23 December 2021 15:16:08 IST

The CEO and co-founder of TalentEase, Fernandez is a thought leader in education and a consultant and coach to school heads, teachers and parents. He has 18 years of outsourcing leadership experience in the Asia Pacific, consulting with and servicing global and regional clients. He was previously partner/managing director with Accenture, Singapore. He was the COO with Hewitt Outsourcing APAC, and President India Life Hewitt. He has overseen teams in sales, operations, client and account management, technology, finance and HR, and has extensive experience working with multinational clients across a wide industry and geographic spectrum. He is a sought-after speaker at education and industry conferences and is a columnist with Business Line on Campus .

A look back and a peek ahead

Be grateful for the past, live fully in the moment, and create a future guided by unchanging values.

The famous opening line of Charles Dickens’s immortal classic A Tale of Two Cities —“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” describes the year past very well. As we near Christmas, it is Dickens’s other classic, the novella A Christmas Carol that we will use for our year-end reflection. There he introduces us to the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge who can’t hide his disgust at all the traditions and joy that surrounds Christmas. “Bah, humbug” is all he can spit out whenever anyone attempts to remind him to join in the cheer of the feast.

 

But on Christmas night, he is visited by the ghost of his former partner Marley, who tells him that he will soon be haunted by three ghosts of Christmas. And soon enough he is visited first by the Ghost of Christmas Past, then the Ghost of Christmas Present, and finally the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Read the tale to fully appreciate the spirit of Christmas, but for our reflection let’s consider what leadership lessons we could gain were we visited by the Ghosts of the Past, the Present and the Future.

The past

We could find that our ghost of the past either finds us in a spirit of gratitude or with a spirit of regret. The past has much to teach us and we ignore it at our peril. I recall making a log of poor leadership decisions I’d made, poor leadership behaviour I’d exhibited, and on the flip side where I believed I’d got it right. This was invaluable as I approached each new year. My past showed me patterns of belief that were helpful in my leadership journey and many that weren’t. Lessons which were impossible to learn without the discipline of recording the past and reviewing it.

Perhaps the Ghost of the Past will show us a role model of a leader who only recently moved into the space of the past — Angela Merkel. A quantum chemist who spent her first 35 years in East German, Merkel used that history and context to guide Germany, Europe and very often world politics with that rare mixture of “personal humility and professional will” that Jim Collins wrote of. I’ve personally admired her quiet, understated but determined style, her ability to lead from her values and her persistence in striving for and solutions.

She isn’t in the traditional leadership mould — her oratory skills are average to mediocre, she rarely talks about herself, she shrinks from being called the leader of Europe or the West, and yet in many ways she has redefined what leadership strength is all about.

As we encounter our own personal Ghost of the Past — let us count our blessings, for every one of us no matter our situation, has many, and let this lead us to live a present where we can look back on the past without regrets.

The present

I like to think that the Ghost of the Present would show us how we spend our time today. Because the way we spend our time is the barometer of our priorities in life. Are we so busy with activity that we pay scant attention to our destination? Are we so busy getting things that we scarce realise what we are giving up? Are we so obsessed with taking from every person and situation, that we don’t realise that life’s scorecard tallies what we give rather than what we get? Are we so busy chasing valuations that we are forgetting to add value?

Perhaps the Ghost of the Present wants to show us that what benefits a leader most is discipline. Discipline which is best expressed through focus and consistency. If we lack both, we are nomads not pilgrims.

One role model leader that the Ghost of Christmas Present showed me is a young man called A K Adith. He calls himself an ‘art educator.’ You will find him on Majuli, an island in the Brahmaputra River in Assam, where he has been since 2017. He spends time with the tribal children teaching them and empowering them through art, music, dance, theatre.

What causes a young man who with his talent and skills who could easily have been ensconced in air-conditioned comfort in one of our MNC high-rises in a well-paying job, to choose differently, to prioritise differently. His focus and consistency have not just created an impact but given him much fulfilment. If you’d like to support Adith’s work with young people, please click here .

The Future

What we know for certain about the future is that we can rarely predict anything about it. Usually, the only certainty that we can enter the future with, is our values. Skills we will have to learn, knowledge we will have to keep gaining, but values will be the solid ground on which we can stand. The Ghost of the Future would also like to show us a path of growth and giving because it is usually the only path that leads to real meaning and fulfilment.

Perhaps the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come will show us a sure shot leader of the future — 14-year-old Anjali. The Karnataka Government to fix malnutrition in children, decided to start serving eggs to children as part of their noon-day meal scheme. Something the children and parents welcomed. But some religious leaders objected.

In a viral clip, Anjali minces no words challenging those leaders: “Who are you to tell us (what to eat)?” Growth or the lack of it, often comes from what you choose to stand up for, and what you choose to give in on or compromise on. Anjali shows us the courage of conviction. She is willing to stand by her values, stand up for her classmates and stand against those who challenge what she sees as right. We can expect to see her ‘disturb the universe.’

 

As Angela Merkel once said: Let us not ask what is wrong or what has always been. Let us first ask what is possible and look for something that has never been done before.”

We must approach each new year not haunted by shadows of the past or fearful of phantoms of the future but walking confident steps with the angels of our present. That is the urging from all the three Ghosts.

Let us learn from the past and be grateful for all it has brought us. Let us live fully in the present, focused, and disciplined. And let us create a future guided by our unchanging values; a future where we always seek to grow and be a better version of ourselves with a commitment to make a difference to every person we meet and every situation we encounter. That would leave all three ghosts smiling. Here’s wishing you and your families dear readers, a very Blessed Christmas and a very Happy New Year.