For this series about the crossover wisdom between work and life I talked to Anand Sharma about lifelong learning and leadership. Anand is the retired founder and CEO of TBM Consulting Group. He currently leads the South East Asia Leadership Academy (SEALA). SEALA is currently looking for high potential, mid-career leaders to apply for their next session starting in January 2019.
Learn from People with Practical Experience
In my ongoing education I was picky about which professors I studied with. I would only select professors with practical experience. During my undergraduate years, I found that the professors who had only been teachers were like parrots repeating back what they’d read. They had no personal experience to enrich the learning. The teachings from professors who had worked in industry before becoming academics came from the heart, not from repeating what they’d learned in books. That has stayed with me throughout my life.
Over the years friends have asked me to counsel their sons and daughters about what they should do next in their education. In most cases, after undergraduate school, their parents wanted them to get a graduate degree. I advised almost all of them to get 2 to 5 years of real work experience so that they would better understand human dynamics and demands. Getting that first makes graduate school much more meaningful.
Follow Your Passions into Retirement
My interest has always been on the practical side of leadership. What works and what doesn’t work. When I was at TBM I worked with many CEOs. They were all very intelligent. That’s how they got to where they are. But in many cases their people skills were not very good. They didn’t really understand who they were, how to relate to other people, or how to motivate people internally. My contribution was helping them become better human beings in addition to being good number crunchers.
When I started thinking about retiring I thought hard about what I was going to do because I’m not the retiring type. Someone recommended the Society of International Business Fellows (SIBF), where I could meet other leaders and possibly find some board positions. I went to some of their networking meetings, which were fine. But in 2012, after the Arab Spring, SIBF started a leadership academy in the Middle East. I was intrigued.
My wife Anu and I volunteered to be facilitators at that event to understand how it worked. The business leaders that they had gathered from around the Middle East were just like the business leaders I’d worked with in the past. Over the course of a 10-day boot camp, everyone learned practical insights into how to manage people and lead a growing organization.
I decided I wanted to bring something like that to the region of the world where I’m from, to South and Southeast Asia. I talked to the organizer about how they pulled the event together and he said I’d have to be patient, that it would take 3 to 4 years to recruit a board and organize the first academy. That’s not how I work. I know how to save time. [TBM originally stood for "time-based management."]
At the SIBF board meeting in late 2012 I announced that I wanted to have our first leadership academy in January 2014. The board had doubts but gave their blessings after I pledged my personal financial support. During 2013 Anu and I traveled all over southern Asia for 4 to 5 weeks at a time. We met with hundreds of people to build a board of directors and find students who we felt were qualified. We eventually found six directors and the South East Asia Leadership Academy (SEALA) hosted our first session in January 2014 in Chennai, India.
Build Future Leaders Who Will Make a Difference
This past January we hosted our fifth leadership academy in Sri Lanka. It’s a life-changing experience for many people. When they arrive on the first day they don’t know exactly what to expect. Looking at the 10-day program, with no breaks, some expect to be bored. That feeling only lasts for maybe 24 hours and by the 10th day they want to extend the time. That’s the kind of impact it has.
The curriculum is 60% about helping people strengthen their inner core. We help them understand what they’re made of, and then help develop their inner core with values and purpose. The remaining 40% is about leadership techniques: developing and implementing a strategy, operational excellence, value innovation, team building, win-win negotiations, and holding people accountable.
We facilitate the learning process with maximum impact and retention. Each morning we start with a lecture on a certain topic, followed by some kind of simulation to enforce learning. In the afternoon we divide them into small groups of six people with two facilitators each, which is where they try to make sense of what they’ve learned. The facilitators are experienced leaders, volunteers who sacrifice their time and even pay their own way to participate.
We’ve taken about 150 people through this program. We select roughly 80% of people from industry and about 20% from civil society: NGOs, government and academia. The goal, by taking people through this process and making them more effective leaders, is that they will create thousands of jobs and bring prosperity and good things to the region. That’s the motivation for me.
References and Recommended Reading
I am an independent leadership and management writer, editor, researcher and journalist. For the past ten-plus years (wow, has it been that long already?) I have helped business leaders and companies tell powerful stories.
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