What does it mean to be a true leader? Does it mean simply inspiring others to do their best? Or is it more? Does it mean overcoming setbacks, changing failures in opportunities for learning and traversing the journey of personal development while inspiring others to action?

At Harappa, we believe the habit of leadership is not just about leading others, but also about taking on the mantle of self-awareness and personal growth alongside your quest to help others reach their potential.

Many leaders across the globe have encapsulated what it truly means to lead oneself and to lead others. But none come as close to completely encapsulating the habit of leadership as Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, the chairperson and managing director of Biocon, a biotechnology company based in Bangalore.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw needs no introduction. She started Biocon as a joint venture with Biocon Biochemicals of Ireland in 1978. Today, Biocon is India’s largest biopharmaceutical company.

“You cannot stay on the beaten path and be a successful entrepreneur. But once you believe in something, you should stick to it and not let the skeptics or critics bother you.” – Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

So how did Mazumdar-Shaw reach where she did?

The answer is resilience. Resilience in the face of internal and external interference is the mark of a true leader and Mazumdar-Shaw has time and again proved that she doesn’t back down in the face of adversity.

Overcoming adversity and being resilient

Mazumdar-Shaw, 67, started her career working as a trainee brewer in Melbourne, Australia. While advancing in her career abroad and even as a consultant in Kolkata, she tried to secure a position of a master brewer in Indian companies but was told that she could not be hired because this was considered man’s work.

She did not let this deter her. She decided to look for other opportunities.

She did not have to look long and soon started Biocon India from the garage of her house in Bangalore.

From then on, as a young woman entrepreneur, Mazumdar Shaw had to face many hurdles. But she used each opportunity to learn and grow.

“It was the failure to get a job as a brewmaster that saw me start a biotech company. It was not a career path I chose myself,” she said in an interview with Outlook Business.

She used her failure to venture into unknown territory and start something new. She moved out of her comfort zone and used this opportunity to grow. Another hallmark of great personal leadership.

When Mazumdar-Shaw started her company, she had a tough time finding employees. People were not as willing to work for a woman in 1978, especially a woman who was running a company out of a small garage.

However, she found two mechanics who were willing to learn and trained them. Eventually, she managed to build a small team, some of whom still work with her today.

Any leader is only as good as the team they work with. This is why building an effective team is an important aspect of leadership. Mazumdar-Shaw recognized this and with her limited resources brought together a team of people willing to learn and support her in her journey.

In 1998, Mazumdar-Shaw found that the enzyme market was not growing as fast as anticipated. Until then, Biocon had developed technology to extract enzymes but saw that the potential for further growth was limiting.

Her business faced a setback. Instead of continuing with what she knew, she decided to expand the business into a new sector. Using the technology they already had, Mazumdar-Shaw decided that Biocon would transform its business model and enter the pharmaceutical industry.

Once again she moved out of her comfort zone and took the risk. This risk paid off.

“You cannot stay on the beaten path and be a successful entrepreneur. But once you believe in something, you should stick to it and not let the skeptics or critics bother you,” she told Outlook Business.

The importance of a strong sense of purpose

All of these leadership qualities are reinforced by a strong sense of purpose. Throughout her life and in interviews, Mazumdar-Shaw has spoken of the importance of a strong sense of purpose for any entrepreneur.

“You should always have a sense of purpose. That purpose will drive you to succeed,” she said in a recent online session for students and teachers of Delhi Government schools.

This sense of purpose does not have to be the same throughout your life. Mazumdar-Shaw said that initially when she started her career, her purpose was concentrated on her company. But over time it has shifted to involve many things.

Her resilience, strength in the face of adversity and strong sense of purpose make Mazumdar-Shaw someone entrepreneurs and aspiring leaders can look up to.

She truly encapsulates what a true leader is, not just leading others, but also leading oneself towards personal growth and development. To develop your leadership skills, check out the Harappa courses Discovering Purpose and Leading Self.

(Image credit: Science History Institute, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Aishwarya Agarwal is an associate specialist in the Curriculum team at Harappa Education. She has studied History and Liberal Arts and moonlights as a stand-up comic. This was a well-kept secret…till her cover was blown.


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