Name: Aaditya Poddar
Title: Manager - Personal Property Insurance
Organisation: AIG Asia Pacific Insurance Pte. Ltd.
I have the most fun and the most daunting job in the world. One job is being the father to two amazingly energetic boys and other is using all my creativity to sell home insurance in the safest country in the world. I'll you decide which job is daunting and which is fun!
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Aaditya's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
Initially, the biggest challenge I faced was second guessing myself. This probably had to do with my early-career years where I spent a lot of my years in a support research function. Leadership, or becoming a leader wasn’t really the aspiration sold back then and it was always about achieving operational efficiency and adding value in small ways.
The good thing about second guessing yourself is that you look at all perspectives before making a decision. As you grow into your leadership role, you end up aligning internally on your own expectations which, I think led to the reduction of second guessing myself over time.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
The transition to a leadership role was very sudden for me and in a matter of a few weeks, I moved from a function role (the only role I ever knew) to an out-and-out strategy role in the CEOs office in an overseas location. It was a very niche business division within my organization that I had never worked with.
My peers changed from team mates to heads of functions and I reported straight in to the CEO. The role was overwhelming initially, and the stakes became very high, very suddenly! What helped was a positive work culture and continuous positive reinforcements from the CEO.
This new role was the steppingstone to all future leadership roles. It was a true test of stakeholder management and using your skills from relationship building to internal negotiations. It also was a masterclass in settling and appreciating a new culture – something massively important for leaders these days.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
This is something I learnt from my Chief of Staff days with the CEO I worked with. It was my first day in this role and knowing full well that I had to mirror the movements of the CEO on a daily basis. I asked him his work schedule so that I could adjust mine accordingly.
The only thing he told me was, “I start early so that I can end early so that I can get home on time and put my kids to bed.”
I was expecting something on the lines of 15-hour work days and that work never stopped and the usual cliché things you here about a corporate role. I definitely wasn’t expecting this response but this has stuck with me since. I have put this to practice for myself and I normally get in earlier than most of my colleagues and try reaching home before the sun sets so that I get enough time with my kids before they sleep.
I have planned my mornings in a way that I am around when my son is getting ready for school, and that we eat our breakfast together. I briefly glance at work emails and my schedule for the day when I am ready and about to leave for the office.
My commute is normally listening to podcasts or audio books while also thinking about the day ahead. Since I get in slightly earlier than the others, I use this time to prioritize tasks for the day. The rest of the day is largely driven by the agenda for that day, but I have recently discovered the benefits of a 20-minute walk after lunch. This isn’t a brisk walk, rather a directionless walk around the neighborhood without any agenda. Apart from the health benefits, I noticed that this time helps me rebalance myself for the remainder of the day.
As I head home, I am generally excited about getting home to family. I try not to think about work during the commute and use this time as purely my me-time!
Closer to bedtime, I briefly look at my work email to get a sense of what the next day will look like. Rarely do I action any emails during this time unless they are absolutely urgent.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
Two leadership lessons here. First, asking the right questions in difficult situations to get the best answers. I have seen leaders do this brilliantly in the past and I am still fine-tuning this skill.
Second, when you need the buy-in from your leadership team on something that you wish to pursue or change, pre-empt the questions and answer them before they are asked. Go a step further and first highlight the reasons why the leadership team shouldn’t pursue the initiative at all. All of this shows your leadership team that a) they can trust you and b) you are thinking for the organization and not for yourself.
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?
Hands down, it is Good to Great by Jim Collins and his work on defining a Level 5 leader. This book was gifted to me by my then boss, and now mentor. The icing on the cake is that my mentor mirrors the qualities of a Level 5 leader which makes it so much easier for me to get inspired and know that this can be real.
One of the key tenets of Level 5 leadership according to the book is that a Level 5 leader is someone who puts the company’s success before their own ego. I grew up in a traditional Indian business family where I saw my grand-father and father working through days and nights in building the business. While they stuck to key principles, they did everything in their power to build a sustainable business as any business owner would do.
Therefore, my influence from an early age has been to put my company first. And I can say I have enough living proof, my father, and my mentor, that by doing so, you get what you wish for either way.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
This advice is unconventional, but it has worked, and still is working wonders for me. Get yourself a mentor. Someone you have looked up to in the past and seen them grow sustainably and those who share a similar value system as yours would be a great mentor.
Mentors, with their experience can give you perspective as a new leader. They help you channel your energy and excitement that add value to your organization and yourself. Plus, you have your own troubleshooting guide when it comes to leadership!
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
I moved countries to pursue my role is as a Chief Of Staff as it was an immensely exciting role, from the one I currently had at the time. It was an internal transfer within my organization and at the time of applying for this role, I was discouraged by my then leadership team. I was told that the role would require 18 hour days and because I have family (spouse and child), I wouldn’t be chosen for the role.
I still pursued the opportunity and was selected. I played with the idea of not moving with family initially and thought I’d wait and see how the days passed and what the new role demanded off me. I reached Singapore sans the family and one of the first things I was told by my new boss was that not travelling with family was a bad decision.
The next day, I am informed by my HR that an addendum was being added to my employment contract. What did the addendum say? It said that – on every sixth Thursday, I would fly back home to family and return on the following Monday morning. All of this on company expense. The addendum was requested by my boss because he felt so strongly about work-life balance. That’s when I realized that leadership is not only about numbers, or being a motivator, or having great strategic vision. It has a lot to do with being human.