In this special feature on International Women’s Day 2021, we connected with Ms Anupama Pillai, Director - HR at Diebold Nixdorf and talked about the opportunities/challenges in her career journey that helped her become the successful leader she is today. We also asked her about the key leadership lessons she has learned and the advice she would give to the women leaders of the future.
And the one advice that I kept close to my heart is that being a woman we should stop being apologetic for our desires, hopes and dreams and instead should go after them with passion and confidence. I am sure that the highest of accomplishments and achievements are possible without sacrificing who and what you are.
Q: Anupama, tell us about your career journey, what opportunities/challenges has it presented you with and helped you become a successful leader. One advice that greatly impacted you and your career trajectory?
A: Challenges are sure to arise in every walk of life. How you convert the challenges into opportunities gives you the motivation to learn more and hone your abilities.
Unlike any other fresh MBA graduate who lands up managerial positions directly, I had a very modest start to my HR career in a startup IT organization as an HR executive. Fortunately for me, since I was the first hire in HR, I was entrusted with the responsibility of building up the HR department in that organization and had the privilege of hiring the HR head who eventually happened to be my boss. And then together with my HR head, we ramped up not only the entire HR team but the organization as a whole. Along this journey is where I learnt the so-called ‘skills of the trade’ in terms of finding and recruiting the right talent, training and developing employees, resolving conflicts, engaging employees, statutory compliances and with all these, also keeping an eye on productivity.
With the era of dot coms and the IT industry booming in the year 2Ks, I knew there was no looking back and I switched jobs for more challenging roles. My hands-on approach and my ability to always take on more responsibilities outside my purview, helped me move up to the subsequent levels soon enough. In the 7th year of my career, I was already heading an HR department of a firm and leading a significant size of HR teams. It wasn’t as easy a journey as it sounds, as I also did struggle and had to go through a lot of challenges to manage and sustain home and work when I got married and had a kid. Life was really tough when my baby was a toddler and I had to travel for recruitment drives to different cities. But my husband and my family were the rock-solid support system who stood by me through the thick and thins of my personal and professional juggles and helped me sail through smoothly.
And the one advice that I kept close to my heart is that being a woman we should stop being apologetic for our desires, hopes and dreams and instead should go after them with passion and confidence. I am sure that the highest of accomplishments and achievements are possible without sacrificing who and what you are. But obviously, it is not possible without a strong support system of your family and friends. So one also should take out time and invest in our relationships and strike the right balance in terms of our social, home and work life.
Q: You have been credited with excellent multi-tasking skills. Can you tell us how you find ways to multitask well but also to do that in a smart, collaborative way?
A: I think multi-tasking skills is an inherent quality and something all women are blessed with. But making priorities is important. If you have to cover multiple tasks within a limited timeline, then decide what’s the priority and need of the hour. If you notice that you cannot possibly complete all tasks on your schedule, it is important to focus on the most important one.
Daily To-do lists are something I swear by. When you shift your attention from one task to another, it’s easy to lose track and end up completely confused. A simple to-do list will prevent that from happening. Plan what tasks you’re going to cover during the day and put them in a timeframe. It’s important to keep on practising and it gets better with practice. Multitasking may be overwhelming at first, but you will be gaining momentum if you stay persistent.
Q: Who has been the biggest advocate/mentor in your career and why?
A: My husband has been always my biggest advocate and mentor in my career and has always supported me to chase my dreams and pursue what interests me. He strongly believes that everyone must make mistakes to learn from them.
Since time immemorial, there has been this set expectation that husbands are the breadwinners, and wives must take care of the house and are the caregivers. In this evolving age, we do see a paradigm shift in the thought process. My husband has always supported my career and has always appreciated the balance that I have between work and home. He has constantly helped me cope with my work pressures, and assured me no matter what, my family will always be there for me.
Q: What are your “3 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why?
A: Some of the Leadership lessons I learned from my experiences are:
- Know yourself and especially what you are good at and what you are not. Leverage people in the team with passion and skills in those areas to compliment you. You don’t need to know everything and be good at everything to lead effectively. Make it easy for your team to give you honest feedback which you can keep working on, to improve.
- Effective Communication is another important aspect. You need to speak clearly enough to get your point across. Strong and clear messaging help in getting the desired results.
- Have a vision (bigger picture) and strategy in what you do. It’s important to engage with all levels because there will be a different perspective from each operational group and level. It is challenging to execute long-term goals because we need constant evaluation to be relevant with the times. Leaders need to be present, listening and open to learning from everyone around them.
Q: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
My advice for emerging female leaders is to find your passion and never give up on your dreams. Always push yourself to learn as much as you possibly can and never settle for the status quo. The only way you can move ahead is by challenging your limits and not by limiting your challenges.