Lessons in Leadership

Last Saturday, September 13, the Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs (OPEN) had a Leadership Conference in Boston.  The opening keynote by Dr. Hina W. Chaudhry, Director of Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine  at the Icahn School of Medicine at  Mount Sinai was nothing short of spectacular.  Dr. Chaudhry spoke about her work in regenerating heart cells after a heart attack – a feat hitherto considered impossible in mammals.  The potential, to cure the disease that is the world’s number one killer, is enormous. We saw an MRI video clip of an infarcted pig heart, and how after injecting a stem-cell based drug, the damaged tissue regenerated to where the heart’s pumping capacity began to improve dramatically.  I think that all our hearts were beating a little faster after the presentation, realizing that we had been treated to what could be a pre-Nobel-prize lecture, delivered with grace and genuine passion.  I think that if I had heard this talk in my youth, I may well have changed my field.  Here is an article in Esquire about Dr.Chaudhry.  Her twitter handle is @Hinaheartdoc.  Her first company is Ventrinova with another one coming soon

An enjoyable part of the conference was a leadership panel moderated by Asma Khalid of NPR.  The panelists were Dr. Fauzia Khan, co-founder of Alere Analytics, Dr Tasnim Chipty, Managing Principal at Analysis Group, Farah Hussain, a Senior Marketing Manger at PayPal, Saba Wahid, a Culinary Consultant and Sanam Agha, Fashion Designer and owner of Sanam in Pakistan.  A diverse and lively lot, they shared their many insights:

  • What is the most important characteristic of a leader? Flexibility; authenticity; leading by example; the ability to inspire; confidence; the ability to take criticism; to be able to learn from mistakes.
  • How does leadership change over time? You start by modeling the success you had in school.  Over time you go beyond yourself to the concept of team.  You get the right people. You start changing from a transactional style with goals and rewards to motivation around shared values.  That is when you come to exponential success.  You start taking responsibility for others and their environment.
  • Insights for those seeking the entrepreneurial path? Have a vision – an end goal.  Challenge yourself and you will surprise yourself.  Pitfalls?  There will be 60 hour weeks, stress.  Have the courage and the craziness to dream.  What appear as dead ends, could be a detour.  Put yourself in positions where you can fail! In other words: ask where can I put myself for maximum impact?
  • Other tips: Be true to yourself, share your dream with confidence. Find allies; talk to all, everywhere.  When you are new: get advice.  Don’t give up.  When your car stops in a traffic jam and cannot move, get out of the car and walk.  Refrain from talking too much.  Get other people to sell you – build partnerships across teams.  Establish yourself as a thought leader, a trusted point of contact.  Sell others, too!  Sell teams.  Try to create value for your group.  Transform people.  Build trust and confidence.  Use the direct approach.
  • What should you aspire to? Transformational leadership with empathy, encouraging self-organization.  Be holistic, creative, inspiring.  Be the North Star for others – plus be there to catch them if they fall.

The talks ended with two memorable remarks.  “If you have to dream, dream big.  The cost is the same”. “Mentor for the moment; remember Rumi: when the student is ready, the mentor appears.”