Leadership Lessons from undergrad days-Crossfire and Guest Lectures, Pragyan 2020

CFGL(Crossfire and Guest Lectures) is one of the fifteen teams that come together to organize Pragyan, NIT Trichy’s ISO-certified techno-managerial festival. At CFGL, we work to bring people of eminent stature to campus for engaging guest lectures and a fiery debate which we call the Crossfire.

Why I am writing about CFGL in particular is because I headed the team in my final year, which was among the best things that happened to me in college. Now when I say ‘best,’ I most certainly do not mean a smooth ride. In fact, it was far from a smooth sail. Just working in close association with people of different backgrounds in a team gives one a thousand opportunities to learn, which sums up my final year.

Let’s do some flashback!

After multiple rounds of interviews, a group discussion and several tasks, I got an email from the then-team heads that I had made it into the team. An acceptance email was something unusual for a team in college. But I came to realize later on that that’s how we roll at CFGL — we are a very professional team, in the words of one of my favourite people.

Through my years in CFGL as a coordinator (in my 2nd year of college), a manager (in the 3rd year of college) and eventually the head in 2020, I learned many skills. From drafting a professional mail to the challenging task of respecting opinions even when they are antithetical to yours, I grew as a person.

Heading the team of 2020

As a team with a diverse portfolio of activities, the team members (including the heads) are always working on different things throughout the year. Unfortunately, Pragyan 2020 was cancelled due to the COVID-19 global pandemic (Pragyan 2020 — forever 5 dtg(days to go)!).

But I am immensely proud of all the amazing things that my team has done in the last year.

I consider myself as someone who focused on getting work done. Hence, I have bifurcated the crux of the article into the following two sections that mean a great deal to me.

Executive Deck

  1. Execution >> Ideas

As a team leader, there are various sources you can get ideas from- your co-heads, your team members, members from other teams, your friends etc. Of course, there might be constraints that come in the way of the idea becoming a reality. But once you find a pretty feasible idea, you gotta have the grit to see it to the end.

“A vision and strategy aren’t enough. The long-term key to success is execution. Each day. Every day.” — Richard M Kovacevich

It honestly doesn’t take the CEO of Wells Fargo to tell you this. You learn it every day when you have great ideas in your head but put them off for reasons that are no stranger to you.

There have been instances when mid-way, something would come up that would force us to drop the idea., But what came to my mind in all of those times were the logical reasons behind going ahead with the idea and the progress that has been made so far.

2. Professional Communication matters a lot

Your communication with team members who report to you, representatives of other teams, people you report to and how you put yourself across will determine how they respond to you and will reflect in the work they do for/with you.

A proper balance of being amicable and professional helps. You can always tweak the ratio according to the situation. The right balance goes a long way.

At the end of the day, being true to yourself and your commitment is what should decide between you unleashing your princess Fiona, your fairy godmother or something in between (Shrek reference as I am in absolute adoration!).

3. Always work with a timeline

This might sound banal but this is the skill that is taken for granted the most. Without a written/digital timeline for your projects, your inner demon reigns and you start to procrastinate. It is hence imperative to use dates and times to start and close projects, set deadlines and make a routine, along with regular ideation sessions for new projects.

4. Work on at least one project that motivates you

You cannot always expect all the elements of work to excite you. Well, if they do, then it’s a jackpot of a job. To ameliorate the boredom that some parts might bring, always have at least one project that motivates you at all points of time. The projects may vary but stay motivated and excited for at least one of them.

5. Always take responsibilities for your actions and those of your team’s

We all know that you are responsible for your team, very trite, but when times are hard and when frustration reigns, we tend to want to let go. When you are the team leader, you are not just the face of the team during its triumphs. You represent the team for all its ventures and actions. You must always have a sense of belonging towards your team. This will help you work better and own your mistakes as much as your victories.

Interpersonal skills/Personal skills

  1. Choose what battles you fight

Differences of opinion are bound to happen among teams. There will be moments when you can’t really be dispassionate and objective.

You have to choose which battles to fight; there are many, but not all of them are worth your time.

2. Keep work away from home

As much as I failed to achieve this, I am still trying. Home is one place where you are meant to be calm and happy. You deserve it after all the hard work you have put in at office/work and your family deserves so much more of you outside work. Ergo, zip up all your work before you leave for home or to make it germane to the current circumstances. In short, don’t work outside of work-from-home hours!

3. You can be kind, compassionate and assertive at the same time

When it might be in your nature to be kind and compassionate, you tend to be stereotyped as a weakling. Well, it is fine as long as you know it is not true and that you can be assertive if need be. While you don’t have to be vile to get things done, you can don as many hats as you want and be true to what you believe in. But remember not to let anyone walk over you because you are too nice.

4. You needn’t know it all

Yes. Had it been the case, you would not need a team. Your primary goal should be to manage your resources well with a good vision of your end goal. I have had moments where I have been overwhelmed by my prolific team and many a time doubted my ability to take the helm. But fortunately, I have been able to sort things in my head, push myself and go ahead.

For the same reason that you don’t know everything, ensure that you give no room to condescension. Any idea has the potential to be a great success in the right environment with great planning and execution. Hence, listen without judgment and assess without blocks.

PS: This might sound old-school but I have always found it endearing when people remember my name and I have tried remembering the names of almost all the people I come across irrespective of whether or not we have worked together or shared a close bond. And appreciate when due!

PPS: This article is to serve as a manual for future me, in case (and I am sure I will) I get lost somewhere along my journey. Feel free to use the tips at your own risk. Remember, you are unique and I am sure you would have a thousand better ways to handle projects and people!

PPPS 😆: A huge shoutout to my team of 2020 who worked relentlessly to make Pragyan and ourselves proud!

I would be happy if my perspective adds some value to yours and I am all ears to hear your stories!

I would be happy if my perspective adds some value to yours and I am all ears to hear your stories!