The W-Suite | There is no non-playing Captain: Nupur Mahajan

With a rapidly evolving business and economic landscape there is a dire requirement of fresh thinking, new skill sets, greater flexibility & adaptability, more collaboration as well as the ability to think on one’s feet. 

Gone are the days when the thinking was more on the lines of ‘get a man to do this job’. Diversity in the workforce has become a necessity today, and more so in the leadership positions. It can’t be denied that women bring a high level of creativity and empathy while solving problems and handling crises. Women leaders bring to the table a different level of dexterity. 

AdGully proudly presents ‘The W-Suite’ (taken from the C-Suite), our feature series wherein we will be featuring interactions with influential women leaders in India, who share some deep insights on what being a woman leader means in India’s business landscape, the mantras to succeed, achieving work-life balance, pay parity and much more. The initial plan was to have one comprehensive report, however, the response has been so overwhelming that we have decided to create a series out of this, wherein we will feature one woman leader at a time over the next few weeks. 

Nupur Mahajan, CEO, Percept One, started out as a journalist with The Times of India Group. She moved on to television to launch Star News and later created brand equity for Anuradha Mahindra’s magazines: Verve and Man’s World. She simultaneously straddled radio with ABC, Australia. Mahajan also ran her own Sports Intellectual Property company, Beyond Boundaries. Prasoon Joshi, Chairman, McCann Worldgroup Asia Pacific, introduced her to advertising and groomed her to return to her alma matter, the Times Group as NCD. 

What defines a woman leader in today’s ecosystem?
Leaders are gender neutral. A leader is not the creation of a corner office, title or position. One may well be in a leadership position, but not necessarily be a leader. 

At a leader’s core is integrity, as trust is a leader’s true weapon. Most teams report to their bosses but do not, necessarily, trust them. A leader is unafraid, unafraid to stand up when required and stand down with the same ease. I also believe the X in the CXO stands for Doer. Work the hardest, be involved in the grimiest details and retain your hunger to learn, even if from an intern. Did I mention, have the ability to say, I am sorry?. That’s leadership – man, woman or canine, immaterial. Rule number one though is to be unafraid of losing your position and to operate from that secure haven. 

Why do you think a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions?
I do not think it is to do with ability, but is a function of women entering the workspace only in recent decades. Also the statistic, even now, may be reversely true for a few sectors. Reaching the top is a function of perseverance and toil. It is also often to do with sucking-it-up and allowing the shit to go on as it often does at a workplace. Perseverance, for some, is staying put and battling, but for others it means change. My personal experience has been that men are better conditioned at taking-it-all-in at work. At the risk of generalising: men, accept. Women, question. 

I have personally found it easy to let go of coveted positions when I believed the learning was gone. Perhaps it is to do with what kept us out of the workplace – “we didn’t need to work”. This conditioning emboldens even as it liberates... Today, as I lead 700 people across cities I see women ask more questions, challenge their roles, seek clarity and if unsated, I see women move out, unafraid. So, perhaps there are lesser women at the top as they covet role and not position. 

Do you think women leaders are still scrutinized as much for style as for substance?
Aren’t men? Leadership implies a public role, even if the exposure were limited to your teams, board of directors, managing committee and share holders. Fatter pay cheques certainly mean slimmer waistlines! How many C-Suites start running or change their wardrobe, if not the frame of their glasses. It is a function of being top-dog, however, it is only substance that gets you the bone in the first place. 

Do you think the leadership effectiveness of women is higher than men? Why?
Much that I love the womanly advantage, there is no ‘women’s line’ here. 

How do you maintain a balance between career goals and family responsibilities? How frequently do you have to sacrifice one for the other?
No differently than men. I think this question is better targeted at men as today I see them trying to break the stereotype of ‘working robots’ who had no cords. Ten years back, I never heard a boss or a male colleague mention a wife, a child or anything remotely domestic. Today men answer phones, mention what would earlier be blasphemous – homework and play dates, and even groceries… It’s full circle. 

Personally, I believe balance is central to life and not merely a see-saw of career and family. You win some, you lose some and that is the joy of life: choices. I balance work and family on the axis of sincerity and neither feels compromised. 

What would be your advice to women aiming for the C-Suite?
Focus and fluidity. Focus to toil for the goal, and the fluidity to not be limited, or even attached, to the desired outcome. Letting go, is what you do most once at the top, so practice early. Also, remember, there is no non-playing Captain, and you must be able to add core value to the job so as not to merely be a minder. 

What, according to you, are the 3 important lessons new women leaders need to learn?
Work. Work. Work. Plus, integrity and group cohesiveness. People skills are crucial to leadership: you are the sum total of the team and pushing yourself is no longer the challenge, getting a set of disparate people to come together and excel is what qualifies you a success now.


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