Passion for work will help young leaders to carve their own path: Toufique Khalidi

A person must care about discipline, and love and enjoy their work if they want to become a “disruptive leader” by challenging the traditional ways of doing the job, says Toufique Imrose Khalidi.

The bdnews24.com editor-in-chief talked about disruptive leadership at a virtual event organised by Sublime Leadership, a platform on leadership. The event was aired live on Facebook on Friday night.

The host, Sheikh Mamun Khaled, chairman of Sublime Group and former vice-chancellor of the Bangladesh University of Professionals, delivered a monologue about Disruptive Leadership, which he said became a new normal during the COVID-19 situation.

Disruptive leaders think in a way different than the traditional leaders, said Khaled, a former commandant of the National Defence College.

They change things and the way things are done, are not afraid to shake things up. They challenge the status quo and accepted behaviours. They disrupt their own frame of reference, and look for insights.

Professionally disruptive leaders are critical, but they accept others’ views as well. And they are always looking for better solutions, according to Khaled.

“Don’t you think they are the ones we are looking forward to? As Barack Obama said, ‘We should not wait for anyone else, we are the ones we have been waiting for.’,” he said.

Pointing out the dimensions of disruptive leadership, he said the disruptive leaders anticipate things, which helps them make decisions. They accelerate to keep pace with technological advancement. Driven by themselves, they inspire and drive others around them. They partner because you can’t get things done alone, so you need to collaborate. And that’s why partnership is important.

“And lastly, trust. You must have 100 percent trust in your followers and peers. Trust is the foundation, the bed rock on which leadership stands,” he said.

The former BUP VC then asked Khalidi to tell the viewers the story of bdnews24.com emerging as “one of the” most popular news portals of Bangladesh.

“Initially, we are “the most popular” news portal, not just “one of the” most popular news portals. We began it, we started it. Not just in Bangladesh, probably in the world,” Khalidi pointed out, noting that the Huffington Post was there before bdnews24.com, but it was like a blog site.

bdnews24.com is arguably the first internet-only national news-gathering operation in the world.

Known simply as BDNEWS in 2005, it had worked as news agency for the other media outlets. It became the first media outlet to ever operate over the internet in Bangladesh. The other agencies were still using teleprinters to supply news.

In 2006, a new management led by Khalidi brought sweeping changes to the news publisher and the 24/7 journey began in a new form.

In the over 14 years of operation, bdnews24.com has earned plaudits for introducing many firsts as a digital news provider, including mobile sites and breaking news SMS alerts.

The bilingual newspaper is also the first Bangla internet news media. It has launched the first Bangla website run by child journalists.

Khalidi recalled how he was approached to help salvage a “sinking, dying” company in mid-2006. Having spent some time in the newsroom during an early 2005 trip to Dhaka while still working for the BBC in London, he said, he had developed some sort of attachment to the company.

By early 2006, the company ran into trouble financially, and the owners-managers were looking for a way out. The senior employees had approached 'all sorts of people', he said, but nothing could be worked out.

Then he came into the picture, Khalidi said, being approached to find new takers, which led to the takeover with all financial liabilities.

The key point of the takeover was to save the jobs and the name. Khalidi said he tried to save jobs, but rebranded it as the first dot com (.com) company in Bangladesh.

“All these dot com bubbles had already burst in some of the countries in Europe. In Bangladesh, it hadn’t begun at all. So I thought why not give it a try.”

As the newspapers and other media truncated or stole bdnews24.com’s news bulletins, Khalidi said, he began thinking about opening up the site for the readers.

“I love what I do, and I do what I love. That is the secret,” says Sheikh Mamun Khaled, chairman of Sublime Group and former vice-chancellor of Bangladesh University of Professionals.

The operation was launched on Oct 23 that year, which is not only bdnews24.com’s anniversary, it is also the day when Bangladesh’s online news publishing began its journey with the first 24/7 as-it-happens services.

When Khalidi started hiring new people and put them in charge of different departments, some did not like it or left the organisation altogether. Some said it was not the way to do things, he recalled.

“I said ‘I want it differently. I’m being disruptive for some people, but I’m not trying to damage the institution. I want to develop the institution. I don’t want to destroy the institution. I want to take it to a different level’.

“Because that was my promise to myself, to my audience, to everyone,” he added.

The editor-in-chief described how he helmed bdnews24.com for nearly one and a half decades by developing new business models, such as the breaking news SMS alert service, and sailed through tough times, having only the website to make money.

“We had to lead. We led, and others followed. Today, there are thousands of websites based on the same economic model,” he said.

“My colleagues, they sacrificed a lot. But they were enjoying the job. I made sure they enjoy the job. They had all the freedom to write anything about anything or anybody,” Khalidi said.    

Khaled, the host, then asked Khalidi, describing the journalist as “A Model Disruptive Leader”, to make some recommendations for the young generation.

“The main thing is - you have to enjoy doing what you are doing. That’s number one. And then you are focused on the job. If you don’t enjoy your job, don’t do it,” Khalidi said.

He said this is how a person can become passionate about the job.

“And if you are passionate about it, then you try to do things differently – ‘Yes, I have to do it!’ Then you are motivated and you want to achieve targets,” the editor-in-chief said.

Khalidi emphasised discipline in work while being disruptive. “I never stopped loving or owning the company, or institution or organisation I worked for.

“My ways of doing things might probably not be liked by people who managed me, or by my superiors, but I never stopped delivering. You have to deliver. You have to love the job. You have to like the job. You have to be passionate about the job.

“That’s how you become creative and find ways to do it,” he said.

Khaled, the chairman of Sublime Group, pointed out that there are thousands of institutions around the world that are for the development of leadership skills, but Bangladesh does not have any. He asked Khalidi for his take on the matter.

Khalidi said many successful business and technology leaders of recent times did not go to academies for knowledge, but these are very important to produce leaders, the average ones, whom society is very much in need of.

“Do not stop reading, studying, watching and observing new things. Everyday you learn new things. That’s the key.”

“Of course, some of them (big leaders who change the world) come from institutions. But there has to be something different, something extra, something out of the box about them if you really want to be different and as you (Khaled) said, a ‘disruptive leader’.”

“But disruption doesn’t mean you don’t care about discipline. Disruption means you do it different; you do not follow a set of rules; you challenge the rules,” he said.

“You work hard, you try to disrupt proceedings, but do not destroy it, damage it or destabilise it or do anything that harm the institution or organisation.

“Be disciplined. That’s very important. Be devoted to the work,” Khalidi said when asked for some inspirational words.

At the end of the event, Khalidi asked Khaled, who retired as a Lieutenant General after nearly four decades in the army and has an astonishing number of higher degrees, how he managed to achieve so much in the academic world.

“I love what I do, and I do what I love. That is the secret,” Khaled replied.