Read the full interview here
Q. Where did you grow up, and what were important early influences that really shaped who you are as a leader today?
A. I grew up in Chennai, India. The most important early influence was my grandmother, who absolutely instilled in me the confidence that I can achieve whatever I put my mind to if I work hard. My parents also insisted that I follow the STEM path. I wanted to study literature, but they ended up making me do a degree in math, and that opened up a whole set of possibilities.
Q. To achieve the level of success you’ve had requires a lot of drive and stamina. Where does that come from for you?
A. I’m just constantly on the move and interested in the opportunity to transform status quo. The things that drive me are reimagining what I see in front of me today, thinking about possibilities and painting a picture of what’s possible – creating something that’s bigger than any one of us.
The second is that I really love watching people do amazing things that they didn’t believe they could pull off. People have so many different talents, and they tend to do better when they are in an environment where people believe in them.
Q. Where does that come from for you, that ability and drive to see possibilities and then to make them happen?
A. Growing up in India, I often found that a way to get beyond the current state is through learning more and educating myself on other choices. Not being satisfied with the status quo is probably driven by the way I was brought up. My parents didn’t put overt pressure on me, but it was well-known that you had to do well academically and you had to excel in school. So I just don’t ever stop wanting to get better.
Q. What’s the best mentoring advice somebody has ever given you?
A. The best ever advice I’ve received is to embrace the power of teamwork. Many years ago, I worked for a CIO, and I was responsible for a team that was generally considered high-performing. My attitude at the time was that if there was a problem, give it to me, and my team and I will fix it.
I was talking with my manager one day, and he was struggling with a different domain that didn’t report to me. My first response was, “Why don’t you give it to me and I’ll take care of it. I’ll fix it.”
He got very upset with me and said, “Chandra, the difference between work you can do yourself or with your team, versus they work you can achieve by leading through influence and embracing a broader mandate without having direct responsibility for it, will be the difference in how far you go in your career.”
I was quite upset when he said that because I was trying to help him. But it was the single best advice I’ve ever gotten from any of my managers or mentors. If you are able to embrace the power of bringing teams together and collaborating with your peers, you can achieve so much more.
Q. Have you encountered any headwinds in your career because you’re a woman?
A. Yes, once in my career. It was in the first year or so after my child was born. I underestimated how I would be seen in the eyes of others when I went through that part of my life. I got a new manager, who saw the world differently than I did, and he didn’t believe in the flexibility that new moms needed. For example, I needed to be home by 6:00 PM to nurse my child.
That turned into a situation where I was asked to move out of that role and into something very different. At the time I was pretty upset, but in hindsight that actually opened up a whole set of possibilities for me and really expanded the skillsets that I have today.
Q. What is the most comment advice that you give other women?
A. They typically ask me, “How do I get to that next role?” My advice to them is to stop thinking about your promotion or your next title. Focus more on the impact you can have in your current role. Who are your advocates? How do you support others within your network? Don’t make it about you. I feel strongly that we do ourselves a disservice when we start chasing promotions or titles.
The second thing I often talk about is to not let somebody else tell you what you can or cannot do. Don’t give anyone else the remote control to your career aspirations. Just because someone says you can’t go down a certain path doesn’t mean that is so.
Q. There’s an expression that there are workhorses and show ponies in organizations. What’s your advice to the workhorses of the world to make sure that they get credit for the hard work that they do?
A. This is something I’ve learned. I grew up in a culture where generally you were taught that being a workhorse is better than a show pony. What I realized over the years is you can’t just do either one. You can’t just be a show pony and win. You can’t just be a workhorse and win.
If you are a workhorse, make sure that people understand what you are working toward and what you are accomplishing along the way. Don’t just put your head in the sand and say, “I’m going to work really hard. No one knows what I’m doing,” and then get frustrated if nothing comes out of it.