Speaker Interview of Ritu G. Mehrish
Published author and former business leader with over 20 years of corporate experience at P&G and GE, Ritu G. Mehrish is an executive coach on a mission to humanise leadership. Based on her research and interviews with hundreds of leaders across the globe, she found that ‘Leader’s Block’ (yes, like writer’s block!) is one of the top reasons for low productivity and blip in leadership. Ritu is giving a talk to our members on ‘Leader’s Block’ on Oct. 20th 2020, which will provide a refreshing and unique perspective on leadership by exploring the challenges, dilemmas and blocks that leaders go through during their leadership journey.
IWF Finland had a chance to interview her before the talk and get to know her beyond her research. We're excited to share our conversation below!
What are the most important traits of a leader?
I haven’t yet come up with five things that make a good leader because it really depends on the culture and the people you lead.
I compare leadership to parenting. Firstly, leadership comes with a lot of responsibility. Just as with parenting, you impact people by not only your actions, but also through your thoughts and behaviour. I think anyone in a leadership position should realise their capacity to influence and inspire people, so it should be done with a lot of caution and responsibility. Secondly, just as when you prepare for parenthood, you can read all the books about the topic and listen to advice from others, but you don’t know what it’s like until you become one yourself. And thirdly, just like a parent if you have two children, you likely treat your children differently based on their personalities and individuality. For a team, you will have to change your leadership style depending on who you are leading and what kind of leadership style they may need.
What are the biggest challenges standing nowadays in front of a leader?
Right now, I think the biggest challenge is the speed of change and uncertainty. I know a lot of organisations are now going through the planning process for next year, but they’re dealing with so much ambiguity that they don’t know what to plan for. Given what the world is going through right now, leaders are faced with the challenge of having to project what 12 to 18 months will look like. We’ve gone from having a five year plan to a three year plan and now not even a six month plan. The other aspect is suddenly working from home, which is a very different way of operating for a lot of us, and the challenges associated with that. Some people are enjoying it, but we could see more consequences, good or bad, of working from home a few months down the line. We want to prepare those at the top for this ambiguity.
What was the scariest point in your career, the most uncertain, or even shocking?
I have had a couple of those in my career, and even as recently as earlier this year, when my calendar went from having 10 conferences lined up to zero (apart from the coaching work I was doing). It was really scary for me because I didn’t know how I would sustain my work. And that's when I decided to pivot, and I started doing more virtual coaching and tweaking my offerings. I'm kind of taking one day at a time.
But going back to my corporate life, one incident I still recall very vividly is from early in my career when I moved to the US in 1999 for GE Capital. It was my first time leaving India and taking such a long international flight. They were totally different worlds: the way people dressed and spoke. Everything was so different and it was such a big challenge. It was one of the scariest and most exciting parts of my corporate journey. Who knew I would end up staying there making a career in that company for so many years then.
I think when you're that young (I was in my early 20s) you can go for an adventure because you don't carry the baggage of your own experience, your ego, etc. so you're just willing to put yourself out there and learn every day and experiment with new things. And that’s probably what we stop doing when we age. I have done it later in my career when I quit my corporate job to take a plunge into doing what I do now. It's very scary to give up a very secure job and knowing you have a monthly check, to 12 months of getting nothing. It's a combination of scary but exciting. The magic happens outside your comfort zone.
What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
I would advise myself to slow down – there's a lot coming! I think when I was in my 20s, I was always thinking of “okay I got this, what next, what's the next position, what's the next big role?” and I was working so hard. I remember, I was really lucky in my job to get to travel the world and sometimes I realise that I wouldn't even step out of my hotel room: I was just there to complete the work and take a flight back to wherever home was. But as I look back, I think I could have taken more time to enjoy and realise I have a long (40+ years) career ahead of me. You don't need to punch it in the first 10-15 years of your life. I guess that's the advice I would give to my 20-year-old self. At that time, I was very driven and I was very very ambitious and aggressive in a lot of ways.
You can find Ritu's book, Leader’s Block: How Great Leaders Recover After they Stumble, on Amazon UK.