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Learning Management In The Middle Of Nowhere

20 October 2012 | Source: India Today

Back in 1983 when I had enrolled in XLRI, despite its eminence of being one of the most prestigious management education institutions in India, the question I was asked most often was "Where the hell is XLRI?" I was a bit disappointed by that query initially, until I discovered in my 36-hour train ride to Jamshedpur that "middle of nowhere" is actually what makes XLRI so special.

Once you get to XLRI, you have nowhere else to go. Professors, students and even the chaiwallah have to create a community amongst themselves. Camaraderie blooms in this environment which is more collaborative than competitive and more emotional than just practical. It is an oasis of selfdiscovery which "changes lives" and creates lifelong friendships.

I've had the privilege of not just studying but also working with many XL-ers and have observed four distinct attributes that set them apart. The first is leading by heart. You can become a true leader only when people follow you, and that is only possible when your colleagues "feel" for what you stand for. XLRI excels in bringing this leadership style centrestage because many students major in HR.

Second, it cultivates a unique mental agility to deal with adversity and connect dots that others cannot connect. The 45 degrees summers, poor electricity supply, food best left undisturbed and impossible train reservations become irrelevant as the goal of learning becomes the focus. This attitude gains tremendous relevance in today's challenged world where leaders whose brains are wired to seek opportunity in adversity are more likely to succeed.

Third, it encourages irrationality in thinking. Digressing from conformed notions is celebrated here-irrationality in your expectation from yourself, your team, your idea, your company, and even the world at large.

Last, because of Jesuit origins, XLRI underlines the value of working for the greater good of society and not just economic gains. Leaders with a higher purpose have an inner strength and a unique moral compass which guides them effectively through hopeless situations.

Coming back now to the question of "Where the hell is XLRI?" Over the years, XLRI has made its geographical or brand or rating-based associations completely irrelevant. What has instead come to define it more prominently are the thousands of leaders it has shaped. Thus the more relevant question to ask now is-"Who the hell is an XL-er?" I hope you will know one when you meet one.

-Vineet Nayar is vice-chairman and CEO of HCL Technologies