I graduated in 2009 when the gloom of the global recession had spread far and wide. From not having a job, to working at Landor, one of world’s leading brand consulting firms, the journey has been infinitely rewarding and life-changing. Of course, there have been moments of despair, anxiety and self-doubt along the way which I believe are par for the course. A combination of naiveté and occasional maturity kept me going over the years.
As I look back, I wish I knew the following from the very start.
Suspend your agenda
A peer I met at a training programme used to keep a trash can at the entrance of all meeting rooms. The objective was simple. Trash all pre-conceived notions, walk in with an open mind, walk out with a clear view. That conversation has stuck with me ever since.
Listen first. Avoid the temptation to troubleshoot immediately. You will be amazed at the level of clarity you will have at the end of client meetings, feedback sessions or internal brainstorms.
With colleagues, partners or with clients, it is important we set aside prejudices, assumptions and personal beliefs and focus our energies on listening, understanding and then solving.
Balance empathy and candour
I have been on both sides of the fence. Empathy is great! It is pleasant and people like you. Soon I realised, I was being insincere. I switched to candour and realised I was jeopardising relationships. Colleagues were upset and some people thought I was arrogant.
I now consciously and purposefully walk the middle path. It is not easy, requires focused efforts and practise. Being mindful is key. Choose your words wisely. Gestures have a lasting impact.
Quick tip—challenge with a view to better the client’s vision. It’s easy to be tempted to challenge to make a point you feel passionately about. Suspend your agenda. Be hard on your team’s ideas, not on your team members.
We live in a truly connected world. In the last few years I have met students who have referred partners to me. Partners have introduced me to clients. And of course, happy clients have introduced me to more clients.
You may be an introvert or an extrovert, but that should not stop you from making special connections within the ecosystem you operate in. I am an introvert and I realised soon enough that I simply cannot be the life of the party and keep everyone enthralled and engaged. That being said, I do better in one-on-one interactions. A sincere note, a quick text and a thoughtful greeting go a long way in building genuine connections.
Take a colleague out for lunch. Ask a client out for drinks. Both require time management and planning, but let me assure you, they are well worth the investment.
Learn, so you can unlearn
I read somewhere, “The future belongs to those who can learn, unlearn and relearn.” Truth be told, this one has been hard for me. I am a creature of habit, addicted to routines. So how do you unlearn? I don’t know. But what has worked for me in the past is to focus on the good of it all.
Let’s take an example, at Landor, we are constantly improving and reinventing our services to do more and do better. Earlier, redoing case studies and rewriting proposals felt like an unnecessary ordeal. I have started to think slightly differently now. I tell myself how the new frameworks will help win more business, improve our reputation, do better work and overall positively impact the entire team.
A non-work-related example that comes to mind is when I decided to go off sugar, which meant no orange juice for breakfast. Starting my day without orange juice felt absurd to me. What helped make the transition was when I started to look at what I was gaining versus missing out on. It hasn’t been easy and requires a great deal of mental conviction. Ritualising new actions help. I now have my bulletproof coffee while I FaceTime with my niece every morning. It’s a warm beverage, you are compelled to slow down and make some time for it!
List down the pros, and it is likely you will start to feel more positive about unlearning and learning.
Hone in your sense of purpose
A lot has been written and said about brand purpose, the criticality of having or not having one. But what about “your” sense of purpose? What does your big picture look like? I have realised, having a north star is important, not just for businesses but for individuals as well. What is it that keeps you going week after week? The money for sure, that is important. But over the years I have learnt that unique and diverse experiences keep me alive.
They could be anything—a wellness workshop, a cooking class or a “Guru Shishya” session with the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. These experiences keep me curious and motivated at work and outside of it. Luckily for me, my job not only offers new experiences, but encourages individuals to pursue their bliss. We can officially spend 10 per cent of our weekly billable hours on pursuing new interests.
Help others grow
When I started working, I was very focused on myself. I wanted to learn everything and grow as fast as possible. Sounds familiar? Most of us follow a similar trajectory when we start our careers. We want to do our best and want the very best for ourselves. And there is nothing wrong in that. What one must realise though is that there will come a time when your future growth and success will depend on how well your colleagues scale new heights.
When the realisation sinks in, you will need to suspend your agenda, balance empathy and candour, make genuine connections, learn and unlearn and take a wider view of things around you.
Reflect and be grateful
Finally, and most importantly, be thankful. For years, I have believed in the philosophy of “mind over matter”. It’s highly debatable and extremely polarising. But, if I had to break it down into a simple and less contentious takeaway, it simply means mental wellness is as important as physical wellness. There is a lot one can do for the mind.
“Reflection” is a good starting point. It helps you introspect, build awareness, sort your thoughts and focus on what matters the most. I maintain a little notebook where I document high points and low points in a day. Quiet “reflection time” before going to sleep, or on my way back from work makes me feel at peace, in control and thankful for the day that was.
Something that works for me, on days I don’t feel grateful at all, I force myself to be thankful for things I usually take for granted. You will be amazed at how much there is to be thankful for.
These are lessons I picked over the years. I have mastered some and I am still exploring the others. It is a never-ending pursuit. What really matters is being acutely aware of strengths you can leverage and weaknesses you can overcome over a period of time.
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