In a world that loves dichotomies, where do we draw the line between demonstrating grit in the face of workplace adversity, and deciding to pivot our energy elsewhere? How do we voice out and own our professional successes, while silencing the inner critic that makes us second-guess our choices?
These were some of the questions posed during the inaugural YWLC Leadership Roundtable held on 9 July centering on the theme of ‘Grit and Growth Mindset’. Featuring a panel helmed by our guest speakers: Shweta Bajpai (Vertical Head, India at Meta); Natsumi Funabiki (Senior Client Success Consultant at The Dream Collective); Rebecca Haly (Director, Customer Success, APAC of Salesforce); and Kim Underhill (Industrial & Organisational Psychologist, Management Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Executive Coach), the YWLC community received an intimate look into their inspiring leadership journeys and the lessons that they learned along the way.
Without a doubt, resilience blooms from hardship
Where adversity causes some to break; others break expectations. Shweta shared that her passion for mathematics led her to pursue engineering in university, even though she had been told to expect many tradeoffs by opting for a more demanding career path with long working hours and demands. As one of 14 female students in a total cohort of 400, Shweta pointed out that if you performed well, you would be viewed as having the professor’s favour for being the only female student in the class. On the other hand, a lacklustre academic performance would mean that you were viewed as failing societal expectations of being hardworking and smart.
Nevertheless, Shweta advocated the importance of ignoring the naysayers and external noise and instead, choosing to listen to yourself. Here, she shared another anecdote of how in her first job at a factory, there were no female restrooms on her floor. “I had to go up to the Human Resources department,” she recalled, “where my other female colleagues worked and which was the only floor with female restrooms.” Of course, when Shweta eventually started hiring staff for her department, she ensured that 20% of the new joiners to the engineering department were women, which helped support her business case for having female restrooms on that floor.
For Kim, adversity marked much of her early years as a single parent with two young children to raise. She held a day job as a clerk to support her family and also put herself through night school further her academic qualifications and skills. In Kim’s case, working hard to support her family was not simply about resilience, but sheer survival. Nevertheless, she stayed the course and cultivated a habit of learning and continuous development to work her way up professionally, eventually building a thriving career for herself as a multi-hyphenate. “Stay forward-focused and understand the ‘why’,” she advised. Kim continues to champion lifelong learning, and credits her success to being willing and able to pick up skills above and beyond her job description. As Kim noted, “Knowledge is power and with knowledge comes confidence”.
For Rebeca, resilience is about looking inward to find your own energy source. Listening to those who are only looking to put you down or discourage you will deplete your own energy. She recommended reading ‘Power Up’ by Magdalena Yesil, which offers inspirational advice about powering up your own energy source. And Rebecca is someone who walks the talk! As a team leader at Salesforce, she added that she also makes it a point to remind her team members to own their achievements. Through weekly 1:1 conversations, she calls on her team members to reflect on their achievements for the week and note down their accomplishments, allowing them to build a portfolio that they could turn to during their quarterly performance reviews. Taking the time to reflect on your accomplishments helps build self-confidence and is a sure-fire way of powering up your energy. As the song lyric goes, “What have you done today to make you feel proud?” Rebecca quipped that this should be something all leaders should ask of their team until it becomes second nature to do so.
Of course, cultivating the habit of validating your successes is something that we should all strive to do at an individual level, regardless of our leaders or superiors at work. In this regard, self-belief is strengthened when you surround yourself with the right support network. For Natsumi, cultivating resilience is also about reframing challenges as opportunities. Do not say, “I can’t do this.” Instead, tell yourself - “I can’t do this yet, but this is what I am doing to work on that at the moment.” Your current situation or circumstances are not your final destination and espousing positive thinking helps cultivate resilience as well as a growth mindset.
Not a U-turn, but taking another path in the career roadmap
Keep right at the fork, says your inner GPS as you navigate through your career journey, but what happens when you hit a roadblock? From deciding to move abroad to pursue other opportunities, to turning down a career fast-track with its time-intensive demands to focus on motherhood, or even leaving a professional role because of a toxic boss or work environment, such roadblocks can take on many different forms.
For Natsumi, that moment of realisation when what you are doing stops alignment with or contributing to your values is a sign that you are steering yourself in the wrong direction and not building the path forward on your personal roadmap.
Kim espoused a helpful framework that could be used when deciding between demonstrating grit and persevering towards a goal, and moving on if things are just not working out. The ‘CEO’ framework can be broken down as follows:
C - Control. Should I move forward or give up? Do I have 100% control over this situation? If yes, what am I doing to make a difference? Am I capable of making a difference?
E - Expectations. What are you looking for? It is important to acknowledge that sometimes, our personal expectations can be unrealistic. We must be cognisant of what we expect of ourselves. At the same time, know when to let go of control of a situation.
O - Overthinking. We often have a tendency to overthink small issues and turn them into big ones. It is therefore important to ask: Are we overthinking the situation?
Shweta stressed, “Normalise taking a break, or even a pivot!” When you realise that you are not giving one hundred percent of your energy to an endeavour, you should allow yourself to take a pause or even stop and reassess the situation. Oftentimes,
Rebecca similarly emphasised the importance of knowing your boundaries and your tolerance levels to certain situations that you might encounter. An integral part of cultivating and demonstrating resilience is being able to assert when something is not serving you and chart a different course forward.
Indeed, our speakers unanimously agreed that rather than seeing yourself as ‘giving up’ on a situation, take it as a realignment when you realise that a situation is just not serving you. Reframing the narrative is key to paving the path forward as you redirect your steps towards the path that will truly serve you at the end of the day.
Words of wisdom to carry forward
The Roundtable concluded with even more valuable and rich insights from our speakers, with each speaker asked to sum up in a sentence, one key takeaway that they would like our Roundtable participants to remember moving forward.
Kim noted that it was important to remember that you should be the change that you want to see and be proactive in setting yourself up for success. She added that one should never be afraid to be vulnerable and to ask for help.
Echoing Kim’s views, Natsumi also stressed the importance of building a support network both within your workplace and outside of it, comprising trusted individuals whom you can support and who in turn, can support you; in other words, individuals who can add the most value to your career and your personal life.
For Shweta, self-belief starts with self-reflection. She also encouraged giving back to the community as well as empowering and advocating for others when you are able to do so. Her third pearl of wisdom was for our participants to set their own long-term goals and play by that book - whether you choose to take a career break or even explore a pivot, you should live your life on your terms, so long as you are working towards achieving a bigger goal that you have set for yourself.
Finally, Rebecca concluded the discussion with an apt reminder to all participants - power up your own energy source because no one is going to do it for you. And of course, do find space for gratitude - a little can go a long way.
YWLC would like to thank all our speakers and participants for making this inaugural Leadership Roundtable a success! Stay tuned for more details on our next Leadership Roundtable.
Organising Committee: Leadership Development
Author: Grace Adam