I’ll start with a story on the art and science of leadership on day 11 of my gratitude project. Bear with me on this one, as I put my memories together. I am a sort of a party pooper as my husband and family would tell you. I am not necessarily the most gregarious person around. I rarely enjoy large gatherings and my most ideal parties happen at home laughing and fighting with a large group of 5 people at sector 50 in Noida. I enjoy it so. I am a home person at heart. Travel brings love to my life, but parties mostly don’t. At my brand new one year old job at McKinsey, I once skipped an office gala party. It was a massive gathering, and I did not attend. Perhaps because my heart was always beating more if I had to travel between Gurgaon and Noida in the night time. Or just because I find parties to be so awkward. I’m sure I had a reason but I can’t remember it now after 8 years.
The next day, however, is intently sketched in my memory, forever. The director (basically the person heading our 700 member office) walked to my small cubicle and asked me specifically the reason why I had skipped the party. I was so taken by this gesture that I almost fumbled – although I was telling the truth. Nitin Seth, was a thousand levels above the paltry me in office. He still remembered the names of everyone on the floor and came to everyone’s desk every once in a while to talk. At that time, it seemed weird.
A bit later, we were in a company townhall. Nitin had started this system of reading out questions people had and answering them in front of the full office crowd. This was to build transparency and open communication. He answered the most awkward questions. One anonymous question talked about “why am I not promoted” or “why do I feel my boss is partial” and things like that. He answered and said something profound (to me at that time), that Indians have an issue with thinking just about the short term. We tend to worry about the two years that we could not be promoted for, instead of looking at the next thirty years. We are finicky about details, that eventually made no difference in the long run. We save two Euros and lose a couple million in the long term.
This value of transparency was this pet theme and soon transitioned into an Intranet system. In 2008. Naturally I was a part of the initial team. When I see German firms still struggle with internal communications now, I think back about what we had achieved and what his vision was. A little later, I was also a part of a pilot client model, where we were challenging ourselves. How could we bring in more value for our clients? How could we push the envelope? In a firm that’s so far ahead as McKinsey, these questions are seldom easy. Because everyone is creating magic and you already are a step ahead. And then, you need to think what else?
As I began with the big decision of starting my own business and dealing with my people, as their leader, all these things came back to me. I remembered the need of knowing people personally and the impact it had. I remembered the need to measure, evaluate and create conditions for more value on the client front. I knew my differentiator was never going to be working with a million projects in a span of a month. I knew it had to be quality and a larger, big picture view with the right intent.
I may fail, but I will not fail my learnings. Nitin and I had way too many levels between us for me to know him too well personally, but my memories of him still leave me inspired. Like they say, you don’t remember what people do, you remember how they make you feel. And if that’s not something I should find gratitude towards, then this whole project would feel empty.