December 26, 2022 Sujeev Shakya

Finding leaders in 2023

It is important to leverage the enthusiasm of the youths besides the experience of the elders.

During my leadership sessions in Nepal, when I ask people the names of prominent leaders, they give a handful of names. Most of them are political leaders with a chequered track record when it comes to integrity or a set of values that one can be proud of. Some business leaders are names that people share, but again, like political leaders, only some can be role models for others due to the way they conduct business. Across civil society, academia and professions, there could be a few more. However, many question their leadership style for being very self-centred, poor in mentoring the next generation of leaders, and never thinking of succession plans for the institutions they have built. 

When travelling to Dubai, I asked a friend to give me the names of 10-15 Nepali leaders in business, professional or corporate sectors. But it was tough to come up with a list, even though more than half a million of our citizens work there. In international organisations, where many Nepalis work, I keep questioning why we do not have Nepalis as vice presidents, director-generals, regional heads or in other leadership positions. In academia outside Nepal, where the number of Nepali professors has crossed the thousand mark, why don’t we see Nepali provosts in universities or those taking senior leadership positions in academic institutions? As someone groomed to lead an organisation as part of the Nepalisation process at the Soaltee group, I also reflect on these questions. Here are a few thoughts that come to my mind. 

First, Nepalis, whether in Nepal or elsewhere, as they move up the ladder, generally become good managers but not necessarily great leaders. They are reluctant to hire more competent or qualified people than themselves, either out of fear that their mistakes will be exposed or because of a lack of competence to manage star performers. This also stems from their willingness to hire non-Nepalis rather than competent Nepalis. 

Even those who have become general managers of hotels in good international brand properties are happy to come back to start a small hotel of their own rather than advancing in the brand they were working for. Similarly, people working in multinational organisations are happy to invest and be a part of cooperatives that work on principles and value systems which are completely opposite to the organisations they work for. 

Second, perhaps we lack a learning mindset. We are reluctant to learn about our own culture, food, history or geography. Besides work, politics and gossiping about other people, we do not engage in much conversation. Therefore, many Nepalis abroad, rather than exploring the culture of the city or country one has made their home, prefer getting together with friends and family—eating, drinking or playing cards as they did back in Nepal. The activities of newer generations have changed in some ways. They take up outdoor travel and exploration, but these are limited to friends and families whom they feel comfortable with. I wonder why Nepalis travelling to lands where they have to adapt so much from food to language to culture do not have the curiosity to learn.

Third, there is a lack of a global mindset. When people ask me to name a global Nepali who can inspire us, the first name that comes to my mind is Kul Chandra Gautam, who not only took one of the highest positions as a Nepali in the United Nations, but also continued to engage in the leadership of global organisations. His aspiration for a leadership position, combined with the hard work required to get there, is depicted in his memoirs. People who have taken up senior positions in international organisations are generally happier to return to Nepal after retirement and preach fellow Nepalis than take up roles in international institutions. It could be that they want to spend time in Nepal, where they have accumulated assets and investments from which they can earn good rents. Could it be because Nepalis cannot have dual citizenship that they have to pile up assets in Nepal and live here? 

We hope this will change with the younger generation. I keep telling bright young Nepalis who have just started taking up good positions across the world to be mindful of the issues mentioned above. They need to get out of being insular and learn about one’s own country and the country they are living in. They need to set eyes on the top leadership positions in the field of their work and make career moves that will enable them to lead global organisations in a decade or two. I advise young entrepreneurs to build teams that know more than themselves and help to bridge the knowledge and exposure gap. It is important to leverage the enthusiasm of the youths besides the experience of the elders. They need to build businesses that will not only lead in Nepal but also in the region and the world. Connectivity has become a great enabler, and a few hurdles in regulations will also go away in the days to come. We will see more women taking leadership roles and being able to fight patriarchal traditions that act as impediments to their moves. There is always hope, and let us hope that in 2023 we will find many of them. 

Read the full article on The Kathmandu Post: