Ten insights from Ladies Who Lead—Women on Top
by Sonal Agrawal, Managing Partner Accord India, AltoPartners Global Operating Committee Member and AESC Main Board Member
This article was first published on the Landor website and blog
A buzz of confidence, bravado, and passion hummed through the room as I walked into a popular jazz bar in Mumbai. The desire for achievement was tangible. The level of accomplishment was already astounding. The focus of the evening: a panel discussion by six renowned professionals and entrepreneurs in their respective fields. By the end of the night, I would come away with newfound perspective, respect, and insight into what it takes to succeed in a creative and strategic industry, finding success both inside and outside the office.
Radha Kapoor Khanna: A creative entrepreneur and the founder of The Three Sisters and her flagship company Do It Creations, Radha Kapoor Khanna never equated her father’s success with her own. She has long been committed to incubating strategic investments in the “new age” of creative businesses in India.
Devita Saraf: As the entrepreneur who started Vu Technologies in her 20s, Devita Saraf has built her company into a $110 million smart television brand recognized for trust, quality, and innovation. I came to the panel viewing her as a “proper entrepreneur.” I left the evening with a changed perspective: Devita is a “hustler.”
Sonal Agarwal: Founding partner at Accord India and AltoPartners, Sonal Agarwal leads a top 10 global partnership of executive search firms. She oozes can-do spirit and a no-bullshit attitude.
Avani Davda: Managing director of Godrej Nature’s Basket and ex-country head of Tata Starbucks, Avani Davda understands how to add value to and navigate the world’s premier Fortune 500 companies.
Shinjini Kumar: Shinjini Kumar manages all of Citibank India’s consumer businesses, including retail banking, wealth management, commercial banking, bank cards, and mortgages in India. She headed the payments bank initiative at Paytm and, prior to Citi, occupied senior positions at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
Lulu Raghavan: Our very own managing director of Landor Mumbai, Lulu Raghavan has pioneered the business of branding and creativity in India. She has spent the last two decades helping brands become the cornerstones of organizations and their cultures.
From different backgrounds and a wide variety of fields of study, the women on the panel brought together years of experience across companies big and small. While there were many differences in each person’s story, one common denominator bound them together: their mindset.
As leaders in their own right, each of these women is a benchmark of success, professionalism, and innovation for people around the world, and especially for the young audience seated in the room.
While there were many lessons and valuable insights to be drawn from the “ladies who lead,” here are the 10 key points that provided clarity on achieving a successful career.
1. Getting to the top isn’t a solo ride
Gaining the respect and trust of your colleagues and team members is as important as gaining the trust of your board. It’s important to take people along with you, help them grow, and build mutually beneficial relationships.
2. Value your support system
When you’re a C-suite executive, it’s imperative that you value your personal and professional relationships with the people who support you day in and day out. Don’t take loyalty for granted. Gratitude goes a long way.
3. Lead, don’t direct
Empower and entitle those around you. Instill confidence in your team members and they will, in turn, instill confidence in you. Let your power trickle down and give them the autonomy to achieve their personal and professional goals. As you move up the value chain, your role quickly moves into the business of managing people.
4. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize
When there isn’t enough paper for your to-do list, you have to learn how to identify what’s important for you. Prioritize the tasks at hand and manage your time carefully. Be mindful of the present moment and take charge to drive efficient and effective impact. Work when you’re in the office. Party when you’re at a party. Set yourself guidelines and stick to them.
5. Be patient
Life is a long journey filled with highs and lows. You have to enjoy both. There are always going to be things that are wrong or imperfect. Good things take time, and success isn’t included in the world of instant gratification.
6. Be present
Physically, mentally, and emotionally, you have to be in the moment. When you’re at the top, everybody is observing you and drawing their own perceptions from your actions. While it’s important not to get overwhelmed, it’s equally essential to show a sense of control and security. Be there for your team; let your sense of support be felt. If you’re not in control, act as though you are.
7. Let go of the spotlight
There’s no need to tell the world you’re the best at everything. It’s not practical to always be Number One. You end up putting unnecessary pressure on yourself. Humility and tactfulness are key. Sometimes it’s beneficial to be under the radar.
8. Culture and bottom line should coexist
Know the pulse of your organization and learn how to set the context of the culture for the people around you. Keep revisiting this—it’s essential and it’s your responsibility. Help your employees stay engaged and content, and growth of your bottom line will follow.
9. Self-awareness is critical
Success is personal and subjective. Take responsibility for your career decisions and make peace with them early on. There’s always an opportunity cost in life. If you win one, you’ll lose another. It’s also crucial to know yourself, and to believe in something bigger than just winning. When we share common goals, we feel united with others and we’re able to forget our fears and anxieties. When we feel grounded and empowered, we thrive.
10. Grit is imperative
Work hard, work smart, and embrace persistence as a part of your life. A successful career is about the power of passion and perseverance. Stamina and endurance trump intensity so you have to keep moving forward, even when the going gets tough.
Wisdom from “the ladies who lead”
As a male in a predominantly female audience, an event titled Ladies Who Lead—Women on Top was sure to be a fascinating look at the female perspective on work, success, and career paths. A ton of wisdom was shared over the course of the evening, particularly about philosophies of leadership and success being gender agnostic. I gained insight from each panelist who spoke, and I left feeling proud that these successful women are helping to drive change and innovation in India and around the world. I also felt a newfound empathy for many of the women who faced challenges in their careers. Their discussion underscored my belief that true equality stems from the refusal to either recognize or dismiss achievements based on gender alone. It would be hard for me to believe that the Ladies Who Lead would have it any other way.
We all come from different backgrounds that impact our behaviors and the way we think. We all have a set of personal and professional problems that tag along with us. Man or woman, entrepreneur or corporate employee, young or old, the one constant is that everyone faces challenges. We all have to navigate our way through the maze, learn from our mistakes, and embrace roadblocks in order to achieve. We cannot fall prey to the mistake of victimization. By victimizing ourselves, we shed responsibility and give ourselves an excuse not to be at the top of our game. As one of my mentors once told me, “You only blame someone or something else when you’re too afraid to blame yourself.”
To the women and men out there, more power to you. Keep doing your thing, and enjoy the journey on your way to your destination.