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“The world no longer requires a straight-jacketed biz leader, but a people’s leader”

We, at Adgully, have always saluted and honoured women managers and leaders across diverse fields. Last year, we launched our unique and distinct program, called WOMEN DISRUPTORS, which drew a lot of attention and was highly appreciated by the industry. W-SUITE is a special initiative from Adgully that has been turning the spotlight on some of the most remarkable women achievers in M&E, Advertising & Marketing, PR & Communication industry. In the refurbished series, we will find out how women leaders have been managing their teams and work as well as how they have been navigating through the toughest and most challenging times brought about by the global pandemic.

An empathetic and authentic leadership is what the post-COVID-19 world needs, which comes very naturally to women, believes Radhika Gupta, MD and CEO, Edelweiss AMC, as she shares how she has navigated through the challenges of the pandemic crisis and achieved work-life harmony.

How do you think the role and scope of women leaders is widened in the post-pandemic world?

If you look at countries that truly navigated the pandemic well, they had one thing in common – they were led by women. That’s going to leave a lasting impression for generations to come. However, this was no coincidence. In a world that is volatile and in desperate need for leadership that empathises, women take the lead. The world no longer requires a straight-jacketed business leader, but a people’s leader, which comes very naturally to women. They listen, understand and lead with vulnerability. One of my favourite moments was watching Jacinda Ardern, who’s a leader I really admire, putting her kid to sleep, while also addressing her country with openness and authenticity. Women bring empathetic and authentic leadership to the table and that’s what’s required in a post-COVID-19 world.

The rapid transition to digital, an uncertain economic landscape, working from home with no usual modes of contact. How have you been navigating during the COVID-19 times, what are the challenges that you faced and how did you tackle them?

I have always been a child of change. I grew up in an environment where adapting to change was second-nature. My father was in a transferable job and we frequently moved, not just countries but continents. It’s interesting because COVID-19 required me to work from home for nearly a year. I was never one to spend too much time at home. I would hardly take time off and I used to travel often. But I loved working from home last year. I took to the change well and my team adapted even better. It took some adjustment, but once we looked at things with a positive lens and leveraged technology to our advantage, 2020 ended up being one of the finest financial years for the business. My biggest takeaway is that the year doesn’t have to end the way it started. You determine how you navigate tough waters. Yes, we faced initial challenges, especially being unable to connect with our people, distributors and customers face to face. Eventually, digital turned the challenge into an opportunity.

How challenging has it been to find a balance between managing the team and office and family? What’s your mantra to maintain the balance?

I have never been a big believer in work-life balance. Balance gives this strange picture that you are constantly sitting on a see-saw and being expected to do a 50-50 split. I don’t think we should put so much pressure on ourselves. I prefer the term ‘work-life harmony’. Work and life should co-exist. Both are important and sometimes one takes precedence over the other. I will admit that working from home poses its own challenges, especially on women. There was a period last year where I didn’t have help, and I’m on a Zoom call with a senior client and the doorbell rings. I had to excuse myself to open the door. Another time, I was on a conference call, while simultaneously attempting to focus on giving the dal some tadka! I have seen colleagues who’ve had kids make guest appearances on our conference calls. We are all human and these are extraordinary times. Gradually, with the pandemic situation easing, people have found ways to make their own work from home space, take a break every once in a while, do some meetings in the garden, do a little bit of walking, yoga, etc.

Multiple studies have shown how women leaders performed better during the COVID-19 crisis. According to you, what makes women the best in crisis management?

The lasting memory of the pandemic is the outstanding performance of women leaders nationally and internationally throughout the crisis. I would not be surprised if that is replicated at the corporate level. I don’t like this man versus woman debate, but I think a good crisis manager is someone who is empathetic and authentic. They are not afraid to first, acknowledge the fact that there is a crisis and second, share the fact that there is a crisis with their team. Most leaders want to be the lone soldier, carrying the weight of the crisis on their own shoulders. But what I’ve found is that when you share a problem with your team, it’s incredible how they take up the challenge. I think reaching out to your people and being accessible to them makes you a very good crisis manager. If people know that they can always reach out to you, you spot a crisis early on. In layered organisations that thrive on fear of the leadership and a rigid hierarchy, people are usually scared to open their mouths. In such instances, the leader learns about the crisis too late.

What are the five most effective lessons that you’ve learned as a woman leader?

I would say these are lessons that I’ve learned as a leader:

  • Be authentic and honest
  • Survive through the bad times – everyone has them, just learn to get through
  • Share your problems with your team and be honest with them
  • Don’t take things so seriously – everybody has bad days, find ways to unwind. Remember, tomorrow is another day
  • Remain optimistic. We live in a very cynical world and hence, it is important for leaders to be optimistic
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