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7 Questions on Leadership with Puneet Singh Singhal


Name: Puneet Singh Singhal


Title: Chief Discovery Officer


Organisation: Billion Strong


I am a Disability Rights Activist and an Accessibility Professional. As the Chief Discovery Officer at the Billion Strong, My primary focus is on increasing the "Discoverability" of persons with disabilities, especially those hailing from the Global South. In a world where being seen and heard is not a given for everyone, "Discoverability" is a gift. And it is our highest aim to bestow this gift on as many individuals as we can.


I am committed to amplifying voices with a focus on embracing intersectionality and equity. I believe every story is a mosaic of challenges and triumphs, and my duty is to foster an environment where all these stories can be told and celebrated.


Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!


I hope Puneet's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Cheers,

Jonno White



1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?


As a leader, one of the most challenging aspects I've encountered is confronting and dismantling systemic barriers that inhibit marginalized individuals from accessing equal opportunities. My background, shaped by experiences of poverty, domestic violence, stammering, and an undiagnosed learning disability, has fueled my determination to break down these barriers, particularly in the realms of ableism, body shaming, and ageism. This advocacy work requires a deep understanding of these complex issues and a strategic approach to change entrenched societal norms and policies.


Dealing with imposter syndrome is another significant challenge I face. Coming from the margins of society, I often grapple with internalized doubts about my abilities, despite my accomplishments. This feeling is particularly acute given my background, intensifying the struggle to assert my leadership confidently.


Creating truly inclusive and accessible environments is also a formidable task. This extends beyond physical accessibility; it involves ensuring that policies, communication, and attitudes within organizations and communities are welcoming and supportive of all, regardless of their abilities or backgrounds.


Balancing my role as an advocate and activist with maintaining a professional demeanor is a delicate task. I am passionate about driving change through kindness, listening, and love, yet ensuring that my advocacy work is impactful while being perceived as a professional in my field requires a nuanced understanding of different environments and stakeholders.


Educating others about the importance of inclusion and accessibility is another significant challenge. Changing mindsets and encouraging empathy among people who may not have direct experience with the challenges faced by marginalized groups requires patience, persistence, and effective communication skills.


Finally, sustaining my motivation and resilience in the face of these challenges can be tough. The emotional toll of revisiting personal traumas and advocating for change in sometimes resistant environments requires considerable inner strength and support systems.


2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?


My journey to leadership was born out of the challenges and adversities I faced due to discrimination, microaggressions, and ableism in my early life and professional career. During my school years, I frequently encountered subtle yet impactful forms of discrimination and ableism. These experiences were not only disheartening but also eye-opening, highlighting the pervasive inequalities and biases that people with disabilities often face.


The transition from school to the workplace did not bring the respite I had hoped for. Instead, I found myself once again confronting similar patterns of discrimination and microaggressions. This time, however, the impact was more profound, as it directly affected my professional growth and sense of self-worth. Despite my qualifications and capabilities, I felt constantly marginalized and undervalued, a sentiment shared by many others in the disability community.


This period of struggle was a turning point for me. I realized that continuing in a system that perpetuated such biases would not only be detrimental to my own well-being but also mean turning a blind eye to the larger issue at hand. The decision to leave my job was not an easy one, but it was driven by a deep-seated desire to create meaningful change.


I embarked on a journey to become a changemaker, dedicating myself to advocacy for disability rights. My experiences became the driving force behind my work as an accessibility consultant, where I strive to create environments that are inclusive and accessible to all. This role has allowed me to not only address the systemic issues that I once faced but also to empower others who are navigating similar challenges.


Moreover, I found a profound sense of purpose in building a global community for young persons with disabilities. This community serves as a platform for support, empowerment, and advocacy, enabling its members to share their experiences, challenges, and triumphs. It's a space where voices that were once marginalized can be heard and celebrated, where collective efforts lead to impactful change.


My path to leadership was carved out of adversity, fueled by the injustices I faced and witnessed. It's a journey marked by resilience, determination, and a steadfast commitment to championing the rights of those who are often overlooked. Through my work, I hope to inspire and nurture future leaders within the disability community, fostering a world that values inclusivity, accessibility, and equity for all.


3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?


My workdays are structured to balance productivity with self-care, ensuring that I maintain my well-being while actively pursuing my goals in advocacy and professional growth. Here's how a typical day unfolds for me:


Morning Routine: Yoga and Meditation


My day starts with a yoga session, an essential practice that helps me maintain physical and mental balance. Yoga not only keeps me physically fit but also grounds me, preparing me for the day ahead.


Following yoga, I dedicate time to meditation. This practice is crucial for my peace of mind and helps me cultivate a sense of inner calm and clarity, which is vital for the work I do.

Professional Work: Blogging and Networking


After my morning routine, I set aside time to write blogs on Disability Rights, Climate Change, and other social change issues. This is an integral part of my advocacy work, allowing me to share insights, raise awareness, and engage with a broader audience.


Networking is a key component of my weekly schedule. I make it a point to meet new people regularly, expanding my network and opening doors to new collaborations and opportunities. These interactions are often enlightening and contribute significantly to my personal and professional growth.


Social Media Engagement


Each day, I allocate a specific hour to manage my social media presence, particularly on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. During this time, I post updates, engage with comments, and connect with my followers. This interaction is vital for maintaining my online presence and influence as a thought leader.


Fundraising and Proposal Writing


A significant part of my day is dedicated to identifying potential fundraising opportunities and working on proposals with my team. This aspect is crucial for sustaining and expanding our advocacy initiatives. We collaborate closely to craft compelling proposals that resonate with potential funders and align with our mission.


Mentorship and Supporting Young People


I also devote a few hours each day to mentor young people, guiding them in their professional and personal growth. This mentorship is a way of giving back, using my experiences to help others navigate their paths, overcome challenges, and achieve their goals.


Taking Breaks and Self-Care


Throughout the day, I take much-needed breaks to recharge. These breaks are times for reflection, relaxation, and sometimes, just to enjoy a moment of quiet. They are essential for maintaining my mental health and ensuring that I can continue to work effectively.


Evening Routine and Reflection


As my workday winds down, I take time to reflect on the day's achievements and lessons. This reflection helps me appreciate my progress and identify areas for improvement.


Preparation for the Next Day


Before going to sleep, I briefly plan for the next day. This preparation helps me approach each day with a clear mind and a sense of purpose.


4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?


A recent leadership lesson that has resonated deeply with me, both as a reminder and a new insight, is the profound impact of fostering genuine connections and building a community based on shared values and positivity. This lesson reinforces the idea that "Connecting with others gives us a sense of inclusion, connection, interaction, safety, and community. Your vibe attracts your tribe, so if you want to attract positive and healthy relationships, be one! Staying connected and getting reconnected feeds the flow of goodness which empowers our humanity."


Embodying the Values You Seek in Others


The principle of "your vibe attracts your tribe" has been a powerful reminder that the energy and values I exhibit in my leadership role play a crucial role in attracting like-minded individuals. By embodying the qualities of positivity, inclusivity, and kindness, I am more likely to engage with people who share these values, creating a network that is not only supportive but also aligned with my mission for social change.


The Power of Inclusive Leadership


In my work, especially in advocating for disability rights and inclusion, I've learned that creating a sense of belonging is crucial. It's not just about building networks; it's about fostering a community where everyone feels valued and understood. This inclusive approach to leadership has reminded me that when people feel safe and accepted, they are more open to collaboration, more willing to share their ideas, and more motivated to contribute meaningfully.


Nurturing Relationships


Another important aspect of this lesson is the continuous effort required to nurture relationships. It's not just about making connections; it's about maintaining and deepening them. Regularly engaging with my network, checking in on their well-being, and offering support where needed reinforces a sense of community and mutual care.


Empathy and Listening


The lesson also underlined the importance of empathy and active listening in leadership. By genuinely understanding and responding to the needs and concerns of others, I can build stronger, more trusting relationships. This practice not only empowers others but also enriches my own understanding and perspective, making me a more effective leader.


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?


One book that has significantly influenced my leadership is Tim Ferriss's "Tools of Titans." This book has been instrumental in shaping how I approach my work and life, particularly in terms of prioritization and focusing on what truly matters.


"Tools of Titans" is a compilation of insights, strategies, and wisdom from some of the most successful people across various fields. What struck me most about this book was its emphasis on distilling the essence of what leads to success and fulfillment. Ferriss's interviews with these 'titans' cover a wide range of topics, from productivity and health to wisdom and wealth.


The impact of this book on my leadership journey has been multifaceted:


Prioritization and Focus: The book's insights helped me refine my ability to prioritize tasks and focus on what is most important. In the realm of advocacy and social change, where resources and time are often limited, understanding how to effectively allocate my energy and attention has been crucial.


Efficiency and Effectiveness: "Tools of Titans" also provided me with strategies to enhance my efficiency. By adopting some of the productivity hacks and routines shared in the book, I was able to streamline my workflow, leaving more time for strategic thinking and planning.


Personal Development: The book emphasizes continuous learning and personal growth, which resonated deeply with me. It encouraged me to keep evolving, not just as a leader but as a person. This perspective has been vital in my journey, especially when dealing with the dynamic challenges in my field of work.


Well-being and Self-care: Ferriss’s book also highlights the importance of physical and mental well-being as a foundation for effective leadership. This aspect has encouraged me to maintain a balanced lifestyle, ensuring that I take care of my health and well-being while pursuing my goals.


Empowering Others: Lastly, the lessons from the book have enabled me to better empower and mentor the individuals I work with. By sharing these insights, I’ve been able to support others in their personal and professional growth, which is a key aspect of my role as a leader and mentor.


6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?


If I were to give just one piece of advice to a young leader, it would be deeply rooted in the essence of the quote by Ravi Navalkant: "We admire wisdom because it cannot be borrowed and it cannot be taught. It must be earned, as the product of experience and honest self-reflection."


Embrace Your Experiences, Both Good and Bad


Understand that wisdom is a culmination of your experiences. Every challenge you face, every mistake you make, and every success you achieve contributes to your reservoir of wisdom. Do not shy away from difficult or uncomfortable situations; instead, view them as opportunities to learn and grow. The experiences that test you often teach you the most.


Cultivate Honest Self-Reflection


The journey to wisdom requires a commitment to honest self-reflection. Regularly take time to introspect on your actions, decisions, and their outcomes. This practice will help you understand your strengths and areas for improvement. It's about being brutally honest with yourself, acknowledging your flaws, and working on them.


Learn from Others, But Forge Your Own Path


While you can and should learn from others, remember that wisdom is personal and cannot be simply adopted from someone else’s experiences. Use the insights from mentors, peers, and historical figures as guides, but always apply your own critical thinking and perspective to your situation.


Patience and Perseverance


Wisdom is not acquired overnight. It requires patience, perseverance, and a commitment to lifelong learning. Be prepared for a journey that is ongoing, with wisdom accumulating gradually over time.


7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?


One meaningful story that stands out from my time as a leader revolves around the realization of how seemingly scattered pieces can eventually connect to create a coherent, impactful narrative. This experience was like witnessing magic unfold in real life, affirming the power of persistence, reflection, and vision.


In the early stages of my leadership journey, especially in my advocacy for disability rights and social change, things often felt chaotic and disjointed. I was dealing with diverse challenges: advocating for policy changes, raising awareness about disability rights, engaging in community building, and managing fundraising efforts. Each of these tasks felt like separate threads, important in their own right, but lacking a clear connection to a larger picture.


This fragmentation was initially overwhelming. I often questioned my approach and wondered if my efforts were making any significant impact. However, I persisted, driven by the belief in my cause and the support of my community. Over time, as I continued to work, reflect, and learn from each experience, a transformation began to take place.


What was once a collection of isolated tasks started to morph into a cohesive strategy. The advocacy work began to inform the community-building efforts, which in turn enriched the content of my blogs and discussions on social media. The connections I made through networking opened doors to new fundraising opportunities and collaborations. Each piece, once scattered, began to fit together like a puzzle, revealing a larger purpose and strategy.


The moment of realization came during a reflection session when I looked back at the journey and saw how far we had come. The once disjointed activities were now part of a thriving movement, each contributing to a collective goal. This was the magic – the realization that even when things seem scattered, with persistence, reflection, and a clear vision, the dots do connect.

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