Sunday, June 30, 2019

My Talk to Emerging Leaders: Career paths exists as a guidelines, not as mandates

I recently got a privilege to be a mentor to emerging leaders in my organization (Citrix) as a part of 'Next Generation Leadership' program. It was a sort of 'limited time' mentor role (not sure why it was called mentor though) in which I, along with three accomplished peers of mine were a part of panel talk, with 35 plus emerging leaders in the audience.
It was an interesting experience for me, before I start sharing about it I just want to say I quite grateful (to organizing team, L&D in this case) for opportunities like these coming my way. I surely do think there are far more capable people who can play such role better than me.
In the next few blogs, I will attempt and recall my responses to a few questions that were asked of me in this panel talk.

Here's the first one:

What experiences, roles, and opportunities have led you to the role you are in today at Citrix?

I consider business as a team sport so I would like to start with drawing an analogy from the world of sports. With Cricket World cup going on at the moment, how can I not talk about Cricket? :-)
When I look at the most successful cricketers, one lesser known thing stands out. Let me take an example of Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, MS Dhoni.

When Dravid made his debut and had played for a couple of years, he has started getting type-casted as a test match player. He technique and value was considered to be questionable for One day format of the game. Rahul being aware of this, not only made adjustments to his batting technique but also found a unique way of adding value. He was one of the first players to learn wicket-keeping and offered himself as a keeper. He was eventually very successful in one day cricket.

When Virender Sehwag was called into the team, he was a middle order batsman. But with some backing and confidence from the captain (Saurav Ganguly), he became one of the most destructive test and one day openers of all time.

Many people questioned MS Dhoni's unorthodox batting and wicketkeeping skills. He hung on to his core strengths and became the most successful one day finisher (arguably) and India's most successful captain and wicketkeeper.

If you look at these stories, one thread that binds these seemingly distinct cases is that each of these players charted their own paths towards their individual success and glory. They didn't follow any set template.

Why are these stories important in the context of current conversation? That's because in the context of organizations, we often fail to ask this question:

Why is it not possible to follow your own path in the organizations?
Do employees only have one option that is to follow the career paths laid down by organization?
One of the things that I tried to do in my career is to break away from the career paths and see where it would lead me. One disclaimer: even though I started my response to this question by citing the examples of three very successful cricketers, my intention was not to compare anyhow my little world with theirs and I share the rest of the stuff below fully acknowledging the role luck played in my journey so far.

Early in my days at Citrix, I followed linear path. I mastered globalization engineering and played the role to lead a significant portion of engineering efforts and eventually becoming Director of Engineering team. I handled Security Engineering when the team was in transition for a couple of years.
One of my beliefs have been that senior and leadership roles are open ended in nature. What I mean by this is, these roles are not tied just to job description but also has open ended element that should prompt leaders to find their own ways to make organization and products better.
Armed with this belief, during my above described part of the role, I offered myself to various roles within my organization. Important to note that I didn't 'offer' myself to play leadership roles or seek credit but just with plain intent to learn. In a few years, apart from my primary role, I gained experience in:

  • Leading corporate citizenship teams.
  • Leading internal facing technology events.
  • Leading external facing technology branding events.
  • Driving organization pitch sessions at universities.
  • Before a part of internal compliance committee.
  • And many such roles.
At the end of each such experience, I observed two things happening to me:
1. Since I had a demanding role, finding time for anything beyond caused me go out of comfort zone often. It made me better at managing my time and delegating.
2. I could notice my thinking around problem solving and leadership skills evolving slowly but surely with each experience.
This happened for sometime before I got to play the role that I do now.
The beautiful part of my current role is that I was involved in almost all the phases of creation of role
I have no hesitation in calling myself an 'Intrapreneur' and possibly one of the best 'jack of all trades' :-)
I made another shift (would thank luck and my superiors first) to Product Management some time back.
(More on these changes in upcoming posts).

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