How to continuously evolve as a leader
The most exciting part of my 15 year journey at Kroll has been the opportunities that I have had to work across diverse internal teams in three vastly different regions – the US, India and Southeast Asia.
This experience was critical in shaping my leadership style and I believe it has contributed to my success with clients, who are one of our most important stakeholders.
I joined the company after two years in the competitive area of management consulting in India, where I had the first opportunity to observe different kind of leaders.
It was the place where I first admired, and then tried to emulate, the “transformational” leaders, the ones who lead by inspiring their teams, chase big ideas and dare to be different.
It was my first glimpse into how strong top down leadership combined with empathy and genuine concern for your team members can help teams achieve their potential.
I started my career at Kroll in New York, where I became part of a culture that was meritocratic and open.
Very early in my career in New York, I had mentors and supervisors who communicated to me that my analytical capability, communication skills and ability to help clients would determine my success at the company, rather than my age, gender or ethnic background.
That support from the organisation provided me the confidence that I needed to succeed in a competitive environment.
As I grew into more senior roles in the US, I became a leader who did not hesitate to demand high standards from my team, paid acute attention to detail and learned how to strike a balance between delegation and “getting my hands dirty” on projects when it was needed.
When I moved again to head the company’s operations in India, my leadership style had to morph to suit the new cultural and business environment.
I quickly learned that my team, which was young and dynamic, would be like my extended family. I had to learn to guide and inspire them not only in relation to their day to day job, but also communicate our global value proposition and how the team’s work was a key component in helping client’s in India make better business decisions.
The six years that I spent in the India office were an exhilarating experience as a leader, where the stresses of the local operating environment taught me tremendously about leading a team in that environment.
The next significant change in my career came last year when I moved to Singapore and started to head operations in Southeast Asia, effective July this year.
This role involves leading a more diverse, multicultural team with staff from over 10 countries. The current team I work with, for the first time, also includes several senior members who need to work together to achieve our growth targets.
The diversity of our team is also reflected in our client base, which includes local Singaporean companies, global and regional multinationals headquartered in the region and quasi government organisations in the region.
In this role, I am developing my ability to influence team members, directly and indirectly, without always being prescriptive in my approach, even if my approach is the best one in my view.
The experience of adjusting my leadership style according to the different regions I have worked in, has been extremely fulfilling.
My most important priority as a leader today is to focus on developing strong relationships with my peers so we can use collaboration and empowerment as tools to grow our business, rather than relying on the hierarchies imposed by our organisational structure.
Going forward, talent acquisition and retention will also be a key areas of focus as our organisation and industry are both evolving rapidly.
My experience in India has taught me that retention is a challenge in a fast growing, competitive region like Asia-Pacific and is closely linked to the what opportunities for development employees think they have at Kroll.
Hence I will be focusing on ensuring that every team member has an opportunity to work on a variety of projects with a diverse set of clients.
Taking everyone along
I have been lucky to have strong mentors in the organisation, leaders from who I have learned valuable lessons about managing difficult teams and demanding clients, and I hope to provide the same assistance to other more junior, but aspiring members of our team.
My key learning for the last several years is that given that our teams usually consist of highly creative staff that is driven by client satisfaction, leaders in professional service firms cannot rely on hard-nosed hierarchical management structures to inspire teams.
Rather, we need a leadership style that “takes everyone along”. Only then can we inspire our teams to deliver high value client service, which will ultimately drive bottom line results.
My advice to young professionals who are looking to grow into leadership roles, is to identify role models and champions in their respective organisations, and seek their advice, engagement and feedback on a regular basis.