Resilience and kindness

4 minute read
Hira in Oxford

Almost two years ago, I entered Saïd Business School to learn business (at least that’s what I thought I was going to do), but leaving this place learning far more than business. I learnt the power of the tribe, the value that diverse perspectives bring to the table, and leadership through resilience in extraordinary times.

The past two years have shown the world how the definition of leaders has evolved and the key strength defining a good leader is displaying resilience at a time when everything else is crumbling.

I wish I could say that the Oxford experience is about frameworks, academics, or financials; but it is much deeper than that. The Oxford experience is everything that happens during the class but more so after the classes. It’s the bunch of brilliant, empathetic, and resilient leaders telling their stories, inspiration that is found in every nook and corner of the place, and the transformative self-reflection that ignites a purpose. It’s also the lifelong friendships in the form of a nudge, a phone call and a check-in to ask if you’re doing okay, from all parts of the world spanning all time zones.

When I undertook this journey, I had no idea what I was signing up for. I had a full-time job and an overwhelming amount of knowledge and learning coming my way through the Executive MBA journey when the world got hit by the global pandemic. This was paralysing initially. 

But we navigated through the swampy waters (as they call it in the leadership terms), excruciatingly lengthy Excel sheets, work meetings and classes clashing, travel bans, Covid-19 tests, all-nighters to not miss the submission deadline, falling sick but still showing up, receiving sad and shocking phone calls from back home about unwell loved ones just before entering the class, and dealing with the grief of losing a loved one but still pushing through. Going through all of this and still not giving up and yet, along the way, pushing others to not quit, to take one more step, to just breathe. Isn’t that what leaders are made of?

But going through all of this, I knew I wasn’t alone. I had a whole tribe of people going through the same or even harder times and yet they were there helping me figure out how total factor productivity affects the GDP. Friends who were concerned and told me they would wait for me in the meeting room so that I could eat for my Iftar after an 18-hour long fast.

Being resilient in the face of tough times and yet bringing your kind, nurturer self out for others is the trait we require more in global leaders and that’s what I learnt from all of the colleagues around me. They were exceptional leaders, and I learnt every day from them with every interaction (the kind of learning that is addictive). So, next time anyone asks me about my leadership experience, I have plenty to share from my two years in Oxford.

I came to Oxford to learn business, but I will be leaving this place learning about life, leadership, purpose, a heart full of gratitude, 74 or more friends, and a home in almost every country. I guess we got a deal there, so much more than we asked for!

Nothing sums up the entire journey and the journeys to follow more than this which was narrated to us in the class lately:

You Guys…

This is your time
For frosty mornings in towns you will never know,
For resentful receptionists and chirpy secretaries,
For flipcharts and outcomes, for plans and reports,
For too much coffee and too many words.
This is your time.
This is your time
For dressing in the dark and cars to the airport,
For planes and trains and railway stations,
For loneliness, for grief, for embracing doubt,
For keeping hard secrets in the face of love.
This is your time.

This is your time
For being what your people need you to be,
For managing fear while showing calm,
For being their mother, for being their father,
For holding the line, or the hope, or the dream.
This is your time.
This is your time
For standing to be counted, for being yourself,
For becoming the sum and total of your life,
For finding courage, for finding your voice,
For leading, because you are needed now.
This is your time.
Poem by William Ayot