The Career Journey Series is aimed at learning more about the career experience of leaders at our school. We hope to present their leadership lessons, principles and values. This would put their own fundamental leadership concepts and ideals they follow in perspective and give us a chance to learn from their journey.
The first leader interviewed in this series is Gurwinder Singh, Director, Graduate Career Management Centre and Employer Engagement. An SFU Beedie Executive MBA alumnus, Gurwinder brings over 20 years of passion and experience into his role as the Director for Beedie School of Business’s Graduate Career Management Centre and Employer Engagement team for both the undergraduate and graduate programs. Following his passion for education and social entrepreneurship, Gurwinder helped to establish a non-profit organization to provide education to over 250 underprivileged children in India annually. He further collaborated with various NGOs to conduct youth camps on leadership, personality development and entrepreneurship mindset development. He narrated his wonderful journey during this interview.
One of the themes which emerged from this conversation was that of curiosity. He termed it as one of the essential temperaments of a good leader. The most important event which shaped his perspective was the experience of leaving India and his dream job in the Indian Air Force (IAF) to move to Canada. As every immigrant knows, it was a drastic change. It broke and re-moulded his way of thinking and opened new horizons. It led him to rebuild himself and brought out the empathetic and helpful side of others. He stayed curious about knowing people, connected with them in a whole new way and built a new community. Curiosity, compassion, and courage were the qualities that expanded his horizons. This helps him even today when he works towards building a diverse and inclusive team at work every day. His curiosity gives him the drive to know more about people around him, and then create an environment that brings the best out of them.
Gurwinder emphasized the importance of gratitude playing a vital role in making better-informed decisions as a leader, and in life in general. It was his experience in forestry that taught him the importance of gratitude. During that time, he had travelled a lot, was deputed to all the extremes and interiors, as well as, travelled to sawmills and mill towns. At that point, he felt he was on the other side of the table. He was in a part of the world that had not seen a turbaned man ever. He felt he was alienated and they could not connect with him. It was at this juncture in his career when he picked up the importance of feeling and showing gratitude to others, from his various mentors. He learnt that no matter what the situation or the outcome is, still be kind and grateful, even for the time people give you.
The experience taught him the importance of gratitude, in any situation, without any expectations.
The moment he showed gratitude and interest in understanding the other person’s view or their world, they opened up to him. This translates into his role as a leader today. He can build better teams and develop better working relationships with others by creating value in other’s life. By taking a genuine interest in the lives of others, he creates a community around himself that believes in the value he can create in their lives.
Gurwinder believes in developing into a global being. He marks his move back to India after almost a decade of being in Canada, as a key event that helped him realize his dream. He co-founded a non-profit and moved there to work for the marginalized community. That experience taught him a very precious lesson which was not to take things for granted. It gave him an important concept of life, which he keeps sight of, always. How to share more, even while having less.
He was jolted to the reality that the lesser privileged have more to share, build, and connect with their community in every perspective.
He considers empathy as the thread which weaves every experience and learning into a comprehensible chain. One must always be in a state of empathy, and not be transactional. Empathy leads to effective listening. If a leader is unable to listen and understand people, the communication will not connect with them, without which the team foundation, the beginning, would essentially be wrong. The basic thing is to have that empathetic approach in every connection one makes. Every connection is made on understanding.
He believes that empathy is the driving force in anything and everything he does, whether it is in creating value or in building relationships. Empathy-driven listening is what makes the difference. Trust is built during every interaction, hence always be open to feedback. For a leader, it is a constant challenge that they make certain assumptions, unaware. To listen empathetically and recognize those assumptions and biases is very important. Creating diversity, equity, and inclusion is important to overcoming those assumptions and biases. Create an empathetic culture. Become aware of the lacking parts of a team. And then work towards improving those.
Your today’s best should not hold you back from creating tomorrow’s better.
Being inclusive in growth, while meeting targets is the new challenge in this fast-paced life. Creating a balance in decision-making becomes even more important. The stakeholders are becoming more complex, whereas the ambiguity and the uncertainty are increasing. The challenge is, how can a leader ensure everyone is getting value, from such diversity? Gurwinder considers that the big difference between a manager and a leader is about doing a thing right vs doing the right thing. He says,
You look at the spectrum from where you go from surviving to thriving. Leaders thrive and lead.
The leader creates space for his team, and gives them the room to be their best, and give their best, to create their best. This interaction was an insight into the mind of a leader who has established a successful career, being an immigrant and building everything from scratch. Curiosity, courage, community, communication, compassion, connection, collaboration emerged as some important personality traits of an effective leader.
About the Author
Ravijot Kaur is a full-time MBA candidate and the Director of Communications & Media for SFU Beedie’s Net Impact Chapter.