My leadership journey at Samagra
Abhay Singh
June 30, 2022

My Samagra journey started in February 2020 as a Consultant in the Skilling and Employment program with the Government of Haryana. The program aims at facilitating employment linkages for the citizens of the state. As a Consultant I was managing 5-8 interventions, known as workstreams in Samagra, within the larger state program and was fully responsible for the delivery of these workstreams against predefined objectives. One and a half years into this journey, I was given the opportunity to step up as a Program Coordinator (PC) to lead a team on a new Samagra program, called Young Warrior NXT. This program focuses on identifying scalable training models for teaching life skills (such as communication, collaboration, problem solving etc.) to 14-18 year old students in the country.

What is a PC?

At Samagra, the distinction between designation and role is made at the organisation and program level. While the designations are Associate & Sr. Associate, Consultant & Sr. Consultant, ​​Manager & Sr. Manager, Vice President & Sr. Vice President, within a team roles are defined as Program Associate (PA), Program Coordinator (PC) and Program Lead (PL).

The Program Coordinator is the fulcrum of a program. The PC has to interface with external stakeholders as well as senior and junior team members. The PC has to have both a strategic lens as well as manage the daily operations of the program to ensure time delivery of outcomes. Broadly speaking, a PC has five responsibilities:

  1. Preempting, flagging and mitigating risks in a timely manner,
  2. Creating clarity for program associates on daily and long term objectives,
  3. Maintaining a high quality benchmark on the team’s work
  4. Proactively co-working with the govt, funders and partners
  5. Supporting, coaching and role modelling for program associates

Stepping Up!

Till August 2021, I was playing the role of a program associate responsible for delivering the 5-8 workstreams I was driving. Switching to the PC role meant managing all the program workstreams. Specifically in my case, for a new program, it amounted to 10 workstreams. Hence, it became imperative to develop both–at the macro level, a strategic view of the program and the micro level to have deep insight into what is happening on the ground with respect to each workstream. I also became responsible for the professional development, well being and performance of the three program associates in my team.

The PC role is complex and challenging. Being the middle layer between the program lead and program associates, a PC is expected to step up as a manager or delve into content as a team member, as the need arises. It requires people skills because one is working with both senior and junior stakeholders (externally) and team members (internally). It requires comfort with ambiguity. The program lead, government leaders and funding partners will always have a set of expectations that need to be logically consumed and converted into a clear actionable plan which then needs to be communicated to the team. Lastly, as a PC, one is also responsible for ensuring steady momentum and motivation among team members to complete delivery of predefined milestones.

Becoming a Mentor

While some of the skill sets required to be an effective PC can be picked up as a program associate, the latter does not prepare one to take on the role of being a mentor to team members. And this was a transition I struggled with the most.

Whenever a deliverable was not completed as per my expectations, my first instinct would be to rework it completely. This also meant that I was not factoring in the individual strengths and weaknesses of my team members. Which in turn led them to believe I was not invested in their professional development. Broadly, there were two problems with my approach:

  1. I was increasing my workload by taking on things which program associates were expected to do.
  2. I was demotivating my team by redoing their work completely. Leading them to assume that since whatever they deliver would anyway be redone they might as well not invest significant time and effort in it.

The consequence of this was me being left with very little time to deliver on my core responsibilities and a demotivated team. To mitigate this challenge, my PL and I discussed how I can provide constructive feedback to the team and coach them to deliver on their workstreams.

I also explicitly started setting expectations on quality and deadlines. In a few weeks, I started witnessing a positive difference with increased ownership on output quality from the team. This helped me in two ways:

  1. My time was freed for strategic thinking on the program
  2. The team members could witness their own professional development which motivated them to continue on the same path

How did it happen?

A lot went into successfully transitioning into the PC role. At Samagra, the Professional Development process gives team members the opportunity to have regular, focussed 1:1 discussions with their manager. This was pivotal in my case. My manager and I decided to focus on mentoring and coaching the team as a focus area for me. His responsibility was to identify and provide opportunities for me to practise mentoring and my responsibility was to follow through on this, leading to the visible change in my team’s capabilities. Second, we had an external session on coaching and mentoring. We were made to go through the book, “The Tao of Coaching”. I would recommend this book to all new managers who are wondering where to start from. It uses a compelling narrative along with frameworks to explain coaching and mentoring. I keep referring to specific chapters in the book whenever I struggle with tricky people management questions. The third factor behind my grooming as a leader was structured internal trainings within Samagra. These trainings bring the leadership cohort together and provide an opportunity for cross learning across programs through reflections, smaller group discussions and plenary sessions.

The journey towards becoming a successful manager is a long one. It’s only been six months for me. I hope I have been a good manager to my team and a reliable coordinator for stakeholders. In the last 6 months as a PC, I have honed my strategic thinking, teaching, mentoring, coaching and project planning and management skills. A lot of ground still needs to be covered and I am looking forward to growing personally and professionally in this journey.

A personal anecdote

At one time, one of my team members seemed averse to taking on tech-focused workstreams in the Young Warrior NXT program. To understand the reason behind this reluctance, I scheduled a 1:1 chat with the program associate. I heard them out and tried to understand their perspective without judgement. We tried to unpack the apprehension the associate held with respect to tech and came up with a plan of action to address it jointly. I chartered out a path, supported and co-worked with them as they adjusted to it and eventually handed over the workstream to the associate completely. Soon, the associate took complete ownership of the workstream, coming to me with thoughtful questions. I could see that the mindset had shifted from one of dislike towards really wanting to deliver on the workstream. When the workstream was delivered successfully, meeting all the outcomes we had defined, I felt like a parent proud of his child for winning a competition. The transition to becoming a manager is complex and difficult, but the better one becomes at it, the more rewarding it gets.