Seven women leaders narrate incidents when emotional intelligence enabled them to make effective decisions during difficult situations:
Shikha Bagai, Country Managing Director – India at VISTRA Group: Emotional intelligence helps especially when one is faced with challenges/crises like economic turnover and industry upheaval. For example, following the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008, it was very tricky to manage multiple stakeholders and situations that could have led to substantial losses. In such situations, it is emotional intelligence that has helped me stay on course and not give up while taking the people along. When we try to do things that are inherently difficult, for instance when I was the CFO in Aditya Birla Health Insurance, it was emotional intelligence that helped me while trying to accomplish multiple objectives and pulling in multiple people.
Rishika Dasgupta, Head – Customer Experience (Cards & Payments Business) at Axis Bank: During my stint with Citibank, EI set me apart from others while I was handling the CEO escalation management desk. I cannot single out any incident yet I can definitely say my emotional connection with customers over the years has helped me reach the position where I am today. There is a difference between showing empathy and feeling empathetic. You must actually feel it to be able to demonstrate it in your behaviour and action.
Sunita Handa, Chief General Manager, (IT Channels & Ops), Global IT Centre at State Bank of India: A most recent example is that of running State Bank of India’s Global IT Centre (GITC) uninterruptedly when suddenly confronted with the outbreak of Covid and the nationwide lockdown. Even though I had enforcement capacity at my disposal, the true success of a leader lies in getting people follow the leadership – which could, under distinct circumstances, demand sudden, unsettling, and unprecedented changes to their daily lives. My approach has been an ideal blend of direction-giving, meaning-making and empathy. I think this came out of my self-trained emotional competence.
To give you another example, let me take you back to 2002, the time of the Gujarat riots, when I was heading an SBI branch on the outskirts of Vadodara city. A high-profile refinery, a government security agency and a large oil conglomerate (all SBI customers) located in the vicinity had arranged special vans to pick up and drop their employees. So, after about a week or so, when the disturbances slightly subsided, some of these people started coming to their offices by those vans. They needed banking services, mostly cash withdrawals and fund transfers. I and some of my colleagues felt that if we drove to the office with caution, avoiding a shouting or unruly crowd on the way and wore our office badges, there should not be a problem in reaching the branch and opening it for a few hours every day.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that 10 out of total 48 staff members volunteered to come, and hence we decided to open the branch daily except on days it was impossible. All of us had our own vehicles, and as a further safety measure, I requested the CISF to escort our vehicles or drop us home if the situation warranted it. Not many customers visited the branch but whoever came, thanked our staff profusely for keeping the branch open in their hour of need. When most branches and the lone ATM in that area were non-functional, the functioning of our branch generated a lot of goodwill. Making that possible required not only courage and a calm mind but also the assessment of the situation, our capabilities and constraints, which are the essential ingredients of EQ.
Purvi Bhavsar, Managing Director at Pahal Financial Services: I have a very interesting example to quote. When I got promoted as a Cluster Head from being a Branch Manager, I had to move to a different city. My son was just five years old then and my husband’s practice then did not permit him to move at a short notice. It was a very difficult decision for me to choose between family and my career. I am very passionate about my work and my career and took a call to move to another city without my family. I could manage this only because of self-confidence and my ability to balance my roles as a mother and as a manager.
Rajashree Nambiar, Former MD & CEO at Fullerton India Credit Company: I took a big risk by moving from a multinational bank culture to Indian promoter-led culture. When I shifted, I was a women leader put up on a top of a company where there haven’t been too many senior managers and this culture was very alien to what I had worked in for 22 years.
What I did first was to build a new team and I looked into the existing talent pool within the company. I travelled a lot to meet and understand people and create personal relationships with them and mitigate their concerns of a new CEO coming in and changing things.
When the new people started coming into the organization, I used my EI to understand what sort of attitude and behavior these people had and what was desirable. I spent a lot of time merging the two.
Usually, when a new leader comes in, the whole system disrupts or blows up. Since I spent a lot of time on the old as well as new people and put in a lot of effort in merging them, they emerged as a strong team. This is a clear example of how I used emotional intelligence in my leadership role. Or else, I would have been an alien and rejected by the whole system.
Rupa Balsekar, Managing Director & Head Transaction Banking, BNP Paribas India: BFSI has undergone a sea change in the last 10 years. Further, we live in times when change is coming at a faster pace, and we are dealing with the rapid social change given our young demographic. It is imperative that we listen actively, be open to continual adaption, and manage change better.
Loveena Khatwani, Head – Client Experience at Edelweiss Wealth Management: There was a time when something had gone wrong at work and I was struggling to evolve a solution. Various charts and permutations/combinations with checks and balances did not seem to help. At that point in time, a senior staff walked into my cabin and said: “I need to tell you something that you can practice.” I listened to his advice and realised that things do go wrong – but how you deal with them is what matters. Firstly, acceptance that things can go wrong helps you deal with the situation much better. Practice saying “it’s ok,” and you will move on.