by Kalpana Margabandhu
IBM Director, WebSphere Development, India, India Software Lab
Sitting down to pen a letter to you immediately brings to mind something I read awhile ago – Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. The rules of the game are similar all the way through in life & work – to quote from Fulghum – “Play Fair” – Trust & Personal Responsibility in all your actions is paramount; “When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together” – Collaborate & show dedication to every effort, even the most seemingly insignificant of them; “Be aware of wonder” – Innovation is the single most touted buzz word today – learn to dream & tread off the beaten path ; “Share Everything” – the importance of teamwork & networking cannot be understated in navigating your way through the maze of the big & complicated corporate world; “Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some…” – learn to look at work as not a physical place but a state of being, of integration with your regular flow of daily life – you will enjoy it much more thus!
One of the things I admire about you even at this early stage in your life is the ability to stand firm by your convictions – when you were counseled avidly on a career in a large public sector banking, in sync with the prevalent career choice of the times especially for women (the “banker’s hours & job security” logic), you knew in your heart that this was not what you wanted & dared to defy conventional wisdom – you have taken a big step in entering & surviving quite ably in a male dominated technical institute – The Indian Institute of Science (IISc)… I believe this will set the stage for you to address any barriers around competing in a male dominated work environment in the days ahead!
I recall just the other day at our annual family get together when you were being teased around for your “math phobia” – appa was seriously lecturing you on pursuing options in life sciences or teaching… you had already made up your mind to take this up as a personal challenge – of surmounting the impossible (or so it seemed then)! This ability of rising up to a challenge stood you in good stead again at IISc when you pursued your annual M. Tech project in the realm of hardware even though this meant considerably more effort & re – orientation on your part – you will realize that stepping outside one’s comfort zone is a key ingredient to success as you go along this exciting journey ahead.
You stand out by being yourself – yet another quality that will go a long way in the future. You were presented with a golden opportunity to represent your product at a Technology Fair in the US– this would be your 1st trip to US to present a demo… you had already planned your presentation well in advance, knew what potential questions would be asked of you, & done your homework through & through… what was a last minute & difficult choice was to determine if you should conform to the indicated dress code (western formal) or simply go with what you were comfortable in – i.e. traditional Indian formal wear. It seemed like a wrenching decision especially at that time of your life since you were young, impressionable & unexposed – however, you decided to go with what seemed right for YOU!! Leadership, at the end of the day, is all about one’s unique individual style – the ability to influence, command respect & take charge without losing one’s identity.
I recall your excitement on becoming a people manager at IBM– you read management literature voraciously & practiced most of it very sincerely – working & collaborating with your team closely, yet setting boundaries carefully, being clear on roles & responsibilities, enabling, empowering & learning all along. A key learning in your initial years as a people manager was this: the dynamic ‘real world of work’ did not always go exactly as literature said it would!!
Being human, you had formed a personal bias just by interacting with one of your colleagues and decided you did not want to work with the person ever again in your career – life had other plans and this individual became one of your direct reports the very next year! You were disturbed at first but luckily your inherent sense of balance & maturity prevailed & you decided to give this individual the benefit of the doubt & put in the effort to evaluate the person objectively, as any good manager would. And, to your surprise, you learnt that your initial impressions of the individual were mistaken!
This experience taught you to never judge a book by its cover, to let go of mental blocks & pre – conceived notions, to become as objective about people & situations as you go further in your career.
Kalpana, I seem to stand on the mountain top called experience & hold your hand on tentative steps toward me… the road ahead is hard & with numerous roadblocks no doubt… but keep your focus unwavering, your gait steady, seek the right supports on your journey, energize yourself, have faith and remember to smell the flowers along the way!