How I Learned To Dance With My Doubts – Inspired By The Single Biggest Career Move Of Successful Leaders

Her mother once admonished her for not buying milk when she returned home after a long day at work. Every December, she visits the city of Chennai for the music festival. All this could be a norm, except she is also CEO of Pepsi in the city of Atlanta. There is no doubt about Indira Nooyi’s talent. Somewhere along the way Roger Enrico made an impact in her life.

Another person, similar story. Like Indira, he is talented. He hails from an agricultural family, went to a tamil medium school. He made his career as a TATA lifer. He is currently the chairman of TCS sons, Natrajan Chandrasekaran. Somewhere along the way, S. Ramadorai made an impact in his life.

In the beautiful city of Paris, a mother of five, Isabelle Kocher, is the CEO of Engie. Somewhere along the way, Gérard Mestrallet made an impact in her life. I can stack more, you get the idea. The question I always had in mind.

What does Roger Enrico, S. Ramadorai and Gerard Mestrallet have in common with a father of two kids who sat next to me on a plane ride?

Correlation to Personal Life

Our chit chat veered around kids. The gentleman smiled when he shared, “I have two kids, an 18 year old and an 8 month old.” Without prodding, he ventured to add – “our older child was ready to leave home, my wife & I missed the days when we felt needed. Our second kid bridged our gap.” His candor astounded me. More than anything, he shared with me an insight about human nature that I had taken for granted. The 18 year old personified an independent go-getter. The 8 month baby allowed her parents to be useful to her – a gift of trust.

Connecting the dots

Indira, Chandrasekaran and Isabelle do one thing few venture to do - ask for help. They tapped into something that is innately human. Charlotte Wittenkamp, a thoughtful commenter & well wisher shared these words many moons ago in response to one of my blogs. The words stayed with me, to bloom again today.

“While being self sufficient and independent are beautiful aims, we should never forget that allowing another person to be useful to us is a gift of trust.”

That dot connection was a revelation. In life, I had been closer to the 18 year old.

Yet “Asking for help” is so incomplete!

There are a thousand good reasons not to ask for help. Maybe you are perceived as weak, needy or incompetent. These narratives become the single version of how you are judged. Doubts linger - “Why would strangers care enough to help me?”

In your most humble moment, what happens if the world revolves around the other person? It is about their moment of belonging. It is about their moment to savor being useful. It is their moment to celebrate, to relish that they made a small difference.

In asking for what is of great value to you and least cost to the giver- it unleashes the potency of the most benevolent power.

It is in the subtlety in this line (least cost to the giver) that the successful career makers outshine many of us. Recently, I saw a young professional fall into a common trap. Asking for help is hard. He chose to be vulnerable and asked. He was brave and yet he soon withdrew into his cocoon. His cardinal mistake - he chose a counterpart seated nearby who would likely know the answers. All good except he chose a giver whose cost was high – a giver who was vying for the same stakes.

What Indra, Chandrasekaran and Isabella excelled at was tapping someone with different objectives in life – someone still in their field and who are a few years ahead of them. They built bonds. They asked questions.

Dancing with Doubts: What is true in personal life is true in professional life.

My four year old’s voice was bursting with intent and innocence. I was busy on my laptop. I looked up. She said, “Can you help me with this picture book daddy?” And I readily obliged, tossed my laptop aside and opened the book with gusto. Her reaction best captured my feelings – let the world bloom in the smile of a child.

I also started to notice that she used those words often on new things she was learning? She was leaning on and learning ahead. People, irrespective of their relationship with her, obliged her without batting an eye-lid.

She was tap dancing with her doubts, crafting her own landscape without knowing the maps.

I pondered. How many times have I reached out for help in the recent years? Definitely less than Indira, Chandrasekaran, Isabelle and my younger daughter.

Inspired by my daughter, I am commencing my dance. To celebrate something beautiful - a universal human need to be needed.

Karthik Rajan

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