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07 Lessons From BRAC’s Senior Director Tamara Hasan Abed On Leadership and Management

Tamara Hasan Abed is a Senior Director at BRAC where she heads all of BRAC’s 13 social enterprises including Aarong and sits on the board of Brac University and other Brac ventures and investments. A 70s child, Ms. Tamara has a fascinating story. She completed her schooling in Dhaka, studied and lived in India as a young adult and then went to the London School of Economics and Political Science to study Economics. She worked in investment banking, pursued entrepreneurship that led to building her own business, studied, lived and worked in New York and witnessed “the growing intolerance everywhere” against Muslims after 9/11 – an event that eventually changed the trajectory of her life.

Ms. Tamara shared these brilliant lessons on leadership and management with us in an interview we published early this year (cue: read the full interview here) and these lessons remain relevant even these days. We hope you enjoy and find them useful as much as we did.

1. Have a vision and clearly and routinely communicate it with your team

“Firstly, having clarity of the organization’s vision and purpose is incredibly important. And one should then have a clear understanding of its strategy to achieve this vision and communicate it effectively with its employees.”

2. Invest in the development of your people

The best leaders and managers always develop people who work with them. I consider this a core responsibility of any supervisor – to actively create opportunities for people whom they supervise to enhance their skills and competencies so that they are able to grow into bigger roles.

This keeps people motivated, it creates a culture of learning and continuous improvement, it helps with retaining your best people, it helps you to stay ahead of your competitors, and it ultimately benefits everyone. When you have people in management roles who feel threatened to develop people under them, it’s best to plan their exit.

3. Make hiring and retaining the right people a priority

Also, I cannot overstate the importance of having the right person in the right job, a fact we take relatively lightly in our culture. In the early days of my career, I made mistakes which cost me and the organization dearly. Despite knowing that some people were not fit for their role or had reached their level of incompetence, I could not take hard decisions to let them go since they had been in the organization for many years. I compromised on my judgment and tried to manage things with them and through them. But it seldom works out. It is critical that you make the decision about people who do not deliver without wasting too much time.

The institution is more important than any individual. Letting people go is the hardest thing you do as a leader but if you are committed towards your vision you have to make decisions that are tough and difficult.

4. Leadership is challenging, take good care of yourself to be at your A game

Lastly, leadership can be a challenging journey, and often lonely and stressful. It requires resilience. It is important to take care of oneself in order to perform at your best and be there for others.

By this, I mean taking care of one’s own needs as a human being. Be it the need for exercise, good sleep, healthy food habits, nurturing close relationships, entertainment, quiet time, reading, learning or whatever else an individual needs in order to be of sound mind and body, it is important to prioritize these things in order to be an effective leader.

5. Understanding each member of your team is of critical importance

I start with developing an understanding of the person or team I’m working with and my management philosophy depends on that. For instance, when I’m dealing with someone who is capable, I give her/him a lot of freedom. When I manage someone who is not as capable, I maintain a greater degree of guidance, supervision, and follow-up.

Once I understand people’s strengths and weaknesses, I know what to check and follow up on, how to manage them and where to develop them. Understanding each member of your team is of critical importance. One must understand what motivates and inspires them as well as their fears and anxieties in order to forge effective collaboration, teamwork, and ultimately, execution.

6. The growth of your people should be your utmost priority

I take the growth of people who work under me very seriously. I make sure they grow in terms of competence, skills, the maturity of decision making, and dealing with challenges and difficult situations. I encourage people to invest in themselves and try to make sure people grow.

7. Establish a culture of providing honest and radical feedback

I am also a very straightforward person and give very direct and radical feedback. People who work with me know that. I also appreciate people who give radical feedback to me. Feedback is incredibly important for progress. Honest feedback can be a huge impetus for personal and organizational development.

That said, many people don’t take it so easily. They become afraid and sometimes their performance suffers. But people who work with me for some time understand the value of honest feedback. In fact, the reason I offer radical feedback is that I care deeply about the people I work with and the organization, and I want both to continuously improve and evolve.

8. Communicate that you care about your people

I also try to ensure that people understand that I care about them and their well-being. It is not just about how they do at work, it is about how they do at home, how their families are doing, how can the organization help them and ultimately how can I as a manager help them in solving their problems. When people understand that I care for them, they take my radical feedback more easily.

Note: This is a reproduction from our interview with Tamara early this year, you can read the full interview here.

Last updated on September 16, 2019, at 12:00 PM

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