I wanted to get an MBA for a number of reasons. From a career perspective, I wanted to be at the heart of a business and accelerate my career. From a skills perspective, I wanted to gain some cross-functional expertise and an appreciation of the bigger business picture. I certainly didn’t consider myself an expert on leadership and I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the Personal Leadership Journey module offered by Imperial on the Global Online MBA.
As part of our Personal Leadership Journey, Imperial College Business School offers us customised 1:1 coaching and assessment based tools that help us better understand ourselves to be most effective. I have found my interactions with my Careers Consultant, Ceri Willmott, to be incredibly helpful.
Most importantly, this journey has enabled me to understand myself better and identify my own unique leadership style. The Interview a Leader activity was a great experience and following that I have made a commitment to be proactive about challenging myself. For instance, I have never considered myself to be a number’s whiz. However, following this interview, I am focusing on sharpening my technical skills (Corporate Finance) to gain a holistic understanding of any business. I hope you enjoy reading my take on leadership.
My Interview a Leader findings
My favourite superhero of all time is the fictional character ‘Captain Planet’. I remember ardently waiting for the show, every weekday at 4:10 pm, to be broadcast on Pakistan Television network. IT was probably the only thing that motivated me to complete my school homework – though one could argue that my parents’ stern glances were a bigger motivation!.
I always found great inspiration in how Captain Planet would work with his Planeteers. Each Planeteer represented the components of Earth, Fire, Wind, Water and Heart, to fix world pollution, and when they couldn’t fix a problem, they would combine their powers and call on Captain Planet, Captain Planet. With the powers magnified, it would avert the calamity and he would leave saying “the power is yours!”. That last line was my favourite part of the show.
This post, however, is not about Captain Planet.
This post is dedicated to leaders who inspire us in our day-to-day lives. Those who encourage us to think beyond the obvious. Those who challenge us to be creative and have the foresight to be futuristic. Those who help us overcome challenges. Those who lead by example. Leaders who remain humble despite reaching the highest echelons of corporate power.
Embedded in the Global Online MBA’s Personal Leadership Journey, I was required to undertake an interview with a leader who I find inspiring. Personally, I wanted to interview a leader who demonstrates thought leadership, influences with humility, and enables people to become better versions of themselves.
My immediate choice was Yasser Mufti, Vice President of Strategy & Market Analysis at Saudi Aramco. Yasser’s candour and his perceptive gems on people and experiences made for a truly profound interview experience.
The following is a summary of my learnings.
Diversity of though and inclusion in action
As Vice President for Strategy & Market Analysis for the world’s largest oil company, Mufti and his team offer global insights, thought leadership and strategic guidance to the organisation. Yasser leads by example. His team is not only diverse in terms of representation, they also follow a process-based approach to practise inclusion at all levels.
I have noticed that Mufti consistently asks his team members to share their views before he shares his. Most importantly, everyone has the psychological safety to share their ideas openly. When I asked him about his go-to leadership style, he said that “everyone is unique and you must develop a style that leverages your strengths, and, there is no blueprint for success, you learn as you go”.
Agility and focus
Born in Tabuk, a city located in the north-western region of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Mufti travelled a lot as a child. Growing up, he was fond of reading, superheroes, ripping things apart and then putting them back together. It is fitting then that his first academic degree is in Engineering.
An important learning for me during this conversation was Mufti’s consistent commitment to learning, being agile and having the courage to explore the unknown. From his childhood experiences travelling, to transitioning from an Engineer to heading operations, and thereafter leading a commercial function focused on finance and economics. All this requires hard-work, agility, and, an unwavering commitment to continuous learning.
Another observation that I made is that Mufti remains completely focused on any interaction he commits to. No buzzing gadgets, no distractions. He remains in the present. He asks intuitive questions, challenges (where needed), and always offers a diverse perspective/solution. I asked him about how he approaches challenges and he replied that “people must think beyond the here and the now, and explore all realms of possibilities”.
Mufti has been instrumental in creating cross-functional teams and think tanks to maximise innovation and creativity. He is the founder of an influential Advisory Board dedicated to furthering the cause of the millennial majority at a global forum. Furthermore, in the many conversations and observations that I have had with his team, he is known to empower people and enable them with means and autonomy to maximise impact.
I asked him about his thoughts on productivity, and he said that he is optimistic about the future and the advancements made in the world of technology. He believes that we can maximise productivity if we integrate human capabilities with the strides made in technology. “We are on the cusp of change, and I am very optimistic about future prospects, increased productivity and integrated economic systems”, he said.
The world is constantly evolving. We must change in order to keep up, and we can never do it alone. We need people to make change effective. It is therefore imperative to be self-aware, as well as being perceptive about others, in order to lead and make a meaningful impact.
Real-life “people’s heroes” are those who prioritise people over everything. A lot like Captain Planet, where they leverage diversity to magnify impact, are courageous to embrace change, willing to learn and enable and empower others along the way. As aptly put by Yasser Mufti, “Learn the sciences, learn about business but most importantly, learn about people, only then you have the perfect arsenal to be successful!”