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7 Questions on Leadership with Waeza Masnoon

Name: Waeza Masnoon

Title: Executive Director

Organisation: Clifton Group of Companies

Hello I am Waeza Masnoon. Accomplished Co-Founder with a proven track record in the non-profit sector, as well as expertise in fashion and business management. A seasoned business executive director at Clifton Group of industries in the RMG sector specialist holding a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree with a focus on Biochemistry from McGill University. Also the executive director of Valancia’s Secret, a chain of Lingerie retail stores in Dhaka and Chittagong.

Currently in pursuit of professional development certification from the Harvard Division School of Continuing Education and Harvard Business School online, and concurrently engaged in executive distance learning for a professional certification in fashion business from Parsons School of Design at The New School in New York. Lions member and Member of Bangladesh Women investors network working with showcasing and mentoring young female entrepreneurs. Founded B.W.: Bold woman- a social venture with roots in kickstarting women led small businesses in Earthquake struck Nepal through micro finance.

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

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


Jonno White

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

My leadership journey has been marked by numerous challenges, with the unique complexity of being a woman in power in Bangladesh. Gender dynamics, stereotypes, and biases persist in many parts of the world, including Bangladesh, making it demanding to navigate societal expectations while striving to be an effective leader. Overcoming stereotypes and traditional gender roles is essential to inspire and empower other women and promote diversity and inclusion in the workforce.

As a female leader in this context, I serve as a role model and advocate for gender equality and women's empowerment. My role includes creating an environment where women can flourish, backing mentorship and leadership development programs, and actively championing diversity within the organization, especially in a place like Bangladesh.

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

My leadership journey commenced amidst the aftermath of the 2015 Nepal earthquake. As an AIESEC McGill intern, I embarked on a humanitarian mission to provide aid. Following our relief efforts, I took the initiative to lead breast cancer awareness sessions for remote Nepali villagers. Leveraging my biochemistry knowledge, I guided a team in educating women about the disease, self-diagnosis, and accessing medical resources.

Inspired by Nepal's resilient women, many of whom were family breadwinners, I launched a microfinance project akin to Muhammad Yunus' work. This project offered resources to women who had lost their livelihoods, enabling them to restart their businesses through a revolving fund system.

Subsequently, I transitioned into my family's business, the Clifton Group, commencing as an intern across various departments. These internships equipped me with comprehensive insights into the company's dynamics, from the ground up. Armed with this knowledge, I recognized systemic issues and inefficiencies, gradually assuming more significant leadership responsibilities. Ultimately, I ascended to the role of Executive Director.

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

My daily routine is a meticulously planned balance of personal well-being and professional duties as a leader of multiple businesses. Here's a breakdown of my day from dawn to dusk:

Morning Routine (7:00 AM - 9:00 AM): I rise at 7 AM to kickstart my day. Mornings are dedicated to a blend of physical activity and nature connection.

I engage in golf practice, an enjoyable sport and a crucial form of aerobic exercise for managing my PCOS. Following golf, I embark on a refreshing morning walk, often surrounded by the serenity of nature, harnessing its healing properties to rejuvenate and re-energize. I break my fast with a nourishing breakfast, the sole meal of the day, adhering to an intermittent fasting regimen and a low-carb diet tailored for my PCOS condition.

Morning Work at the Factory (11:00 AM - 12:00 PM): Around 11-12 PM, I visit one of our factories. This hands-on experience offers valuable insights into on-ground operations.

During this period, I lead meetings focused on worker safety, production procedures, sampling, buyer inquiries, and certification training. I'm an ardent advocate for improving conditions within our factories and motivating our workforce.

Head Office Work (12:30 PM - 3:00 PM): After my factory visit, I proceed to our head office. I kick off the afternoon by staying updated on the latest news, with a preference for the Business Standard in Bangladesh. Throughout the day, I participate in meetings with department heads from both the head office and factory levels, addressing issues and making decisions as an executive director. Strategic initiatives, such as enhancing worker safety and productivity, are a central part of my responsibilities.

Continued Learning (Late Afternoon): In the late afternoon, I dedicate time to my personal and professional growth. I delve into my studies for Harvard Business School courses and fashion programs from the Parsons School of Design in New York, all through executive learning.

Physical Fitness and Self-Care (Evening): Evenings are reserved for physical well-being. Typically, I hit the gym for a workout, occasionally incorporating swimming for a well-rounded exercise routine. Upon returning home, I prioritize self-care techniques. I unwind through various activities like soothing music, hypnotherapy, massages, skincare rituals, or watching my favorite TV shows.

Family and Spiritual Connection (Night): Before bedtime, I ensure to connect with my family, particularly my parents, and bid them goodnight. I conclude my day with a moment of spiritual reflection, engaging in my nightly prayers as a Muslim. I incorporate special prayers like Istekhara or Istigfar, enhancing my inner strength and resilience for both professional and personal life challenges and stronger faith in decision making..

While I adhere to this structured daily regimen as closely as possible, I also value flexibility, as it's a pivotal component of my life as a leader overseeing multiple businesses.

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

A recent leadership lesson I've relearned underscores the vital role of managing my attention and time effectively, even as I develop multitasking skills. In our fast-paced world, the allure of multitasking can lead to overextension, jeopardizing deep focus and impactful work. My key takeaways include:

Saying No Assertively: Recognizing the brain's energy-saving tendencies, I've learned to assertively decline tasks, regaining control over my time and attention.

Effective Time Management: Efficiently managing time involves techniques like the Pomodoro method and prioritization, ensuring focused commitment to each task.

Comprehensive Problem Analysis: Leveraging my biochemistry background, I conduct thorough analyses, examining challenges from various angles to craft well-rounded solutions.

Self-Care and Stress Management: In today's information-laden, multitasking environment, self-care and stress reduction have become essential for maintaining effective leadership while juggling multiple tasks.

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 48 Laws of Power" by Robert Greene is a comprehensive guide that delves into the intricate web of power dynamics, offering insights and strategies for those navigating the often challenging landscape of influence and control. While the book doesn't specifically address the unique challenges faced by women in patriarchal societies like Bangladesh, it provides a set of universal principles that can empower individuals to navigate these complex power structures.

For women in such societies, the book can be a valuable resource. It offers a strategic framework to understand the dynamics of power, uncover hidden agendas, and wield influence effectively. While it does not shy away from the darker aspects of power, "The 48 Laws of Power" serves as a cautionary guide, enabling individuals to recognize manipulative tactics and protect themselves from exploitation.

One of the key takeaways for women in patriarchal societies is to learn how to observe and adapt to their environment, understanding when to assert themselves and when to exercise caution. By being strategic and resilient, they can begin to shift the power balance and advocate for gender equality.

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

My top advice for young leaders: Adopt a growth mindset. This mindset asserts that abilities and intelligence can evolve through dedication, hard work, and learning. For emerging leaders, this outlook holds transformative potential:

Continuous Learning: A growth mindset reframes challenges and failures as opportunities for growth. It prompts you to embrace difficult situations as chances to learn, improve, and hone your skills.

Resilience: Faced with setbacks or obstacles, a growth mindset fuels your determination. It makes you view setbacks as temporary hurdles and motivates you to persist.

Adaptability: This mindset enables you to navigate new situations, technologies, and opportunities. You remain open to change and innovation.

Empowerment: With a growth mindset, you recognize that your abilities aren't fixed; you possess the power to enhance them. This realization bolsters your confidence and leadership effectiveness.

Inspiration for Others: Your attitude and beliefs, as a young leader, can inspire your team and peers. When they witness your commitment to growth, they're more likely to follow suit, fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

Long-Term Success: Leaders committed to perpetual learning and adaptability often achieve enduring success. They remain relevant, surmount challenges, and adeptly lead their teams through various scenarios.

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

Reflecting on my journey as a leader, one impactful story exemplifies the enduring challenges women face in leadership roles, especially within patriarchal and conservative societies. This narrative underscores the persisting gender disparities even in seemingly progressive communities.

Early in my career, I arranged a crucial meeting with my executives in Bangladesh, marking a pivotal moment in my journey. As I approached the boardroom, I overheard male colleagues engaging in disparaging conversations about my attire and my gender.

They questioned the need to wait for a female senior executive, referring to me as "madam," with negative mocking undertones and expressing irritation at the perceived delay. This encounter served as a stark reminder of the deeply entrenched gender bias and stereotypes, not limited to Bangladesh but prevalent worldwide.

In response, I chose a subtle yet assertive approach during the meeting. I showcased my problem-solving prowess, analytical abilities, and the inherent value I brought as a leader. I conveyed that gender should not constrain one's capacity to contribute effectively to the organization.

This experience transformed the executives' perspective, fostering newfound respect for my abilities and reiterating the importance of ongoing efforts to dismantle gender barriers. It emphasizes the need to empower women and foster an equitable society where worth and opportunities are not determined by gender.

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