Footprints from Formative Years:
A critical early life experience for me was the time when I was laid up with a heart attack at the age of 35, when I was working in Gillette as a Senior Level Manager. I spent 10 days in the hospital and another 3 weeks recuperating at home. At this stage, my mother, who was a spiritual seeker herself and a follower of Sri Aurobindo, handed over the book Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramhansa Yogananda. This one month of reflection and the influence of this book changed my life trajectory significantly. It gave me the courage to seek a professional choice that was aligned more closely to my passion and core proficiency instead of doing something that was simply done for the sake of it.
It also shifted my way of thinking. I became a pranic healer. My mind perhaps started to be more balanced than simply being left brained – logical and analytical. I believe this is the most significant incident that shaped my life choice, my leadership style, my state of being and all that followed thereafter.
Beyond the Barricades
I often wonder why we label certain experiences as failures or setbacks. In the end, everything is teaching us. If something does not go as per our plan or expectation, I am not sure if it deserves to be called as a failure.
Having said that, my heart attack at such a young age would clearly fall into the category of a setback. I worked in Gillette, an MNC at that time and it was pretty obvious to me that this condition of mine may put a question mark on my career progression in the organization. So, in a sense, a possible long-term door was being closed. But, interestingly, my reflection around my life purpose and the kind of work that would really bring out joy was beginning to make it clear to me that I was most likely in an organization that was not aligned to the journey I sought. And this gave me the courage and conviction to take the leap of faith.
The second major learning came to me when, as the CEO of Prerna Centre of Learning, we reached this point twice where our order book was totally exhausted and we were one month away from closure. In both these instances, we found a last minute sign up which helped us survive and continue to move forward with our vision. This taught me a lot about trust and faith in the powers higher than us. When the mind is exhausted of options and grows silent, something else takes over and things happen which continue to support your journey. I have now seen this phenomenon enough times to be never worried enough when something is not going as per plan. In fact, I now make less and less plans in my life and allow things to happen or emerge.
Finding the Passion-fuelled Purpose
entrepreneur was neither easy nor second nature to me. I was born to a
middle-class family which suffered partition and had their own struggles to
make ends meet. So, they drilled a very risk averse mentality into me.
Interestingly, my professional journey provided me with the right kind of
transition before I became a total entrepreneur.
The first such transition happened when I left my job at Gillette, 2.5 years after my heart attack, to join a start-up training and consulting company called IQL (Institute of Quality), part of the NIIT and HCL group. As a full time Director and Senior VP, I was quite close to operating as an entrepreneur but I was in employment and had the safety net of the promoters.
The second transition happened when I left Airtel in 2008 to join Prerna Centre of Learning as its CEO. After being in employment for one year, my terms of reference changed to being a consultant and, over the next 2 years, my remuneration moved from being mostly fixed to being fully variable. It was only in 2013 that I took the plunge of starting my own organization because Prerna decided to wind down. However, this gradual transition I believe prepared me appropriately to take that final leap of faith which every entrepreneur needs to. In that sense, I feel blessed that I was given enough time and opportunity to mould myself internally and externally, to take on this role which was obviously a much higher risk than working in a corporation.
Because of my early stage decision in 1993 to transition into a professional role which aligned with my passion and core proficiency, I was more and more at ease with every subsequent transition. And I believe I was clearly supported by something higher and bigger than me, by giving me opportunities that were totally aligned to my passion and skill set but would ordinarily have not come my way. This truly made me realize that there is a divine order that supports your progress and growth as long as you remain open to the possibility.
Consulting and its Irreplaceable Values
My focus is currently on two distinct but linked areas- I enable Individuals to discover and manifest their deeper life calling and I help build endearing and enduring institutions.
The first one comes from my belief that, if people are aligned in their ‘swabhav’ and ‘swadharm’, their positive impact on this world – on society and the planet, will be significantly more. And this is indeed true. I helped a sales trainer lady, who became a mother, to shift her professional trajectory to being a hypnotherapist and mindfulness trainer. This happened more than a decade ago and, today, not only is she a joyful mother of two, but she has made a significant impact on her clients that include individuals and colleges where she trains students in mindfulness practices.
The second one is
directly working with organizations to be conscious businesses that operate
from a higher purpose of being the best for the world and not just in the
world. The domain of my consulting is focused on areas that I call SCALP where S
stands for Systems of Management, C for Culture which is like an emotional
alignment of the organization, A for the rational Alignment of goals of the
managers to the vision and strategy of the organization, L for Leadership of
Being rather than doing, covering areas like Personal Mastery, Leading Self and
P for a Purpose which is a Higher Purpose of being the best for the world (a
soul based purpose) rather than simply being best in the world (an ego based
purpose). This nature of consulting therefore focuses on long term strategies
of organization building and not so much on areas like growth, profitability,
customer satisfaction, process excellence and people engagement, which can help
a company to be effective but not necessarily endearing and enduring.
Powerful lessons from my mentor
I must say I have been
really blessed in this regard. I believe that, sometimes, mentors may not spend
that much time with you but merely their presence and an odd question can
The first mentor that I recall with fondness was my own father. He taught me the value of punctuality. I remember that I got a mid-term admission into a top school in Hyderabad, where the Principal commented that one of the reasons for giving me this admission was that we were there always on or before time, for every single meeting.
The second was Mr.
Jagdip Singh, The Plant HR Head in my first company Metal Box. He taught me a
lot about the importance of relationships. Many HR heads that have grown under
him have been great at it.
My fourth mentor was R S Pawar, Chairman of NIIT and IQL. On the first day of my joining IQL, he asked me what I dreamt when I was awake. That took me by surprise. He then gave me 2 days simply to dream about IQL and to picture IQL 5/10/15 years hence. This was my first time doing such an exercise. What I wrote then is something I am doing even today. He taught me the power of dreaming and of asking the right questions. He also taught me how to execute the simple principle of preventing and honouring commitments. He would sit in his car and would dictate things to his secretary on his Dictaphone even though he was going to meet her 30 minutes later. Not only did this enhance his productivity but it also ensured that things just did not slip.
My fifth mentor was Anil Nayar, president of Airtel. From him, I learnt the importance of Y theory of leadership. He was not a command and control leader but an enabling and facilitating leader. He inspired people with his being and that is what delivered performance beyond targets. From him, I also learnt the importance of routine and discipline in life and of holistic well-being. This list can go on. I feel that we are always surrounded by people who are wise and from whom we can learn. But the question is, are we open or is our cup always full?