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A Journey through Leadership

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Founding President, Trustee, Past President (2000-2010), Nepalese Association of Houston

Director, Fellow, Past President (2012-2016), American Society of Nepalese Engineers

Advisor (2010 – Present), International Nepali Literary Society Houston Chapter 

Leadership is not a rank or a position, it is a choice – a choice to look after the person to the left of us and the person to the right of us. – Simon Sinek

Introduction

The idea of leadership is one of the most discussed topics, and there is much literary guidance on the subject, and this is my version. Over my journey, I have had the privilege of taking on many leadership roles outside of my 30 plus years of US corporate career. In my experience, leadership is rooted in passion but requires a tremendous amount of persistence, patience, humility, self-motivation, and dedication to its success. Additionally, it requires facing the most challenging moments head-on and taking on uncharted risks with an open mind and a big heart.

My Journey

I grew up as a shy and introverted kid. Nonetheless, my father always enthused me to interact with our relatives with great intellect, and much older than me, to talk to them and extract their wisdom. He also encouraged me to travel – and travel I did in many countries around the world, trying to broaden my perspective interacting with people getting to know different cultures, histories, languages, and civilizations.

My big break into leadership came when I served as President of the student body as the class topper, pursuing a master’s degree program at Osmania University, Hyderabad, India, as a Colombo Plan Scholar. We had organized various lecture programs from top scientists and dignitaries and collaborated with my classmates to publish a book that is still in use to teach the subject of Integrated Geophysical Techniques. And, then one thing led to another, and I ended up in Delft, The Netherlands, to pursue my Post Graduate Diploma, got actively involved in the student body programs, and had the honor of topping the class. Soon after, I traveled to the US to obtain my second master's degree in the USA as a Fulbright Scholar and continued my doctorate program.

As time passed, I had to move my family to Lafayette, Louisiana, from Sugar Land, Texas, accepting a job transfer. Since we could not find any Nepali family there, one of my coworkers acquainted us with Indian society. We got along very well with the Indian Community, made many friends, and joined them in their weekly get-togethers. As an appreciation for our contribution and involvement, the Acadiana Indian Association (AIA), a non for profit 501(c)(3) social organization, elected me as Vice President. It was an immense honor to have the opportunity to serve in an Indian organization.

Later, we moved to Houston on my new job and soon realized that the Greater Houston area needed a social organization for the Nepalese community. We took the initiative to establish the Nepalese Association of Houston (NAH) with the motto “Service to Humanity,” which got incorporated in Texas in March 2000. I served as President of NAH since its inception and initiation until October 2010. We collaborated in accomplishing many activities and programs in that tenure, including hosting the Non-Residential Nepali Association 4th Regional Conference in Houston on May 28-30, 2010, participated by three hundred plus Nepalese and friends of Nepal from 15 countries exceeding expectations and giving us a moment of pride. On that occasion, the Mayor of the City of Houston proclaimed May 28, 2010, as Nepal Day. The Houston Chapter of the International Nepali Literary Society (INLS) began at that conference, in which I have been serving as the Advisor till present. As Regional Vice President of the Non-Residential Nepali Association National Coordination Council of USA, 2008-2010, I had contributed to preparing the bylaws, among other things.

In 2007, Nepalese Engineers, Scientists, and Technologists in the USA got together to initiate the American Society of Nepalese Engineers (ASNEngr), a professional non-profit organization, and I participated in the Steering Committee. In their first election held in 2008 in Baltimore, Mary Land, I was elected Vice President and served two terms until 2012, following which I was elected President of the ASNEngr for two terms, 2012- 2016. In 2012, my company expatriated me to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in a leadership position, so I decided to quit my president position at ASNEngr. However, the executive committee thought it would be better if I could continue in that position and lead remotely from Malaysia, which I took as a privilege and learned a great deal from it. We had published the position paper titled Earthquake Preparedness and Disaster Relief in Nepal in 2015, widely distributed in Nepal and North America. Currently, we are putting our collective effort into preparing the position paper on “Flood Preparedness, Mitigation, and Disaster Recovery in Nepal,” which is nearing completion for publication.

In Malaysia, I actively participated in the Non-Residential Nepali Association National Coordination Council (NRN NCC) of Malaysia events and meetings and helped them conduct the election successfully as part of the election committee. I also had the opportunity to interact with the Nepalese community in Tokyo, Japan, imparting the know-how to run a social organization when my job took me there.

Takeaways from my Journey
The spectrum of roles and responsibilities in the social and professional non-profit organizations afforded me to practice a wide range of attributes essential in a leadership role, which I have the privilege of listing below, albeit not in the order of importance.

  • Motivating and Inspiring: First and foremost, the act of motivating everybody to get them inspired to volunteer their precious time to achieve a common purpose through collaborative efforts is crucial because compensation of any kind is not allowed in a non-profit organization. It is different from a for-profit organization where everyone receives compensation for their work, and their performances are appraised from time to time.
  • Communicating effectively: Communicating articulately and listening to opinions, ideas, and views with empathy to engage everyone to perform organizational programs and activities efficiently is the key to successful leadership. Communication also helps relate and connect with members to inspire and empower them, and the propagation of goodwill messages helps create positive vibes in society and build a support base. 
  • Leading by Example: To lead by example, the leader must have an open mind and a forward-thinking attitude to make things happen, so others get uplifted by the proactivity and take the privilege to march in step with the leader. As a role model, a leader creates an environment of mutual understanding and cooperation and provides a sense of belonging with the members helping each other unconditionally at the time of need and sharing their joys. 
  • Maintain Integrity: The "I" word, known as integrity, is necessary for leadership. It means you say what you mean, mean what you say, and keep all commitments and promises. In other words, it all boils down to walking the walk, not talking the talk.
  • Being Punctual: Punctuality is a requirement in leadership and management. It also helps to set examples for everyone. One of my coworkers once aptly remarked at a meeting: Do not punish the punctual.
  • Being grateful: In a leadership role, one becomes a people person. A leader always thanks to the team and recognizes their contributions, giving credit where the credit is due. According to Dr. Patton, “When leaders genuinely appreciate their team, it shows people that their work is valued and creates a culture that inspires others to do the same.” 
  • Setting SMART Goals: It is necessary to set SMART goals to achieve the objectives of an organization. The SMART goals stand for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and anchored within a Time Frame to help guide goal setting. 
  • Recording Action Items: Making sure to write down all action items with timelines and responsible parties at the end of each meeting and sticking with them leads to the successful operation of an organization. It will also bring a sense of urgency and discipline among members.
  • Maintaining Transparency: For any organization, for-profit or non-profit, to be sustainable, maintaining transparency and a sense of collaboration assumes paramount importance.
  • Earning Trust: Trust is an essential factor in an organization for a leader to engage others to get the best out of them and create a culture of mutual respect. It could take years to earn the people's trust because it is not a given thing. Building trust requires the credibility, reliability, and intimacy of a leader. 
  • Being Impervious to Criticism. In charitable, non-profit organizations, people are likely to complain and criticize as no good deed goes unpunished. Nevertheless, the leader faces those complaints and criticism with grace and moves by advancing the good deeds to benefit society and humankind.
  • Mentoring: Mentoring, guiding, and coaching should always be an integral part of leadership. It also helps in succession planning. True leaders do not create followers; they produce more leaders, as they say. In this context, Nate Miller opines, “Great leaders are masters at mentoring. They are constantly investing in and pouring into the next generation of leaders.”

The leadership of a non-profit organization does not come easy because responsibilities will most likely conflict with family life and even professional life to some extent. A true leader must have patience and be ready to make sacrifices. The cost of leadership comes at the expense of the leader’s self-interest. The leaders must take risks that others tend to shirk and run away. A leader also must be prepared to face criticism for good work, but that is a part of leadership in a non-profit charitable organization. Therefore, one needs to look deep down and figure out if they are ready to develop and practice leadership skills with dedication and a little bit of passion, of course.

Conclusion

Well, this is the story of my journey through leadership. Practicing leadership over decades apart from 30 plus years of corporate career provided me with experience that I have treasured and utilized in my professional and personal life. Some of the personal habits that helped enhance my leadership skills and style are: speaking my mind without mincing words, honoring all commitments, keeping a visionary and broad outlook, planning effectively, making quick decisions, executing proactively, organizing tasks, maintaining punctuality, adopting the engage and empower strategy, mentoring and guiding, listening with empathy, expressing gratitude to the team, recognizing outstanding contributions, getting up early to capture the best creative ideas, helping sustain the team coherence, bringing everyone together with mutual respect and understanding, providing a sense of belonging, transcending geographical boundaries, and appreciating culture and history through public interactions and travels. I also believe in the adage, “Busy people can do everything they want to do because they know how to make time.” For example, at one time, I was serving four organizations, as President of Nepalese Association of Houston, Vice President of American Society of Nepalese Engineers, Regional Vice President of Non-Resident Nepalese Association National Coordination Council of USA, and Advisor of International Nepali Literary Society Houston Chapter, in addition to my family and career obligations.

So, leadership is all about giving back to the community, making a difference in someone’s life, and making a mark in transforming this world a little brighter and happier. And trust me, at the end of the day, it gives an incredibly fulfilling and gratifying feeling - like no other.

Finally, I would like to conclude with a quote from John C. Maxwell, “The higher you want to climb, the more you need leadership. The greater the impact you want to make, the greater your influence needs to be.”


Dr. Rajendra Shrestha

Dr. Rajendra Shrestha -

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