Discover, Own, Reach Out : Take Charge of Your Life
TAKING CHARGE – AN IMPERATIVE!
Dr. Kiran Bedi, the first lady IPS officer of India said, “People who do not take charge of their lives, are lathi-charged by time.” This couldn’t be truer in a nation as diverse as India, with an ever-growing workforce. While organisations have realised the importance of having a diverse team, in every level including the top executive positions. However, this is where demonstrating. leadership becomes imperative as it is quite different than being made a leader through promotions and initiatives.
The word ‘imperative’ itself means crucial. What then, is crucial to women demonstrating leadership, not only at work but of life in general?
A couple of decades ago, organisations started a slow journey towards increasing representation of women at the workplace, by putting recruitment policies in place and taking care of biological needs like restrooms etc. The Nirbhaya case in 2012-13 shifted the focus towards importance of anti-harassment policies and safety needs. This encouraged more and more women to consider full time careers and come back to work while balancing family. The last 5 or more years, have seen a range of women-centric organisation development (OD) initiatives being introduced to develop the leadership abilities of women with the objective to bring more and more women to the top of the organization. This demands that women demonstrate leadership at work as well as other aspects of life. If there is one element that defines leadership, it is the ability to ‘take charge’ of a situation. It is time for women to aspire, take charge of their work and life, and help each other grow. Sans this, women will always remain ‘beneficiaries’ of organisational imperatives, thus waiting for the organization and family to support them.
An interesting report ‘Taking Charge’ authored by Lauren Ready, documents the stories of 60 powerful women across the world, from various sectors . The report summarises the stories in a framework: “Explore-Own-Repay”. It suggests that all women who have achieved leadership positions have 3 factors in common:
1. They explored several options before choosing their purpose/direction
2. They owned their strengths and choices
3. They were actively involved in developing others, thus repaying their supporters or their organisations.
While reading and experiencing the stories of Indian Women however, one finds that the aspect of ‘Discovery’ and reflection on experience is more relevant than ‘Exploration’. A woman who discovers and believes in her true self, in her values, can be a situational leader, a true ‘shakti’. Leading in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world demands a new spectrum of mental, emotional and interpersonal skills. It requires the ability to blend emotion, intuition and logic. While women already have the innate strength to bring about this blend, a focus on leveraging and improving one’s network, can make these strengths available in leaps and bounds.
The proposed ‘Discover-Own-ReachOut’ framework seems an ideal roadmap for women to co-create growth for self and others.
EMBRACING THE PROCESS OF DISCOVERY
Taking Charge, isn’t an instantaneous process. It is rather an exploratory method, one that includes self-discovery, decision making and embracing the new imperatives. If we dig into one’s own past, there may be several recollections of decisions that have been made in the past. Contemplating over these decisions brings in a conscious awareness of certain patterns of thoughts, that drive or deploy the skills and abilities towards negotiating through the various spheres of life, which includes professional, personal, social life, academic pursuits and moments spent in service of the community.
What exactly led to those decisions? Why does one pick a certain path, make certain choices? More often than not, it is the personal values instilled within each individual, that guides them towards certain choices. Stephen Covey, in his book ‘Principle Centered Leadership’ mentions principles like equality, honesty, justice, one-ness etc. as timeless principles. Personal values are the application of these principles, or a combination of those in every situation.
In the great Indian epic ‘Mahabharata’, which many of us have grown up listening to, one sees clearly how personal values can influence personal and organisational decisions in a positive or negative manner. The same story also suggests the discovery and leveraging of unique strengths available in each human being, and the benefit of these being directed towards one’s goals.
An organisation or a family is nothing but a collection of human beings, related to each other, often in a hierarchical manner. Often, women are ‘told’ about their strengths, which could, in fact be stereotypes and expectations. When one dedicates time to look at past achievements, gets feedback from peers, and undergoes a scientific assessment, one really sees the real opportunity to leverage these strengths.
Embracing the process of self-discovery, can help individuals and organizations bring about the fundamental goals of organizational development viz. ‘enhancing effectiveness’ and ‘promoting humanistic change’.
Strengths and abilities are the key to actively implementing value-based decisions. Failure and success is hence owned by the individual. There is no scope for the ‘blame game’ here, which is an essential aspect when it comes to leadership.
The next step in ‘taking charge’ is to direct one’s strengths and values towards one’s goals. In order to do that, one must first have a clarity about the goals, and fully own those goals. The decision to prioritize one goal over the other, and to allocate time, energy and emotion towards it, must be made by the individual themselves. That is when it requires optimum energy to implement them.
Personal values can have the same ‘name’ but manifest themselves differently for different people. For e.g. the value of ‘continuous learning’ could mean that person ‘A’ invests a significant amount of time and money every year in learning. Person ‘B’ could live the same value by learning from each and every experience – be it success or failure. Person ‘C’ could apply this value by being associated with or supporting educational causes or institutes. Person ‘D’ could make ‘teaching’ or ‘training’ their profession, by virtue of this value driving their career decision.
While reflecting about her life decisions, she initially thought, ‘family orientation’ was one of her values, since she had listened to her parents and then her husband all her life about what she should do as her profession. But she was not happy. While choosing her values from an array of words offered to her, she discovered that ‘fun’ was one of her values! She eventually chose a profession she enjoyed, and completely owns that decision today.
Case Study excerpt – “DOR” program.
Gaining clarity about goals, requires the application of two principles: Fearlessness and Balance.
Fearlessness and Balance
Indian culture has always highlighted ‘Shakti’ along with Shiva, and these depict fearlessness and balance. These stand out even more, for women achievers. This makes it easy to pave the way for gender balance at the workplace. While both aspects in their core require multiple layers to be uncovered and societal influence and attitudes to be changed, the goal is to create a level playing field. An organisational or family ecosystem that is balanced, where fear doesn’t exist helps employees to contribute towards problem solving, process improvement and innovation, irrespective of gender. Often, decisions taken by women about their own growth or career prospects are shrouded by fear or guilt about work/life balance. While very often drawing a clear line between the two is touted as the best way to go about overcoming the fear, it has been observed that real successes are seen when one is able to strike a balance between the two at a tactical level. The ‘clear line’ may in-fact keep one away from deploying resources smartly. What should be looked at is – a balance in time spent, a balance in resources used, a balance in energy – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and where one deploys which one. In Indian culture, balance is considered as achievement, be it in Yoga or food. The concept of ‘Ardhanarishwara’ which stands for creativity and innovation, and acknowledges the presence of duality in each being, isn’t really new to us.
Taking charge essentially requires acceptance of the existence of multiple realities and striking the right balance between them at a tactical level. By being fearless at the time of goal setting, one can choose a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)” as recommended in the book “Built to last”. But along with this must come a rock solid plan to strike balance in other areas of life. The compromises, the sacrifices, the emotional investment, the commitment of resources, all requires a certain level of fearlessness. The lens of ‘balance’ helps one to spread out one’s priorities and energies. It gives one the humility to ask for support.
Taking Ownership of challenges
According to The World Economic Forum, “Despite making up half of the population and 47% of the labour force, women remain highly underrepresented in the top echelons of business. 5% of the richest billionaires are women, 6% of S&P 500 companies have women CEOs, 20% of Fortune 500 board. This may be because, despite the capabilities they hold, women professionals often tend to succumb to the fear of managing multiple duties and are reluctant to take up roles that involve greater responsibilities and commitments at work. The root cause of this reluctance could be the lack of support for important responsibilities at home, or the perception that no one else can take on those responsibilities, in essence the fear or guilt something might fail. There could surely be ways of looking at shared responsibility, with the right conversation skills. Communication with confidence and ownership is the key to enrolling others on your goals, especially where family is concerned.
Inviting and encouraging others to contribute to one’s goals is a proven way to leadership. However, to ‘invite’ someone to contribute to one’s goals, it is crucial to ask for someone’s support based on their strengths and motivations. This requires clarity and observation. What also helps a lot, is to share the goals with the people who can/will contribute, and ask them in what way they can help.
Leveraging the power of women’s networks, is rarely done, but has tremendous potential. Network here isn’t just the professional network, but could consist of the existing support system as well as unexplored contacts. The real energy builders, for a woman professional, could come from any walk of life, if actively sought.
This said, the importance of sharing experiences and developing others, cannot be undermined. It is a proven fact, that individuals who find their powers in keeping information or knowledge to themselves, are not successful in the long term. However, the way to grow, is to empower. The definition of women empowerment, can hence be seen as not something done for women, but the act of women ‘taking charge’ by empowering others and enrolling them towards achievement of common goals.
“All women who have achieved leadership positions were actively involved in developing others, thus repaying their supporters or their organisations.”
– Lauren Ready
The article, ‘Why women build less effective networks than men: The role of structural exclusion and personal hesitation’ by Elena Greguletz, Marjo-Riitta Diehl and Karin Kreutzer in Human Relations , highlights that ‘personal hesitation’ is one of the main barriers that makes women use networks less effectively.
Networking can be defined as “The ability to exchange ideas and information with groups and individuals that have shared interests, so long-term relationships are developed for mutual benefit.” Various discussions with Indian women professionals (participants in various training programs, and a few HR leaders) have hinted that, nurturing of relationships comes naturally to most women, however often women stay away from networking due to the following 3 ‘mental blocks’:
1. Fear of Being Misinterpreted or Labelled: Networking involves taking the initiative to talk to people, even total strangers at times. Women often shy away from making the first move, i.e. introducing themselves to an unknown person. This is a social fear, and a fear of being labelled as being ‘bold’ or ‘available’. However, if one learns the skills of ‘non-purposive’ communication, and makes every attempt to practice it, the chances of being mis-interpreted are lowered.
2. It Would Be Wasting Time Otherwise to Be Spent with Family: Networking events often take place after office hours, and one is expected to invest personal time for this activity. Most women think of personal time as family time, and feel guilty to invest after office hours for ‘office work’. What is often forgotten, is that the exchange of ideas on common topics, lead to personal, intellectual and emotional advancement, hence can be considered as time invested on personal growth. It is often seen, that a network built around a mutual interest serves as a solid support system during other dilemmas.
3. Why would (s)he be interested in talking to me? In the lookout for negatives, the mutual benefit of conversation is often ignored. Women often have low esteem about their own achievements or opinions. At times they may not have even formed an opinion and lack of data or evidences to support opinion often results into long-winded stories. Previous experiences of being interrupted by men or other women, that have hurt their ego or made them underestimate their contribution to the conversation also influences the networking ability. The key is, to develop the habit of keeping oneself abreast about latest developments in a few chosen topics. They could be hobbies or professional pursuits or something as common as parenting or social issues. It is important to learn how to express one’s opinion, with evidence and data, in an agreeable manner, as also to listen and build upon someone else’s opinion.
While Networking with those outside the organisation has its own benefits, a good starting point could be – building the network with other women professionals in the organisation. With all the changes and talks about women inclusion in the corporate world, there has been a noticeable increase in initiatives that promote women’s affinity groups. These groups explore topics like nutrition, health, parenting etc. that are commonly appreciated by women. But it often acquires the format of meeting on a periodic basis and calling an expert speaker to share insights on the topic. Facilitated group time during working hours, may help the women professionals to interact with each other in a structured manner and help solve each others’ challenges through shared experiences.
“When a women’s group is created in the work/professional environment, the members of the group should leverage the group as a solid support system – not only for work but also for personal life. That would be a real indicator of success for such a group.”
– Anagha Wankar, Senior HR Professional
Nothing succeeds like success, as the adage goes. In the modern workplaces as women start seeing the benefits of networking, and confidently indulge in exchanging ideas with new people, the efforts should be equally supported by the real enablers (parents, in-laws, friends etc.). It is the positive influence of the organisational policies, the confidence of woman professionals to take charge, own their decisions and work towards those goals that can bring more women in the leadership roles, and bring down the gender disparity once and for all.
ARE YOU READY TO TAKE THE FIRST STEP?
As discussed in the sections above, the time has come for women professionals to take charge, break the glass ceiling and be active participants of organisational decision making. It is said that it’s no more about the glass ceiling, but now, its about the slippery floor. While it yet requires the social ecosystem to change, the transition to senior roles or changed roles, requires great stamina, mental strength and endurance. A little push by a favourable peer group and a bit of help from a coach might help a woman negotiate the ‘crossroads’.
Element78’s Discover, Own and Reach-out (DOR) program for women professionals is an initiative to drive transformation by taking charge of work and life. The DOR framework aims to facilitate the participants to take charge of their work and life goals, by leveraging the group’s strengths and abilities. The real success of DOR is the small but strong alumnus group whose members, though diverse in terms of skills and life-stage, support each other, and see each other through various professional and personal dilemmas.
The DOR program begins with 3-days of intense self-discovery and ownership building sessions, and culminates with evolving a committed 100-day plan to achieve a set of well-balanced goals. During the 100 days, a coach is available for one-one conversations, to re-discover, re-align and stay motivated. While this is an intense personal journey, there are things that may not go as planned too, but even going off-track can be a learning experience in itself. In the words of one of our participants, the program provides a ‘womb-like’ atmosphere, for the baby in the NICU. The coaching approach allows the participants to take up the consecutive challenges at a pace chosen by them, thus removing stress and making it joyous. After all, as the phrase goes, “the fortune is in the follow up”.
Element78 has been working with close to 100 women professionals using the DOR framework for 3+years now and aims to reach out to and empower more women professionals across India as time progresses.
So, are you ready to take the first step?
- Effective knowledge transfer ‘fortifies’ your organization - March 16, 2020
- Discover, Own, Reach Out : Take Charge of Your Life - January 16, 2020
- The Art of Effective Business Presentations: Some Ingredients and a Proven Recipe! - December 11, 2019
- Improving Performance of Performance Dialogues! - November 7, 2019
- Decision Making Becomes Simple – When Our Values are Clear - January 23, 2019
- 3 Reasons WHY WOMEN (and even some Men) AVOID NETWORKING - December 31, 2018
- Owning Your Goals is the First Step Towards Achieving Them - October 30, 2018
- Applying the Principles of Fearlessness and Balance to Achieve Your Goals - October 10, 2018
- 5 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement - July 9, 2018
- Petrichor and Purpose - August 24, 2017