Seema Arora Nambiar wears multiple hats at work. As Senior Vice President at Hardcastle Restaurants Pvt. Ltd (which operates McDonald’s branded restaurants in west and south India), she leads Menu, Marketing and People Resources. Sounds like a handful? That’s not all. Over her last two decades with the organisation, Seema has worked across several teams and functions. And this, she says, is one of the reasons she’s never felt burnt out, even for a single day, on the job!
However, like in any workplace, stress is a reality—one that Seema deals with through her love for music. In an email interview with Thrive Global India, she says that playing the drums is her go-to activity to tune out stress and get into a relaxed state for better decision-making. Her other mantras to handle high-pressure situations are to prioritise tasks and communicate clearly. She further adds that interacting with people recharges her energy batteries.
Under Seema’s leadership, McDonald’s India (West & South) has bagged several accolades across the industry and continues to win top honours at ‘Great Places to Work’. Here are her secrets to thrive in the workplace!
Thrive Global India: What gives you energy?
Seema Arora Nambiar: I draw a lot of energy from people all around me. I love speaking to people across age groups, understanding their mind space and exchanging ideas. One of the biggest energy boosters for me is to going to McDonald’s restaurants and talking to the crew. The insights I get from them sometimes are invaluable.
TGI: What’s your secret life hack?
SAN: Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift and that’s why it’s called the ‘present’.
TGI: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
SAN: It definitely wakes me up – the alarm, not the emails!
TGI: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
SAN: If I am at work, I catch-up with people, just about work in general or sometimes even about non-work related topics. If I am at home, I grab that book I am dying to finish or cook up something interesting.
TGI: When was the last time you felt burnt out and why?
SAN: I don’t remember feeling burnt out, ever. In my career spanning over 25 years, I have always had something that’s kept the fire alive and kept me energised every single day, and stay excited to get to work and get cracking on the task at hand. The fact that I have worked across teams and functions has also helped this.
TGI: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
SAN: I believe that if you try new ideas, explore new avenues and try pushing the envelope, failures may happen. The key is to not get bogged down by those.
I try not to take the failure personally, and do have a couple of people at work and home who are my sounding boards. I have realised that speaking about the failures makes it easier to learn and grow. So every time you fail, take the learnings, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get going. Just be mindful about not repeating the same mistakes.
TGI: How do you prioritise when you have an overwhelming amount to do?
SAN: For me, family always tops the chart of my priorities. At work, I evaluate the business criticality of all tasks and prioritise them in the order of organisational impact, functional impact, followed by personal impact. However, whenever meeting deadlines seems challenging, I always keep the relevant stakeholders informed about the reason and also the date by which I will be able to do it.
TGI: Do you have any role models for living a thriving life?
SAN: My father is my role model. He has worked for 70 years out of the 84 years of his life—all the while striking an amazing work-life balance. He still takes us out for shopping, dinners and is always around for all special occasions. His life mantra is that the body may age, but the mind has to be kept alive and active.
TGI: When you notice you’re getting too stressed, what do you do to course-correct?
SAN: I consciously and immediately stop thinking about the issue that’s stressing me out and take a break. My first go-to is music—either playing the drums, attending a show or just listening to music at home. Watching an optimistic/positive movie or reading a book, indulging in cooking some great food are other ways to disconnect. Any decisions taken when the mind is emotional are not normally balanced, and hence should be avoided.
TGI: What’s a surprising way you practice mindfulness?
SAN: I try to ensure that at the very least, I treat people how I would like to be treated. It is also important to know how to let go of things that made you happy in the past (read: indulgent food). Over the last few years I have realised that it is important to respect the body, its limits and to replenish it with nutritious food and adequate amount of sleep.
TGI: What brings you optimism?
SAN: I am a very positive person, and believe that every day is a new day that is full of opportunities for you to grab. I keep reminding myself that there is nothing that can’t be dealt with or solutioned with conviction, commitment and creativity.
TGI: What is one perception about you that isn’t really true?
SAN: People think I’m strict, but really I’m easy-going.
TGI: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve the way you connect with others. Was it challenging?
SAN: I have mindfully started making sure that I listen to people and not just hear them. However, I am yet to master this, so it’s still work in progress. I do have a few people around who know about this effort and promptly point out if I am not staying the course. They ensure they point out in case the effort to change is not effective and could be derailing the environment. Change is always tough.
TGI: What was the biggest turning point in your life?
SAN: It was actually a failed relationship that taught me a great deal. It helped me to learn how to understand people better and be able to do so beyond just face value. It also made me believe in the strength of the human spirit and understand that not only are we all capable of overcoming our biggest problems and crises, but also that difficult times can also bring out the best in us and help us emerge stronger than ever.
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