Although it feels like ages since I completed my MBA at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, that experience has never truly left me. It has shaped who I am, who I look up to and who I aspire to be.
As the Executive Director of Emcure Pharmaceuticals, I know just how challenging modern leadership can be. How I approach those problems, be they professional, social or personal, all derives in part from the skills and confidence I gained, and continue to gain, from my Fuqua MBA.
As both a woman and the director of an amazing pharmaceutical company, I was aghast to learn that according to the World Economic Forum, India ranks 150th out of 153 countries in terms of women’s health. Some 50 percent of Indian women are anemic, compared with only 6 percent of U.S. women. In a country that has exported the most brilliant technology experts, scientists and statisticians, 23 million Indian girls still drop out of school every year due to menstrual issues.
That’s when I decided that we need to prioritize women’s health. We need to begin having candid conversations around these issues, while providing basic but accurate information to dispel various myths in simple, layman’s terms. From this realization emerged the idea of India’s first-of-its-kind talk show on women’s health titled “Uncondition Yourself with Namita.”
I chose a talk show format because I didn’t simply want to generate more information about women’s health. I wanted to generate more discussion of women’s health. Google any particular ailment and you can find dry, boring information about it. But information rarely changes people’s minds. Shared emotional experiences do.
I knew we needed to have heart-to-heart, inspiring and emotional conversations with experts, doctors and patients in order to begin to create a better world for Indian women.
The skills that led me down this path and the confidence that allowed me to excel in this field all came in part from my Fuqua MBA.
Creating Social Impact Means Thinking Strategically
People don’t always know how to ask, “What is not there?” Leaders, too, struggle to see the gaps and to correct their assumptions. The key to truly thinking strategically about our complex and highly dynamic world is learning how to ask those difficult questions.
Women are half the world’s population but are under-represented in government and business and under-resourced in health services and social attention. Internet access and information about women’s health issues is at an all-time high in India but India still lies at the bottom of global rankings in women’s health access and resources.
How could there be so much information, and oftentimes resources, while women’s health issues still struggled to even break the surface of the social conversation?
I soon realized that the gap was not a lack of information but a lack of translation. In my time at Fuqua, I learned all about how to communicate with diverse groups and the importance of connecting with people on visceral, sometimes emotional levels. Facts don’t change our minds, but shared experiences do.
That’s why I started the talk show. That’s why I believe changing the dismal reality of women’s health in India must start with a conversation; open, intuitive and essential.
“Be yourself, the world will adjust,” one of my mentors once told me. If I continued to doubt myself, to second guess every decision, to torment myself with “imposter syndrome,” then I would never truly be free, let alone mentally healthy.
We women face so many social pressures to act, speak and present ourselves in certain ways, that we find ourselves stuck defining our worth by other people’s judgments about ourselves. Many of these judgments act as a kind of catch-22, where by simply trying to fit other’s expectations, we can never reach them.
That is why I say just be yourself, and the world will adjust.
Fuqua taught me how to lean in to my authentic self. When I first arrived on campus, I was stunned with how unique and open people seemed. Each person was wholly different and yet resolutely determined to be themselves, whatever shape that might take. Although I may not have been the most confident young person when I arrived on campus, I certainly left campus knowing my true self and ready to take on the world.
That experience led me to being the corporate leader I am today, changing how powerful people communicate with colleagues. It has also helped me challenge social narratives and to help others lean in to their genuine selves.
Leadership Demands Vigorous Empathy
Fuqua builds leaders. With its faculty expertise, think tanks, clubs, team-based culture and emphasis on decency in action, Fuqua is a leadership academy.
I was asked recently in a webinar with incoming Fuqua women to define my leadership ideology. I immediately said vigorous empathy: you must demonstrate that you care about people in order to lead them.
That approach to leadership has served me beautifully in my career. With a first principles approach that always prizes the human being over the employee, I have successfully scaled a global pharmaceutical company, built a massive nurse-training program, and had the honor of mentoring and encouraging hundreds of young people through my Incredible Ventures Ltd. Now I can add “started a groundbreaking talk show on women’s health in India.” After all, I have always wanted to lead a company with a soul.
As they say at Fuqua, your superiors can give you a leadership position but only your subordinates can make you a leader. Without perhaps knowing what I was saying in that webinar, I had not only echoed that Fuqua teaching, but had also lived it in my career.
Vulnerability and the skill to connect with colleagues means that when I have to make difficult decisions or need their support to take a big risk, I have their trust. They know I will always have their backs because they know I value them as human beings.
Fuqua taught me that we manage assets, but we lead people, and that means connecting with others on a personal level.
The Self Deserves Kindness Also
We women are excellent time managers. We know how to manage projects and people and deliverables, but we are terrible guilt managers.
I remember when I first gave birth and 15 days later decided to go back into the office. I received a great deal of criticism for that decision. So often, women’s lives are filled with people trying to guilt us into acting and feeling a certain way. Even women who may feel emancipated from those external pressures still pressure themselves in ways that will only hurt in the long term.
The friendships and mentors I gained at Fuqua and the friendships I have made since have helped me to see that taking care of myself and trusting my instincts is not selfish but rather the validation I deserve. Part of getting my Fuqua MBA was realizing that not only do I deserve to be in that boardroom (and to sit at the head of the table), I also deserve to care for myself.
Just as great leaders must recognize and validate their employees’ emotional states, great leaders must also stop and validate their own thoughts and feelings. Being a great leader also means leading yourself.