Name: Asif Uddin Ahmed
Title: Assistant Professor and Director of Graduate Business Program
Organisation: University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh
I'm in the business of telling interesting stories. I recognize the value of narrative in my dual roles as a leader and entrepreneur. As a fundraiser for overseas development, I use compelling stories to persuade donors. As a line manager, I inspire teams by telling stories of sacrifice and perseverance. And, as CEO, I use emotional stories about our organization's objective to motivate people, find partners, and set high standards.
I am a storyteller with a purpose as the director of the graduate business program and an assistant professor at the University of Liberal Arts in Bangladesh's School of Business. My academic experience has turned me into a skilled storyteller, with postgraduate degrees from Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government. I have experience working with global financial institutions, cultural diplomacy centers, multinational corporations' CSR programs, and international development organizations.
As I approach my 50th birthday, I find myself at a crossroads. Over the last three decades, I've worn numerous hats, including academic, international development specialist, and entrepreneur. Recent global crises have highlighted my vulnerabilities, anxieties, and limitations. This has taken me on a self-discovery path in which I monitor society, comprehend generational patterns, and bridge gaps with the younger generation.
My current focus is on bridging generational gaps, fostering understanding, and pushing for collaboration. I want to be a guidepost for new professionals traversing uncertain area by demonstrating honesty, kindness, and respect for diversity. As I reflect on my failures and successes, I believe in the transformational power of storytelling. My objective is
straightforward: to turn challenges into victories by telling compelling stories that transform our dreams into verifiable goals and achievements.
Join me on this voyage of reinvention, as stories become threads in the fabric of a brighter tomorrow.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
We’ve gone through the interviews and asked the best of the best to come back and answer 7 MORE Questions on Leadership.
I hope Asif's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. As a leader, how do you build trust with employees, customers and other stakeholders?
Building trust is at the heart of successful leadership in this dynamic post-pandemic environment. Through years of various encounters, I've learned that trust is no longer a static concept—it's a dynamic, breathing organism that requires nuanced attention.
I believe that the road to building trust begins with self-awareness. I am aware of the significant impact my actions have on the trust that others place in me. Opening up to vulnerability has transformed my leadership approach, allowing for meaningful connections that extend beyond the professional realm. During the CVOID 19 pandemic, being able to tell my stakeholders that, like them, I didn't know what the new reality was or what the future held for us, but that whatever the future held, we'd be together to find our way helped me develop trust more than anything else.
Integrity and transparency are guiding lights for me, not merely principles. They serve as the foundation for dependability and ethical behavior, instilling trust in both my team and the stakeholders we serve. Regular communication, along with steadfast consistency, provides reassurance to people who rely on our leadership.
Adapting to the changing dynamics of trust is a continual effort in the complicated dance of leadership. It is about building ties within our organization and spreading that attitude into the community. This perspective, shaped by my experiences in academia, international development, and entrepreneurship, emphasizes the critical importance of trust when crossing new territory.
As we collectively rethink what trust means in this new century, I am dedicated to not only learning but also embodying its intricacies. To me, trust is the foundation upon which we build stories of success and perseverance.
2. What do 'VISION' and 'MISSION' mean to you? And what does it actually look like to use them in real-world business?
A vision, to me, is like a lighthouse on the horizon, a long-term beacon that leads our collective journey. It is aspiration, the North Star, that guides us to a common goal. A mission, on the other hand, is the tangible plan, the actionable activities and methods that bring that vision to reality. It's the how and why, the road map that turns fantasies into realities.
The traditional concepts of vision and mission have evolved as I traversed the different landscapes of academia, international development, and entrepreneurship. Leaders have the task of crafting a consistent narrative amidst the multiplicity of different missions in a world where interconnection is the norm.
A unified vision—a shared understanding that crosses borders, sectors, and disciplines—has never been more important. The beauty as well as the challenge, however, are found in the kaleidoscope of different missions that have bloomed across diverse fields, owing mostly to rapid technological innovation, access to information, and individual empowerment. We need to act as orchestrators, harmonizing these disparate voices into a symphony of purpose and direction.
It's a delicate dance that requires us to strike a balance between the general and the personal. The art of leadership in this period will be defined by providing guidance, motivating devotion, and constructing a narrative that combines these multiple objectives while guiding toward a bigger communal purpose.
In the real-world corporate landscape, vision and mission are living creatures that adapt to the changing needs of the global community. Leaders must acknowledge this flexibility, appreciating the diversity of missions while remaining focused on the one vision that pulls us all towards a future of shared prosperity.
3. How can a leader empower the people they're leading?
In my extensive journey through academia, international development, and entrepreneurship, I've learned that true leadership is a path of empowerment—a journey that goes beyond simply distributing responsibilities to establishing an environment in which individuals may thrive.
Recognizing and cultivating unique purpose is the first step in empowering people. I've seen the transforming power of linking personal goals with business objectives. It's about developing a symbiotic relationship in which each team member sees their individual contribution as essential to the overall purpose. This congruence not only motivates, but it also fosters a deep sense of participation.
In this ever-changing landscape, I've learnt that creating a secure environment for experimenting is critical. True progress occurs through the investigation of new ideas and the acceptance of failure as a stepping stone to success. This environment fosters not only invention but also confidence, allowing individuals to push their limits and attain their full potential.
Another pillar of empowerment is providing individuals with the necessary resources and information. I've witnessed firsthand the impact of knowledge access—it's the power that inspires creativity and problem-solving. As a leader, my duty extends beyond providing direction to ensuring that my team has the skills they need to successfully manage problems.
With time, integrity and sincerity are non-negotiables in my leadership philosophy. Leading by example, being open, and adhering to ethical norms all contribute to a culture of trust and mental well-being among team members. It is not only about the work; it is also about establishing an environment in which people feel seen, heard, and respected.
Understanding and accepting generational differences is essential in today's varied workplace. Embracing inclusion becomes a guiding factor in adjusting leadership methods. Empowering people means recognizing the value of variety and ensuring that every voice is not only heard but also celebrated.
Empowerment is, in essence, a multidimensional approach. It is about leading people on a path of self-discovery, offering constant support for their growth, and instilling a sense of purpose that amplifies their contributions to the collective mission. I've seen not just empowered individuals but a truly empowered, high-achieving team as a result of these ideas.
4. Who are some of the coaches or mentors in your life who have had a positive influence on your leadership? Can you please tell a meaningful story about one of them?
I've had mentors and coaches from a variety of cultural backgrounds since I was a child. It may be difficult for everyone to recognize its significance. But, as I reflect on my upbringing in a modest middle-class household in Bangladesh, my exposure to westerners and people from other nations makes me fulfilled for the opportunity.
I've been lucky to have wonderful mentors that have had a tremendous impact on me throughout my life. To begin with, my grandmother taught in me from a young age the virtue of being composed under pressure, displaying unfailing grace even in the most trying circumstances. Her example has been a constant source of inspiration for me, influencing how I face challenging situations with calm and resilience.
Brother Ralph, the American administrator of my primary school, stood out as someone who instilled in me the value of having a global perspective and cultural sensitivity. During my internship at a USAID-funded international development project in Bangladesh, Tony Dalgleish, the organization's veteran marketer from the United States at the time, demonstrated how acknowledgment and a safe space to fail can help young professionals acquire confidence.
During my first multi-country leadership job, I met Alison Claire Burden, the gender advisor of one of the world's largest international non-governmental organizations. However, her two-week training and follow-up mentorship were critical in fostering gender sensitivity in me and breaking down patriarchal mindset barriers. Her counsel opened my eyes to fresh viewpoints and gave me the confidence to question long-held assumptions.
And my current supervisor, Professor Imran Rahman, who was my direct faculty during my undergraduate days, teaching me corporate finance, continues to lead by example, teaching me to be humane in all interactions and the importance of prioritizing personal integrity as the cornerstone for navigating the complexities of a post-pandemic world.
It will always be tough to choose just one anecdote, but if I must, I will always tell about Tony Dalgleish's risk in sending me to lead the first trade delegation team from Bangladesh to South Africa during the post-apartheid era. I was a recent graduate who had just finished his internship at the time, but Tony saw potential in me.
I witnessed how far he went to persuade the international donor organization, their implementing agency, and the local business community that creating that opportunity for me was the correct thing to do. He provided me the confidence to step outside of my comfort zone, as well as the room to fail. We conducted one of the most successful trade visits to South Africa, and over the next five years, I led over 20 Bangladesh commercial delegations to seven different nations.
5. Leadership is often more about what you DON'T do. How do you maintain focus in your role?
I'm not sure how great a battle this is for others, but it's been the most difficult challenge in the post-pandemic world for me. I've struggled with this because of technology improvements, my desire for creativity, and diversions caused by my own sensitivity. For me, this has been a work in progress, and I need to be honest about it. Maintaining concentration is critical in my current work as the director of the graduate business program and an assistant professor at the University of Liberal Arts, given my varied responsibilities. I've realized that effective leadership frequently entails the skill of discernment—knowing not just what to do but, more significantly, what not to do.
Strategic delegation is one of the important tactics I use to stay focused. Recognizing my team's abilities and knowledge enables me to efficiently distribute duties. Delegating duties empowers my colleagues and students, fosters a sense of ownership and accountability, and frees up my time to focus on higher-level strategic projects. However, I must also admit that I have found it easier said than done.
Furthermore, in a fast-paced academic setting, it is critical to resist the desire to micromanage. I empower my team to flourish in their areas of expertise by cultivating a culture of trust and autonomy, freeing up mental bandwidth to focus on overarching goals and creative projects.
Another thing I try to avoid is the temptation of overcommitting. As a leader, you must be aware of your time and resource constraints. I prioritize assignments that connect with the graduate business program's general aims and contribute significantly to our students' academic and professional growth.
Furthermore, maintaining focus necessitates the deliberate removal of distractions. It's easy to become overwhelmed by the nonstop flow of information in the digital age. I practice technology discipline by allocating specific hours for communication and information consumption. This helps me stay focused throughout important work hours.
Finally, effective leadership necessitates strategically expressing 'no'. While it's easy to jump at every opportunity, I've learned that focus necessitates discretion in choosing initiatives that are most closely aligned with our vision and long-term goals.
Keeping my focus in my role entails a delicate ballet of delegation, trust-building, strategic prioritization, disciplined technology use, and judicious decision-making. I generate the space and clarity needed to lead with goal and purpose by learning what not to do.
6. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Everyone plans differently. How do you plan for the week, month and years ahead in your role?
Throughout my career, I've realized that my approach to planning is essentially unique. Rather of using overly organized approaches, I rely on my innate ability to see the big picture and react dynamically to changing conditions. This has proven useful in handling complex circumstances fraught with uncertainty and volatility.
I've learnt that success is dependent on finding a careful balance between discovering and exploiting individual skills, fostering the well-being of my team, and leveraging networking opportunities to acquire insights about market developments and pinpoint prospective growth paths. Recognizing the importance of constant learning has also played an important role in influencing my development. By grasping development chances, I guarantee that I remain adaptable and prepared to navigate shifting conditions efficiently. By honing these abilities, I've been able to guide teams through difficult times while keeping alert to chances for innovation and growth.
Embracing this adaptable approach has given me a better understanding of how powerful planning can be when it takes into account the complexities of human potential, organizational health, and market factors. It's apparent that my willingness to customize my planning process has increased my agility and resilience as a leader while also opening up new paths to success.
7. What advice would you give to a young leader who is struggling to delegate effectively?
It is true that delegating tasks can be very hard for young leaders, especially when people on the team have different goals and ways of doing things. From my own experience, I've seen that the digital world has a lot of great benefits, but it hasn't always helped people learn important skills like how to listen and work with others. As a result, effective delegation requires more than just giving orders; it also requires leaders to have empathy and mindfulness skills. While young leaders may find a lot of useful information, let me share some of my own ideas about delegation.
Empathy is essential for effective delegating. Understanding each team member's individual talents, desires, and challenges serves as the foundation for allocating assignments that match with their abilities and personal goals. Young leaders may build an environment in which team members feel valued, acknowledged, and driven to do their best by demonstrating empathic leadership.
Mindfulness cultivation is also essential. Leaders may effectively convey expectations when they approach delegation with a clear and focused perspective. It entails not just being aware of the duties at hand, but also comprehending the broader consequences for team dynamics and individual development. Mindful leaders are competent at providing the appropriate assistance, ensuring that allocated tasks are not only performed but also contribute to team members' professional development.
Young leaders can negotiate the complexities of managing a diverse team in today's dynamic work environment by combining empathy and mindfulness. This method is about understanding the complexities of team dynamics, recognizing individual contributions, and creating an environment in which each team member feels noticed and appreciated.