Interview by Bhawna Rawat
Mr. Lyndon Rego is the Executive Director of Center for Leadership at African Leadership University. His interests are at the intersection of innovation, social change, and leadership development. He focuses on extending leadership development to new populations and through new platforms, business models, and partnerships. He has held various positions at the senior level in different organizations.
I can't claim it is the best industry to work in but it certainly is important work. My particular focus has been on "democratizing leadership development" or making it available to many more people in the world. When I started this work at the Center for Creative Leadership, we quickly realized that the best way to do this is by weaving it into the fabric of education so that every student develops these essential life and work skills alongside academic learning. Catching people early and providing it to all children is important. This kind of development can not only change our individual lives, but it can also create a better world, for when all of us grow our leadership abilities we can create better work and social outcomes. The future needs this.
Leadership to me is about connection and change. The connection part is being connected to oneself and others. The change part is about bringing new and better things to life, working collaboratively with others. In terms of leadership style, I focus first on purpose and our inner aspirations. Without a clear sense of purpose, we don't have a direction for our efforts. With a sense of purpose to guide us, we can focus on what matters most and effort becomes worthwhile and meaningful. The leaders who inspire me are the same people who inspire many people around the world -- Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Mother Theresa. They operated from a place of conscience and purpose to lead change. It wasn't about defeating adversaries but finding common cause. To cultivate this conscience and courage, they did a lot of inner work and reflection. I believe this is important to be an authentic leader.
The quality of education varies from institution to institution and what students learn is heavily influenced by the quality of teachers. That said, in the US, there tends to be a broader focus to include the arts and experiential methods that often enable deeper learning. Project-based learning is also helpful for learning to collaborate with others. At the African Leadership University, our vision is to reimagine education for what it needs to be for the future. The future calls for more us to get better at collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity, rather than the memorization of facts and figures.
I come back to the importance of knowing and living our purpose. When your actions are tied to purpose, you can feel motivated. It is internally grounded and not as much driven by external factors or setbacks. Indian wisdom teachings tell us to focus on our intentions and actions, not outcomes. If we are motivated by external success, then we tend to ride a roller coaster of highs and lows depending on whether things seem to be going well or not at the moment. To stay centered, we need to invest in daily centering, like a meditation practice. This helps us maintain our focus and balance as things change around us.
I would very much like to do more in the country of my birth. For a number of years, I have had a fruitful collaboration with the WeSchool that is also thinking more deeply about educational outcomes beyond academics. In the Global Citizen Leader program we ran there, we focused on developing leadership and innovation skills for their students. It would be great to do this for more institutions as these are essential skills all students need to develop. I have recently had some conversations about developing a leadership academy for teachers in Mumbai. This would be a powerful way to shift the quality of education and provide teachers with the support and development they need.
An ideal school, in my opinion, would be well-rounded in developing students through classroom, projects, and reflection. Students need to learn what their gifts and calling are and have an opportunity to focus on honing that, whether it is science, math, technology, or the arts. This requires educational models to be flexible rather than rigid. Education needs to help us cultivate learning skills since the future increasingly calls for us to be lifelong learners.
When we look around, not many people are doing what they studied to do in school, so it is less about knowledge acquisition than developing the ability to learn. In all of this, the role of teachers changes, to become more like coaches and guides rather than the lecturers. To encourage this kind of culture, which I believe will become mainstream in the future, you need a visionary principal who is willing to make this shift in the way education operates. This is not easy, because demands from regulatory bodies are more tied to how things have worked.
Management and leadership are overlapping skills. One differentiation is that managers are more about control and results and leaders are about change and people. You, of course, need both. And managers need to lead because you can't do things in a static way anymore and your job is to bring out the best in your people, leveraging their talents.
I love talking to students but can't necessarily scale the limited amount of time I have. Therefore, I focus on exploring how all faculty and staff can learn about leadership development approaches. Increasingly, we are also focusing on how students can help develop other students. If we are all trying to develop each-other, there is no shortage of capacity. At best, my role is to be a catalyst.
A key focus at the African Leadership University is scaling a quality education that prepares students for the future. We are running a lot of interesting and promising approaches. While I can't claim we have yet cracked the code on this, I believe we're at the forefront of reinventing what education will be in the future. There are a number of other institutions also doing pioneering work in the space and I have faith that the whole system of education -- which has not changed much in the last century or so -- will change dramatically in the next couple of decades.
I would say it is important to cultivate self-awareness and emotional intelligence. You also need to get good at learning new things -- about yourself, about how to collaborate with other people, how to solve problems. Each one of us is a unique, special being with something remarkable to give to the world. It is our job to discover what this is and bring it to life. When you live this purpose, you find fulfillment and make a great contribution. This is not to say this is easy. But you need to believe in yourself and your potential.