Leadership3Sixty

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Pamela Permalloo-Bass

Meet Pamela Permallo-Bass Head of Equality & Diversity at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust

In Conversation With…

Alpna Khera

Here is our interview with the remarkable Alpna Khera, a thought leader in leadership and business, who really does 'walk her talk':she says "everyday I have to reinvent myself to keep up to my commitment as a leader…learning and being humble is the key." Be inspired!

ALPNA, TELL US ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY TO LEADERSHIP...Well Denise, I agree that leadership is a journey, I’ve had over 20 years of experience in the workplace and all of my experiences, my learning and some of my mistakes have brought me to where I am now. I’ve been lucky to get multi-faceted experience: I started out on the shop floor, and was the first woman in India to work on the shop floor in a power plant, which had its own challenges of acceptance, such as trying to get myself considered equal & as a professional away from my gender. My career progressed through technical, commercial and management  roles across organizations like GE, Serco and in different businesses like Energy, Transportation & the services Sector, which added so much to my experience and learning. My journey at GE taught me a lot about leadership, the many role models allowed me to emulate good practices: plus I received constructive feedback, coaching &mentoring. Leadership for me really comes down to 3 things: Firstly, be a learner, Secondly, passion  to be a people’s leader, because that’s what makes you willing to change yourself to help others, to truly lead. To me authenticity only comes if you have passion, thats what helped me to take feedback correctly & to change myself. Thirdly, vulnerability. So I think my passion, my deep desire to be professionally successful, my nurturing and the value set that I got from my family all helped me to stay authentic.

DID YOU CHOOSE LEADERSHIP OR DID LEADERSHIP CHOOSE YOU? If I can be brutally honest, from my first day at work, I always wanted to be in a decision making role, there was always a hidden desire to get to the point where I could make a difference and do it in a useful manner, really it’s a mix of both: I chose the tough path. I think it’s important that you put yourself through some unchartered waters so that you can learn, build some character & develop some credentials along the way. I never felt shy about taking the toughest routes, the not so ‘sexy’ opportunities. I studied engineering at university & I spent much of those early years in a boiler suit, with grease on my hands, overhauling gas turbines which was a very technical ‘grass roots’ job.Two big insights came out of those years: firstly that it wasn’t my ultimate place, but it gave me self awareness and I would say that there is always a point when you recognise what inspires you & your capabilities. I soon realised that I could make a difference and could get to a point where I could lead . Secondly, I realised that my commercial skills & my intellect allowed me to deal with complexity, so I had the ‘What’ in me & the ‘How’ would develop later: I learnt tenacity during those early years, It was a complete man’s world and to prove myself in my capacity as a professional took a lot of self learning and meant a lot of biting my tongue and letting some things pass because I had started to look at the big picture: as is often said, if you don’t like the rules you have to follow them until you are in a position to change them. I always see leadership as a being like a 'T' ...you need the breadth but you also need depth.

I OFTEN ‘TWEET’ ABOUT LEADING WITH YOUR HEAD & YOUR HEART ..And with your gut: you know people used to say that you can’t think through your heart, but I think that you can…somebody once gave me a good advice and I don’t think I’ve mastered it yet: I asked my long time mentor what makes a successful leader and the answer was ‘I never gave orders’.. point being that if you can get the people around you, willing to go above and beyond where they think they can go and willing to make the journey with you , then I think that you have arrived as a leader. For a woman its a journey more of style than intent.

RECENTLY THE DALAI LAMA SPOKE ABOUT GENDER & LEADERSHIP: WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS  & THE CHALLENGES FACING LEADERS NOW ? It was a very interesting dialogue, and although I’m not sure if he was specifically talking about gender or women but the themes that came to me were: that it’s not a stereotype of leadership who will succeed him, but anyone with the capability can: I think he was trying to add a breadth of possibilities to the conversation. I also think that the world is now a place where we need more qualities like empathy, collaboration and compassion, & not just leadership because we are living in turbulent times. Global leadership whether it is faith, political or corporate is faced with challenges around inequality & when you look around the world, this inequality is increasing, so it’s also around the challenge of integrity. There is also the challenge of inter connectedness, because I think in many ways we are very connected today thanks to technology, but I’m not sure if our hearts are connected. Integrity and leadership do co-exist and an ability to encompass these challenges and to make it work across communities is a test for leaders. Lastly let’s not forget the challenge of migration and globalisation: there are no constants for leaders, you change location and it all changes. Ultimately to be a leader in such diverse times you need empathy, compassion & a collaborative style of leadership as well as the confidence to make some tough decisions and take risks.  It’s also about taking people along, I'm not going to say that women do it better than men, but I will say that there are some styles of collaboration and some qualities like empathy & compassion that come to a woman more readily and maybe that’s what he had in the back of his mind when he said that. Maybe it’s more woman friendly than man friendly, but I must tell you that this was quite a welcome statement.                   

WITH ‘TOXIC LEADERSHIP’ & THE GLOBAL UPHEAVAL THAT WE’RE WITNESSING, WHAT DO WE NEED IN LEADERS NOW? It’s a very tough skill set needed to be a leader now; but if I have to pin it down to a few ingredients I would highlight the many different viewpoints & expectations in today's world eg.Gen Y / Millennials & their way of connecting often means that engagement is more critical than salary: The migrating populations have different cultures which brings another level of complexity to leadership: Intelligence quotient, Emotional quotient and Cultural quotient are vital: Relying on IQ is no longer enough, it’s a given now that you have to have EQ so leaders can't sit back, they have to up their game:  leaders need courage, inclusiveness, and authenticity...the media scrutinises everything you do and say…you can't hide from your mistakes. Ultimately leaders need to be able to unlearn and learn...to be adaptable & vulnerable. Every day I have to reinvent myself to keep up my commitment as a leader, learning and being humble is the key. 

YOU ARE A BUSY WOMAN...WHAT KEEPS YOU BALANCED?
This is something I often ask myself.  I don’t know where the energy comes from…I think the people around me …if you leave me with machines I’ll die….there is so much to learn and admire and appreciate in people …I love meeting people….I get charged through discussions and I’ll let you in on a secret, so many of my lasting friendships have come from short interactions on flights. We are all vulnerable beings and having people around me keeps my soul going…it’s not me alone on a journey…be warm to those you meet along the way.

FAVOURITE QUOTE OR SAYING....
Yes, I have a Hindi saying that goes “open your wings and take flight because that’s what the world watches....