Article (March-2020)


We have to be the best versions of ourselves everyday

Apurva Purohit

Designation : -   President

Organization : -  Jagran Prakashan Group, Mumbai


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You are a successful career person and a great Wife and Mother - How do you manage to keep the balance and what is the secret?

AP I often tell women who ask me whether they can have it all, that yes they can, however not all of it at the same time! Thus in a career span of 40 years we will achieve all that our heart desires however at different points in time we will have to give priority to different things. The trick is to learn to prioritize what is important at that particular moment in time. Thus instead of balance if we strive for integrating all the different aspects of our lives and then between them picking what to focus on, I think we can succeed in whatever we set out to do.

The Boss Lady is always debatable in most of the workplaces and given that, building team spirit to get results is often a difficult thing to do. Tell me about a time when you had your greatest success.

AP I will quote an anecdote from my book "Lady you re the boss" on what it takes to build teams in a an organization.

The first time I became a business head in my career, I had to lead an all-new, all-male team. Naturally I chose to make an impression on my alpha underlings by bringing in an elaborately frosted cake garnished with icing and laden with pink rosebuds for our very first meeting together on a fine Monday morning.

All the Rambos in the room clustered around the table, staring with horror at the cake as if it would detonate any second. A few moments ago these testosterone infused creatures had been sizing up their opponents and calculating how they would jump over each other's carcasses on their way up the corporate ladder. Now they were internally groaning at the luck of having a female boss who wanted to use them as participants for her kitty party.

I ignored their glowering looks as I brightly urged them to dig in to the cake and began quizzing them about their weekend. They were eager to get started on presenting spreadsheets, tallying data and telling me of the revolutionary ideas they had thought of which would catapult our small company into the big league overnight. But all I wanted to know was how their weekend had gone, what movies they had watched and what fun activities they had done with their friends and families.

With immense reluctance and much foot-dragging I was allowed a peek into the human beings that lay behind the sharp suits and hungry ambitions that populated the room. Obviously it was not just friendly conversations and small talk and we did get to work eventually, much to the men's relief. But every Monday morning, without fail, there would be a cheerful fruity and flowery cake waiting at the table, signalling both the start of a hard working week and inviting a freewheeling chat to begin it with.

It took many weeks and awkward silences for my macho heroes to reveal their inner softies, but it did happen. The men in the room on that first Monday only saw strangers and competitors when they looked at each other. But over a period of time they started seeing each other as friends, confidants and teammates. The cake went from being an object of scorn to a symbol of community, friendship and togetherness. Maya Angelou said, 'I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel'. In the past three decades, many of the teams I've led have disbanded or evolved and changed. Yet my cake meetings have become the subject of folklore, filled with the nostalgia of memories of working together, some of the victories we achieved, the failures we encountered and the joys and conflicts we shared which powered us through both good and bad times.

What is the biggest work related challenges you have ever faced, and as a successful career person you must have handled a tough work situation that you knew was coming - how did you prepare? What are signals do you watch out for that would tell you that a situation has some possible implications or hidden agendas, which would make it difficult to handle? How do you deal with it?

AP The toughest challenges any leader faces are typically around transitions. When either a company is changing hands from one owner to another or a new leader is coming. Equally today companies need to transition from one set of behaviours to another set based also on the quickly changing externally environment from periods of growth to a period of slowdown or from an analog world to a digital one.

I strongly believe a good leader can smell out when a transition is due. And she does that by keeping her eyes, ears and antenna open to whatever is happening in the environment by talking to people, keeping a close watch on the ground realities by reading and listening. Unfortunately a lot of leaders closet themselves away from reality by creating artificial barriers around them and by having a very small circle of advisors. Keep yourself open to receiving signals from a variety of sources would be my first piece of advice. Secondly a lot of leaders get wedded to the vision that they have created, little realizing that if the environment is changing; the vision too has to evolve. Finally people operate in a mindset of lazy thinking - a manifestation of that is "This is how it was always being done so let us not change it". This allows them to carry on in a comfort zone without applying their minds. I think every 2-3 years a leader must question everything, and start from zero base - including in the strategy that she herself might have crafted and ask tough questions on its relevance. Organizations are not inflexible, leaders are.

When you have someone who's "marching to their own drummer," how do you go about getting them to become an effective contributor?

AP We need to hire teams who have the right skill and talent, and the right attitude too. This combination is very difficult to find. Sometimes you get people who are very good at their job but cannot work in teams. Ideally such lone hunters should be given assignments which are solo in nature, projects that they are independently responsible for. Unfortunately most organizations have created structures which are hierarchical in nature where 'growth' translates into becoming a manager of people. We need to dismantle such structures to accommodate different working styles now.

At times, we are all required to deal with difficult people and situations. An even more demanding factor is to be of reporting to a difficult person. Please give us a few tips which can keep us grounded and not QUIT.
In my first job I had to work with a really terrible boss. It was an extremely challenging time for me and I think I kept my sanity by just focusing on the job at hand, with the determination that I would not allow her to make me leave. I think working with bosses who erode our self-confidence is a very bad idea and we should not mind leaving. However that doesn't mean every tough boss is bad. There are bosses who are tough, who teach you a lot and that enhances rather than diminishes your confidence. We should certainly stay with such leaders. The trick is to be able to see this difference between bosses. Wherever there is learning, learn to not quit, wherever there is erosion of confidence, walk away.

Piece of golden advice for working women (The Do's and Don't) - especially on looking good, personally I admire the way to are always so elegant both in professional and personal life.
We have to be the best versions of ourselves every day and push ourselves to do the best we can with whatever skills and talents we have been given. In that context I think both internal and external attitude is important. Keeping your mind positive and receptive to learning, and keeping your body in good health and good shape - by exercise, good eating habits, mindful dressing are important. I think what you wear and how much you take care of your appearance are important dimensions of the way you think about yourself. As professional women I also believe that there is a decorum we have to maintain. While independent thinking is good and women should practice it, this doesn't mean that you can wear resort wear to work to show how free- minded you are.

Simplicity of investing in women for the progressive organizations.

AP The best and simplest investment any organization can make in ensuring that women stay in the workforce and do not quit, is to ensure that there are enough visible women leaders. When women see female role models, they get encouraged and inspired to stay, because the subliminal message they get from the organization is - "that women can succeed in this place. This environment is truly gender neutral and there are opportunities for women to do well". It is a very powerful message. On the other hand you may have many women friendly policies however if you do not have any women leaders, the message that is unsaid but very visible to junior women  is that there is a glass ceiling operating in this environment.