When I opened LinkedIn yesterday morning, I had a surprise. There was a message for me from a person I haven't heard from in years.
He heard that my husband passed away, so he is sending his condolences. His message, which included a picture of him and his grandson, evoked many memories in me. Mostly, if not, happy. It was unexpected as it was in Pakistan, which one never associates with happiness. To think that we were locked down in the hotel where we stayed because it was dangerous to go out, we still enjoyed our stint there.
Even though we mostly stayed in the hotel, we never lacked for fun. The assignment, though difficult, had very little stress, all because of this person. He was the team leader, and managing consultants who were bosses in their previous jobs were not always accessible. He did it so well that everyone enjoyed working with each other and being with each other.
So, how does one put in the fun in leadership? Often, when a team gets together, they are on a schedule. They need to finish a job satisfactorily at a specified time. It is not easy to manage the idiosyncrasies of people you don't know well but must work with to finish the project.
This team leader had a big group of foreign and local consultants, experts in their field, and occupied senior leadership positions in their previous or current work. The project was a national program, so the team moved from province to province. First, it was Karachi, then Islamabad, and after that, Peshawar. My husband went to Quetta, but I was discouraged from going as he was not staying there long, and it was risky.
The place itself was not easy to navigate. Karachi was crowded and colourful, and risky. Most of the stores sold guns, a glaring declaration of the violence in the area.
There were exciting stores, too, such as the Women's Bazaar where only women go and there, you could buy whatever cloth you desire. The goods came from different countries, mostly from the backs of camels or men crossing China's long routes.
Most of the other places, women could only visit in the company of men. The team leader I was talking about was an avid shopper, so he would close the office early and bring the whole team to shop once in a while. We would be on top of each other in the car, but we went all together. He knew many shops in the city, having lived there for some time and he brought us there. We thought there was safety in groups, not thinking that maybe we attracted risk given most of the team members' Western looks.
We perused the shops and ended up in one of his favourite restaurants. The food in Pakistan is delicious. It is Persian cooking at its best, and the spices titillate the palette. Up to now, I still rank the rice pulao, student biryani and baby lamb there as the tops I have ever tasted.
The other memory I have from that experience was when he and my husband would go out of the office for a short break and end up singing all the Christian hymns of their childhood especially, Onward Christian Soldiers. They would bellow this out, and I sometimes wonder what the locals thought of them.
One of our favourite past times was watching the wedding process in the hotel lobby. There was always one and often, of the prominent families in the city. That was our entertainment, watching the different shalwar kameez styles, Pakistan's traditional garb, that people wear at these celebrations.
I also remembered going to the weekend market where you can bargain on carpets or woollen scarves, and people watch. We were always fascinated by the blue-eyed Afghan children from the camps offering to carry your bags, which we often allowed to have a chance to connect with them if just for an instant.
These memories brought so much joy that I always associate Pakistan with positive emotions. Food, fabrics, and fun. But most of all, this team leader made it possible by rallying the team and engaged us in tiny fun activities we could all enjoy.
Fun is indeed a vital part of a team leader's job. When people have fun, they are more engaged. They contribute ideas more readily. They become more productive. Fun refreshes the spirit and reduces stress, which, at times, causes serious problems. It raises the energy level in the group and allows for more cooperation.
Fun is often looked at with suspicion when people work together as a team. There is little appreciation for what it does to people and the group as a whole. But from that experience in Pakistan, I realized the crucial role of a team leader. You don't have to be a genius. You only need to recognize that fun is an essential element in leadership.
All of you would always be in a team at home, work or social group. Each participant is a leader, not just the team leader. Exercise your leadership by initiating fun activities. They don't have to be significant. Look for moments during the day when you can do this. Snatch these moments.
You will be surprised at the flow of ideas that follow and the support you'll get to complete the work. When they're having fun, they are more inclined to give their best. They will be going to work hard to make sure the project is a success. They will feel the togetherness of fun activities and make sure their team becomes a huge success.