Meena Surie Wilson is a long-time CCL employee with a versatile skillset. She’s worked directly with clients, conducted research, written extensively, managed teams and led the start-up of the CCL-APAC office and subsequently its Research, Innovation and Product Development unit.
Currently, Meena is part of a small team operating CCL’s India office which works with high-profile Indian organizations including JK Group (EZ), Aditya Birla Group, TAS and Tata Group, Mahindra and Mahindra Group, and Airtel Limited. She’s the author of Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders Today: Insights from Corporate India, published in 2010.
How did you end up working in the leadership development field?
My “a-ha” about leadership happened when I was an 11-year old child, growing up in India. I attended a school which was run by Apostolic Carmelite nuns. I could see a big gap between the ideals about people and society that the sisters were teaching me and what was going on around me. Even then, I told myself that leadership and education could probably “fix” the situation.
When I went back to graduate school at 37, I decided to study leadership. On graduating, I looked for a job that would let me practice leadership education. The Center for Creative Leadership was one of only two places to which I applied for employment.
What CCL programs, research or initiatives are you excited about?
I am thrilled about CCL’s foray into neuroscience because I see an intimate connection between the findings of neuroscience and the ancient wisdom traditions of India. This is like coming full circle. According to traditional practices that are thousands of years old, individuals can access universal intelligence and creativity by stilling their ever-chattering monkey-minds. Meditation is one such practice that tamps down hyperactivity of the brain, helping people to access “Silence” and making intelligent thinking possible. I can’t wait to see how my colleagues at CCL will apply the latest developments in neuroscience to CCL’s leadership development practice.
Where is leadership development in India headed?
Indian leaders will need to articulate leadership strategies that complement their business strategy, evolve into more effective coaches and teachers to grow their talent pools, and learn to shift gears from a hierarchical top-down view of what it means to be a leader to a more democratic and counter-cultural view that involves more employees in leadership roles. Our current best thinking about the direction of leadership development in India is written in The New Face of Indian Leadership on the CCL-India Web site.
What should Western leaders know about their counterparts in India?
From our work in India over the past four years, we have learned that effective Indian managers behave in ways that are not as common among Western managers. Three behaviors that stand out are: an aptitude for collecting information and insights from ongoing conversations with many different people; demonstrating concern for the holistic well-being of employees by taking personal interest in their families and life away from work; and valuing personal relationships with bosses and extraordinary individuals as a source of important lessons about life and leadership.
Who was an influential person for you?
Harlan Cleveland, a distinguished U.S. diplomat, educator and author who served as Lyndon Johnson’s Ambassador to NATO and President of the University of Hawaii, among many other achievements. In the late 90s, both of us were involved with delivering a leadership program in Amman, Jordan to 250 mid-life leaders from over 50 countries. I will never forget the complete dedication of this gentleman to re-working his presentations late into the night, based on the questions he was asked, so that he could connect with his audience. He was a genuine presence, not a canned one. I hugely admired him for respecting everybody’s point of view, no matter how different from his own.
What do you do (or hope to do!) when you aren’t working?
I love watching movies and I can wile away hours listening to others talk about themselves and tell stories about their lives. I went scuba diving for the first time a few weeks ago. I could get addicted! I am going to be looking for many more chances to scuba.
Do you have a favorite leadership quote?
“You cannot cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water,” says Rabindranath Tagore, an Indian poet, writer, composer and educator, and the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.