Last Tuesday, I was sitting among handful viewers at a movie theater eager to watch Poorna. This movie wasn’t featuring the Bollywood heartthrob SRK (Shahrukh Khan), or the most famous bhai (Salman Khan) or any other big name that could be a reason for Chocó-block theaters. But one thing was for sure, Poorna surely filled viewers’ hearts with dreams and minds with possibilities. It is a saga of an underprivileged tribal girl aged 13 years 10 months, who became the youngest in the world to climb Mt. Everest.“Main toh itni poor hoon ke mere toh naam mein hi poor hai” (We are so poor that even my name says ‘Poor’) jokingly the actress playing the role of Poorna says. In reality, how can a teenage girl from a poor family and a society where dalits (Scheduled Caste) still face discrimination and where teen is a perfect age for marriage, even think about climbing Everest? Coming with this background, she surely would have needed a strong leader who can inspire her and change not her, but her entire family’s mindset. In real life, an IPS Dr. R. S. Praveen Kumar was the guiding light for Poorna and thousands of other youngsters who dare to challenge anything that belittles them.
Along with enormous inspiration, this movie offers 3 treasured lessons for leaders of today and tomorrow.
Leadership Lesson #1
Find Your Own Voice: On becoming an IPS officer, Praveen Kumar never wanted to take any project that could easily put him into a fancy spotlight. Rather, he showed interest in taking up what matters the most to him. He wanted to go back to the basics to make a dent in the education system especially for children who are always discriminated against, even among the underprivileged. His peers, seniors, and even government officials wanted him to take up something bigger than the project of his choice. They even suggested that this project would be an understated goal for Praveen as he was clearly overqualified for this. Even today’s corporate leaders face a similar push from their leaders, peers, subordinates and competitors. Due to the external pressure, sometimes we go against what we truly believe in and this is the time when a true leader feels restless. Great leaders in the past have always created something bigger and better whenever they faced this restlessness. A leader in us will always shine brighter if he steps into something that he truly believes in.
Leadership Lesson #2
Create More Leaders: A true leader’s dream is to create as many leaders as this universe needs. Poorna is definitely a success story of Praveen’s efforts. Praveen wasn’t restless for changing a few lives. But he was hell-bent on creating a masterstroke that could change the fate of millions of children who are stuck in a ‘nothing is going to change’ mentality. Praveen’s idea was to enable others to be able to find their higher self, self-esteem, and immense possibilities that lie ahead of them.
He unleashed the ‘10 commandments’ for his wards that challenged the mindset of millions:
I am not inferior to anyone – I shall be the leader wherever I am – I shall do what I love and be different – I shall always think big and aim high – I shall be honest, hardworking and punctual – I shall never blame others for my failures – I shall neither beg nor cheat – I shall repay what I borrow – I shall never fear the unknown – I shall never give up.
Leadership Lesson #3
Just Show Up: “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” ~ Edmund Hillary.
Neither Praveen nor Poorna had any idea about the final step of the story they started. Sometimes leaders as coaches might not be able to see the domino effect of one right step. But the belief coupled with an extraordinary act of showing up becomes the wind under wings. Don’t worry! The dots will connect. The story of Praveen and Poorna teaches us an important lesson – no matter how small you may feel, you are always big enough to bring change. Praveen’s restlessness to change the system and Poorna’s small steps on Everest created a social avalanche. It took just a few years to change tribal folk’s viewpoint towards the need of education. Now poor Dalit parents congregate to admit their children into these special schools, especially girls.
What do Poorna and Praveen inspire you to do today?