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Friday, October 28, 2016

Author Interview : Gunjan Jain, author of 'She Walks, She Leads' (Part 1)

Gunjan Jain
Read up, the Interview with Gunjan Jain, author of 'She Walks, She Leads'. People, though an interview with Gunjan Jain, was not possible by me, Penguin (the publishers of her book were kind enough to share their interview with me.) This interview asks her, of how the book actually happened, how the concept was fleshed out, what kept her going, while writing the book, what the most gratifying part of writing the book was, all in this part. This is not all, Part 2 is coming up, Folks…

Today (referring to Launch in Bangalore) is a sort of a culmination of all the effort, the blood and sweat. How does it feel? 

Relief, first and foremost! And satisfaction…that I have done all that I could, and now things must take their own course. In a way I feel that my part of the journey with the book is over. I mean, starting with the conceptualisation, research, the actual writing and all the rewriting and editing, the publishing process… I have lived all the stages of the book and now it is complete and it is out there. 

From here on, the book must find its own path, which will be determined by its readers. In that sense, there is a bittersweet feeling of letting go of something that I devoted all my time and space and energy for the last 3 years. 

Tell us something about the process you followed to flesh out the concept of the book. Did you formulate a plan and then stick to it, or did it evolve as you went along from chapter to chapter? 

Yes. That is how I started because that has always been my process for approaching all tasks. I like to chalk out detailed plans, draw up checklists and then try to stick to it in as meticulous a manner as I can. But, with this book I learnt very quickly that I needed to assume a more flexible approach. So yes, I formulated my plans but at the same time I kept myself open to deviating from them. This was especially important because I had to interact with so many different personalities for each chapter so each chapter sort of demanded its own customised process. 

This book has been a tremendous journey for you. It cannot have
been all smooth all the time. What kept you going? Who was your support system? 

The image of bookstore window displays with copies of my book in them! I kept dreaming about it.  

The last three years have been very long years of 20-hour work days! Everything was a challenge. The number of interviews. Expansive lives – extensive research. How do I restrict it within the word count?! What to keep, what to leave out! And I would be lying if I said that there were no moments of weakness when I questioned my decision to take on this project.  

My family was my biggest support system, their belief in me pushed me to continue. And also, the book itself, right? I mean here I was interacting with and writing about all these women who had persevered through obstacle after obstacle in pursuit of their goals. I didn’t have to look further than my manuscript for inspiration. It was right there! 

Do you believe there is one single formula that goes into the making of every successful leader? How did you go about finalising the women to include in your book? 

I don’t think that there is one single formula but yes I do believe that there are certain values that are common to all of them. They prove themselves over and over and believe in themselves. They invest their time and energies in building and inspiring teams. They are open to taking risks and stepping up to the challenges that every new day may bring. These are inspiring lives and there is so much to learn from each of these women. 

As for selecting the women in the book, I didn’t do it, the women chose themselves! Their lives, their achievements – and disappointments – their world view, their joie de vivre all came together in the final selection.

My original list had more than a 150 women and I wish I could have retained all… but of course that was not an option.  I spent days and nights agonizing over every name that I chose to leave out. I made up my mind from the beginning that I would not let my own predilections lead my decision instead I let the material dictate the course. I did not use filters like field of work, age, experience, etc. to finalize the list…and the result is an eclectic list of the final 24.

Do you believe women and men approach leadership differently? How different are both genders different in their pursuit of success?  

It seems to me that we have been conditioned to approach all our tasks based on our gender. It is the whole blue is for boys and pink is for girls, cars are for boys and dolls are for girls, stereotypes that are instilled in us at an early age. So, then we are fighting that throughout our lives. And that’s true as much for the men as for the women. We are expected to behave and react to situation in a certain way. So yes, to answer your question, men and women do approach leadership differently but unfortunately that is more because of the demands of society rather than our inherent personalities.

Sudha Murty (Wikipedia)
As far as women go I believe success rarely follows a predictable trajectory, our path is strewn with all kinds of hurdles that men do not traditionally face. For instance, Sudha Murty was not eligible to even apply for a post at TELCO, despite the fact that she was a gold medalist and among the top students of her institute. Purely because she was a lady and the management did not feel that the factory was the right place for a lady. She was audacious enough to send of a letter to JRD Tata to lecture him on the unfairness of the company’s policy and in response not just procure an interview but also a job.
Things have definitely changed but gender bias continues to play a role in our society. I am hopeful though that we are moving in a direction where ability and credentials will trump gender, across the board and each time.

What was the most gratifying part about working on this book, your most precious takeaway?  

This book had been a tremendous personal journey for me. The biggest two lessons I learned through the process of the book are: perseverance and surrender. I outgrew my self-constructed walls and boundaries and developed an eagle’s vision through the execution of the book. Surrender was something that the universe taught me.

I learned the true meaning of patience and grace ... and that hard work and perseverance was within my control, but at the same time there were aspects that were beyond my control. And I would have to accept that and leave it to the divine power... who has a way of making things click. I learnt that I had to become a vessel or channel for creativity to happen. 

You can Read the Review, right here and Buy the Book, here too.

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