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Azam Bakeer Markar: Life management

Azam Bakeer Markar: Life management

Azam Bakeer Markar talks to Queen's Young Leaders about knowing your 'why'

Azam Bakeer Markar is a prominent young leader in Sri Lanka. As well as holding down a demanding high-profile job, he participates in politics and volunteerism, and is father to a growing family.

He spoke to Nushelle de Silva about how he fits it all in.

See Azam's profile to read more about his committments

Life management, not time management

Azam Bakeer Markar keeps his project management tools simple, using the Lotus Notes digital calendar paired with a written to-do list. But he admits that keeping everything balanced is a constant struggle.

He shies away from the phrase 'time management', taking instead a broader view of life. “A lot of time management," he observes, "comes down to figuring out what you really want to do in life.”

Coming from a prominent political family, Azam recognises that his position in society allows him to get things done quickly, or to influence outcomes. He believes playing to one’s strengths is a responsibility to the larger community, not a right.

“I would rather go home early every day to hang out with the kids, but [you have to realise that] there is something bigger than yourself.”

Spirituality plays a big role in Azam's outlook. As a Muslim, he believes that things are predetermined, and everyone is given a different challenge. Believing he has no control over the outcome, he says, makes him more open to dealing with life’s curveballs. It allows him to be nimble and adaptable.

And his “appointment with God five times a day” is a time to switch off and reflect, he says, stressing that it is important to make time for yourself.

Focus on the ‘why’

He notes that many young people get flustered when things don’t go to plan, and advises them to remember that “the plan is a plan, and that’s all it is; it isn’t a prophecy of reality”.

While it’s important to prepare and devise a strategy, the final objective is what matters most. There’s more than one route to a desired destination. Being too wedded to the plan can blind one to new opportunities that might work better.

When things don’t work out as he’d hoped Azam keeps his inevitable disappointment at bay by focusing on the bigger picture.

“There needs to be a more fundamental 'why' for why you do things. In the end, the project itself might fall through, but the why takes you through any situation.”

He admits that it’s human to enjoy appreciation, and says there is nothing wrong with that. But being clear on your ‘why’ helps you not to be disappointed if accolades don't come or things go wrong.

He also takes a long-term view on perceived failures, noting that the definition of failure is always very personal.

“We face failure more often than success, but we glamourise success. Failure is not necessarily a bad thing, [and often] ends up in a victory. I would prefer to fail first, instead of winning straight away, because I’ll learn and get better in the process.”

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Leading a team

Azam has been at Aitken Spence PLC, a blue chip conglomerate in Sri Lanka, for 10 years. He started in business development and over the years his responsibilities have expanded to include corporate communication and sustainability.

Half the battle of managing his work day, Azam notes, is putting together a good team who will “leave him redundant”. His role as leader is not static, but constantly evolving. He trains others to do his work, which forces him to find something new to do. This process frees him to constantly innovate.

Azam Bakeer Markar leading a team

Azam manages a young team, whose average age is in their 20s. In an establishment that has been around for one and a half centuries, it can be a challenge to be flexible and to move away from familiar practices for getting things done.

He laughs, "This generation is very impatient!"

To get the best out of his team he delegates clear responsibilities and provides constant challenge, so they feel they are playing a significant role in making a difference. He also encourages young leaders to evaluate seemingly menial tasks by looking at the big picture.

“Every small thing [is part of] something bigger. At any stage, you'll be doing small things. It's the combination of small things that make an excellent big thing."

He stresses the importance of taking time to build relationships and interact meaningfully with others.

“As Stephen Covey says, there is no ‘fast’ with people. You have to take it slow.”

He rarely starts his interactions with a request. “I will ask how people are, crack a joke, and eventually get to the point.”

Building relationships, he says, should not be viewed within the framework of a single interaction. Long-term relationships work out best, as contacts will go the extra mile for him, and prioritise his project when necessary.

Being open to opportunity

Although the key to time management is often said to lie in the ability to say no to things, Azam finds that this can be restrictive. Instead he advises going to meet people who have reached out to you, and trying out new things.

“You have to be open. You can’t just budget time for getting new opportunities,” he says pointing out that you don’t have to commit right away. “The first meeting is a great way to see what the initiative is really all about.”

At the same time, he says, it’s also important to let go of projects and responsibilities that you can no longer commit to.

“Some people stay on just for the name, but you have to be honest about whether you are making a contribution or not.”

Knowing his why, Azam says, helps him judge which activities have become less of a priority and which he can no longer devote his time to.

This article was written by Nushelle de Silva