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Lakshmi Baskaran: “Go search for discomfort, that’s where you are most likely to grow”

The world has seen things that are lot worse than the current pandemic. Wars, famine, natural calamities of the past, present and future are endless. We are in a much better situation of handling the current pandemic than we could have in the millions of years humans have lived in the Earth. If generations were […]

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The world has seen things that are lot worse than the current pandemic. Wars, famine, natural calamities of the past, present and future are endless. We are in a much better situation of handling the current pandemic than we could have in the millions of years humans have lived in the Earth. If generations were able to live beyond the calamities and disasters of the past, there is no reason why we cannot navigate through the current pandemic. Let us sympathize with our fellow human beings and hope for global well-being.


The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lakshmi Baskaran, a corporate leader, entrepreneur, and a doting mother. Throughout her exciting career, she has built and managed high performing Engineering Teams for established corporations and startups alike. She is a global leader and has spent the last two decades of her career working in senior executive roles in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia.

Lakshmi is currently the VP of Engineering at Sedna, a global SaaS company that manages complex business transactions through emails. While Lakshmi is leading her teams to build a global platform at SEDNA, she also continues to act as a global influencer for technology and leadership.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Many successful people would say that they built a career to fuel their passion. Long behold, that was not meant for me and I built a career with the choices and opportunities that were presented to me.

I grew up in South East Asia where parents take pride in fostering academic excellence onto their kids. Growing up, the only choice we had was to study and be the topper in our class. TV shows were a weekly affair and summers were meant to prepare for the next academic year. We had little time to think about what we want to be and what we are passionate about.

As a result, when I graduated from high school, I didn’t choose to study for a career that aligned with my passion (If I did, I would have been a psychologist). I went to university to study Computer Engineering with the hope that it will land me in a job that paid me well.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

I had a keen interest in human psychology, and I studied for Computer Engineering (of course, we believed that having a job in Computers would make me a millionaire). After a Bachelors and Masters in Computer Engineering, it dawned on me that I am going to spend the rest of my life working with machines. Although the job paid me enough and made my parents proud, I was longing for more human interaction and liveliness.

Roughly two years into my career, I visited a shop floor of a manufacturing company. I was there to study manufacturing machines and build an asset management software for shop floor technicians. It was an opportunity of my life which made me realize how computers are solving real world problems for human beings. We don’t realize that deeply in School when you are working on solving mythical problems for assignments.

When I realized that the software I am going to build for the technicians will change their lives and make them look forward to coming to work every day, I started to find true value in my career. Since then I looked at computers as an ally to human beings and I was more grateful for choosing this as the field of my study.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I work as VP of Engineering at SEDNA. We are building the world’s most innovative platform that enables open communication through team inbox. SEDNA transforms the concept of emails from being an individual responsibility to team accountability. By doing this, SEDNA has redefined the history and purpose of email communication in organizations.

We gleam with pride when our customers show us how we have helped improve employees’ productivity and accountability and transformed the way organizations work. In order to achieve 10X productivity in organizations, our customers who are multinational brands, did not have to rewrite their processes and workflows; they only had to use SEDNA as their tool of communication. There is no longer a client email or a transaction that goes unread as we power our platform with the metrics and data analytics that gives managers and leaders the much-needed insight about their business.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I attribute my career progression to some great mentors who realized my potential and paved me the right path to ascend the corporate ladder. I had amazing bosses throughout my career and they ensured I am provided opportunities to explore new areas of technology and leadership.

I was fortunate to have a support system in my career. But there is something beyond human support that transformed my career and I am very thankful for it. I owe it to great authors who introduced me to a world of unknown through their books. Growing up, I was not an avid reader. I read books for school, but seldom ventured out to read anything out of what the syllabus demanded me to master.

I was a new Mom and I was home all day caring for a newborn baby. I was soon fighting postpartum depression. My life changed for the worse and I had no one around me to help me navigate this new lifestyle. That was when books became by best friends. I became a voracious reader. I would ask everyone I met to recommend non-fictions to read. I devoured them all. They transformed the way I looked at things. They changed me as a person, as a leader and as a citizen.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

When COVID started, I was very glad to be able to work from home for few days. As the pandemic extended, the days became weeks which then turned out to be months. The joy of being able to work from home soon turned into stress, because I was not able to balance both work and home.

It didn’t take too long to realize that one of the biggest challenges of working from home is not being able to draw defined boundaries between work and life. Simple things like having lunch with family on a working day turned out to be a stressful event because of the overlapping boundaries. And to top it off, we have a six year old daughter who had to be home schooled during the pandemic. I was guilty of not being able to contribute well at work and home.

I also saw how the pandemic was causing an emotional drain on my teams. I became very anxious as there was very little I could do for myself and for my teams, because of the inherent constraints of the pandemic.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

In the current scenario during COVID, many women are trying to find out how to build boundaries between work and life. It causes lot of difficulty as they are trying to build those boundaries from the same physical space by often changing roles as an employee, spouse and parent.

When I decided to not strive hard to create a balance between work and family, working from home during COVID took for a positive spin. Instead of creating boundaries, I decided to remove them and integrate my work and life. There were days when work needed more attention and there were days when family needed my presence more. Being able to give the necessary time, focus and attention based on the needs and necessities of the situation helped me to build and nurture relationships during this difficult time.

Many people would think that being an executive, I have the luxury of shaping my day. But I would like to emphasize that it starts with women taking the lead, setting expectations, communicating and following through. My boss knows that I will be attending my daughter’s chess class on Friday afternoons and my daughter knows that I won’t be able to focus on her during my weekly leadership stand ups. I have 4 am work mornings and 9 am grocery runs. Since I gave my family the attention when they needed, they don’t mind me taking a work call after dinner. I no longer looked for a logical separation between work and family. I only looked for ways to blend them both.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

The biggest challenge during COVID was not having an opportunity to ensure the emotional wellbeing of my teams. The hallway conversations and water cooler chit chats always helped me to be on top of what was happening in their lives. I knew when to follow up with a message about a sick kid and an unwell spouse.

If I knew one of our employees is attending to a sick child at home, I would always watch out to ensure they are not physically and mentally drained at work. When an employee who is always an extrovert resigns herself from team gatherings, I will initiate a conversation to make sure things are ok in her life.

Not being able to do any of these and only relying on hope that everyone in my team is navigating well through this pandemic is causing sleepless nights.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

When the pandemic started, we organized virtual team catch ups. After the first few weeks there was not a lot of enthusiasm among my team members to participate. Obviously with a bigger virtual gathering, it was hard for everyone to share personal challenges and their coping mechanisms.

When virtual catch ups did not work with the bigger teams, I started organizing virtual one on one coffee catchups with each of my team members. I would slot one virtual catch up per day and I would suggest that they grab a coffee away from their usual desk space. I am mindful of not bringing up anything related to work during my informal catch ups. I also encouraged them to bring their kids to our virtual catch up. While we were chatting about life and how we are coping during the pandemic, the kids were having fun being around their parents and also engaging in our conversation. It also helped us to practice work life integration.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

Try to integrate work and life as much as possible. If you need to take few hours off your day to attend to a needy child or help your kids with their schoolwork, do not let guilt take over you. Communicate your absence to your team and ensure you are not blocking others from proceeding with their work.

If your kids are able to cognitively discern roles and responsibilities, have a chat with them about your responsibilities at work and how you plan to work whilst making sure you are available for them. If you have young kids who need your attention, speak to your organization about reduced work hours until we get through the pandemic and you are able to find an alternate care.

There are several online learning platforms that are engaging kids with different activities. There are many generous businesses that are offering free learning opportunities for kids. Pick something that your kid would like to master — art, choreography, an instrument, learning a coding language. Organize classes with a teacher who can teach online and encourage kids to explore activities that they would otherwise never get to do.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

I indulged in a lot of self-care since we have started sheltering at home. I refuse to trade my personal time for work or home related duties.

My self-care routine includes starting my day early, making a coffee and reading a book and then taking a walk listening to podcasts. During the day, when I am in meetings that only requires me to listen, but not contribute, I turn off my video and do a quick prep of our lunch or dinner. This helps to not have rushed dinners and also helps me to have a quiet reading time before I turn off for the day.

I realize that many families are busier than ours with young kids and other members of the family who needs lot of attention. Regardless of your family situation, try your best to not trade your self care routine for responsibilities that you need to fulfill at work or family.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

The world has seen things that are lot worse than the current pandemic. Wars, famine, natural calamities of the past, present and future are endless. We are in a much better situation of handling the current pandemic than we could have in the millions of years humans have lived in the Earth. If generations were able to live beyond the calamities and disasters of the past, there is no reason why we cannot navigate through the current pandemic. Let us sympathize with our fellow human beings and hope for global well-being.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

When you are anxious about the pandemic and when fear takes over you, feel grateful about things in your life. Gratitude is a medicine that can cure fear and anxiety.

Every time I have a slight tinge of anxiety, I recollect lives of less fortunate people. That helps to give a positive spin for my day and makes me feel grateful for my life.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Go search for discomfort, that’s where you are most likely to grow.”

I don’t know where I came across the saying, but it is so true that your growth is unstoppable when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone. We have heard this very often from successful leaders, but you realize the power of it only when you put this in action and cherish the success you achieve.

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/lakshmibaskaran/

I also write on Medium and Thrive about leadership and technology.

Please follow me on Medium in https://medium.com/@lakshmibaskaran

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


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