Lessons in leadership for DGEs


One year after your tenure you will be a past governor but will continue to  preside over events in your district. If you want to leave footprints on the sands of time then consider this year as the most crucial part of your life,” said RI President ­Shekhar Mehta addressing the governors-elect at the GETS seminar at the Mahabs institute.

“There’s nothing like being home, at the institute of our own zones,” he remarked, having attended virtual or in-person institutes around the world, the latest being Japan’s virtual one at 5am! He complimented GETS chair PDG Gowri Rajan (RID 3220, Sri Lanka) for being the first woman to chair a GETS session in 40 years.

His mantra to the incoming governors: dream big and have a positive attitude. “As leaders you should soar the highest. This one year is very special for you all as you will be inspiring thousands of people around you to change the lives of millions of people,” he said. Recalling  the dream of Rotarians 40 years ago to eradicate polio from the world, he said, “It takes a lot of courage, belief and determination to act on such a massive programme. People may laugh at your audacity to have big dreams. But they will have the last laugh when you march  towards that goal, taking your team along with you.”

Make yourself so strong that the chief minister should come and ask, what is it, Rotary, that we can do together?

Urging the incoming leaders to have a positive attitude Mehta said, “This is a voluntary organisation. You joined Rotary out of your own free will. Having done that, it is not right to say that this is not possible, I cannot do this etc. A volunteer is someone who says yes, we can, and we will,” he reiterated.

He said one of his dreams as governor was to build 500 houses for the poor and “I conveyed this to my presidents. In a month’s time a club president brought a corporate who was ready to donate land. The club signed an MoU and got the land. We had applied for a 3H-grant that normally takes two years to be approved. But on June 24, six days before the end of my tenure, it got approved for ₹1.5 crore. And we built 300 houses that year.  Likewise, after seven trips to the ­tsunami-affected Andaman and Nicobar Islands we built 500 houses. It cost ₹3 crore and we began the project without any bank balance. That is the power of a positive outlook and believing in your dreams.”

Mehta asked the DGEs to set clear goals and shared his trainer’s advice to him as a DGE. “He said that a governor’s job is to lubricate the egos of the club presidents. The same goes for the club president. He just has to pat a club member on his shoulder and say, ‘Good job. Well done.’ It will work wonders.”

DGEs Pubudu De Zoysa (RID 3220) and Dr Jayagowri Hadigal (RID 3182).
DGEs Pubudu De Zoysa (RID 3220) and Dr Jayagowri Hadigal (RID 3182).

Emphasising on his pet concept, ‘Each one, bring one’, he said, “Ask your friends to be Rotarians. Ask your partners to invite their friends to Rotary.”

The RI President’s pep talk to the DGEs included contribution to TRF and doing bigger, bolder service projects. “We have a role to play in the nation-building process. Our programmes and scale are unmatched. In India we have 1.7 lakh Rotarians. Even our government does not have so many people of this calibre at their highest level. Make yourself so strong that the chief minister should come and ask, what is it, Rotary, that we can do together?” he said.

Mehta said the TRF contributions from zones 4, 5, 6 and 7 which include five countries — India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Bhutan — is outstanding and urged the DGEs to maintain the tempo. “America gives 10 times the money that we give to the Foundation. If India gives $20 million, the US gives $200 million. But the purchase parity of an Indian rupee is 22.5 LCU (Local Currency Unit) per dollar. Which means every dollar paid is equivalent to 22 times the Indian rupee. So if the $20 million is multiplied by 22.5, then we are giving much more than the US,” he explained.

You walk the talk. Instead of making DEI a lip service you have truly marked the value of diversity and given the tiny island of Sri Lanka an opportunity.
PDG Gowri Rajan to RID Venkatesh

Mehta advised the district leaders to include Rotaractors in their district committees and treat them with respect. “Our resources, experience and wisdom combined with their youthfulness, energy, enthusiasm and technology will make a winning combination to take Rotary forward.”


Faster, higher and stronger

Institute convener RID A S Venkatesh referred to the Olympics motto — citius, altius, fortius ( faster, higher and stronger), to give the adrenaline push to the DGEs. “It does not mean that you must compete against someone. Each district is unique in its own way — your DNA, resources, membership profile, geographical location, every aspect is different. A district like 3240 has nine states, whereas closer home, one district — 3232 comprises one city — Chennai. So they cannot be compared. The competition should be with yourself. It is all about doing better than what you ever thought you could, and doing it all together.”

Referring to an elephant carving on stone, typical of Mahabalipuram sculpture, he said, “remove whatever is not relevant for an elephant from the stone and you get the elephant.” The DGEs will have to remove unnecessary thoughts so that “you can focus on what is required. To move faster, higher and stronger, you need to off-load the irrelevant thoughts.”

Vinita Venkatesh and GETS Chair PDG Gowri Rajan.
Vinita Venkatesh and GETS Chair PDG Gowri Rajan.

Venkatesh stressed on promoting diversity, equity and inclusion at club level. “You must appreciate and acknowledge the role of your partners in your journey as district leaders. Your year as governor will be enhanced and more productive and meaningful if you choose to include your partner. I can tell you from experience that the kind of feedback they can give you, nobody else can. Vinita has always given me honest, sincere feedback when I served as governor and subsequently in various other roles,” he added.


Rotary — a symphony

Rotary leaders do not fit into any of the conventional forms of leadership, “instead we are all voluntary leaders. We do it from our heart,” said institute co-convener RID Mahesh ­Kotbagi. Based on leadership qualities he compared the leaders to different types of musical instruments — woodwind, brass, string and percussion. “As you complement each other you create a symphony. Ultimately, it is the teamwork that counts,” he said.

Institute chair PDG ­Muruganandam, quoting a couplet of Tamil poet ­Avvaiyar: Katradhu kai alavu; kallaadhadhu ulagalavu (what one knows is only a fistful; the unknown is the size of the world), urged the DGEs to be receptive to learning all through their year. Love your responsibility, learn wherever possible, live your destiny and serve your district to make your year a memorable one, was his message to them.

Gowri pointed out that when the world was going through the Covid crisis, Rotary, with its cutting-edge projects and new ways to meet, stayed relevant to the changing circumstances. “Thus a new leadership style was born and those who have been agile have been the survivors. You will be a special team as you will be serving under Rotary’s first woman president — Jennifer Jones.” Thanking Venkatesh for choosing her as GETS chair, she said, “You walk the talk. Instead of making DEI a lip service you have truly marked the value of diversity and given the tiny island of Sri Lanka an opportunity.”

RID Bharat Pandya, the general trainer, introduced the GETS trainers for membership, Foundation giving and service projects.


Pictures by Jaishree


One comment on “Lessons in leadership for DGEs

  • Jan 08 2022 at 6:46 pm

    The leadership lessons for the DGEs are quite inspiring. Great to read all the anecdotes and lessons that have come across to DGEs and how they are equally relatable for a club president as well . RI President Shekhar Mehta’s viewpoint of how he really did mega projects only showcases that once worthy projects are available, resources automatically get aligned.

    • Rotary Club : Rotary Club of Deonar, RID 3141

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