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Shravya learned that leadership is not about enforcing rules

Shravya Reddy

Tell us about yourself

I worked in ops, strategy & business development at Schlumberger in my early career. I was there for 6 years, and since then I have been a director running our family business in Hyderabad - an emerging school in South India called Presidency High School.

I have now slowly started transitioning out of it into an advisory role, and I am exploring various early stage roles at startups! Advisor vs executional which role do I prefer? I think it's a lot easier to be the first. In the latter, you will love the action. You see what's happening. You see what's not happening. You know exactly what will work or what will not work.

When did you first lead a team? What #1 advice would you give to your younger self?

Well, actually, I have an interesting story to share about the leadership journey.

I was always the class leader or class monitor growing up in school. In grade three, I made a list of all the students who were speaking in Telugu and not an English at school with a huge sense of pride. I went and complained about this to my teacher! It took me many years to realize that leadership is not enforcing rules but empowering people. But I think that incident that stayed in my mind. It's because all the kids got punished. Nobody sat them down and motivated them to speak in English. They just got punished. And I think I didn't like it.

But we didn't have that perspective when I was seven years old to see how I can be a better leader. I keep going back to that incident these days as a leader. I keep thinking, Am I enforcing rules? Am I empowering people? And that incident in my life sort of helps me stay on the right track.

One more advice I would give is to listen to people. Listen from a place of curiosity. Because you want to understand how they think and why they think that way and get to know things from their perspective. When you're listening from a place of curiosity, it's a very different experience.

I worked on oil rigs, and I was the only engineer on board in my team, and the other people would be mechanics or operators with lots of experience. I respected people, sure! I had the dignity of Labor. But what I think I didn't do is try to connect with those people and understand why they do things the way they did. It was all about - I have to follow this safety standard. I have to follow this process. I need to get these people to see it that way.

The biggest mistake I have done is not genuinely connect. I was connecting at a very superficial level. In the first two or 3 years, I think it was all about - How do I perform better? How do I excel?

But it should have been - How do I get our team to succeed? Got it. I think I learned it later in life, but learning early would have had its own advantage!

The #1 thing you hate about being a manager (sometimes!)

I think sitting down and breaking one instruction into thousand instructions and doing that every day! That's the most frustrating.

That gets to me. I can sit and motivate you. I can sit and help you. I can chalk out a training plan for you. I can find your mentor. Your sources of adrenaline, career notes and all that? But have to sit with you every day and pick your task in 2,000 tasks to help you execute it.

That gets to me.

Tell us about the time when you had let go / fire someone from your team. What did you learn from it?

Actually, in my last five years after I joined this organization - I was transforming it and not really building it from scratch. So there were a lot of legacy issues to deal with. Especially we had a few people who have been there for a very long time and sort of rigid.

I didn't have to fire anyone, but I changed their job roles that we needed them to take up was probably beyond their capacity. And then people eventually ended up leaving because they were not okay with the new role that we offered.

Your #1 most painful memory of somebody leaving your team? How did you deal with that?

So when I changed the job roles to align people with their strengths, they didn't like it because it probably took away a part of the responsibility of the power. Some people also ended up leaving during Covid. We obviously couldn't afford to keep everyone on our payroll. We try to find jobs for people from the other small businesses that were around us.

What is #1 thing you have seen other managers do, but have never found the time or courage to implement it yourself?

Nothing comes to my mind right now!

What is your own career north star?

That's a very difficult question because I've been going through that phase. What I can tell you though, is that I'm very used to just going all in. Fully consumed, working 12+ hours everyday. But now I am trying to achieve a balance.

When I say balance, I don't really mean I want to work only four hours. I want to have time to learn. I want to have time to think. I want to have time to build side projects. That's the only thing I figured out.

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