What does it take to be a leader? At different points in our lives, we have answered this question differently. So what makes one individual a leader? Undoubtedly, people follow them, look up to them, and see them as role models – someone they themselves would like to be. These are all true but leadership is more than all this put together. In today’s article on our Leadership series, Divya Sharma, Country HR Leader of IBM Philippines shares her take on what leadership is all about.
The leadership series is a collection of stories written by IBM leaders showcasing key insights about their area of expertise, their take on the trends in the industry and technology they are working on and expressing how IBM presented an environment for them to explore their passion, develop their skills and knowledge, become experts in their field, and build their career.
By Divya Sharma
I have made radical career shifts twice, starting out as a hotelier, moving to Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) operations and in my present job, I lead the HR function for IBM Philippines. What have I learned through all this? It’s not what you know, rather how you apply it and what more you are willing to learn that will propel you forward and succeed as a leader.
Leaders are humble and authentic – and it is something that we slowly understand as we grow and mature – personally, professionally, and spiritually. We start to become better versions of ourselves because the stakes are high – it’s for the sake of those whom we love and respect – family, friends, mentors, colleagues and leaders who have taken a personal interest in our own journey.
Being Nice vs Being Fair
I realized soon after I joined IBM, over a decade ago, that I was here for the long haul. There have been many ups and downs – the journey is never smooth, but I have learnt and grown so much because IBM gave me the ability and the opportunity to continuously reinvent myself. The leaders who guided me were exemplary thought leaders who taught me the importance of always questioning status quo and really breaking down imaginary barriers. As a people manager, my guiding principle has always been that more than being “nice” to our teams, it is important that we are “fair” and fairness is a personal interpretation of a situation. Being transparent when giving developmental feedback is fair – it helps individuals become conscious of their improvement areas, it may not necessarily be nice.
Leaders are People Too
Over the course of my career as an IBMer, I have been invited to several forums within IBM by different groups to speak about various topics – including leadership, women’s advancement, LGBT causes, importance of upskilling, engagement, management best practices, career success factors etc. Each time I draw upon my own experience to make the message personal.
One particular instance that I can remember was being invited to talk about career stagnation and how to deal with it. Career stagnation is a reality and at these times, what really propels you ahead is the ability to move out of your comfort zone and take a risk – to put your reputation on the line and be uncomfortable. I talked about the time when I was on the verge of going to the US on a developmental one year assignment which had materialized after 4 years of wait, and yet, on the other hand, there was a crisis brewing locally in India which my management team asked if I would jump in to, thus delaying my US stint. I accepted this turn of events. After six months however, one thing led to another and, having fixed the issue in India, I was asked to come to Manila where I have stayed and moved into my present role as the Country HR leader.
Sharing this story along with my doubts and vulnerabilities on uncertainties with my family, particularly two small kids, struck a chord with many. Several folks from the audience reached out to me and told me they were touched and inspired because in many ways, my story reflected their own struggle. Through all this, IBM has stood by me and my family, and helped us become successful.
What I have learnt is that all of us have the same challenges that nothing resonates more with others than being authentic and transparent about them and telling a story from your own experience and point of view. It helps them look beyond their issues and it makes us all more “human”. Humanizing leaders who have become larger than life drives engagement like nothing else.
In summary, be human, be authentic, be fair and constantly seek out new opportunities that will make you uncomfortable but most fundamentally, leaders are those individuals who give us hope when the chips are down.
Stay tuned for more blogs on our leadership series and drop a comment below if you have any questions. Feel free to share about your own leadership experiences, what works for you, or ways you’ve managed to optimize leadership.
If you want to learn more about how IBM promotes women empowerment, read the stories about #WomenAtIBM.