Special Correspondent Shwetha Surendran

I can easily say that I encountered leadership at three different stages of my life before today. The first was at grade 3 when my annual report read that I display exceptional leadership qualities. These were big words and I didn’t really understand them but the smiles on my parents’ face told me that it was good.

The second was in my grade 9 when we stood for prefect elections and I lost. I was gutted, thought the apocalypse had come early and I was never ever going to make it!

The third was in grade 12 when I was voted Student Pupil leader\Head girl. Ecstatic doesn’t even do the moment justice.

Three totally different circumstances, three different “me’s”, but all contributing to the ‘me’ of today, the person who made it to the Top 10 of the SheLeads contest/campaign organized by the Women of Worth in collaboration with the Madras chamber of commerce and the British deputy high commission.

At the age of 8, leadership was something very external. A Leader was the person whom the teachers asked for help or the girl who kept the class quiet by using her power of writing the names of all those who spoke on the board. It was huge and all I wanted. I worked harder, polished my manners and volunteered for everything. It taught 8-year-old me to work for what she wants and not wait for someone to hand it over to her.

In grade 9, my views on leadership had completely spun 360 degrees. I wanted to be a leader for just one reason – because my elder sister was one. I was a timid and naïve 16-year-old who just wanted to get out of her sister’s shadow and getting a post as a prefect seemed like a ticket out. I stood for the post not because I wanted to help make school a better place but because I just wanted it for ‘ME’. Needless to say, I lost and for that moment my world was shaken. I felt like I had let the whole world down but the sad truth was I had let myself down. I had wanted something so badly and worked so hard for it and it had been wrenched from my fingers. It went against my 3rd grade philosophy that if I worked hard even if it was for all the wrong reasons I could get it. And at age 16, I learnt the hard way that things don’t always go the way you want them to. It taught me the value of ‘patience’ and having the right motivation to go after the things I yearned for.

That loss taught me the most I’ve learned in these 19 years. It taught me to be a good follower.

In the January of 2014, our school voting system changed. Students had the say and staff only seconded it. Votes were actually going to be counted. I stood for the post of Student Pupil Leader and gave my speeches with the confidence and truth that 8 year and 16 year old me had picked up.

I won.

It was everything I had imagined but better. And this time I had the right motivations and intentions.

Little did I know that these were all just steps leading to something bigger.

A month ago in the February of 2017, I received an email that stated that I was identified as one of the top 10 potential women leaders in the country. And as I sat reading the email with a palpitating heart and a wide smile, I watched myself say thank you and goodbye to the 8 year old me writing on the blackboard, to the 16 year old me bawling underneath the sheets and the 18 year old me carrying the school flag. They had shaped me and I had learnt more from them that I could have ever learnt from a book or a workshop. I let them go and now there’s just me- the me who understands that leadership is internal and only then external.

The me who knows that she’s going to make it and somehow that’s all that matters!