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7 Questions with Minal Srivastava
helps you in your leadership.
7 Questions with Minal Srivastava
Name: Minal Srivastava
Current title: Vice President
Current organisation: Shalimar Paints
Minal Srivastava has approximately two decades of corporate work experience across multiple product categories and geographies. She is currently based in India, working for Shalimar Paints as Vice President- strategy, growth and marketing. She has won multiple awards, notable among them being Women of Excellence, 2019, Women Economic Forum, 50 Most Influential Strategy Leaders 2019, 50 Most Influential Women, 2020. Beyond work, she is perpetually addicted to Netflix. The only people who can cure her of her addiction are the Husband and her 9 yr old son, whom she has produced. Not that she has produced very, many things or beings, but she claims that her son is her greatest production ever. Whatever time she manages off Netflix and all the work mentioned above, she invests that in trying to help turn the son into a good human being.
She succeeds sometimes. Sometimes, life takes over.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
The most challenging aspect of business is people. A lot of times however, most business leaders, in the hurry to achieve more do not manage to pay enough attention to it. As a leader, the most critical task is to ensure that the teams are motivated and share the common goal and vision. This is a constant exercise. It works if this is embedded in the DNA of the organization. It cannot be broken down into a few specific tasks that one needs to do every month. It is much more than a few isolated team building exercises. It is a lot of listening. It is a lot of figuring out how the organization can help bridge the gap between an individual's personal goals and her career growth.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Well, it has been a journey, with a lot of hits and misses. Growing up in a small, misty, little town around two decades ago in the pre-internet era, I had no visibility of what options I had for a career. In fact, the ideal definition of life for me then was very fairy tale-ish. I wanted to marry my Prince Charming and live in a farmhouse with a white picket fence with many, many dogs and kids. I had not many working women, and hence role models around me who I could try and ape. My career of almost two decades now happened by just figuring out the next step and then going forward from there gradually.
While the initial few years were extremely sketchy where I had not much understanding of myself as a person and hence what fits me- later with age, I have managed to spend some time to get this clarity and also the courage to then accept it and go forward with that. At times, this clarity comes at a cost of not following a path which my peers, family or conventional career progression might be stating, but I have learnt to stay true to what is right for me in that moment.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I have a 9 year old son and a 3 year old dog- and hence a fully chaotic and unpredictable home to manage everyday. The initial few hours since I woke up is parked for that. I try to spend as much time as possible with my child then. Go through his tasks, ensure he has his breakfast, a bath. Go through what needs to be cooked for the day and dinner in the evening.
Once I reach office- work takes over completely. The day whizzes past. Most days are packed with multiple meetings and tasks. In all the chaos, at best I manage to check on the son a few times. But since he is at that age where he can now clearly express himself, parenting has become simpler if not easier. If he needs something, he calls me back. That is the one call which as a rule I pick up wherever and middle of whatever I might be doing. Most days the queries and demands are hilarious but I listen.
Once I reach home in the evening, I try to fit in a little bit of exercise which depends on what time I reach eventually, then dinner preparations, going through the day's tasks with the son and we are in bed by 9ish every night.
Yes, that is how exciting my life is :)
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Oh 2020 was a hell of a teacher. It challenged every little premise of business and working and even life that we have grown up believing. So the most significant lesson was to not be ashamed of being vulnerable. It is fine to not have all the answers with you as a leader. It is fine to be unsure. It is fine to have doubts. And it is perfectly fine to share your vulnerability with your team. The more you share the better it is. Inherently, every single human being is facing the same issues and they will empathise more if they realise that as a leader as well, you are human first and while you might not succeed all the time but you are making the efforts and your intentions are right.
Also, 2020 made all of take some tough calls as a leader so it did give me many sleepless nights but as long as you are fair people will value and accept your decisions.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I do read a lot but mostly fiction and I stay away from the self help category completely. Every book that I read does impact me as a person and hence even as a leader. I am currently re-reading A Year In Provence. Somehow 2020 has made me veer towards simpler life, simpler times. It has made me introspect a lot and made me question all my life choices. We tend to over complicate our lives and tend to believe that being superbly busy is an accomplishment. We tend to forget that there has to be a balance. And if we do not strive to get that in our lives, we will be pushing the teams towards an unsustainable lifestyle as well.
So, the change begins with us. We need to take that first step and ensure that while we sort ourselves out, we help people that we are responsible for living the best version of themselves.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
Being responsible for people is the most difficult task. And it is in a perpetual WIP state. Like I said earlier, it starts with a lot of listening. Listening calmly. Understanding what teams want, what is the synergy between their personal goals and organizational growth. How can we marry the two seamlessly? Each person is unique, is at a different life stage and hence has varying expectations, dreams and challenges that she might be facing. Be aware of it. Help where you can. What I have learnt is that a lot of times, just being aware and understanding takes the edge off a lot of interpersonal issues that might stem later.
I strongly believe that skills are learnt and the easiest to manage. I hire and retain attitude. And specifically in the sort of volatile world that we are living in, that is a more sustainable trait.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
Can't seem to shortlist one particular story. But if you ask me to look back at the past two decades and highlight the moments that stand out- there is one common thread in all those moments where I have felt content or have had a sense of accomplishment- and, it has very less to do with actual project or assignment but with the people that I worked with on that. Even as a leader, what I have realized is that rarely do people remember what you said or did but how you made them feel in that particular moment. And once a group is in that creative zone , cohesively- that's when magic happens, those are the moments that stay etched in memory forever. And more often than not those are the projects that succeed.