Leadership lessons from India

Lessons from my trip to India where I was working with my most recent Scaling Up client, KOCO, and their amazing team of women.

Published February 25, 2019

Hugh with Danielle from KOCO

Hugh with Danielle from KOCO


Knit One Change One

I have just come back from a fantastic trip to India where I was working with my most recent Scaling Up client, KOCO, and their amazing team of women.

KOCO is on a mission to change the world through the production of high quality, meticulously handknitted garments. They are significantly changing lives for both the recipients of their garments and the artisans who knit them. Leading KOCO is Australian businesswoman, Danielle Chiel.

Immersing myself into their business for a few days in India gave me the opportunity to experience and be reminded of some fabulous tenets of leadership in business and in life. By no means exhaustive – and in no particular order – below are some of the qualities that immediately come to mind for reflection.

Some fabulous tenets of leadership

It’s the ACTIONS people take

With many conversations conducted with the assistance of a translator, the only way you really know your message has been understood is by the resultant behaviour.

Quality in KOCO garments is paramount. Clients are not looking for the ‘charming’ and ‘unique’, possibly saggy, handknitted jumper that looks like it was knitted by a dear relative and given as a gift for Christmas. KOCO garments are all carefully and precisely handknitted and must be identical to the pattern and each other. I personally witnessed their artisans checking and re-checking garments several times during production. Saying it will be done is not enough, it is actually doing it right that is required.

Get creative with key messaging

If you are struggling to get everyone on the same page, find new ways to share the message. How we learn and assimilate information can vary significantly.

The local artisans come to KOCO with potentially no knowledge of knitting and no English language skills to read the patterns and concept drawings from fashion brands based all over the world. They are taught how to knit and how to read English and perform the maths required to read the patterns. They progress from knitting identical bumble bees to beautiful, stylish catwalk-ready garments. Garments of a style that the artisans themselves have most probably never seen before.

A combination of visual and aural communication enables this to be pulled off to a high standard. This is a phenomenal achievement and testament to the artisans and the leadership team!

Higher purpose trumps money

Sure, as a business leader you are running a commercial enterprise and, yes, it has to generate cashflow and profits to facilitate scaling up. That said, it was the leadership team’s passion and commitment that I observed driving them through the daily challenges and frustration of operating in the environment that they do, which is one of a developing world.

We all deal with challenges and issues that don’t quite go according to plan or frustrate us. Operating across cultures and customs is a challenge faced by the KOCO team..

Knowing your why supports you as you dig deep for patience, tenacity, creativity, flexibility, calm and clear communication – especially on those days when it just feels a little bit harder.

It’s all about the journey

Successfully scaling up a business is so much more than simply making money. My week in India really made it clear and obvious that it is the daily interactions, the little things that are said and done moving one closer to the vision and purpose of the business, that are truly rewarding. Watching numerous interactions between the leadership team and their artisans was a real privilege as across cultures and language they mutually developed understanding and grew in their collaboration to deliver on their opportunity to handknit the world together.

The personal growth stories shared were an inspiration. The local ladies are living challenging lives in conditions that we in the pampered West would find very difficult to deal with day after day. They do it with warm, wonderful smiles and lots of lovely chatter. One felt a real sense of community and support. The older, more experienced knitters sharing their knowledge willingly with the newer recruits on the journey from bumble bee to beautiful garment.

Thank you Danielle and the whole KOCO family, for an amazing experience and my own lessons and growth along the way. Looking forward to the KOCO story unfolding.