Article: Teach For India unleashing employees’ leadership skills

#Talent Agenda 2016

Teach For India unleashing employees’ leadership skills

Shaheen Mistri, Founder and CEO, Teach For India, on how the leadership development journey focuses on both the larger vision of the organization and also on the small things a person does
Teach For India unleashing employees’ leadership skills

Our theory of development puts a high level of ownership and trust in each of us and believes that each person’s leadership has a unique pattern


At Teach For India, we hold the very deep belief that each person has the potential to become a leader, and that Leadership Development is a journey. Our endeavor is to create a continuous path towards unleashing every person’s greatest potential and thus, try to crystallize the amorphous. 

2015 has been an important year for us. Teach For India is currently in phase 2 of its journey which is more about consolidation, phase 1 was about starting up and growing.  We are looking at phase 3 from 2017 to 2022, so a lot of planning is going on and we are trying to bring out an idea of doing things, leveraging our network and getting closer to the vision we have set out. 2016 stands as an inflection point for Teach For India.

When we say leadership development will be our area of focus, it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been our focus so far. But going forward, we are looking at new structures, new ways of inculcating it. We are very open to learning, sharing and in the coming years, we are looking at more and more ways of embedding it in the system. Our theory of development puts a high level of ownership and trust in each of our hands and believes that each person’s leadership has a unique pattern and emerges from his/her own life story. 

The Leadership Development Journey focuses on purpose, and one is encouraged, again and again, to focus on both a larger vision (for oneself, for education in India) and on purpose, in the small things that one does. Our people processes are structured in such a way that they always touch the ‘why’, rather than the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. Knowing ‘why’ you do what you do is at the core of everything. However, it is a daunting task of giving form to something which is essentially nebulous – of marrying the ‘why’ of the individual to the ‘why’ of the organization, of instilling goal orientation but not letting goals define the contribution. This is not something that can be accomplished through an annual or biannual review. It is woven into the very fabric of the organization, and into all structures and processes such as team check-ins, Learning Circles, Step Backs, Staff or Fellow Retreats and most certainly the Leadership Development Journey Conversations which take place twice a year. These conversations encompass learning and inspiration, and support and contribution. These conversations are very open ended, and every one writes about the aforementioned aspects and hands it over to the manager for the conversation. Although, the conversation is beyond penning it down. For example, a conversation around contribution is not just about achieving your goals, but efforts made to build the team and working towards the shared vision. Leadership Conversations are where we reaffirm the ‘whys’ - the reason for ‘being’, ‘doing’ and for ‘never ever giving up’.

Going forward in 2016, we are experimenting different forms and structures of these conversations; and we are running pilots to see the effectiveness of different structures which enable our people to think and reflect more. 


This article is co-authored by Rapti Mukherjee, Human Resources Manager, Teach For India

Topics: Talent Agenda 2016, Leadership, Leadership Development, Talent Acquisition

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