Tips From The Top: One On One With Divya Parekh

I spoke to W4WN Radio's Divya Parekh about her best advice

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Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Divya: One of the facts that may surprise people is that I have had a very diverse career leading up

to the influencing building and positioning work I do today as a business leadership advisor. However, the most notable surprise is the principle that I place a strong focus on authentic relationship-building with a giving heart in my work.  The journey began with my liberal upbringing in India. My parents were progressive, believed in helping others, and encouraged my sister and me not to let gender define our boundaries. They showed us that any limits we thought were only products of our imagination.

I was lucky to grow up in India, which is a land of diverse cultures, languages, religious and spiritual beliefs, and compassion. I grew up with meditation and exposure to cultural diversity at home, school, and in society, so meditating became a way of life rather than a chore. It helped me to dream big, define my vision, and lay the groundwork to determine my clarity and purpose. Because of the exposure to cultural diversity, early in life, the seeds of connectivity fostered in my childhood bloomed when I moved to the U.S., helping me make friends and integrate into the culture relatively easily. Soon, I could talk to anyone about the merits of the Yankees versus the Mets.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?      

Divya: The school was a valuable time for me, and it was then that I realized that I enjoyed figuring out how and why things work. I studied biochemistry, which gave me a unique perspective on the connection between the mind, body, and intellect. I began my career as a university associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, splitting my time between leading research efforts and teaching graduate students. Then, I left academia and joined the world of the biopharmaceutical industry. This field gave me the opportunities to lead multimillion-dollar projects which involved employing a wide range of skills, including engineering, coaching, and partnership development. Though I worked in very different industries, one common thread that wove itself throughout my career is my connection with people. I was fortunate to experience meaningful relationships in all facets of my profession. While enjoying my evolving career, I have conscientiously prioritized learning throughout my career. Constantly applying newfound knowledge to my professional life has been instrumental to my success.

When it comes to setbacks, mentioning them all would take up the entire interview. I’ve experienced them like everybody else. However, it’s important to remember that treating setbacks like learning experiences is more than a cliché—it works. Mindfulness is essential if we want to want to learn from our setbacks and use them to move forward.

For example, when I was writing my last book, I was afflicted with an active case of writer’s block. It seemed like I was never going to be able to get past a certain point. In my coaching work, I advise my clients how important it is to have a network of relationships with people who inspire you to succeed. I call these resonant relationships, and having these relationships means that you embrace each other’s failures and shortcomings with love, compassion, and understanding—even humor. These kinds of relationships build trust, which allows you to share your emotions, communicate openly, and learn, grow, and succeed together.     

So, during my period of writer’s block, I contacted my friend Raina. When I told her about my situation, she pointed out that I was sulking and that I probably needed to step away from the project for a while. I walked away from the book for a few days. When I returned to my desk, I was able to complete the chapter quickly. Maybe it was a situation of “doctor heal thyself,” but it was a reminder that I needed to fall back on those resonant relationships for my well-being. It was also a reminder that we all get very good at what we do, but sometimes we get knocked off track. The key is to make a conscious effort to go back to what we are good at. I once gave a talk, and a coach said, “That’s like when my team loses, and we have to go back to the fundamentals of the game to remind ourselves that we know how to play the game.” That analogy works with any profession.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?   

Divya: The most critical factor in becoming an effective leader is knowing yourself. As an effective leader, you truly understand your authentic self, even if that means acknowledging your shortcomings and embracing discomfort as you pursue what you love. When you take responsibility for your emotions, decisions, and actions with compassion and humor, you will be able to terms with your imperfections without judgment. Acceptance of reality creates the fertile ground to plant the seeds for change.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Divya:  I advocate three strategies for entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders.

1. Servant Leadership – First and foremost, servant leadership is as much for you as it is for others. When you help others succeed, you bring joy to yourself and others.  When you build a community of interdependent members and serve the greater good of “us,” you create a chain of human relationships where everyone prospers.

2.  Collaboration, Not Competition – When you begin with the intention of helping others succeed, you will find that doors you didn’t know existed open for you. Working in alignment improves overall performance, enhances employee productivity, and invites new business. Successful partners regularly participate in knowledge-sharing and collectively exercise value-discount measures to optimize their alliances. When you collaborate instead of competing, you give your knowledge to others. In return, you build trust currency.

3.  Build Relationships That Matter – We do all things in our lives for the sake of happiness. According to economists, when you see a close friend on most days, it has the potential to elevate your joy equivalent to earning a $100,000 salary. Additional studies, like Harvard’s 80-year-old happiness study, have indicated that healthy relationships are a predictor of a longer, healthier, and happier life.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?  

Divya: The best advice I received was a quote attributed to Thomas Henry Huxley. He said, “Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not. It is the first lesson that ought to be learned, and however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.”   

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?   

Divya: I have found that partnering with children, young people, and adults to help them succeed in their lives and careers is exceptionally fulfilling. It is an opportunity for me to give, but the rewards of fostering these types of relationships are endless. Partnering with communities and organizations that are aligned with your core values and beliefs is essential.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?    

Divya: I love communing with nature, whether it may be taking a hike in the woods or watch a blue heron be laser-focused on its meal or see a bald eagle soar in the sky or experience the ocean in its entirety. I enjoy listening to music and dancing as well. Nature and music have taught me to dance with the moment, experience the vastness of time and be grateful for all we have. My other hobby is working with youth, including nonprofit work with organizations like Inspire NC, which focuses on accessing, developing, and nurturing the talents of young people. I believe that our youth will be the leaders of tomorrow. I also work with Little Makers Academy, which emphasizes collaborative learning and critical thinking with young students through hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) activities. Working with youth has made me realize that when someone believes in you and when you do what you love, anything is possible!

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Divya: It is the responsibility of every single one of us to act boldly, to address the chronic problems of our time, and to tackle the taboo topics that others aren’t willing to approach. None of us have all the answers. However, by working together and collaborating in a mutually beneficial and compassionate fashion, we can come together and effect positive change for the good of humanity as a whole.

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