Two months ago, I made the difficult decision to temporarily leave my 13-month old son for my first trip to America. The reason I left India, however, was less a hardship than a privilege: The Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership selected me as one of 19 emerging female leaders from across the world to participate in their mentoring program. I was honored to be mentored by Laura Desmond, who ranked as one of the youngest CEOs of a Fortune 500 company when she was selected to lead Starcom Mediavest Group in 2008.
Here are the three lessons I learned from my mentor:
1. Relevancy depends on constant reinvention.
This was a recurring theme in many of my conversations. With technology, consumer tastes and business models constantly evolving, it’s imperative for leaders to continuously reinvent themselves, their team and their organization. Success and longevity are contingent on a desire of both leadership and staff to learn, collaborate and evolve as a cohesive unit. Remaining static, doing things the way they’ve always been done or dismissing the new as frivolous, are sure ways for you or your business to become obsolete.
2. Be gender blind.
Laura emphasized the importance of learning from both male and female leaders and to take leadership skills and behaviors from both and then strike a balance that works for me. Coming from one of the too few female CEOs in today’s “Lean In” age, I consider this advice critically important. It means operating in a way that is gender blind. But I took it to also mean being open to learnings from everyone despite age, sex or experience to help cultivate your professional network and show that you are “the hungriest person in the room.”
3. Know when to say “NO”
It is hard to say no or deviate from the pack, and too often young employees fall into a “yes” trap. Avoiding decision making under duress and operating in a way that is not only in your best interest, but the best interest of others, is the most valuable currency in evaluating your own self-worth. Know your values and goals -professionally, morally, ethically – and don’t be swayed by anyone or anything to go outside of them. This mindset helps clearly separate ephemeral initiatives from those that have long term value and meaning.
The most important aspect of these lessons is that they are universal and can be applied across any industry, role, or geography. Together, they will serve as a solid foundation onto which I can layer additional experience bricks and hopefully, one day grow into a leader and mentor of women myself.