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Leadership & Empowerment

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

They said to never let your dreams be dreams, and Niroshan Madampitige is proof that nothing can stop him

They say great leaders are made, not born, and they are made after going and experiencing a lot in their lives. Now, I will share with you a story of a great leader – a leader who started as a public event compeer to become a lecturer and then a leadership trainer, excelling in every area, with the strong will to make a difference and an impact on the world. He knows he has come a long way – he knows this – but he also believes he still has a long way to go.

Following in his father’s footsteps who was the spokesman of his hometown, to become a leadership coach, he found his passion in a very unique way. Today, we will revisit his past to reflect on his beautiful journey and today you shall meet this great leader through my story. His name is Niroshan Madampitige, the Head of Delivery & Agile Coach at Gapstars pvt ltd.

As a child, he grew up in a small village and even then, he realised that he was unique and had a different mindset compared to the rest of the community. Coupled with his instinct, he knew that he needed to do something different in his life, and that included learning English as well as speaking up before anything else. As his father was the village spokesman, he gave Niroshan the opportunity to study public speaking and the time came when he was given the chance to compere to enhance his skills.

Niroshan said, “I remember, I failed numerous times on stage, where I lost my words. Deep inside me, I knew I wanted to speak up – but every time I tried speaking, something terrible happened, my palms would get sweaty, my mouth became very dry, my hands, knees, lips, and voice were trembling, my stomach got uneasy… I failed many times and through such failures, I started to improve.”

Remember when I said Niroshan wanted to learn English and speak up more? Speaking up was easy enough but learning English was not what he expected – it was a little bit difficult if I may add. In this case the strangest thing was his village was a place surrounded by a river. Foreigners and village’s children were a common sight – the children would go around the village with the foreigners as they tended to give toffee candy and money.

Niroshan however was different. Rather than taking some candy from them, he just wanted to talk to them in English. Not long after, he was given the chance to go to the best school in his area with the help of his father and a teacher from that school where he completed his studies, and that was the turning point in his life before he continued on to study Information Technologies, started his career, and now, as they say, the rest is history.

So how did Niroshan become who he is today? I tell you how – number one, it started with agile coaching. According to Niroshan himself, agile is a mindset, a set of values and principles that individuals and teams can follow when developing software. It is not a methodology, a specific way of doing something, a framework or a process. It is a collection of beliefs based on three pillars; transparency, inspection, and adaptation. This allows development teams to be effective in what they do.

The traditional project management focuses on the three main project constraints, scope, time and cost, while agile tackles a fourth parameter, value. It’s a paradigm shift to traditional approach, which is purely based on anticipation. Most of the time people anticipate plans, they plan it step by step, they show it to lots of people but ultimately they fail to execute it. Or they start but don’t continue it.

So in an agile way of working, it is more about trust adapting planning than sealed plans; it is about planning continuously and making progress towards your end goal, and planning it in a way that you can get the most benefit focusing on the most valuable investments. Agile too is a mindset centred around responding to changes while enabling transparency, inspection and adaptation that will allow you to respond to the changes and look at the most valuable investment at a given time. Let’s take Niroshan as an example. As an agile coach, his job is to enable that mindset and culture of working, and work with people, individuals, teams and organisations toward strategy goals.

Number two, as a leadership trainer, Niroshan always believes that to be a leader, it all starts with the intention – it is your first priority and needs to start off all the other things. Your position doesn’t matter. What matters is your courage. Many managers and leaders fail because they lack courage. Some of them have the right intention but don’t have the courage to do the right thing. If you are a boss even if you have the right intention but no courage, then it is going to impact your employees. The same goes if you are a family man – it is going to affect your children or the family. Intention, courage and doing the right thing; these are important. 

I remember Niroshan saying, “I have learned these (intention, courage and doing the right thing) from the leaders I had in the past. I have seen them pushing for the wrong decisions just because they had to. They wanted a certain number of work performances and those were the times they actually allowed me to figure out the right way of leading. The strangest thing is, people may not realise what you’re doing, because they never know what you did for the people. One of the challenges we have is that we expect our people, people surrounding us to understand that we are doing hard work for them. That will never be the case. So it’s mostly they won’t even know. You have to just be okay with that. You have to just do the right thing. As long as you do the right thing. You are courageous and you have empathy.” 

Haa, empathy. Yes, empathy is one of the key aspects of leadership. If you don’t understand what you are going through, you will never lead effectively; if you are empathetic, others will understand you. In the end, intention, being courageous and doing the right thing are important but so does being empathetic; everything else will become secondary – your technicality, domain expertise and leadership capabilities are important too but, they come after the basic leadership traits – if you don’t have the basics, others won’t see you as a leader, period.

Niroshan too believes that a leader requires much more intensive attention and critical self-reflection. It is about having clarity regarding your strengths and weaknesses. In his method, Niroshan helps leaders by using the Shu-Ha-Ri coaching model to coach his clients. Niroshan said, “You first blindly follow as a beginner, once I know that they have learnt enough conceptual knowledge, I set them free to practice what they learnt -at this stage the students are free to break the rules. They see the consequences and adjust – with time and a lot of practice, they gain “mastery”- that’s when as a coach, I am taking a back seat. I encourage my students to be focused, disciplined, hardworking and committed – the rest usually follows.”

In the end, what can we learn here? The very first thing everyone who wants to do great is; have the right mindset because, if you have the wrong mindset, nothing will fall in the right way in the long run. Everything physical was a mental creation before, so, it’s inevitable that you have the right attitude. What comes next is  ensuring you do the right thing irrespective of your circumstances and it’s so damn tough. It’s not easy at all and you need to acknowledge that it’s not an easy thing but If you want to be happy, you have to do the right thing. You may do the wrong thing, but you know, when that’s wrong, you have to be humble enough to accept your fault and learn the lesson.

Third most important thing is the social setting, the people you associate with. It’s absolutely crucial. If there’s any, any person doing great, that’s not totally due to that person’s ability and the capabilities. It is also due to the people around that person. Bringing it all together, if you have the right mindset, ready to do the right thing and you are in the right social setting, you will do fantastically.

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Chanka Jayasinghe
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C.K. Jaya has a keen interest in the economy and business world. Follow him on LinkedIn.

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