We managed to get a candid chat with the first British Deputy High Commissioner in Chandigarh, Mr. David Lelliott – who gives insightful answers about his life as a diplomat.
He is a career diplomat with over twenty years of experience, having previously worked in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and Europe, as well as two spells in London. Read on to find out what he says about having lived in so many different cultures, Indian food and fashion!
Style Aria: Having lived in so many different countries, you are in a position to best tell us… how is the Indian culture different from all those other nations you have previously called home?
I’ve found most of the people I’ve lived and worked with around the world to be very welcoming, but that’s been particularly pronounced here in India. The local community here in Chandigarh have been very hospitable and made us feel very at home here.
Style Aria: How do you feel about the Indian fashion scenario? Does your wife
like any of the Indian traditional clothing?
Wow, I don’t often get asked about fashion! I love the colours and patterns here, and have a few Indian clothes in my wardrobe – some I can wear quite regularly, others I need to find an excuse to put on. My wife certainly likes Indian clothes – in fact shortly after we arrived in Chandigarh she modelled a sari for a charity event.
Style Aria: What is your typical day like?
One of the (many!) things I like about my job is the variety: I don’t really have a typical day. I travel a lot, but when I am at home during the week I normally have breakfast with my family and get the kids off to school. Then I head to the office; I’ll normally be in and out at various meetings through the day. In the evening there are often receptions or other events to go to – or to host – or maybe something more relaxed with friends. I always try to spend a bit of time with the family, though, before heading out. And if I have an evening at home I’ll help the kids with their homework, watch some television or a film with them, then put them to bed and read them a story. After that I get to spend a bit of time with my wife and/or relax with a book.
Style Aria: Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a
leader? Why and how did this person impact your life?
I don’t like to name names, but I’ve been lucky to work with some very good people during my diplomatic career. In Mexico, in particular, I worked for some really good bosses who showed me that you can be a good leader, get things done and still be a nice person. It’s been encouraging to see those people progress through the system and go on to become senior ambassadors and diplomats – it shows that you don’t have to be … less nice … to get ahead.
Style Aria: What advice would you give someone going into a diplomatic/
leadership position for the first time?
Be yourself. It’s something I’ve always believed, but leadership trends now seem to emphasise that you can’t lead “by the book”, you have to let your personality and individuality show through. Also know your strengths and weaknesses (everyone has both!), and work out how you play to the former and compensate for the latter. Actually most of the skills for being a leader are just general life skills applied in a particular way.
Style Aria: If you could invite to dinner any 3 famous personalities of the
past, who would they be and why?
The most difficult question of all! On a different day you might have got a different answer but I think I’m going to say:
John Lennon: I’m a big Beatles and fan and although he could be difficult he’s a fascinating personality.
Che Guevara: Another person whose story can be told different ways and it would be good to be able to decide for myself.
Frida Kahlo: I find Mexican culture & history fascinating; aside from her art, she lived through a very turbulent period and knew many of major players.
Style Aria: Do you like the Indian cuisine? Any particular favorites?
Too much and too many to name! I often try to eat vegetarian, and Indian cuisine obviously offers a lot of choice for that; I also have a bit of a sweet tooth, which is something I also find it easy to indulge here. And I’ve definitely developed a taste for one of Punjab’s finest offerings: chole and puri!
Style Aria: What is your own personal style like? An off-duty look that you fancy?
Relaxed. The most important thing for me is that I feel comfortable with what I’m wearing – I’m not really willing to be uncomfortable or too hot/cold for the sake of image. And as with most things I like variety, so one day I’ll go for something very classic or conservative, the next day for something a bit more colorful or individual.
Style Aria: When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how do you
determine whom to hire?
You very rarely get two people who are really equally qualified – there’s almost always some kind of “tie breaker” extra thing that one or other of them brings. Our selection process also means that there are always three people involved in any case, so there’s an element of negotiation and discussion. More often than not you end up with a trade off – one candidate is better in one area, the other in something else, and you have to make a judgement as to which is more important and who will do the better job over all. A judgement about their ability to learn and develop is also often very important: I sometimes reject the candidate I think will do the better job on day one because I think that there’s someone else who’ll be a better bet six months in.
Style Aria: What are the challenges you deal with most while working with the
The same as with dealing with any other organisation – they have their own priorities and ways of doing things. Some organisations are more flexible and responsive than others, but basically if you want to get things done with anyone you need to see what the common ground is: where do your goals coincide, what is it that you can’t compromise on and conversely where can you play the game their way?
Style Aria: What is the last book that you read and really liked?
I’ve just finished “Farthest Field”, about India in the Second World War – a fascinating book. Actually I’ve been reading a lot of Indian literature recently – “The Half Girlfriend” (a recommendation from my wife), “Maharaja in Denims”, “Roll of Honour” … one of the benefits of living in a country with such a great cultural scene.