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In her book, Lady, You’re The Boss, Apurva Purohit talks about women and their leadership and letting go among other things. Why not pick it up and give it a read!
I was asked by this man, who happened to be my onsite manager, “Why did you speak so strongly to that poor girl? She did not like it and has gone home and does not want to come back to work!”
This was because the girl had missed something critical in her work due to which there was a high severity production defect. I was the new leader of this team, an entirely new team, and this was our first production release.
There was a lot at stake with this production release and a high severity production defect was unacceptable. I tried to ask the team in a polite manner about the details of the issue but no one came forward to speak about it. So I had to exercise authority and actually give a piece of my mind to the people responsible for working on the change that had caused the defect.
The onsite manager continued, “We hired you because we thought, as a woman, you would be motherly towards the team. And you were very harsh today.”
In the 21 years of my work experience, I heard many prejudices and stereotypical remarks but this one was new.
So, I responded, “When I present the project status at the next steering committee meeting and mention that there was a production defect, would you be fatherly and pardon me?”
When I read the chapter on ‘Token Woman’ in Apurva Purohit’s Lady, You’re The Boss, I realised why the onsite manager expected me to be motherly. Apurva refers to Rosaboth Moss Kanter’s definitions of the 4 stereotypes that women get bucketed into – one of them being the mother, a caring, compassionate and warm person.
Her leadership is valued in the emotional labour she provides and not in the industry expertise she brings to the table. I am actually the fourth stereotype – the assertive and no-nonsense woman at work.
Well actually, I would tend to think I bring all the stereotypical qualities and more to work depending on the situation and the person I am dealing with. For the first time since that day, I pardoned the onsite manager for expecting me to be motherly as it was not his fault. That’s the perception that every man (and many women) carries towards women leaders.
Apurva has a suggestion. She says that by creating newer and more multi-faceted leadership styles, women will evolve into a more relevant managerial style to deal with the changing contexts of a new-age workforce and work environment.
One might think that Lady, You’re the Boss! is another of those self help books that sit pretty on the book shelves. However, once I started reading it, the first thing that struck me were the brilliantly selected quotes that Apurva starts every chapter with.
Each of these quotes make you reflect on what it means in the context of the chapter. It becomes all the more powerful as you read through the chapter.
The chapter on the ‘Need to Feel Needed’ starts with a quote – “It’s important to set goals which change. Constant endeavour should be part of our lives.”
This will definitely resonate with many women as we all like to belong and enjoy the feeling of being needed. However, we do not ask those uncomfortable questions that Apurva asks. “Are we learning? Growing? Are we adding value to ourselves?” All women need to realise that to grow, they have to break that cocoon again and again, however lovingly they may have built it.
The book also differs in the way every chapter has been summarised at the end. While I loved the lessons on ‘Learning to Let Go’, it’s an easy reference for anyone to go to the end of the lesson and read the summation in four points. This is what will help every woman pick the book every time she is in a particular situation and reflect on the tips provided.
As Apurva summarised the chapter, “It is not necessary that the world will come to our support. We must learn to let go and move on.”
It’s such a powerful statement that I am sure every woman struggling to move out of a particular role or an organisation where she has worked for a long time (despite the fact that the writing is on the wall when she does not get that mid year increment) will probably do so. If she has to be swift in her voyages, and successful in her ventures, she has no choice but to learn to let go.
Another important aspect that the book makes us realise is the difference between contentment and complacency. The sense of self-satisfaction and unwillingness to strive further may not be because she is content, but because she does not reassess her motivations for the work she does.
Part One of the book touches upon aspects of subconscious bias, prejudices about single women, importance of finding sisterhood and real life role models. It also talks about menopause and midlife crisis which many of us do not realise are the reasons for the sinking feeling of emptiness and desolation.
One might wonder what these topics have to offer in a book written to give the woman the courage to dance to her tune and push her to the farthest limits of her potential. But Apurva summarises these chapters by saying knowledge will help us deal with it better. And using this time to rediscover and re-ignite one’s passions will make the next phase of the woman’s life fun and filled with activities that she chooses to do for herself!
When I started reading Part two of the book, I wondered why those chapters should be part of a book which intended to make the woman realise that in the patriarchal world, she has only herself to ask for a helping hand. As she says, “The best version of you is yet to come.”
Part two talks about lessons in leadership. It’s something that readers (men and women) will find in multiple leadership books. But as I came to the fourth chapter on ‘Prioritising: What is your First and Foremost Goal?’ I realised why Part two is so important.
I loved the narration about the hockey team during her college days (and I will not give it out here as it has to be read in the book!). It resonated so well with me about how priorities in life lead us to take the right decisions and take us forward towards our goals.
I have been asked time and again by so many people about how I have taken my decisions during my 25 years of corporate career. How I balanced work with home, brought up my daughter, lived in a joint family and also cared for my parents. And what made me quit the corporate life to take on a role of heading a not for profit foundation. The answer is simple. As Apurva says – “Give due considerations for your Priority one, not just at the workplace but in all walks of life. It will be vital in determining the course of action for any major decision.”
This book is a must read not only for women, but men too. It will make men reflect about the amount of “padding” they do when they talk about their achievements and targets met. The leadership lessons in Part two are applicable for one and all. Especially the one on creating winning teams.
While reading about how Apurva got her team to bond over a cake every Monday morning, to how she created a culture in the organisation which was the differentiator of her and her organisation’s success, I remembered my three years as the head of Asia Pacific Retail Delivery.
I was given a mandate to transform a well performing team but a team that remained in its cocoon and not necessarily getting integrated with the rest of the organisation. Reading the book, I was so glad that I had already implemented the strategies of being a curious leader as I took on that role, built the right culture, created a team focussed on the common goals. And persevered through the three years to turn it around from the team that had the highest attrition rate in the organisation and lowest staff engagement score to one with the highest staff engagement score. I felt proud that 13 years ago, I had a leadership style which Apurva describes as enthusiastic with a can-do spirit which was the powerful motivator and precursor of the change that I had brought in.
I am a strong believer in having role models. Each of us is a role model for someone and it’s absolutely important for us to support the cause of gender diversity by becoming a role model ourselves.
Apurva brilliantly ends the book by saying that each of us is giving strength to other women. Whey they watch us, they learn and when they learn, they grow. And that’s the only way to quicken the pace of change.
A book which should be read by every woman and every man. Take personal accountability as you are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul!
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My professional experience of 25 years has been in the Information Technology industry managing large
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