Career and Leadership Lessons From Asif Saleh, Senior Director, BRAC

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May 18, 2017

Asif Saleh is the Senior Director of Strategy, Communications and Empowerment at BRAC and BRAC International. Mr. Saleh was born and raised in a post-independence Bangladesh, received his educational training both in Dhaka and the US. After his graduation in computer science, he joined Goldman Sachs where he worked for almost 12 years before returning to Bangladesh to pursue his career in making a difference.

In an exclusive interview we published early this month, Mr. Saleh shared his journey, experience and education and urges us to avoid the temptation of seeking the shortcut to success and to seek more meaningful reward that comes from doing impactful work over momentary highs of extrinsic reward and recognition. Here are a couple hand-picked lessons from his journey. Enter Asif Saleh below.

Everybody is trying to figure it out.

Life is a nonlinear journey. I did not plan for any of these to happen. The thing is that you take some calculated risks, you make some mistakes and then you get something right. At times, we become too self-conscious and assume that everyone has figured it out except me which is far from the truth. Life is all about figuring it out. The small things and failures that we despise often. The struggles and hardships that we desperately want to avoid are our becoming.

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Change is always difficult.

It is not easy and takes a significant top-down effort. That said, a big part of any change management is building a coalition, communicating clearly and offering the big picture to all the stakeholders.

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Measure almost anything.

I am a firm believer in the adage that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Setting targets, goals and performance indicators are a big part of it.

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People make all the difference.

The other part is that at the end of the day it is all about people. If you want to get best out of your people you have to make sure that their motivation is high, empower them, mentor them, give them feedback and that they have the authority to make decisions in their roles. My role is more like a mentor and guide who they come to for advice and guidance when they are confused about certain things.

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Be patient and see the big picture.

One of the lessons I have learned from working for the government is that you have to be patient and see the bigger picture in order to go through it and be prepared to labor hard to keep a sense of positivity in your daily workload.

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Life is a journey and it only makes sense that way.

Like all the journey it only makes sense when you are moving forward and growing. Our consistent pursuit of growth is what makes our life richer and fuller. I try to be curious and try to make sense of life. It’s a relentless pursuit.

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Comfort is the enemy of growth.

Our life shrinks or expands in proportion to our ability and willingness to embrace the unknown. I have always tried to expose myself to risks and push myself out of my comfort zone. Going out of your comfort zone is how you learn and grow.

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There is no shortcut to life.

We live in a culture of immediacy that relentlessly promotes the idea of overnight success and often impatiently overlook that the idea of overnight success is just a myth. In reality, it takes a long time to achieve anything worthwhile. The shortcut culture that we live in is disinterested in seeing the bigger picture and follow through but you should actively push against this limiting worldview because long-term is where great things happen.

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Expect struggles and hardships and difficulties.

Nobody said that building a company or bringing about change is easy. You have to work hard and be very detail oriented and be patient. The nature of any impactful work is that it is hard and tedious so you must not give up.

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You should not work for award or money or recognition alone.

Those extrinsic rewards are momentary highs that often don’t last long and are often distract you from doing real difficult work. Seek more meaningful reward. In Bangladesh, many of our friends often get too excited when they get an award and forget, at least monetarily, the bigger picture but you should actively resist that. Recognition will come but that should not be the reason or the motivation for your work.


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