So, what does it take to lead a workplace? The #WomenWritersFest Ahmedabad brought forth some great insights about leadership and the perceptions surrounding it during the session on “Leadership and women in the workspace.” Banker Shinjini Kumar, Anuranjita Kumar – Managing Director, Human Resources at RBS, Author Sonu Bhasin and Shaili Chopra – Founder of SheThePeople.TV, were in conversation with writer Jenny Bhatt.

“Collaborating, mentoring and inspiring is what leadership is all about.”

Jenny, touching upon the various aspects of leadership, asked the speakers to define what leadership means to them. Sonu Basin believes, it’s a blend of her own intuition along with the consideration of others’ opinions. “I, as a leader, like to listen to everyone, take everyone’s views.”

Shaili Chopra’s idea of leadership has more to do with elevating others and taking them forward. “Empower, engage and elevate is what SheThePeople believes in. It’s also important to recognise those who need to be elevated,” she said.

Anuranjita Kumar’s take on leadership is a blend of being fearless and taking risks along the way. The decisions, she added, are crucial at the end of the day. 

Shinjini Kumar reflected on several aspects of leadership, adding that authenticity is what holds the key when it comes to being a good leader. “It’s important to have self-belief and authenticity, in this regard. There’s a lot of pressure to become someone else rather than being people who we actually are. Therefore, being yourself is primarily important to lead.”

Do men and women define leadership differently?

The whole idea should be to normalise leadership rather than idealise it. – Shaili Chopra

Leadership and power continue to be gendered for decades now. But, is leadership also always about power? And, do men and women define leadership differently? Shaili pointed out how the perceptions of leaders is different for men and women. “It’s all about how you’ve been perceived to think who a leader is. There are too many notions around the word leadership. I believe the whole idea should be to normalise leadership rather than idealise it.”

Leadership to me does not have a gender. – Sonu Basin

Sonu believes leadership does not and should not have to be linked with gender. “Leadership to me does not have a gender. For example, we’ve all seen Indira Gandhi as a great leader but never as a woman leader. The whole effort to get gender neutrality around leadership is contrived. We need to normalise the fact and see it has a neutral aspect. In homes, even if the father is the bread earner, the child always takes permission from the mother for all activities. We need to realise where the power lies.”

When I think about leadership, I have a maid, who has three children, and she works endlessly to make ends meet. In my perspective, she is a leader. – Anuranjita Kumar

Anuranjita feels there’s a leader everywhere we look around and that’s what we should be talking about. “When I think about leadership, I have a maid, who has three children, and she works endlessly to make ends meet. In my perspective, she is a leader,” she shared. Anuranjita also believes leadership is a much more holistic concept and we can apply it to different women. “For younger women, I will say, ‘purpose’ is something you’ll evolve with, but having the conviction and courage to attempt something makes you a leader.”

Shinjini recalled the time when leadership, essentially, was all about leading a large number of people. Situations, she added, have now changed and people are moving on from the false idea of leadership.

Qualities of a Leader

Shaili, who grew up witnessing only a handful of role models on magazine covers every now and then, has always found a deeper urge to find a role model in every woman around her. “For me, women from normal walks of life and their empowering stories are true role models. It doesn’t matter if they are not running multimillion-dollar companies. It’s their stories, how they lead their lives with what they have, and what they look to achieve is what matters.” 

For Sonu, a great quality for a leader and, thus, a role model is to share the burden and take people forward. Anuranjita, sharing about the leaders she considered an important part of her journey, said that working abroad, and now back in India, made her realise how trying times truly reveal who a real leader is. 

Shinjini narrated an incident about her earlier boss who showed the utmost confidence in her at one point in her career and handed over a huge responsibility. She believes role models are truly those who make others feel valuable. She also shared about her mother who she regards as her inspiration, a woman who could blend both personal and professional areas so well making a difference in several educational communities. 

Role models are truly those who make others feel valuable. – Shinjini Kumar

Ending on a lighter note, Sonu Bhasin shared a quote about workplace culture and how one can deal with it more gracefully. “For the corporate world, there’s a jungle out there but you don’t have to be an animal for that,” she concluded. 

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