LEADING WITH HUMILITY, RESPECT, AND EMPATHY: KEY TO PEOPLE LEADERSHIP

In this edition of ‘CHROInsights’, as part of The Great Manager Awards, we have Ms. Anupam Trehan, Sr. Director, People and Communities, Cisco APJC. In her conversation with Mr.  Rahul Mahajan, Country – Lead of Great Manager Awards, she shares her growth story and people leadership experiences.

Rahul: What’s your style of leadership? What would your colleagues say about some dos and don’ts around working with you?

 

Anupam: My mantra for leadership has always been about treating my team how I would like to be treated. So, I believe in treating them with respect for everything that they bring to the table, both from a personal and professional perspective, and respect for who they are as individuals.

“Respect is a significant aspect of my leadership style because, in today’s world, it’s not just about people who report it to you. As a leader, you play that leadership role for so many others.”

I ask my team to maintain high integrity. For me, it’s non-negotiable. My don’ts encompass actions like passive-aggressive behavior and finger-pointing. As professionals, I believe we should hold ourselves accountable and responsible for whatever actions we take. Secondly, I don’t believe in the ‘impossible’. I feel no problem is too big or that it can’t be solved. When you come together as a team, nothing can stop you.

Rahul: Why did you choose to get into HR, and what keeps you going in this field?

 

Anupam: When I was younger, my ambition was to be a journalist. I was nudged into doing my MBA by my parents, and while I was doing my MBA, I knew I wasn’t cut out for marketing or finance. Frankly, I didn’t know much about HR, but amongst the options that I had, it seemed the most interesting and once I started my career in HR and moved deeper into this field, I cannot not imagine myself doing anything else. It’s a profession that I’ve grown to love and enjoy.

“It all boils down to organizations having the right people, and being able to enable, empower and engage them in the right way, to drive business results.”

Having worked across various industries like manufacturing, banking, and now, technology, I’ve realized that the fundamental of everything is the people. I have performed varied roles within HR, such as talent acquisition, learning and development, Employee Relations, Leadership Coaching & Development. Each position has challenged and excited me personally and professionally and given me immense learning and experience.

“One should take a step back and realize the massive power that this function can have, especially at times of change or during uncertainty.”

What keeps me excited is the possibility of what we can do next, what else we need to think about and plan for, the opportunities to ideate, brainstorm, and rise to achieve; the idea of how we continue to be inclusive, not just within Cisco, but how we create an ‘inclusive mindset’ for our communities outside of work. These are things that keep me going in this function.

“HR as a function is a powerhouse that can bring a lot of those business strategies and ambitions to life.”

 

Rahul: During the pandemic, the role of HR has become a lifesaver for both individuals and organizations, as it became a source of COVID care as well as ensuring the organization’s business continuity. Considering now, wellness and business productivity are hygiene factors, what do you think the role of HR will evolve into, say in the next one to two years?

 

Anupam: I would look at two fundamentals. One of the fundamentals of HR as a function, which has not changed during pre-COVID and post-COVID times, and continues to be its focus, is the primary responsibility of translating the business strategy into a people strategy.

What has hugely shifted is the experience that organizations can provide their talent.  When you start to peel the onion on what that experience should be like, specific questions become essential – is this the organization that will help me continue to invest in my professional self? Is the organization only interested in me as a professional or also as a person? Is this an organization where I can find my match in terms of personality and interests, and does it hold the values I stand for? Is this an organization that has a culture where I can simultaneously foster my passion?

These are some questions that can define the experience an organization aspires to create for its employees and these are questions one thinks of before joining a company. This is where the company’s focus on the well-being of employees becomes critical and where the passion that one may have as an individual can come to life.

“Because when you look at careers, the experience must not only help an individual in professional growth and investment but beyond that.”

 

Rahul: What qualities would you look for if you were to find a successor for your role?

 

Anupam: A few that come to mind immediately – Business acumen as everything we do is in the space of translating the business strategy into a talent strategy .A leader that inspires, empowers and can also roll up their sleeves when needed. Someone who is  comfortable with ambiguity,  and with not knowing the answers.

Someone with a customer mindset. A ‘customer mindset’ is crucial because they need to serve the business, which is the first customer and the second set of customers, who are the recipients of everything that HR does. Last but not the least. and something close to my heart – Someone who could lead with empathy, respect and humility.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”

 

Rahul: What are, according to you, some crucial competencies that are required from a great manager?

 

Anupam: What truly differentiates a great manager from a good manager is ‘people leadership’. While leaders focus on driving the business and doing what is important and right to achieve results, what truly differentiates a manager is people leadership. Everybody remembers, respects and follows those leaders who were invested in them and who took care of them both professionally and personally, at both good and bad times.

 

“People remember how leaders make them feel.”

– Maya Angelou

 

It is about how the manager creates an aspirational experience for employees and leads with an inclusive mindset, leads with empathy, and understanding. This is imperative. A great manager would live by these values every day, regardless of the circumstance, and I believe this is most crucial.

Rahul: If you must interview a CEO, what are some of the questions you would want to ask for your firm?

 

Anupam: Some of the questions I would ask would be around their values and what is important for them. I would love to ask them about a situation where things may not have gone the way they planned or where they failed, and hear the story and understand why they did what they did. I would like to understand why a particular role or job excites them and I also like to get to know people for who they are outside of work,  what do they like to do, and what gets them going? I try to understand the personality and values because a resume always talks about the person in professional terms and its important to get to know who they are.

 

Rahul: What is the most common piece of advice you find yourself giving to the younger generation who are stepping into the workforce?

 

Anupam: My piece of advice, regardless of anything, would be, “Don’t define your career with a series of jobs or goals, but look at your career through the lens of experiences that you want for yourself.” This opens the opportunity for people around the kind of experience they want, as it helps them do stretch assignments and even do things outside of their day job to learn something different and challenging. One should be open to exploring as many different avenues and possibilities to learn and invest in oneself.

“Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.”

Rahul: Who are or have been some of your mentors and influences in your life through the years?

 

Anupam: I grew up in a family where women were strong individuals, which had a considerable influence on my personal life. As I started working and growing professionally, I’ve had many great managers, mentors, and sponsors who had a profound impact on my life. My managers, mentors, sponsors have guided me, challenged me, supported me and advocated for me.

More recently some of my biggest learnings and influences is coming from my kids because they’re constantly challenging me to open my mind and think about things that I would have probably not even thought about.