Name: Asif Uddin Ahmed
Title: Assistant Professor and Director of Graduate Business School
Organisation: University of Liberal Arts bangladesh
I am in the business of creating compelling stories. As a teacher, I must understand how stories affect students, especially why one story grabs them and another doesn’t. I use storytelling as an international development expert or organizational leader or entrepreneur. As a fundraiser for international development groups, I tell a story about the subject that captivates donors. As a line manager, I may urge the team to work hard by telling a story about how short-term sacrifice leads to long-term success. As CEO, I use an emotional tale about the organization’s goal to recruit investors and partners, set aggressive goals, and encourage workers. I’ve learned about story craft from lifelong development workers, smart academics, and maverick entrepreneurs. However, I’ve failed personally and professionally, yet success eludes me. I’ve learned how to use a story’s power via experience. I want to utilize a good story to win a hopeless situation. I believe narratives can turn ambitions into goals and results.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Asif's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
Keeping a sense of community and encouraging acceptance are more important than ever in this age of remote employment and internet contact. Despite my training as a development expert and my desire to learn from the mistakes of others, I found it difficult to establish forums for free discussion and the sharing of ideas. Empathetic leadership and dedication to elevating underrepresented voices are essential to creating a space that is more than the sum of its parts. It has been difficult to form a team that places people and compassion for them at the center of its operations.
My greatest strength has been my intrinsic motivation to make new contributions and improve existing ones. However, rapid innovation based on hard data can be unsettling for the team. Without support from influential people, new ideas may not benefit the company. The second most difficult thing for me has been putting my energy and enthusiasm into this goal, which is to establish a culture of experimentation and constant progress.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Leadership is seen in a very narrow way in the center of Bangladesh, where education, development, and business all meet. Even though I've worked in international development for 20 years and have worked all over the world, I would never call myself a leader. My business and personal lives are a symphony of different experiences, each one painted with the bright colors of a story. My story of leadership has been a journey that has changed me. My mistakes and successes make up the warp and weft of a story that ties leadership and storytelling together into an unstoppable force.
I set out on an unusual journey through foreign development, business, and academia. Working in some of the most difficult places in the world, where there is poverty, hunger, war, and climate change, has given me a lot of experience that I try to use to connect with people and give them a sense of purpose. I do this by weaving together threads of meaning that go beyond borders and spark people's imaginations.
I paint images of strength, courage, and hope in my personal and professional lives, and I encourage people to work together to make big changes. Each story I made told a story of effect that could move even the most reluctant hearts to act.
But defeat was also a part of the tapestry of successes. I had many personal and business setbacks, so I knew how painful they could be. But I didn't let these times hold me back. Instead, I used them to help me grow, and each loss taught me something that made me more determined. Because of these lessons, I learned the alchemical power of storytelling, which can turn hopelessness into drive and turn an average person into a leader.
I keep telling stories about my successes, my mistakes, and my firm belief that a single story can change the world. It had a huge effect.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Even though I had to take on organization and responsibilities in my mid-20s, I have to say that my path to leadership and growth has not been very well planned. So are not my days. But as I get closer to my 50th birthday, I've begun to understand that "life loves the liver of it." I think it's very important to be in love with life. I've met people in their 70s and 80s who love life so much that you wouldn't know how old they are by looking at them. Life is valuable and hard to hold on to. As soon as we think we "understand," another mystery pops up. I suddenly realize that I don't understand anything. However, that has been the only way to understand anything. Growing up with South Asian parents, life has always been a race and a quest to reach the next milestone, without stopping to celebrate the last one. But the pandemic made a big difference in my life. It taught me how important it is to love myself and think about myself. It has also taught me that I need to do nothing sometimes in order to get things done other times. So I don't have a set schedule, but my days are built around certain things. Now, my days are filled with time to learn, think, love, heal, and be creative, whether it's through music, drawing, or calligraphy. I don't do them in a certain order or give each one a certain amount of time, but I make sure that every day has a little bit of all five things.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
I've recently learned to accept and be okay with my vulnerabilities. I've found that being vulnerable is the only way I can understand other people, get rid of the stress I put on myself, and have a good talk with my team. Vulnerability made it easier for me to connect with people in a real way, and I was able to form stronger bonds with them by being open about my problems and worries. This helped build trust and unity in my teams. By being open to being vulnerable, I've accepted that we all have the same human experiences. This has helped me better care for the mental well-being of my team in a world with a lot of uncertainty. In the end, being vulnerable led to open communication and a culture of learning and growing all the time. This allowed me to make good choices by drawing on different points of view. In a time when uncertainty is the norm, my ability to be vulnerable helps me build confidence, empathy, and adaptability, which are all important skills for navigating the complex world after a pandemic. Being able to say "I don't know but we are in this together" has done miracles for me.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I was most influenced by "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle. The book holds invaluable potential for enriching your leadership journey. Its emphasis on present-moment awareness aligns seamlessly with my storytelling approach, enabling me to connect deeply with my team and understand their needs. Tolle's insights into emotional intelligence offer a framework for empathetic leadership, enhancing my ability to navigate emotions adeptly and foster authentic relationships. By integrating moments of stillness and mindfulness, I can cultivate a centered leadership style that responds thoughtfully to challenges, promoting better decision-making. Tolle's teachings on embracing change and overcoming obstacles resonate with my pursuit of innovation and value creation, empowering me to guide my team through uncertainty. Moreover, his principles of mindful communication strengthen my narratives, ensuring my messages resonate profoundly and convey my vision effectively. The book's guidance on maintaining a healthy balance between my leadership role and inner identity aligns with my aspiration for authenticity. Overall, the wisdom of "The Power of Now" equips me to lead with mindfulness, empathy, and authenticity, navigating the complexities of the post-pandemic world while continuing to inspire through the art of storytelling.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
If I could only suggest one thing to young leaders, it would be to have integrity in both their personal and professional lives. This is because personal and professional integrity is so important to a leader's effectiveness and reputation. Integrity is the foundation of trust, which makes leaders and their teams more credible and helps them talk to each other openly. It helps leaders make choices that are in line with moral values and the good of society as a whole. Having integrity protects a leader's reputation, making sure it doesn't get ruined even when things get hard. This helps them find chances that fit with their values. Integrity also fosters real leadership, which makes teams feel more connected and involved. It gives leaders the tools they need to handle issues in a fair and honest way, which sets an example for ethical behavior. By putting integrity first, young leaders become role models and encourage their peers and followers to adopt similar ideals. Integrity works as a moral compass in the modern business world, guiding leaders through uncertainty and moral dilemmas. In the end, integrity is the basis for trust, ethical leadership, long-term success, and a positive organizational culture. This means that young leaders can make a lasting effect that goes beyond their immediate roles.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
During the Nepal earthquake in April 2015, I was stuck on top of a mountain for five nights. I had a group of 18 people from a foreign development organization do a team-building activity with me. The earthquake happened as we were walking to the river to start our whitewater rafting practice. I have been through natural disasters, and I have helped rescue people from some of the worst floods and hurricanes in South Asia. But I had never felt the ground shake before. The epicenter of the second aftershock happened the next day, only 15 kilometers from the mountain where we took cover. I saw how quickly death and damage could happen. The helicopter finally showed up on the second day, and it could only take six people. I had to choose who could go with the first group and who had to wait. But there was an emergency, and the chopper couldn't come back for five days. Taking care of the team members who were hurt, making friends with the villagers who lived on top of the mountain for a meal once a day, keeping everyone's spirits up, and doing all of this while dealing with my depression was a task I had never faced before. Those five days changed everything about my life. I learned a lot more about life and death than I had before. I learned that in life, we often fall in love with a time we might never see. I learned how to set priorities and that if we were going to be leaders, we had to be the last ones saved.