My family is obnoxiously loud at the dinner table, with everyone speaking over each other and just enough listening taking place to be able to rebut the other person’s view and share your winning argument. A comedy of one-upmanship that runs on the surface of a complex and imperfect family dynamic, making light at the end of a hard week. And it is these relationships around the table that have been the source of some of the greatest lessons I have learned and continue to learn throughout my life.
My parents were born in Apartheid South Africa in 1949. Despite the restricted opportunities available to them as South African Indians, they both placed emphasis on higher education. My mother went on after her degree to be a teacher, while my dad spent his entire working career in the automotive industry. In addition to the political constraints of the time, they also lived in a world prior to globalisation, a working environment in stark contrast to what we face today. Like many from their generation, their primary coping mechanism was to “suck it up”. That would inevitably also become my way of dealing with life’s challenges through my childhood and early adulthood. And while the concept seems wildly outdated in today’s context, the notion that you need to work hard, without complaining and giving up when things are too difficult, has served me well in my professional career. This was especially true in the early days of being a consultant, where you have so much to learn. It was critical to my success that I put in the long hours and the extra effort without expectation of immediate reward. Understanding that perseverance and consistency would eventually lead to opportunities and autonomy. And while I am unlikely to pass on the lesson in the same way to my kids, I am certain that I want to impart to them the importance of investing themselves in their careers and seeing things through even in difficult times. They should value the opportunities open to them as for many this is still not a guarantee
Being an English teacher, my mother would often refer to literature when explaining to us life lessons. It is however Atticus Finch’s quote from “To Kill a Mockingbird” that continues to resonate with me. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”. Simply stated, empathy is no longer confined to the world outside of the boardroom, it transcends personal and professional life. Truly embracing individuality and acknowledging that we each have value to offer, has been the cornerstone to not only my effectiveness in a team, but it is what makes my job enjoyable. Instead of judging others for having different roles, responsibilities and targets, looking for a way for each person to play to their strengths is what sets teams up for success. Whether you are a team member or a team leader, everyone needs to share this common principle.
"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it".
Having 3 older siblings has given me a rich supply of free and sometimes unsolicited advice. I realise I have been infinitely lucky to have a support base, where I can be vulnerable, soundboard ideas and seek guidance. Putting in place a support system early on is something that I believe has been critical to my individual success. In a high stress and complex corporate environment, there are many days that do not go as planned. And to be totally honest, it is easy to feel defeated, but it is in those moments that it helps to have a soft-landing with people who will support you and offer perspective. No one can do it alone, nor should you expect that of yourself. Depending on many personal factors, exposing vulnerability is often feared, mainly because of concerns of being perceived as weak. However, I have found that it creates a humanness and a connectedness, especially when it comes to leaders.
It seems surprising to me that many of the fundamental pieces of advice that have underpinned my career, have emanated from my childhood. As a parent, this reminds me how the trajectory of our kids’ lives is determined by what they learn while they are with us. And while like me, they will build on this base as they progress through life, it is the family unit that needs to equip our next generation in the best way we know how to at the time -hopefully sowing the seed of qualities that serve them well not only in their professional careers but as people.