Lessons in modern day leadership & some timeless mantras

Ruchi Kaushal, Global Marketing Manager - Car Workshops, Castrol, shares a communications professional’s journey to another business and various countries. Kaushal also shares the many key lessons learnt from her bosses, teams and even customers, on way to successfully straddling the business world.

Last week, I had an excellent chat with the good folks at PRPOI. Over 16 years of working and transitioning from a communications professional to a Sales and Marketing person – if you ask me if I could do it all over again, would I do it the same way, I’d tell you, mostly yes. Mostly, because I would just learn the lessons quicker (don’t we all wish the same), work harder, but yes, I would do it the same way.

Here are some lessons learnt that I penned down during the week. These are the things that I learnt from some amazing people I got to work with, some people who pushed me hard to polish me around the rough edges and some lessons learnt after I miserably failed and fell down (and you thought it was all a joy ride?)

Home Work, Home Work, Home Work!

I learnt it quite early and painfully – once you start working, nothing beats the value of a good preparation. For me, it was a painful learning because I was always the kind of a student who could ace through classes by studying on the last day. I remember once reading a whole book the night before the exam and scoring 90 per cent. You know what, it was a bad habit. First year into the job, I realised no matter how smooth I spoke, I lacked good content without preparation. In a nutshell, I could not Bu**sh*t my way around. That’s when I started rehearsing. I practiced for every meeting, every presentation. I made Post-It notes for every small meeting. And I still do that. If I don’t have time to prepare, I cancel the meetings. Numbers, strategy, thought process, I ‘have to have to have’ to jot down my key points, prepare like a student before I enter that meeting room. No matter how smart you are, to me if you underestimate the importance of being thorough, you aren’t smart enough.

Figure out early ‘What makes you wake up and come to work’

This was 2009 and I was in a role that needed me to travel 21 days in a month. I asked my line manager, “How do you keep your energy up when numbers are down and it just gets tiring?” His answer was quite simple, “You need to figure out what makes you wake up every day. It’s not about this one job or numbers. What makes you get up every morning and run?” I didn’t get my answer that year. But over the years the thought stayed with me. One morning when the chips were down in my life I woke up and told myself, “I am made for bigger things than this.” That was it. Since then I know what makes me wake up and run. I believe we all must have that one driving thought and reason. It becomes our calling. As you work and grow, irrespective of big or small companies, you will have hundreds of things that pull you down. You need that one single thing that makes you bounce right back. For me, I just have to tell myself that nothing can break my back because I am made for bigger things than this.

Listen to that one person who won’t laugh at you

Now this isn’t a story I share very often. I was 23, I was moving from comms to sales. You know one of those dreamy eyed young kids on the block. Someone asked me, “What do you really want to do?” and I said, “I want to lead a business by 35.” Very seriously. I got chuckles, I got smiles. But there was this one guy who looked me in the eye and said, “Of course you can, but you will have to work very, very hard. Can you?” This man was at that time the Managing Director of the company. And his reaction was the only one I filtered and kept with myself. You will have hundreds of people who might doubt you. But keep that one advice with you that matters. All I remember is that he didn’t laugh at my dream. And he told me I will have to work very, very hard (and I am still working very, very hard)!

Build Predictability

This is one of the best pieces of advice I ever got. I was always someone who prided herself on being eclectic, creative and often unpredictable. Now when I look back, I wish someone had said this to me earlier. One of my mentors had told me, “People look for a sense of predictability in leaders.” Honestly, I didn’t get it, shrugged my shoulders and moved on. But I did keep thinking about it. Then I looked around at everyone I admired and saw a pattern. There were things about them I was sure about. And there were things about me, I was never sure about. Boom! Then I understood. I could be creative, innovative, everything I wanted to be and yet make people comfortable about a few things aka predictability. People like you to be dependable. That needs certain predictability about you. By the time I understood this, I was reaching office everyday by 8.30 am. Come rain or storm, I was there. My colleagues knew where to find me and when. They knew I would log into a meeting call 5 minutes before the call. You know my meetings will always have agenda sent before the meeting. You know I always wear black or white or grey or navy. These are the things that make you predictable. And predictability is not boring. Predictability is reliability.

Have a live list - “What kind of manager/ boss/ leader I want to be?”

You know, you will have good bosses and bad bosses. And both will teach you one thing. They will teach you what kind of leader you want to be. And also teach you what kind of leader you ‘Don’t’ want to be. I have been luckier to work with more good bosses. But everyone has taught me what I will pick and choose in the list of what I wanted to be.

In fact, often your teams will teach you what kind of boss/ leader you should be. Pay close attention and listen to them. First time I managed a big team, it was overwhelming. My youngest colleague was a year older to me and oldest was close to my dad’s age. I was their manager and they were a brilliant bunch of sales guys. My best piece of advice came from my 54-year old colleague. We were on a market visit and I asked him what makes a good manager. Given the fact we both loved soccer and Argentina team, he told me, “A good manager is like a coach, he doesn’t have to be a great player, he just needs to stand on the side-lines and fill in the gaps of the team. Players know how to play, he should let them. If he tries to play, nobody wins. That’s why Maradoña is a crappy coach.” That did it for me. For two years while I was managing the team, I never tried to ‘make’ the sale. I helped, coached, and guided the team. It wasn’t my place to score goals. I still look back and think it was my favourite role.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

I must be the only one from my academic batch who is still in the same company that I took up after campus placements. I often get asked, “How?” Or rather, “Why?” For me it was simple, I did several different roles all these years. And boy! There were times I was so much out of my comfort zone. Every time I thought I aced it, I either asked for something different or I was thrown into a completely new role. And now when I look back, I am so glad it happened (and still happening). My biggest fear is that I will become redundant the day I stop learning. If you are lucky to work in a big organisation or have an appetite to jump across streams, do it. Do it early on in your career. Nothing builds your professional character like being out in the cold knowing less and learning it all over again.

Apart from this, my favourite moment in the last few years is not of any awards or numbers in achievement. It was when one of the customers, barely eighth grade pass, got his daughter to one of these dealer conferences. He came up to me, and introducing his daughter, said, “Madam, she is doing BSc. I really want her to also have a job like yours. I want her to be like you”. These are the precise moments you know you are doing your bit, you are changing things and you have a bigger responsibility than just delivering numbers. This was my single biggest lesson learnt.

(This article is by special arrangement via a collaboration with PRPOI.)


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