrating, it can cause losses, and it can leave us feeling demotivated and disgruntled.

How then, do we as leaders behave in this situation? Do we own up? Do we take responsibility? Do we acknowledge our role as a leader?

I once worked for someone who was an expert in passing the buck. We were a sales team. It was a target-oriented job and every month was a race against numbers. However, we were a great team and we always met our targets. One year, it so happened that for reasons beyond our control (I think it rained heavily in Mumbai and we had lost 4-5 days of the month in the deluge), we fell short of our monthly target. When we had our review with the National Head, and we were getting a bit of heat for not meeting our targets, our boss just kept quiet. He knew it was not our fault, we were tigers, not turkeys, yet he just let us suffer the brunt.

We needed someone who said it was okay, it was beyond our control, no problem, we will do it next month. We would have achieved our target twice over. But, what he did was not good. Imagine that I remember this vividly 20 years later as well! Not inspiring at all!

Nothing propels positive behavior more than a leader who takes responsibility, especially for failure. A leader who doesn't pass the buck, who backs his/her team and who stands by them in times of crisis is truly inspiring. Isn't it?

In leadership positions, we come across such instances so many times. No one likes it when things don’t work well. But it happens. Such is life.

What then in our DNA galvanizes us to own up or not? How secure are we to accept failure on behalf of our team? What deep-rooted insecurities or fears hold us back from owning up? How aware are we of these tendencies?

Think of a time when you didn't achieve something or made a mistake and your boss/leader owned up for you. Will you ever forget the incident?
Will that leader have left a deep positive mark on your heart?
Will your respect for such a person increase?
Definitely yes.

Over the years, I have sensed a gradual increase in my own capacity to own up. I attribute it to my practice of pranayama, Sudarshan Kriya, and meditation. It has made me stronger and more secure. It has enhanced my tenacity to face challenging, tough situations.

In the coming week, I invite you to reflect on this important third quality to become a truly inspirational leader - how it is manifesting in your life. Or not. And what you can do about it.

I would like to repeat - “Reflection, Observation and Action Planning is critical to integrate the change in our habits. Writing down (our thoughts or tasks) consolidates and solidifies our experiences. Research shows that writing down (our thoughts or tasks) improves chances of success substantially.”

Here is the Personal Reflection Tool for your use, to help you go deeper in your awareness of  whether or not you are living the third quality of truly inspirational leaders

Daily Personal Reflection Exercise

A) Do you think this quality is important to be a truly inspirational leader?
If yes, then do write a few words on why you feel so.

B  i) Make a list of instances where you feel you knowingly or unknowingly “did not own up” to your own or your team’s actions.

ii) Write down if you remember how you felt in those moments.

iii) Write down what fears, or insecurities influenced you to behave that way.

iv) What effect did this have on the team/ stakeholders/ people concerned?

v) Did it change your relationship with your team? The respect they had for you? How?

Pause for a moment with your eyes closed.
Internalise this experience.

C) i) List instances where you “owned up”.

ii) Write the emotions/ feelings you remember of those instances.

iii) Make a list of what obstacles you overcame within yourself to do this. What new aspect of your personality did you discover?

iv) What effect did this have on the team/ stakeholders/ people concerned?

v) Did it change your relationship with your team? The respect they had for you? How?

Pause for a moment with your eyes closed.
Internalise this experience.

7-day action plan

A)  i) For the above where you feel you did not own up, write what you can change to ensure that you correct the situation.

ii) Is there something you can change now? Any amends you can make with people affected by your decisions? If yes, please do it.

(If you did this, heartiest congratulations! You overcame a difficult barrier in changing your behavior patterns!)

B) Identify ways you can enhance consistency in behavior to ensure you don't exhibit double standards.

May you inspire yourself and others! Have an inspirational week!

You can leave your feedback and experiences at @RajitaBagga and @ArtofLiving. You can also connect with the writer at

The writer is President, World Forum For Ethics in Business and Sri Sri University, Orissa (India). She is also a faculty with The Art of Living.

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