Dr Kiran Bedi is a woman who does not need any introduction. She is the lady who dared to break the mould by becoming the first woman in India to have joined the officer ranks of Indian Police Service in 1972. She served there for 35 years. From being an IPS officer to Police Advisor to Secretary-General in the United Nations to the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry, Dr Bedi has worn several hats. Her sheer dedication and unflinching determination have brought her success. She was honoured with numerous awards, including The Ramon Magsaysay Award, also called Asia’s Nobel Peace Award for building a positive relationship between Police and the People. Apart from this, she was also ranked as the Most admired and trusted woman in India by Readers’ Digest and many more.
Leadership occurs in the moments of challenge, not during the moments of ease. How you respond in discomfort, proves your worth as a leader.
Recently, in Vertica Dvivedi Talk Show, the former national tennis champion, Dr Kiran Bedi, candidly spoke about her journey from being a police officer to a social activist before becoming the Lt. Governor of Puducherry. She also suggested the best ways of leadership during time of crises, how to make the best use of adversity along with advice on how to sail through uncertain times. Here are the excerpts:
Vertica Dvivedi (VD): What are the best ways to lead through a crisis. What should be the attitude of leaders?
Dr Kiran Bedi: Everyone is facing their own different situation yet as we are moving through the crisis together, COVID19 has flattened who we are and made all of us equal. We all have been thrown off our feet, on to the ground, and are asked to stand up. So now we need to see who can stand up, who is staying on their knees, who ask for help to stand up and who helps others to stand up after they have stood up.
The situation has flattened the curve of our consumption, of our mobility and all our egos, all our thought about what we are and who we are. It has made every one equal in adversity. Now, someone who would make adversity a challenge will go forward, and who takes it as a point of complaint - are going to suffer. Everything has stopped for everyone as if there is a full stop like “stand-at-ease” in parade. Now how we were mentally, physically, financially or in terms of abilities or health, we have stopped with the same. The question remains either you want to go forward or backward?
Leadership is to accept the situation as it is in reality.
And then say what do I do with this situation? That’s leadership. And now your response to do this is your preparation with what you have arrived here - whether it is skills, in value systems or education system--Siksha, Sanskar and Skills. These 3 S will determine where we are. People are using their skills and knowledge in different ways to come out of the situation. There are 100 ways where it can be used. The 4th S is Swasth (Health). In my mind, leadership is to know what you have and what you do with what you have and take off from where you are, to where you want to.
If you want to win a race then consider what are required to win that race. Every success has a cost. Cost of efforts, cost of discipline, hard work, personal sacrifice, cost of comfort zones and it requires an investment. If you invest sincerely, you will definitely win.
VD: How was your childhood? Were you in any way different from other children?
Dr Kiran Bedi: I am whatever my parents made me. I am a reflection of their mindset. We were 4 sisters. In the 50’s and 60’s when everybody wanted boys, we were 4 girls and very loved. We were the dream of our parents and that’s where it was different and because they loved education, because they were very value based, they passed on values and education to us. And my mother always used to say that the girls in general were given dowry for, which were stolen sometimes, girls were put off from their homes. Dowry was a thing to be displayed when I was growing up. As a schoolgirl, I myself have seen dowries displayed where there were machines, beautiful clothes, silver utensils, gifts and jewelleries for in-laws.
So I used to ask why they are giving all these to them with the money of her parents. To this, my parents used to reply, this happens when you do not study. So I used to study harder so that my parents wouldn’t need to buy all that jewellery for dowry. My mother used to say that anyone can take all these jewelleries and gifts from you but the things they can never take away is your education, skills, ability and health. If you have the 4 S i.e. Siksha, Sanskar, Swasth and Skill, nobody can take those from you. So you see, their thinking was different and because their thinking was different, my thinking baceme different. So it stuck to my mind that my strength is what is inside me. Inside me is my value system, inside me is my skill and I need to take care of my health as health will help to give you energy to do all this.
By the time I went to college, I realised I was different. In college, I used to play tennis, wearing tennis shorts, while other girls used to spend time eating samosas in the canteen. When the game period was over, I would wrap my skirt over the shorts and go for classes. So I realised during my college days that I was different and it was because I wanted to be different, because I was brought up differently. I had short hair because I realised that I cannot manage long hair with sweating, perspiring, and playing all the time. I don’t have time to
untangle my hair. To me now, time was valuable and there is where I was different. I was using this extra time for activities, extracurricular activities and education. While my friends were educating themselves, they were also preparing to get married. They were preparing to get dolled up and looked very nice and beautiful. For me there was no time to look beautiful, it was time to work, time to be a practical.
VD: How to navigate through pain and crisis in life?
Dr Kiran Bedi: Accept the crisis; accept the situation you are in. Everybody is in a set of circumstances. Check what are my skill sets, what are my assets, what is my capability, what is the support system I have, who can I collaborate with, who are my real friends, where can I work for, what is that I can fall back on? It’s a time for reflection.
Remember, pain will not give you any gain. Everybody is in pain; it is not going to get you anywhere. Suffering will not make you bounce back; it is the acceptance of reality of a situation which will put you to the right action. It is time to up-skill, get more knowledgeable or get a fresh new skill added. Crying will not get you anywhere. New thinking is the new way to go forward.
Remember, you don’t have to go back, you need to go forward AND re-orient, replan, and rework your way.
VD: A leader faces obstacles. People come to the leader for trouble-shooting so how according to you a leader should look at obstacles?
Dr Kiran Bedi: When I was a School girl, or in college, I used to run obstacle races. So there you run 20 yards, and then you cross a hurdle, then again you run and then again one hurdle. That’s the way it is.
Life is like choosing to run a hurdle race. Sometimes you will fall down, but you don’t look back. You then go to the next hurdle and carry on to move ahead. These obstacles are all challenges of life. Whose life is without any ups and downs? Mornings are not always the same. I have felt that myself with my life. I don’t feel the same today, as I felt yesterday. You have to reorient back to what do I want to do today? So I think that’s very important. life is not flat. If it were flat, you would not have joy. You realise the sense of achievement, only when you experience the pain of failure. You value success only when you experience something which was not a success. You have not done very well previously, but does it make you hold back?
Life is not stagnant at a time. Tomorrow is not certain, today, what is before me is certain. But tomorrow will come after today. Unless we really learn to be in the present, we will either live in the past or will always move in the future. We will regret the past and worry about the future. Neither you need to have regret, nor you need to be worried. Focus on what is before you, and whether the challenge, deal with it as it is. I believe in dissection. Dissect something which is before you, something that is unavoidable and then look at what can I do with it, rather than being afraid of it. Look at it into the eye and plan your next step towards your goal. That’s what life is all about. Focus on one thing at a time; don’t try to see each and everything that will just confuse you and it will not lead you to action. If you really want to make some important positive development in anything, learn to be in command of yourself.
VD: How do you define a ‘leader’? What does leadership mean to you?
Dr Kiran Bedi: We all think leadership is a position, we think leadership is external. We think it is a leader when someone is giving a speech, wearing white. They are not leaders, everyone is a leader in themselves. You lead yourself first, and then you go to lead others. You are a leader within you. Why should others lead you? When you are not able to lead yourself, you have personal discipline, your personal integrity, and then you can be an external leader. Lead yourself before you become an external leader. Leadership is of two kinds in my mind - First, you daily lead yourself, leader is somebody who has the capacity to decide for themselves and then that person who decide for others also.
If you have the capacity and the strength, you will automatically exude such power that others will follow you. A leader is no leader if he has no followers and why would you have followers if you’re not worthy of them? Leadership occurs in the moments of challenge, not during the moments of ease. How you respond in discomfort, proves your worth as a leader.
VD: What is failure?
Dr Kiran Bedi: Failure is not generic. When you fail in a situation you need to look at that situation, why did you not get success? It’s not failure if you put in an effort and have not got the desired result. You have not failed because you made the effort. So don’t consider not having won a Trophy, a failure. If you made the effort, you have succeeded. Accept that you could do a little more to win. The key is to try. Even if you have run a race and even if you come last, you have not failed. You are better than the spectators who only watched and clapped. However if you want to win that race then consider what it was that you required to win that race. It has a cost. Every success has a cost. Cost of efforts, cost of discipline, hard work, personal sacrifice, cost of comfort zones and it requires an investment. So if you have put in all, you will win. Preparation also is an achievement, preparation is also a reward. without preparation and practice you cannot succeed. You may fail in that race but if you have made the effort, it’s not a failure, so think positively.
VD: So many people give up due to failures in life. What is your message to them?
Dr Kiran Bedi: Bhagavad Gita says, ‘Don’t dwell on the possibility of winning or worry about failure. You just work. Prepare yourself and do it with your full ability. Leave the result to God.’
I have been a competitive tennis player through the first 23 years of my life. I was competing all over the country. So the days I was prepared properly, I won and the days I left a few parts here and there, I lost. I used to be worried for sometimes but as my parents used to sit me down and say, “Ok, now let’s consider what you could have done better to win.” We remember Arjun because of his focus. Stay focused on your goals and work towards it.
VD: Have you ever felt low & depressed? How do you manage the downs of life?
Dr Kiran Bedi: The moment I get low, I go high! I go for a walk, I listen to music, I read, I change my thoughts. The moment I realise that negativity is there, I get rid of it. Why should I let any thought enter at my home without my permission? And if somebody enters I make it get out. Learn to be a gatekeeper of your thoughts. Don’t let the negativity rest and nest. Be alert! Today in COVID , who will live on? Someone who is alert! The more alert you are about your thoughts, more stress-free we can be.
VD: What is the secret of your undying spirit?
Dr Kiran Bedi: Do I have a choice?
And if I have had a choice, why would I do anything less? Why should I underperform for myself? Why should I not live to my own expectations? Why should I reduce my own energy? If I have a duty, my duty is to increase the energy; not decrease it. So why should I make a negative choice? Why should I choose sorrow and grief when I can choose joy and good health? Why should I run away from performing when I can perform?
The secret to undying spirit is the realization that with intention, you can keep the energy high and perform with full spirit.
About Kiran Bedi:
Born in a Tennis playing family from Amritsar in 1949, to Prakash and Prem Lata Peshawaria, Dr Kiran Bedi is second of their 4 daughters. While still in school she became a junior National Tennis Champion at the age of 16, and Asian Tennis Champion at age of 22 and was ranked India’s number one of her time. Dr Kiran Bedi is the first woman in India to have joined the officer ranks of Indian Police Service in 1972. She served in it for 35 years. For her policing stood for ‘Power to Correct’, ‘Power to Prevent’ and ‘Power to get things done’. Dr Bedi served as Police Advisor to Secretary General in United Nations, in the Department of Peace Keeping Operations in New York. She is recipient of The Ramon Magsaysay Award, also called Asia’s Nobel Peace Award for bringing about a positive relationship between Police and the People. Dr Bedi is a Law graduate, Masters, and a PhD Scholar with post doctoral Nehru Fellowship. She is an author of several books such as I Dare, It’s Always Possible, Creating Leadership and more...Dr Bedi has been voted as the most admired and trusted woman in India by Readers Digest, The Week Magazine, and others over the years. She has a biopic on her life called, Yes Madam Sir, made by an Australian film maker and a recent documentary on her was featured in Nat Geo’s Mega Icons She is running two NGOs which reach out to marginalised sections of society in education, skills development, in urban slums and rural areas including prisons. A keen user of technology, Dr. Bedi has a following of around 15 million followers on social networks. Her Twitter handle is @thekiranbedi. Currently, Dr. Kiran Bedi is serving as the Lt. Governor of Puducherry.