As part of the Women’s day celebration at IIM Kozhikode organized by the Gender Sensitization Club of IIM-K, motivational speaker and leadership author, Abha Maryada Banerjee was invited to address the K-community. Besides, Abha being India’s first woman motivational speaker of international acclaim, she has written two books on Women leadership. The Public Relations Cell got the opportunity to converse with her
You are considered to be India’s first woman motivational speaker. What made you choose this seemingly unconventional profession?
I used to be a lawyer. From early on, I was socially inclined and I had a vision to contribute to society. I believed social change was possible. I was in this zone of building people. We need to build people if we want social change. The only thing available, at that point in time was law. I took law presuming that it will get me into the social sphere or places where I could either cause an influence, an impact or in some sort of way get involved in the social system but it was a different ball game altogether and I eventually made up my mind that personal development, motivation etc was an industry in the west, at that point of time. 20, 25 years ago. And when I looked at it, I realized, this is where I need to be, if I really need to follow my vision of building people. I need to understand people first, I need to understand how people can be built, how minds can be built. So I quit law after 10 years of practise and re-educated myself at the age of 34, to do what I am doing today. And I think it was a very wise decision because I am doing a lot better over here. I have helped lakhs of people across the world. It was unconventional, but I did not think it was because I understood it so well, that I thought everybody will pick it up but that wasn’t the case
Did you face any hurdles, along the way?
Too many things happened at that time, but eventually I found it was very important like bathing. Like you bath every day, every day you need motivation. It took me a lot of time to convince people that it works. I had to work for 3-4 years initially for people to be able to see value. Now of course it has mushroomed, everybody is doing it. A lot of people can talk but to have the power to influence and impact people in a positive way is a skill that one should learn. I have taught to many people on how to work on building others. So unconventional as it may be, it is the most important thing, people should be able to learn from. It is like a complimentary education. We get educated in a traditional academic sense but we need to build people. If we don’t do that, the education also sometimes can be wasted.
You have written a book “Nucleus” on women leadership, what do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
Firstly, women are not supposed to be leaders. There is this perception that women live, not only in India but also in societies abroad, where a woman is not deemed to be leadership material. She is not deemed to be strong, she is not deemed to be mentally tough That is one of the key reasons, why we don’t see a lot of women over there. Secondly, women have to bear kids, they have to raise children.
Leadership per say requires a lot of energy and commitment for anybody who takes it up, be it a man or a woman. Women have to give away a lot of time to things like family, which is equally important. It we choose to do both it can be extremely tiring and exhausting. In the social sphere, in the corporate sphere or in politics, the amount of time it takes for a woman to get there, it is easier to find men who would want to do the same job. So by the time you can identify a woman who can do it, there would be 20 men standing there, saying they can do it. Plus, on the top there is more men than women so it is easier for them to hire men. Men feel uncomfortable with the stronger leadership women show. They tend to sort of push you back a little bit or cause hurdles on the way. And I don’t think it is with bad intention. We as a society have not evolved enough to see women standing side by side with men or women doing bigger stuff or women doing things that men are doing. Nowadays things are changing, which is very good. The last hurdle I would say is in women’s minds. Who do not consider themselves leaders because they have always been taught to stay in the background. They have been taught to play from the periphery. To calm down and let things be.
Can you name one individual whom you would call your inspiration?
There are so many people. However, I am a follower of Swami Vivekananda. He is no more but his teachings and who he was as a person is still relevant. I started reading his work at the age of 9, and by 13 I would call myself a full-fledged fan. I would do anything his teachings said. But when I picked it up and I could relate to what it says, it becomes part of your personality. His thoughts are very modern, very cosmopolitan it terms of equality between men and woman, about religion, about society, about the east and the west and about how we build ourselves. He was one of the key influences in my life. He taught that we have to build ourselves as people, if we want to build other
You are a mother, entrepreneur and you travel around the world. How do you maintain a work-life balance?
I don’t believe in this word called balance. I use a word called integration. When we talk of balance, we presume that there is lack of it. So it is a matter of prioritizing what is important to you. Keeping in mind, I have to take care of my family, my children, my work, my husband and myself. I have had to prioritize everything in my life. I have very little social life, I do not watch television or movies, I have very few friends, I do not go out, I don’t eat out. So that is the time, I spend with my family and my work. I have always had an office, but I have never worked from an office. I have worked from my home. And I make sure I work from 8 in the morning till 3 in the afternoon, when my children are at school. Now that they have grown up they are not depended on me anymore. Also I systematize everything. I make sure things are in place. I enjoy coming to places like IIMK, this is more useful than me being out elsewhere.
What is your message for IIM K students?
Celebrate your potential. You have huge potential, you have to identify it, you have to work on it and make sure you build yourself to a point that people can see you and be helped. Always be happy with yourself but keep building on everything that you have, whether God has given you gifts of any kind, talents, education, people around you
Interviewed by | John | Rohan | Public Relations Cell – IIM Kozhikode