EY leader Hensie Bommanahal shares insights on vulnerability & adaptability being critical leadership skills

EY leader Hensie Bommanahal shares insights on vulnerability & adaptability being critical leadership skills

How do you improve your deservability in your own eyes?

Deservability, if I can reflect on that with my own journey, comes with understanding yourself. It starts with knowing your brand and understanding what you bring to the table as a leader and as a professional. And once you’re clear about that, I think it helps you figure out your narrative and your story. However, you can’t quiet the inner critic very often, which tends to come up easily, especially for women. Being very clear and deliberate about my career journey, where I am, what I want, and what I bring to the table as a leader, really helps me stay focused.

How do we change our lenses from being very critically judgmental, to becoming more compassionately, curious?

When it comes to the phrase ‘compassionately curious’, I think, there are two things that make up one for me. Firstly, being kinder to yourself so that way, you then hold the space for others because we tend to be very harsh on ourselves. I can find myself doing that to myself, and sometimes extend that to others as well. So being kind to yourself starts that journey for yourself. Secondly, if I can borrow from Brene Brown’s research on vulnerability, and Dr. Brown has done extensive research around this topic. In her book ‘Daring Greatly’, she talks about how you need to be in the arena and not on the sidelines, heckling. When you’re in the arena, you’re being vulnerable. You don’t know the answers, you’re afraid, you’re scared, and you don’t know how the whole thing is gonna play out. But being in the arena versus sitting on the sidelines and passing judgment is a critical part of leadership. When I apply that to my own experiences, being ‘compassionately curious’ for me means vulnerability – being able to say, ‘let me lead that team into the arena, I am with you here. I may not know the answers, and I’m not going to be standing on the side and heckling.’ I think that approach helps to see things from the team’s perspective and understand the challenges, rather than just telling them what needs to be done. Drawing from Dr. Brown’s research on vulnerability over the last several years, I’ve embraced this more and more, and I do think it greatly contributes to leadership skills overall.

What are those 20% actions that gets you 80% results? What are those small actions that take you to your goals faster?

I think age has helped greatly with that. I also have two little girls, which also means time is finite for me as a parent to care for them. So, if you think about the actionable goals there, I believe being deliberate about my time and figuring out what I want to spend time on, because I can’t do everything I want is crucial. Is it taking care of the kids today? Is it making time for exercise? Is it ensuring I can read today? Or being fully present at work for ten hours? For me, that was a mindset switch because otherwise, I was putting too much pressure on myself to get everything done in a day and would end up frustrated by the end of it. I couldn’t complete the fifteen things I had lined up. Over time, and especially with kids, I have learned to focus and say, “Okay, I can only do these five things, and I am going to do them really, really well.” I’ve become very prescriptive with my goals and ask myself, “What do I want?” and ensure I get that, whether it’s exercise or reading or yoga. I’ve realized that I need to be deliberate about where I want to spend my time and what I want to achieve, and that has helped me greatly to find time for things I enjoy.

I have blocked on my calendar for my morning workout, and everybody knows not to touch that hour. Similarly, I have an hour in the evening blocked off for dinner with my kids, and they know that this time isn’t usually flexible. I try to stick to this routine 95% of the time. Of course, there are times when things come up, and I have to move the schedule around. But, for the most part, it remains fixed on my calendar, and everyone understands that I’m very clear about it. Whether it’s my EA or my teams, I let them know that during this time, I won’t be around, but I’m available before and after that. Everyone gets that.

Getting help is useful as an ecosystem, as we need a village to support us. In my case, I have a very strong ecosystem with my mom and in-laws living with me. I am fortunate to have such a solid support system, and I can’t complain about it. Again, having the mindset that you talked about is crucial because when you start off, you believe that you can accomplish everything on your own. However, there are certain things that you have to give away and rely on somebody else to get it done. Being okay with that is a mindset switch for sure.]

“Being ‘compassionately curious’ for me means vulnerability – being able to say, ‘let me lead that team into the arena, I am with you here. I may not know the answers, and I’m not going to be standing on the side and heckling.’’

How do you push your boundaries?

I think you have to constantly stretch your boundaries, especially in the environment of business, because if you don’t constantly reinvent yourself (and I know that’s a cliché), there is an innate ability to reflect and understand the ecosystem and environment and to be able to adapt and stretch, which is required. And then you bring your teams on that journey. That’s the important part because we are constantly being disrupted, whether that is due to changes in the business, the ecosystem outside, the economic situation, the socio-political situation, or so many other factors.

So, coming into any conversation saying, “I know it all” is pretty difficult these days because nobody has any answers. I see it more and more as I deal with senior leaders in the middle of change; everyone’s coming in to figure it out. And so, that means your boundaries now have switched, they’ve stretched, and they’re different. I think there is a sense of coming into things with the mentality of, “I may not know the answer to this, but I’m going to try and figure it out with you.” That’s the whole vulnerability thing that I referenced as well, which is having the courage to show up. I think it really helps you stretch your boundaries because then you’re not coming in with a fear of failure; you’re coming in with, “I don’t know, I might have fear, but I’m still going to try and figure this out.”

So, I think that moves your mindset, and it helps you stretch your boundaries. When your teams hear that, I think it allows them also to do that because then they come into the conversation going, “I may not know this, but I’m going to try and figure it out,” which I think is super critical in terms of where we are in the post-pandemic world where everything is upside down in some ways. So, yeah.

So pushing the boundaries is much better when it happens collectively?

Absolutely. And I think it also creates an environment where team members surprise themselves by taking on roles they never thought they could. They push themselves beyond what they thought they were capable of. Of course, not everyone will succeed, but that’s okay because there’s room for failure in this field. We can learn from our mistakes and move on quickly. It’s a cliche term, but failing fast is important. When we collectively learn from our failures, we can re-engage and try something new. I’ve seen this mindset shift in my colleagues, and it’s encouraging to see people taking risks and learning from their mistakes. When leaders model this behavior and encourage their teams to do the same, it creates a positive ripple effect that can be seen throughout the organization.

One piece of advice you would give to women leaders to thrive in today’s competitive environment?

I believe that the environment you’re describing today is one of constant change and competition. To ground myself in such an environment, I focus on understanding who I am as a brand and delivering exceptional quality and results. It’s important to create your own space and not shy away from talking about your accomplishments as a woman. Embracing change is crucial and having a mindset that can handle ambiguity is key. Those who are more willing to embrace change tend to thrive better than those who struggle to understand and adapt. When it comes to competition, being mindful of your leadership ability and being kind to yourself can help you thrive in that space. It’s important to keep your head down, move forward, communicate your achievements with your supervisors, and ensure that everyone is aligned, especially with matrix reporting. Navigating this environment can be difficult, but being deliberate is necessary.


Hensie Bommanahal

Business Management Lead, Engineering team, Client Technology, EY

Hensie is the Business Management Lead for the Engineering team in Client Technology at EY. Client Technology drives revenue growth and enables market differentiation for EY through asset-powered solutions. In her role in Client Technology Engineering, Hensie is responsible for financial management, portfolio and performance management, resource management, governance and risk management. Hensie joined EY in 2002 and has held different roles during her time there. She spent nearly 15 years with People Advisory Services practice and served some of EY’s largest global clients.

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