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A leader inspires, motivates and uses their experience to mentor the team.

Hima Bista is the Executive Director of Women LEAD Nepal, an organisation that grooms young Nepali women to become future leaders and change catalysers. Every year WLN invests in an inclusive group of young women to enhance their skill sets and provide leadership opportunities. The young women then go on to drive social changes in their schools, communities, nation and the world. Some of the flagships programs are LEAD Course, Young Women’s Political Leadership Institute (YWPLI) and OWN IT Nepal.

Bista identifies herself as a feminist striving to build an inclusive society. She is also a social justice activist who will not rest until all forms of gender based violence are abolished. As part of her efforts, she actively supports the causes of Dignified Menstruation and Rage Against Rape.

Bista has over 20 years of experience in the development sector. Prior to Women LEAD Nepal, she worked as the Managing Director of Nyaya Health Nepal | Possible. In that role, she was responsible for ensuring people living in remotest areas of Achham and Dolakha had access to basic healthcare services. In the past, she also worked as the Head of Human Resources for DFID Nepal, UKAID.

Bista holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Kathmandu University School of Management and MPhil in English from Institute of Advanced Communication, Education and Research.

What’s your definition of leadership? Is more expected of leaders in the trying times like the COVID crisis?

Leadership is about influencing, motivating and guiding a group to accomplish the common goal. Of course more is expected during these testing times. We are challenged with a situation none of us have faced before. When Nepal endured the earthquake in 2015, all of us tried to be useful to the best of our knowledge and went to support the most affected communities. But this time, all of us are confined to our homes, working remotely. This situation has pushed leaders to be pragmatic, open-minded and creative. Compassion by the leaders is the call of the day. We cannot afford to be rigid to the old style of managing and leading and need to adapt to changing circumstances and act urgently.

Whose leadership skills come to your mind when a ‘great leader’ is mentioned?

My current favorite is Jacinda Kate Laurell Arden, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. I absolutely admire Gloria Steinem, Benazir Bhutto and Sheryl Sandberg. These days I am awed by Mahua Moitra and how she leads the parliament. I also have tremendous respect for BP, not only as a literary figure but also as visionary. And lastly, I am greatly inspired by Rosa Parks. She is the epitome of how to lead a movement to its ultimate goal.

What distinguishes a leader from a boss?

A leader inspires, motivates and uses their experience to mentor the team. A leader will support the team while encouraging them to grow, own their decisions, and learn from mistakes. A leader will walk with the team across the finishing line. But a boss is someone who demands, orders and uses fear as a tool to get the work done.

What is your leadership style?

I believe in leading by example. I do not like to micromanage for it kills innovation, opportunities for growth, and learning from failures. I do not like to deflect and I am always there to take the blame for any failure in the system. Participatory approach is key to me and I value women leaders. I am also a fearless leader, for I believe being scared is a barrier for a leader, clouding one’s judgment. I believe I am humble and carry compassion but am uncompromising when required.

Any incidence at Women Lead Nepal that you can recall which tested your leadership skills?

I am working with the youth at Women LEAD Nepal. This requires me to assess and read situations through their lens. I joined the organisation when it was going through a transition. The leadership passed from the founders to me, a person who was unknown to the team. This was a challenge but a challenge I have loved. It required me to prove myself in the eyes of these amazing young women in Nepal who are so passionate and dedicated. It took time for me to build that trust, to prove that I am a capable leader who will not compromise on the mission and values of the organisation. I feel gaining their trust is my greatest achievement at Women LEAD Nepal.

What happens when people in power and authority cannot demonstrate leadership acumen?

The institution falls apart. One may think you are getting away with deflection but in reality, it is actually the slow death of an organisation. It applies for the nation too. Incompetent leadership leads to a failed system with loopholes for corruption and staff with laid-back attitude. People in power need to be accountable to their stakeholders; and transparency is the key. Failure to comply with good governance breeds nepotism, groupism and unhealthy power struggle.

How are women as leaders different from men leaders?

There definitely exists a difference. Women leaders have bigger challenges and we need to be more resilient. Women leaders in the public sphere are also leaders in their private sphere, doubly burdening them. Their challenges then become unpredictable. It is not easy to break that barrier as it means compromising on several factors.

My experience shows that when men stand for each other, it becomes almost impossible to break that clique. For women building that solidarity itself is a huge task. If you are to lead, creating that circle of trust involves compassion, emotional intelligence and a lot more effort. Even more, when women leaders are vocal, we often see harsh criticism and unfortunately their silence is seen as being weak.

Are leaders born or built?

I see it as both. Some have this natural talent that needs a gentle push towards the right direction. In others we can see the potential, uplift their voices and groom to lead. That grooming may take years but strategic mentoring polishes leadership quality.

When should leaders hang up their boots?

I look at it from two aspects:

1. Leading from the frontline: this is generational and comes with age. A time comes when you have to understand that the next generation is ready to lead. A hard thing to accept but a leader is someone who sees this. Retirement from leadership is not the end but a change of guard.

2. Play an advisory role: experience is critical and that knowledge should be shared. I believe institutional memory of the generation above always stands as a foundation and it is up to the next generation to assess and not dismiss.

Ujeena Rana is an academic and writer. She has worked in media for more than a decade. She enjoys walking, wondering, creating, listening to podcasts and singing lullabies to her toddler. She devours national and international news on a daily basis like a hungry person devours everything on the plate.

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