The Expert as a Practitioner Insights From Inspiring Journeys

The Expert as a Practitioner: Insights From Inspiring Journeys

Well, to put it simply right after my Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) stint my first employment was with the Indian Army. My father

How have the 3 avatars 1) Bachelor of Dental Surgery 2) Officer with the Indian Armed Forces and 3) Corporate Educator transformed your potential?

Well, to put it simply right after my Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) stint my first employment was with the Indian Army. My father with his patriotic fervour wanted to see me serving the country, and what can be more purposeful for a young girl to wear the uniform and salute the national flag. I can’t think of any better way to start ones’ career than this. Till date, it remains to be an Alma Mater that I recall with immense pride. But what did I learn during this tenure that has held me in good stead, which I think other leaders can benefit from is:

• Safety, honour and welfare of the country comes first
• Honour, welfare and comfort of the men you lead comes second
• Your own safety comes only last

This is a lens which I would urge every leader to wear while working with teams who are endeavouring to work towards a shared vision. Constantly leaders are grappling with the question of how do I influence my teams to work on high priority common objectives and that is where this 3 dimensional armed forces aspect can be a tool to help them. Outside of this, the Armed Forces works towards building the foundations of leadership, which is the character of a person via instilling values as:

• Work Ethics
• Discipline
• Purpose
• Integrity
• Humility
• Teaming

This strong foundation has helped me to explore new horizons, face failure with aplomb, persevere during adverse times with the perpetual belief, that tomorrow is a new day.

What inflection points made you choose each of the different vocations?

The choices that we make in life, some are circumstantial while some others are our own. The choice to join the army was influenced by my father and I am grateful for the nudge. But the choice to leave the Army was purely my own, which was on account of family and children. I was so in love with the uniform that it was one of the toughest decisions that I ever had to take. So, I would say these are the two critical career inflection points that opened multiple possibilities for me. But transitioning to a corporate life had a huge set of challenges and how I prepared for it can be a different story.

Do you know that I applied to nearly 40 organizations and heard back from only 3?

This is a lesson indeed, it taught me the value of patience, preparation and perseverance. Finally, it trickled down to 3 and then the corporate journey began. But before this I had mentally reconciled to the fact that it was going to be a new path and I worked to adopt a mindset that prepared me for this along with sufficiently educating myself with a formal course in Strategic Management from IIM Indore, which helped me understand the corporate framework.

My suggestion to professionals who are transitioning to newer geographies, roles and paths is to embrace a flexible mindset and to educate yourself first before you embark on new paths. You need to be like the grass swaying with the breeze, not stiff like the tree, unrelenting. As they say, train in peace than bleed in war, so, preparation is key, and you must bide your time for the right break and grab it with both hands when you get it.

You need to be like the grass swaying with the breeze, not stiff like the tree, unrelenting.

What are the common blind spots that leaders exhibit when they want to build an organizational culture?

I am fascinated by the organizational culture and have never failed to delve deeper whenever I get a chance. Every employee or new joinee has the right to ask about the culture and must join an organization that holds this in great esteem and lives by it. This is fundamental.

There were two fishes swimming and an older fish passes them by and asks – how is the water, the two young ones silently swim by without answering. After a while one of the young ones asks the other: What is water?

Culture is similar, we swim in it every day, but fail to see it.

When it comes to blind spots, Firstly, organizations cannot copy the culture from others. One size can’t fit all. It is so unique, and has to be stitched together by little moments such as – how do I respond to failures, how do I handle different people, how do I hire, how do I handle diversity and inclusion and so many such things have to be addressed, answered and acknowledged for the culture to evolve.

Secondly, leaders don’t walk the talk and don’t realize that the change begins with them. They advocate it vociferously, but don’t live it. And I have seen this happening in front of me — where a leader had called for collaboration and open communication across the organization but remained close to his cohort of four and never much mingled outside his direct reports. The teams lost faith, and when they did not see the values demonstrated, they sensed the lack of receptivity and mismatch from talk to action. In fact, many who were not able to identify themselves with the organization, unfortunately left as well.

The armed forces are normally respected for their discipline; how does that translate in the context of more millennials joining the workforce?

Millennials are a section to reckon with, and they are going to be forming 3/4th of the working population very soon. They will shape several of the market forces that will come into existence in the ensuing years. I had conducted an interesting research on millennials when I was with Association for Talent Development (ATD), and some of the key findings on millennial behaviour was an eye opener for me.

The tech laced millennials are born in an era of information proliferation and their conditioning is based on what they read and watch. They have questions and they need proper answers for all their Whys – if they can discover that context and purpose behind their work, then their commitment and collaboration become 100%.

For organizations to channel their energies they need to ensure proper organizational fit that aligns to their roles, strengths and preferences. On the flip side though, you have got to nudge them to understand the value of collaboration in this materialistic world and the necessary guidance needs to be provided to manoeuvre them constructively in the social media space as well.

What are the 20 percent actions that gets you 80 percent results when it comes to building a high-performance culture within organizations?

The Pareto principle of 80 – 20 has been handed down through generations and it still holds good for organizations. In a corporate context, there are always goals to be achieved, challenges to be overcome and a never-ending list of tasks to be completed. However, the Pareto allows us to focus on those critical 2 or 3 key focus areas that will maximize our results.

The performance management is the right concept to incorporate the Pareto to build high performance teams, moving to merit based performance management system from the bell curve mode will have a multiplier effect.

I particularly like Google’s OKR framework, where everything in terms of work is measured in the form of Objectives and Key Results and everyone from the top management to the last person standing is aligned to their OKRs. What it does is, it keeps the focus on critical, high value objectives while removing the fluff.

And from your experience, how can women become more successful and rise to be true leaders?

⦁ They must let go of the “perfection trap” and sign up for roles and learn on the go, because the world is moving at a rapid pace and you cannot afford to keep waiting.
⦁ They must invest time in building relationships that will pay off in the long run, not worry about the number of friends but more the few relationships that will help them develop.
⦁ Don’t be obsessed about being liked and accepted always, you have a job and do it your best and leave it at that. Build emotional bank accounts and it will pay off.

What are the incorrect assumptions that leaders are making about woman and diversity?

Women in the board are still under-represented, and that is the reality. The common assumption is that the numbers are improving, but that is not the case. Another sad reality is the ‘broken rung effect’, since women tend to leave careers giving priority to family, childcare and et al, there are lesser women to be promoted at the top.

The ownership of advancing their careers, lies to a large extent with women. They are the only ones who can make the change happen, importantly their voice must be heard. They must speak for themselves and call out attention to their success, being shy or inhibited will only complicate things further. They must clamour for attention, and be it a promotion, compensation or any other rewards related to it has to be asked sans reticence.

Rupinder Kaur Dr. Maj. Rupinder Kaur

Learning Evangelist/Educator/Researcher,
Culture Catalyst/Inclusion proponent

Rupinder has donned various roles in her career with equal ease, from being an Army officer to being a learning and culture architect in the corporate world.

Whether serving at 15000 ft in Gurez valley in Kashmir, or finding her way through the corporate ladder, in prestigious consulting firms, including Accenture and EY, a result driven empathetic approach has helped her steer her career for last 18 years.

Her domain expertise is building, aligning, integrating & sustaining leadership development initiatives at scale. She has deep experience in creating culture via values translating into behaviours, managing change initiatives, building an environment of diversity & inclusion, designing roadmap for embedding digital in learning

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