Since working to bring the BEES together, I have met some remarkable South Asian women - all of whom are inspirational in many different ways. They have built institutions that have provided hope to the region's poorest and helped in their difficult climb out of poverty. Here's what I think makes them true leaders:
Speculate and flirt with risk: When I first met her, Pranoti Nagarkar had just won an innovator's award at the National University of Singapore for a household appliance that would change the lives of women juggling home and work. The Rotimatic- One touch for fresh rotis and wraps! is a unique invention that makes chappatis and rotis (Indian flat bread) in minutes. With this appliance rolling out soon, the pre-orders for 2015 are completely sold out. What I really admire about Pranoti was her ability to look far ahead into the future and solve an immediate problem. It is no surprise that her invention is selling like hot chappatis! There was a point where she contemplated selling her patent to an established home appliance manufacturer. It didn't take long for her to decide that her idea (and of course, the product) was so good that she could "go for the kill." Had she not been a techno-geek herself, I have little doubt that she would equally source the skill to kill.
Communicate: As an entrepreneur, it isn't easy to be entirely transparent all the time. However, my key message here, is to develop transparent lines of communication and leave little to speculation and doubt. Many entrepreneurs have effortlessly used digital and social media to reach out to an array of clients. It has always worked.
Detach: When you nurture an institution or an organisation like a child, it is really difficult to delegate and share responsibility. Most organisations therefore become personality driven and over-centralised before they collapse. I was quite impressed when Roshaneh Zafar explained how she had created a credible Microfinance Institution that could function without her. Not all decision making depends on her, even she has to get buy-in from other department heads. Kashf Foundation http://kashf.org thus has the confidence from not just employees but also clients. Creating institutions involves a firm belief in due process and for that, it is essential that as founder/entrepreneur, you let go.
Plan for succession: Success is heady and although it is hard to detach, they key to sustaining success is to understand that we are all mortals. The best women leaders and entrepreneurs mentor and nurture talent so they build lasting institutions and enterprises. I have often seen that personalities often come in the way of finding successors but the smartest entrepreneurs know that successors don't have to mimic their personalities. They encourage healthy diversity of approach and goals as it only benefits the organisation and businesses that they build.
Knowledge: Whether its paperwork or the law, they know their stuff backwards. I have seldom seen them fault on taxes or bureaucratic challenges that typically are great conversation topics. Despite the challenges that they may face in the environments in which they function, they are always on the right side of the law. I have always admired the ability of these women to effortlessly handle knowledge without sounding encyclopaedic or geeky - this is really quite a skill - but it does win both admiration and credibility.
There are several other traits - I have simply listed those that are not behavioural and can be cultivated through an awareness of one's individual characteristics.