22 Jan 2016 19:52 IST

‘Humanity demands that we don’t accept what is not fair and equitable’

Only you can change what you think needs changing, Vinita Bali tells students at Great Lakes

“I’m sick and tired of strange statistics being thrown at me saying that women are great and how under-represented they are on corporate boards. Unless the conversation moves from gender to competence, one cannot achieve quality. Good leaders are gender-agnostic. The sooner management schools recognise this, the more successful they and their students will be,” said Vinita Bali, Chairperson, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and former MD, Britannia Industries, to resounding applause from a huge hall packed with students and faculty at Great Lakes Institute of Management , near Chennai.

She was delivering the inaugural address at the 10th annual ‘Successful Women in Management (SWIM)’ conference with the theme ‘How do successful leaders nurture their personal brand?’

Gender, said Bali, was only one aspect of the several issues in this context. “We should all work towards being part of a larger change, to realise one’s full potential.” And that effort should be characterised by equality and courage, hard work and compassion.

She said leadership is about authenticity, not compromising on values, being genuine and pursuing excellence, in any field — whether in academia, a corporate enterprise an NGO or even in politics. Good leaders should inculcate and inspire trust.

Willingness to learn

Applauding Great Lakes Founder, Dean and Chairman, Dr Bala V Balachandran’s irrepressible enthusiasm, constant curiosity and willingness to learn from anywhere, Bali said if people chose to imbibe such leadership qualities, they would be successful in anything they chose to do.

Earlier, in his welcome speech, ‘Uncle’ Bala, as he’s called by students, said: “The inspiring women leaders in today’s conference and their collective wisdom challenge us all to make the most of our own lives, talents and experiences — in short, to believe in our own power.”

Speaking with the conviction and zeal of a new-age guru, Vinita Bali said a sure way to be unhappy is to live your life by other people’s expectations of you ( another roar of applause here!). Instead, she advised, students must introspect and get clarity on what is truly meaningful to each of them, what they want to be a part of. They should then pursue that goal till they are great at what they do, without worrying about what others or ‘society’ say or think of them.

Looking at this from another angle, Dr Suj Chandrasekhar, Founder, Strategic Insights Inc, in her keynote address, told the gathering that such clarity on what one should do emerges from a series of ‘agency moments’. The concept of ‘agency’ as part of one’s decision-making process is a powerful motivating force, she explained. One can consider several divergent paths but, at some turning point, the role of agency imparts a decisive influence in one’s life and helps one crystallise the core values that transform a person into a brand.

Agency and inclusion

Such agency moments, said Suj, are what propel a person to take a leap, to move seriously towards what excites and interests one, whether it’s a great corporate job or a commitment to a larger community and the desire to help people and make a difference.

“Essence and inclusion are attributes that make for a great brand personality,” she said, asking the enthusiastic youngsters to take full charge of their lives and leverage the many agency moments that would result in self-actualisation. This is a goal one should pursue even if the decisions along the way are not immediately acceptable to family, society or a larger circle. As long as one follows the heart and wants to remain in sync with the rest of the world, one will ultimately succeed, she said.

Personal brand

In the panel discussion that followed, Gowri Mukherjee, CMO and co-founder, CreditMantri, described the creation of a personal brand as an actualisation of the core values we stand for. Having worked for many years in Citibank and then Standard Chartered Bank, where she was Global Head of Digital Marketing, she said her experience with big corporates helped in her transition to becoming an entrepreneur.

“I may not have been able to start up on my own at age 23 when I was fresh out of IIM Calcutta,” she explained. “But this may not be the case now as there are so many opportunities and a very different entrepreneurship ecosystem is in place. So, don’t give up. Hang on to whatever you are doing as long as you love and value it.”

Mitu Samar, Founder at Eminence and a reputation management expert, said becoming a personal brand is gender-neutral. It is a recognition of one’s essential self that stems from clarity about what one stands for and wants to achieve.

“And this may well change at different stages of your life, as your perceptions of life keep changing,” she said, adding that as a reputation consultant, she has never designed brand strategies differently for men and women.

Mitu added that it is possible to tackle multiple brand identities by tweaking one’s message, communication or brand, depending on whom you are addressing, or working with, in each role.

Aarati Krishnan, Editorial Consultant, The Hindu BusinessLine, said it’s imperative to pay attention to small things in the path to creating a brand persona. It’s important to be professional in dealing with colleagues in a corporate environment and to observe basic courtesies such as being on time for meetings or replying to an e-mail promptly.

“It’s also a good idea to be careful about what one is posting and what kind of views one is airing on various social media platforms as these are increasingly being used by potential hirers to check a candidate’s profile,” said Aarati.

"One way of diversifying one’s talent and growing your brand,” she said, “is to embrace opportunities to do something different. Take on new roles, if offered, especially early in your career, and don’t be rigid in your job role, sticking to your defined description and being unwilling to explore new avenues.”

Preetha Subramanian, Associate Director at IFMR Capital Finance Private Ltd, spoke of her personal experience of straddling several identities, ranging from the corporate world to the entertainment arena, highlighting the various ways through which a personal brand can be built.

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