37. Sameer Dua: Mastering self-leadership through critical conversations

Sue Stockdale talks to Sameer Dua, a best-selling author and Founder/Director of the Institute for Generative Leadership, Asia and UK, about the importance of self-leadership. Dua explains that in order to lead yourself, you need to grant yourself power to take care of what truly matters to you. Having experienced several life-impacting events within a five week period, he realised that he needed to be committed to the things he really cared about, and that the most important conversation is the one you have with yourself.

Sameer Dua is a best-selling author; the world’s leading authority on Declaring Breakdowns, a Generative Leadership expert, a coach for top global leaders, founder of the India Business Literature Festival and the Gift Your Organ Foundation and has over 28 years of experience in Management and Leadership education. Sameer’s transformational work in leadership development has already impacted thousands around the world.

Sameer has been listed amongst the top 30 emerging thinkers of the world by Thinkers50, (the world’s most reliable resource for identifying, ranking, and sharing leading management ideas) as one of those who will shape the future of business. The Thinkers50 listing is considered to be “the Oscars of Management Thinking” by the Financial Times.

In addition, Sameer runs a regular series on “Leadership Lessons from the Bhagavad Gita: A Generative Leadership Perspective” and he has participants from 24 different countries regularly attending his sessions.

Before setting up the Institute for Generative Leadership in Asia and UK, Sameer ran management institutes in 4 cities in India and 2 colleges in London, UK and had students from 52 different countries of the world. He has trained leaders in organisations such as Mercedes Benz, John Deere, Siemens, NetApp, T-Systems, BMC Software, Jungheinrich, Elringklinger, Wipro, ResourcePro, Amdocs, Schaeffler, Faurecia, Volvo, Reliance, amongst many others.

Connect with Sameer Dua via LinkedIn and Facebook and  Twitter  and Instagram.

Find out more about Access to Inspiration on social media via Twitter  and Facebook  and Instagram and LinkedIn

Sameer Dua Transcription

Sue: [00:00:00] hi, I’m Sue Stockdale and welcome to the Access to Inspiration podcast. The show where you can get inspiration from people who may be unlike you. We hope their stories and insights enable you to transcend your day-to-day challenges and reflect on what you are capable of achieving. In today’s episode, I’m exploring the topic of leadership from the perspective of leading yourself. And someone who can give us an interesting perspective on this subject is Sameer Dua. He is a best-selling author and leadership thinker with over 28 years of experience in running management institutes in India and the UK. Sameer is also founder of the India business literature festival. Most recently he set up the Institute for generative leadership in Asia and the UK. So welcome to the podcast. Sameer.

Sameer: [00:01:02] thank you for having me.

Sue: [00:01:03] Now. I know you’ve spent your whole career as far as I understand it, exploring the nature of management and leadership in different ways. I’m curious to know, first of all, how do you define the difference between management and leadership?

Sameer: [00:01:16] I spent 21 years running a business school and then the last eight, nine years running a leadership Institute, simple words, so many different interpretations of the simple words. Let me just talk about leader and leadership  first, and we talk about management later. For me [00:01:30] a leader is someone who’s been granted authority. Everybody claims to be a leader here, but you are a leader in the eyes of somebody. If that somebody has granted you authority. Without authority being granted to you, you’re not a leader in the eyes of that person.  Is a manager a leader? No if your reportees do not  grant you authority then you are not a leader.

Do you grant yourself authority? In my coaching work? I see so many people who do not grant themselves authority in so many different domains. So perhaps they’re not even leaders in their own eyes. So for me, leaders are those who have been granted authority by individuals or by teams or organizations, or even by themselves.

What is leadership? Leadership is about creating that extraordinary future that matters, that takes care of what you care about. So when you design and create that extraordinary future that matters to you and to your communities, you create that future. And then you act to make that future happen. For me, that is leadership.

Now as simple as it’s one sentence, there’s a whole bunch of conversations that sort of get enveloped in this simple distinction of leadership. So for me, leadership is all about creating a future that matters and making that future happen.

Sue: [00:02:41] That makes complete sense. And I was with you when you were talking about granting oneself, the idea of leadership, because there’s so many people that don’t necessarily choose to lead themselves in the way that they might want to. I also know that your Institute that you founded is the Institute of generative leadership. Now there’s another word that we add into the mix. Tell us what that [00:03:00] means to you. Sameer.

Yeah. First of all, I have founded the Institute for generative leadership in India. I’m now setting this up in the UK. I’m not the founder for the Institute of general leadership. It’s Bob Dunham, my coach, somebody I work with. So I work with him, run the India, and now the UK set ups. Now let me tell you what generative means in our eyes.  First of all, the other way to understand generative leadership is to understand it as conversational leadership. So it’s all about conversations.

Sameer: [00:03:30] Now we define conversation differently from the way people at large define conversation. For us conversation is a mix of called SELPH. So S is for somatics, which is body, E for emotion L for language, P for practice and H for history. So that’s the SELPH. And then you use the word conversation. We mean SELPH. So for me, generative leadership means that. It’s all about conversational leadership. It’s all about your ability to create your leadership, create your future, create the next conversation. In effect that means you’re always one conversation away from a new future. You’re always one conversation away from a new result and those conversations could be in many different domains. From power politics, strategy teams, emotions, mood, you can have a whole host of conversations. But general viewership is all about conversational leadership.

Sue: [00:04:24] Can you give us an example of how that shows up in practice? If we were to go out into the world today and [00:04:30] see it, what would be going on?

Sameer: [00:04:31] Absolutely. I can give you so many different examples. For example, I was speaking to this leader today was coaching this leader who runs perhaps the largest not-for-profit foundation in India, impacting education in hundreds of millions, doing some incredible work. What’s the conversation with him. We’re talking about what’s that future, a conversation that defines a future, a conversation that creates a space between two people, a conversation that creates a new commitment from his leaders in the different domains. A conversation around building a team and building a team through another commitment. So every result in this world, the genesis of every result in this world is in a conversation. My wife is my wife because there was a conversation and I’ve spent 20 years with her now. So there’s always a conversation. That’s the genesis of a result.

Sue: [00:05:21] I can see what you’re saying. It’s where the end outcome is what we see, around us. What made that happen in the first place was the conversation to get it going.

Sameer: [00:05:32] Let me just say one more thing. Just look at every result. And this is for all of you who are listening to this conversation, look at every result that you have, the ones that work for you and the ones that don’t work for you.

Look at the ones that don’t work for you for example. The genesis of the results that you today have, the ones that do not work for you. The genesis of that is also in conversations, the ones that you had, the ones that you did not have, the ones that you had well, the ones that you had miserably. The genesis of all your results are in [00:06:00] conversation.

Sue: [00:06:00] So now that you’re in this conversation with me, Sameer, and you are involved in this Institute and focusing on leadership throughout the world, what were the conversations that you had initially that led you to this outcome?

Sameer: [00:06:14] Back in 2013, I met Bob in a program that I was attending in Colorado, and I went up to Bob and I said, well, I want to partner with you and set up IGL in India. I’m about to set up what is called the center for generative leadership. I want to request that you’ll give me the license to run in India and then in Asia. And of course, that was the first initial, what all my friends in my community who were studying with me, thought was a ridiculous, unreasonable request to make to Bob because here’s a guy who who’s just come out of a completely different world and wants to go and make this request to Bob. Bob has no centers across the world and  Sameer is making this  request, but the genesis of the work that I do today in the UK and in Indian, the genesis of that was that one request.

Sue: [00:07:01] And how did you get interested in the concept of leadership from being a young child? Sameer? What was your route into that in the first place?

Sameer: [00:07:09] Very honestly, till about 35, I thought I knew leadership. It was a word that I didn’t even need to distinguish. Everybody knows what leadership is. Why have you even ask the question? What is leadership? And it’s not even something that you look at so clearly because I did. And then major events took place in my life.

I used to run two business schools in the UK, in London, and with the University of Wales [00:07:30] and they went into liquidation. And suddenly, you know, we had all this amazing stuff going for us and suddenly here I am going bankrupt. And because I went bankrupt in the UK. I had to forcefully sell out in India because I had no money left to survive in my India enterprises.

So that major event of my bankruptcy in the UK was a big, big issue. However, five weeks before that liquidation was announced, five weeks before then, My wife and my daughter had walked out on me. So with this incredible lifestyle, I was living beautiful family, lovely wife, lovely daughter, great amount of global work, and suddenly in five weeks, boom, there’s nothing left.

And that’s when this whole thing about what do I care about? What truly matters to me. If this truly matters to me, what future do I want to create? That will take care of what I care about. Even that future today looks impossible. Am I committed to act inside of generating that future? That takes care of what I truly care about. And when that these two big breakdowns happen, I had to go right down to the core, ask myself, what is it that I truly care about? Create that future and act to make that happen. That’s how I got really interested in this work. It had a connection to my life.

Sue: [00:08:48] Well it sure does by the sound of that Sameer. And that I imagine takes some courage to know what you cared about and to see the vision and then to work, to make it happen. I [00:09:00] experienced sometimes that many people can see the vision, but they don’t, for whatever reason, take that action to make it happen. What would you say to somebody who may be in that situation?

Sameer: [00:09:10] This is where we began by talking about authority. right? A lot of us have so many different worldviews about ourselves. We don’t grant ourselves enough power. A lot of it goes right down to the context. I think action will emerge when the context is dealt with. When contextually, what is missing is you granting yourself power to create that extraordinary, that bold, that courageous future, you grant yourself that power. You will jump into action automatically when you don’t trust yourself, you don’t grant yourself power. No wonder there’s no action. And the other important thing is a lot of people have these cool desires and views, and I’d love to have this. And this is my dream. All of that is good. The question is, what’s your promise? What’s your commitment. Are you committed to act? So on the one hand is to care. On the other hand is your commitment to take care. Two completely different conversations. Extremely important, both of you.

Sue: [00:10:04] So that’s probably worth repeating again, committing to care and committing to take care.

Sameer: [00:10:09] Yeah, absolutely. A lot of people tell you, this is what I care about. And then. Are you committed to taking care or no, there are so many problems. But you know, that’s the whole thing about commitment. You’re going to find them, and navigate and resolve them rather than be impotent so to say, because these problems have shown up and now you’re saying, you know what, there’s [00:10:30] nothing I can do. There’s nothing I can do is not granting yourself power to take care of what truly matters to you.

Sue: [00:10:36] So how did you do that then when you’d had this traumatic five weeks in your life, Sameer, how did you turn it around that thinking into practice for yourself?

Sameer: [00:10:45] So it was not the traumatic five weeks. It was after the five weeks that my company went bust. Every major Indian media, TV, press everybody front page news was about how terrible I am as a human, by the way. And that continued for several months. Luckily I had already begun this work. What is Sameer Dua?  Imagine if I ask the question, what is Sameer Dua, one way to interpret it is a conversation. What conversation is, I mean, Sameer, he was a pain in the neck, Sameer is shy, or Sameer is a force of nature. And when you construct yourself powerfully, you know, who am I? I’m a force of nature. All of these things will come, I’m so committed to taking care of.  I’m a force of nature. You know what? I’m going to ride through this. So by then I had distinguished myself as a conversation. And I chose to reconstruct myself as a new conversation and engage with that work. This might sound weird to many of your people. And I’m curious, how is this landing to you?

Sue: [00:11:41] Well, conversation is at the heart of all the work that I do, Sameer, so you’re speaking my language in that regard. And what I love about our access to inspiration podcast series is I get to have amazing conversations with guests like today. You’re absolutely speaking my languag right.

Sameer: [00:11:56] All right. Thank you, [00:12:00] Sue.

Sue: [00:12:01] Hi, if you’re enjoying this episode, you might work to listen to some other episodes related to leadership. In episode 22, chef Andrew Scott spoke about how he leads a team of chefs to achieve excellence time and time again in episode 24. Navi Radjou explains how we can consciously reinvent how we live and work by using the idea of frugal innovation. And back in episode two,  Harriet Minter talks about how leadership is sometimes viewed differently from the perspective of a woman. I think I’m fascinated that once you got that insight about those two aspects of care, And you then took the steps to move your life forward in a different way, to have a new conversation, a different conversation. I’m imagining then positive things happened.

Sameer: [00:12:55] There are two things here. Every time you make a commitment. Sue. Your commitment to this is tested. So I was really tested. It’s not that because you’ve made a commitment. You figure out you’re not going to be tested because the universe wants to know whether you really mean your commitment or not. And the second is almost the absolute opposite. Is the universe also conspires. So did positive things begin to happen? By the way, it took me 20 months to bring my wife and my daughter back home. It seemed like it would never happen. They came back home a year later, we gave birth to twins. My company went bust. I had to sell India out. It took me a year to set up the Institute for [00:13:30] general leadership in India. It took two years after that. We had a whole bunch of problems there, but gradually we remain committed and two years later we started to do very well. So yes, eventually positive things started to happen once we, remained committed to it.

Sue: [00:13:44] That point about testing one’s commitment. And the leaders that you work with within organizations, Sameer, what do you notice these days about how their commitment is being tested you in these COVID times? When the whole world has had to adapt in some way, shape or form.

Sameer: [00:13:59] I mean, like many of us we are interacting with a whole bunch of people and because it’s digital, there’s lots more interaction than earlier. We were dependent on physical. I’m seeing two sets of people, one that have granted too much power to Covid. Their ability to take care of what they care about is subject to a certain external environment. And I see a whole bunch of leaders granting of your power, their power to a virus. And then I see these amazing leaders.

They recognize that there’s this shift in the world. There’s this new virus in the world called coronavirus. And their commitment to taking care stands independent of the virus. And what we may have shifted is the goal, but the commitment to taking care hasn’t shifted. So there’s a new goal which still takes care of what they care about. And in most cases, that goal was better than the one they had even before COVID. And that’s how I see it. That’s what I’m seeing in the two different [00:15:00] sets of leaders.

Sue: [00:15:00] So do you think that idea about granting power to other people. Do you think that that’s part of the reason why many people don’t achieve the goals that they aspire to? Because they give away too much power?

Sameer: [00:15:13] At a very foundational level. Yes. I have a book coming out early next year. It’s on responsibility. It’s all about, are you granting yourself power? You use the word disempower. Yeah. What does disempowered mean? I’ve gifted away my power to some things that I don’t like. So it’s, I’m disempowered. I’ve given away my power.

Sue: [00:15:31] So listeners to this podcast. How can they recognize and evaluate that power in the first place? Is it coming back to understanding what they care about?

Sameer: [00:15:41] To answer your specific question. For the sake of the listeners. And this is what my upcoming book talks about. I’m making a very bold claim here. It’s so bold. And even calling it a law because a law is irrefutable. You don’t like gravity too bad. You don’t recognize gravity too bad. You don’t agree with gravity too bad. It’s going to have an impact in your life. So what I’m going to tell you is what I claim is a law. Is every time you are disempowered, every single time you are disempowered, meaning you are angry, frustrated, anxious, you know, those disempowered emotions. Every single time you’re disempowered is because you’re not granting yourself authority. Full stop. And every time you’re disempowered new actions arent emerging and everytime you are disempowered, you are disempowered to take care of what you care about. So all you got to do is build awareness. every time you are disempowered, shift the [00:16:30] conversation. That’s how I see it.

Sue: [00:16:32] Awareness is a core skill of a coach, as you would know, Sameer, and as similar to the work that I do, as well as helping people to develop that awareness. I’m just wondering about what role do conversations then have in helping people to create awareness, particularly at the moment, when many of the conversations we’re having are more virtual and face-to-face does that, does the mode of communication, the environment in which we have conversations, does it make a difference?

Sameer: [00:16:58] yes it does. But again, what is conversations that you have with the others before that there’s also self awareness. So there’s conversations you’re having with yourself. How many of us have not learned the conversations to listen to the deep conversations that our body’s having with us? Can we just don’t have the skill we haven’t been taught.

So many of us don’t have that capacity to listen to our body, the body saying something, there’s a conversation ensuing here but we’re not bothering to listen to it. So that’s first, the first of the conversation within yourself, number two digitally, I have limited access to, or the only access I have now is your voice. For example. I don’t have access to your body. I have access to the words you’re speaking of the tonality, but I don’t have access to your body. So is it a limitation, certainly, but is it enough? It’s enough? What you’re speaking and the tonality can give me adequate insight. Into the context of why you’re saying, what you’re saying. So when I’m speaking to you, rather than speaking to the words, you’re speaking, [00:18:00] I want to speak to the context that are driving those. And for me, your tonality, your words are enough.

Sue: [00:18:07] You’re really illustrating what the word awareness actually means Sameer and bringing it to life. Because many of the conversations I observed going on in organizations is people get too hung up on the words. And what their meaning than the context of the words.

Sameer: [00:18:23] Absolutely. Absolutely. In batching, you ask yourself fundamental question for the sake of what, if I get hung up on a word for the sake of what? Am I hung up on that word? Get connected to for what is this conversation happening? What is it that I want to achieve from this conversation? If I’m going to get stuck up on one word, I’m clearly missing resonance I’m clearly not connected to, for the sake of what am I in this conversation. And if there’s a certain word I’m just going to sidestep it. I’m not going to engage with it. Let me come right back. Why am I in this conversation and connect with that

Sue: [00:18:56] whilst we were in this conversation Sameer today, and I am endeavoring to uncover your brilliance so our listeners can get a sense of that. What else have you gained awareness about in relation to leadership over the years you’ve been working in this space.

Sameer: [00:19:12] It’s a big broad question. So I’m also a field avail of this manual, this life, incredible life, manual, called the Bhagavad Gita. I’ve been studying that deeply as well, and I’m learning that there’s so much wisdom that’s residing individually in each one of us. And I’m not saying this because the sexy thing to say, I’m [00:19:30] discovering that wisdom. I’m really, really going deep into me. And I’m amazed with the amount of answers that I’m able to generate to my ever growing questions. So what am I uncovering? I’m covering that. I have the capacity to hold conversations with myself. That I didnt have the courage to hold earlier. I have a capacity to generate futures that I didnt have the capacity to generate earlier. I have the capacity to hold conversations with other people of great depth, but I didn’t have the capacity earlier. And I think, what am I uncovering? It’s all right here, the deeper I’m going. I’m finding more depth and it’s never ending.

Sue: [00:20:07] What you’re illustrating to me Sameer is that whilst very often in society, people strive for more value on the outside world. More material benefits, a bigger house, a fancier car, more money, and so on. As a measure of their success, in a way they could. Also just look inward and do that exploration within to get a different sense of success and insight, perhaps.

Sameer: [00:20:33] Absolutely. And I’m not suggesting by all means, get that better car and get that bigger house and all of that by all means. If that matters to you, go all out and get it. No problem. All I’m saying  is the more you access the wisdom here, let me say it differently. The smartest person that you know, you’re not having the conversation with that smartest person, which is yourself. Let me tell you how this all began. In the moment, right? I started read this incredible book called my [00:21:00] conversations with God, and I forget the author’s name. And I read the first 40, 50% of his book. And I said, Hey, on his conversations with God. He asks the question. And God is answering that question through him. Right. And this was about four years ago, maybe five years ago. And I said, okay, this is cool yet. Why am I listening into this autistic conversation with his score? Why don’t I have my own conversation with God? And all the last five, six years, I throw a question out. I pick up a piece of paper in bed and I start to answer that question. And one way to interpret it is there’s the answer coming from the divine within me. Whether you believe in God, you don’t believe in God. It doesn’t matter. You are answering that question from a depth, which is currently unknown to you. And that question gets answered and especially deep questions, like what do you care about? They’re deeper than your desires, but a lot of people attempt to answer the question. What do you care about by reflecting on what are the desires? The one much deeper than that?

Sue: [00:21:52] How are you taking all of this insight that you’re gaining Sameer forward for what purpose is it helping you and the world?

Sameer: [00:22:00] Let’s look at the world again in two different ways. One is the physical world out there. The other is the world I live in. You know, my one, you know, inner universe, the one you only personal to me. If I’ve been able to construct a powerful world, just for me within the world, I live in. If I can live fully joyful, meaningful, alive life, when I’m alive and joyful people around me feel the impact of it. And if I could do just that as an ongoing practice, I think I’ve done incredibly well. I think I’m getting better at it.  Long way [00:22:30] to go. No question about that, but I’m getting significantly better at it. So that’s one word. The other is actually talking about this. I mean, why do people do new conversations? I hold a regular a Bhagavad Gita conversation. I coach lots and lots of people. So I’m taking this work out in the world, the physical world as well, so that people can access the wisdom that they have residing well within themselves.

Sue: [00:22:49] So it’s kind of like dropping a pebble in this pond. Do you get that ripple effect across the world and who knows what impact that’s having across the world?

Sameer: [00:22:58] You know, Sue I have this deep belief that I’m going to keep my space open for new possibilities to emerge. I’m going to keep doing my work. My job is to do my work. My job is to put fulfil my  life. My job is to take care of what I care about, not in a selfish manner, but to really fulfill my purpose. I have a deep, deep belief that in the process of doing that. I would shift the world.

Sue: [00:23:22] Well, that’s a wonderful image on which to leave us Sameer, the idea that working on yourself, that is enough and in doing so, that’s going to positively impact the world. If people want to find out more about you and this work that you’re doing, the insight that you’re gaining, how might they do that? On social?

Sameer: [00:23:39] I’m on Facebook. I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on Instagram, I’m on Twitter and they can also email me on sameerATsameerdua.com

Sue: [00:23:46] fantastic. And I know you’ve got a number of books. You’ve been talking about the one coming out next year. Tell us just very briefly about the books that you you have published.

Sameer: [00:23:53] My first book was Declaring Breakdowns and the second one was Become. Both these talk about conversational [00:24:00] practices and all my books are on conversational practices.

Sue: [00:24:04] Fantastic. Well, it’s been lovely to speak to you today. I’ve enjoyed our conversation for sure. I thank you for your your time.

Sameer: [00:24:11] Thank you once again for having me here.

Sue: [00:24:13] Thanks for listening today. Sameer Dua’s story, illustrated the importance of leading yourself and the wisdom that all of us have. If we are willing to embark on an inner journey to discover it next week, I will be speaking to Mariah Reading. An eco artist who uses trash recycled from the natural environment, such as hubcaps, water, bottles, and goggles, as her canvas to create her impressionist paintings. I hope you can join us then.