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7 Questions on Leadership with Mrs Usha Iyer

Name: Mrs Usha Iyer

Title: Principal and director

Organisation: The Green School Bangalore

Ms. Usha Iyer is an experienced educator with over 39 years of experience in the area. She previously led India International School, a day and boarding school in Bangalore that is currently ranked among the finest residential institutions in the country, for ten years.Her curriculum comprises ICSE and ISC, CBSE, IBO Accredited programmes- PYP and IB-DP, Cambridge Accredited programmes- IGCSE, AS and A-Levels. Her energetic leadership has enabled a lot of CBSE, ICSE, and IGCSE schools across the country to include a healthy teaching-learning environment and has been helpful in bringing in novel practises. She has a broad academic background spanning over two decades.

She is the founder and director of The Bangalore School, which was founded in 2012 with the goal of delivering high-quality pre-school education and modern facilities at an affordable price. TBS is one of the top 10 preschools in Bangalore, Karnataka, and India because of its unique curriculum and philosophy. She embarked on the journey of creating a Green school on par with UNESCO 2030 goals and currently heads as a founder-director for the elementary school, under the name The Green School Bangalore (TGSB), in the heart of Whitefield, which is structured completely around the green school ideology and caters to K-12 education. The Green School Bangalore, Kotur has been ranked No.3 in India and No.1 in Bangalore and Karnataka among the most devoted UNESCO SDG environment-friendly schools by the Education global grand jury rankings 2019-20, as well as "The Pro-planet School award 2019," by the Constitution Club of India, New Delhi. Awards and Accolades:

• Bestwoed with life time achievement award by Manipal Educational Global Alliance 2022

• Planet for her award received from Green school conference, New York 2021 for achieving environmental integrity with gender equality.

• Awarded as most compassionate leader 2022 by Brainstorm International

• She has been awarded by DK Education as “Outstanding Educational Leader 2021”.

• In her pursuit of excellence, she was invited for a 2 week trip to Canada in 2011 by the Canadian High Commission to visit Eight Canadian Universities which has brought in ideas and practices that have enriched the institution profoundly.

• Bestowed the Vikas Ratna Shiromani Award in the year 2004 for her contribution to the field of education.

• Felicitated by the Garden City College as the Women Entrepreneur in the field of Education in the year 2010.

• She has received leadership awards from Education Today and Dewang Mehta for her Educational brands.

• She was recognized by the ICSE council at Delhi and was chosen to be an inspector for affiliating ICSE schools in 2012.

• She has been felicitated twice from the British Council.

• Felicitated by Dayanand Sagar university for her ongoing commitment & achievements in the field of education

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Usha's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Over the past five years, leading the Green School Bangalore has presented numerous challenges that have tested my leadership skills to the fullest extent. One of the most significant hurdles has been navigating through a rapidly changing educational landscape. As societal expectations and technological advancements continue to shape the way we teach and learn, adapting our curriculum and pedagogical approaches has been crucial. Incorporating sustainable practices into the school's infrastructure and creating a curriculum that promotes environmental consciousness have been wonderful initiatives, but they have required extensive research, planning, and coordination.

Another challenge has been managing a diverse team of educators with varying backgrounds, experiences, and teaching styles. Ensuring that the faculty remains aligned with the school's vision, while also allowing room for their creativity and individuality, has required effective communication and fostering a positive work environment. Additionally, empowering the teaching staff to embrace and implement innovative teaching methods has been an ongoing effort that has required constant professional development workshops and training sessions.

Another critical aspect of my role has been building strong relationships with parents and stakeholders. Ensuring regular communication with parents, addressing their concerns, and involving them in the school's decision-making process has been vital for maintaining a sense of trust and transparency. Balancing the expectations of parents with the school's objectives and resources has often required delicate negotiations and compromise.

Leading the Green School Bangalore has indeed been challenging, but immensely rewarding. Despite the obstacles posed by an ever-changing educational landscape, managing a diverse team, and building strong parent relationships, the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of our students and the environment has been unparalleled. I look forward to continuing to tackle these challenges head-on and to fostering an environment of sustainability and excellence at the Green School Bangalore. We have won several accolades and awards from UNGA and we keep benchmarking with our own standards

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

My journey towards becoming a leader can be traced back to the start of my career at the age of 19. Passionate about teaching, I approached my profession with a deep understanding that to truly make an impact, one must not only possess knowledge but also a genuine care for their subject and the students. This mindset allowed me to excel and constantly seek out new challenges.

One significant turning point in my career was my relocation from Bangalore to Jeddah. Working in an international environment exposed me to a multi-cultural setting, teaching me invaluable skills in handling children and peers from various backgrounds. This experience broadened my horizons and provided me with a global edge, leading to opportunities such as representing Jeddah in Gulf country workshops held in Bahrain and Dubai.

The pinnacle of my leadership journey came in 1997 when i was chosen to head a Nigerian school. This role presented me with an extraordinary chance to make a lasting impact on an educational institution. From that point forward, I consistently found myself in leadership positions, showcasing my capabilities as a leader.

Upon returning to India, I was called upon to head an international school, further solidifying my status as a leader in the education sector. Notably, my vast experience and expertise in the field resulted in me being sought after as a consultant for several schools. This recognition elevated me to platforms such as panel discussions and round tables, where my suggestions and advice are highly valued.

Despite my numerous accomplishments, I am always humble and I acknowledges that there is still much work to be done. Winning an award at the United Nations General Assembly and receiving accolades are gratifying, yet they serve as reminders that my journey is far from over. With 39 years of experience under my belt, I continues to strive for excellence and aim to contribute even more to the field of education.

My path to becoming a leader in the education sector was driven by my passion for teaching and my willingness to embrace challenges. Through my experiences in various international settings, I acquired the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in a multi-cultural environment. My journey has been marked by significant leadership positions, and my accomplishments have earned me respect and recognition. Yet I remains dedicated to furthering my impact and leaving a lasting legacy in the field of education.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

In structuring my work days, I adopt a routine that allows me to start the day fresh and rejuvenated. I believe in the power of a healthy mind and body, so I kickstart my mornings with an early rise and indulge in yoga and meditation. This practice helps me center myself, maintain focus, and promote overall well-being.

After my morning rituals, the next step is to plan my tasks for the day. I analyze my calendars and appointments, ensuring that I have a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished. I prioritize my responsibilities and make a to-do list, which acts as a guide throughout the day.

Following this, I dedicate some time to make follow-up calls and fix any appointments or meetings that require attention. This initial investment in communication ensures a smooth flow of communication for the rest of the day. I believe in the importance of timely responses and effective communication, as it aids in maintaining professional relationships.

Breakfast is always a significant part of my routine, as I believe in starting the day with a nutritious and elaborate meal. I ensure that my subsequent meals are smaller and taken at regular intervals to maintain energy levels throughout the day. However, despite a busy schedule, I make a conscious effort to allocate time for my family. I value their presence and understand the significance of creating memories and spending quality time with loved ones.

While I try my best to utilize every hour of the day productively, unexpected meetings or tasks may encroach on my planned schedule. In such cases, I remain flexible and strive to attend important matters promptly. There are times when I also find myself attending to minor details, but my intervention in such situations ensures that everything runs smoothly.

Even amidst a busy work routine, I make time for personal activities, such as exercise and meeting friends. I believe that a well-rounded life includes social interactions and personal fulfillment. By incorporating such activities into my daily routine, I avoid monotony and keep my days exciting.

My work days are structured and organized to optimize productivity and personal fulfillment. Through a combination of morning rituals, meticulous planning, effective communication, and personal time management, I strive to make the most of each day. Although unexpected events may arise, I adapt and ensure that all essential tasks are attended to. By maintaining a balance between work and personal life, I can enjoy what I do and find fulfillment in all aspects of my day.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

Leadership is often associated with the ability to inspire, motivate, and guide others towards a common goal. However, recent experiences have reminded me that trust and financial management play integral roles in effective leadership as well.

Throughout my career, I have prided myself on being a perceptive judge of character and the intentions of those around me. This skill has enabled me to build strong relationships and effectively handle people. Unfortunately, I have also experienced instances where the leaders I trusted let me down. Rediscovering the significance of trust in leadership has been an eye-opening lesson.

Trusting our leaders is essential for fostering a healthy work environment and encouraging productivity. When leaders fail to live up to our expectations, it not only damages our perception of their character but also challenges our own ability to lead with confidence. This realization has taught me to be cautious in selecting trustworthy individuals for leadership positions. Leaders who possess integrity, transparency, and a consistent track record of reliability can instill confidence within their teams, enhancing overall performance and cohesiveness.

Furthermore, effective leadership extends beyond interpersonal skills and requires financial acumen. While I have excelled in strategic planning and execution, I have recognized my need for improvement in financial management. Successfully managing finances is crucial for organizational stability, growth, and successful achievement of goals. Understanding budgeting, cash flow analysis, and financial forecasting are pivotal skills that enable leaders to make informed decisions and allocate resources optimally.

So recent experiences have led me to appreciate the value of trust in leadership and the significance of financial management. Choosing leaders who can be trusted and exhibit consistent integrity is vital for fostering a positive work environment and enhancing team morale. Moreover, actively developing financial management skills is crucial for effective decision-making and resource allocation. Leadership is an ongoing journey of learning and self-improvement, and these insights have underscored the importance of continually seeking growth opportunities across all facets of leadership.

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?

The book that has had a profound impact on my leadership is the ancient Indian epic, Mahabharata. This masterpiece of literature carries immense significance, especially its depiction of administration, which deeply resonates with my own approach to leadership.

The Mahabharata is not just a tale of conflict and heroism; it also offers profound insights into various leadership styles and the consequences of their decisions. The epic revolves around the struggle for power between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, two royal families belonging to different lineages. Throughout the story, the administrative capabilities of each leader are extensively explored.

One character that particularly captivated me was Lord Krishna, who served as an advisor and mentor to the Pandavas. His strategic guidance, unwavering support, and ability to rally everyone behind a common cause showcased the qualities of an exceptional leader. Krishna's administrative acumen was evident through his diplomacy, intricate planning, and ability to inspire and motivate others. Moreover, his emphasis on righteousness and justice, even in the midst of chaos, left a lasting impression on me.

The character of Krishna imparted valuable lessons that have shaped my leadership journey. I have learned the importance of strategic planning, effective communication, and the ability to make sound decisions under pressure. Moreover, Krishna's approach to leadership emphasizes the significance of integrity, humility, and the pursuit of moral values. These qualities have been instrumental in guiding me through challenging situations and inspiring my team to achieve shared goals.

The profound impact of the Mahabharata on my leadership cannot be overstated. This epic tale has taught me invaluable lessons in administrative skills, ethical decision-making, and the art of motivating others. As I continue to lead, I strive to embrace the qualities exemplified by Lord Krishna in order to foster a harmonious and effective environment, ensuring the success and growth of my team.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

If I were to give only one piece of advice to a young leader, it would be to embody the virtues of the legendary characters from the Mahabharata. First and foremost, I would emphasize the importance of possessing the wisdom and honesty of Yudhisthira. A leader must be wise in their decisions, considering the long-term consequences and ethical implications. Honesty is the foundation of trust, essential for rallying a team towards a shared vision.

Furthermore, a young leader should nurture the strength and resilience of Bhima. Challenges and obstacles are bound to arise, and it is through one's inner strength that they can overcome adversity. Bhima serves as a reminder that physical and mental strength must both be cultivated.

Arjuna's focus and dedication are qualities that every young leader should strive for. By having a clear vision and being focused on achieving it, a leader can guide their team effectively towards success.

Compassion and empathy are equally crucial traits for a young leader to possess, much like Nakul and Sahadeva. A leader should not only prioritize their own growth but should also be concerned about the growth and well-being of their team members. Compassionate leadership fosters a positive and supportive environment, enabling the team to reach their full potential.

However, being a leader goes beyond just possessing individual qualities. It is about leading by example, acknowledging the efforts of the team, and giving credit where it is due. A young leader should understand that success is a collective accomplishment, and humility in giving credit to the team is crucial.

Lastly, it is important to teach young leaders that failure is not a sign of weakness, but a stepping stone towards success. Encourage them to learn from their mistakes and failures, fostering a growth mindset that embraces challenges and embraces continuous improvement.

If I had to provide just one piece of advice to a young leader, it would be to embrace the wisdom and honesty of Yudhisthira, the strength of Bhima, the focus of Arjuna, and the compassion and growth mindset of Nakul and Sahadeva. By embodying these qualities and principles, a young leader can pave the way for a successful and inspiring leadership journey.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

One meaningful story that comes to mind from my time as a leader is the tale my mother shared with me about a little monkey who achieved great success despite being deaf. This story holds a valuable lesson about perseverance and resilience in the face of adversity.

The monkey in the story faced numerous challenges, as people constantly doubted its abilities and claimed it could never reach the top. However, the monkey never let these negative remarks deter its ambition. Instead of turning a deaf ear to the naysayers, it focused on its goals and worked diligently to achieve them.

This story serves as a reminder that leaders must possess the strength to resist negativity and not let others determine their worth. Leadership is not solely about acquiring skills or attending training sessions; it is about harnessing one's life experiences and embracing unique paths that others may not dare to tread. Leaders are forged through the trials and tribulations they encounter, and their strength is built on the ability to confront challenges head-on.

In my own journey as a leader, I have often encountered skepticism and faced criticism from those who doubted my capabilities. However, this story serves as a powerful reminder to remain steadfast and determined, even in the face of adversity. It reinforces the importance of perseverance and the belief in oneself, regardless of the opinions of others.

As leaders, we must learn from life itself, as it provides valuable lessons that cannot be taught in a classroom. It is through our life experiences and the obstacles we overcome that we gain the wisdom necessary to guide and inspire others. By choosing the road less traveled, we demonstrate the courage and resilience needed to overcome challenges and lead others towards success.

This story of the deaf monkey which I was talking about can serve as a powerful reminder that leaders must remain undeterred by negativity and criticism. Leadership is not solely about acquiring knowledge, but about embracing the lessons life presents and choosing to rise above adversity. By drawing inspiration from this story, leaders can cultivate perseverance, resilience, and a steadfast belief in their own abilities.

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