“Why there should never be shame in asking for help” With Candice Georgiadis & Maya Hari

There is no shame in asking for help. Early on in my career, I worried that asking for help would be seen as a sign of incompetence or weakness. Now, I realize that understanding my limits is, in fact, one of my greatest strengths in both my personal and professional life.That said, it took me […]

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There is no shame in asking for help. Early on in my career, I worried that asking for help would be seen as a sign of incompetence or weakness. Now, I realize that understanding my limits is, in fact, one of my greatest strengths in both my personal and professional life.

That said, it took me a long time to get comfortable with the idea. So, a few years ago, I decided to change tact and gamify the process. I now force myself to get help and support once a week on a given task — either from my family or colleagues. For me, it’s not just about lightening the load, but also recognizing that the people in my life play a big part in my successes as a leader.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maya Hari.

Maya Hari is the VP & Managing Director for Asia Pacific at Twitter. Maya’s focus has been to fuel growth for Twitter across a collection of diverse markets across Asia Pacific.

Maya also serves as a board director on ASX listed edutech company Openlearning and Chairperson of TiE Singapore.

Maya has been an active member of YPO Singapore since 2019.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Maya! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My backstory is one of a global citizen, weaving across India, United States, France and Singapore.

Growing up, my parents always encouraged my sister and I to pursue our interests, be independent and not be fettered by society’s expectations of women. When I was young, I embraced my love for math, taking part in competitions like math Olympiads and learning to play Chess. At the same time, I loved exploring my creativity with public speaking and writing, and watching my mom designing textiles. I really enjoyed a balance of left and right brain — when it came time for me to pick an area of study in college, my two top choices were Engineering and Journalism, which seems very counter-intuitive, but I think reflects me perfectly.

I went on to finish a Masters in Engineering, and then sought out careers that though have a commercial and analytical side, also have a creative side. I have since spent almost two decades in the media and tech industries across the US and Asia Pacific before taking on my current role here at Twitter.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I took on leadership of the region at a time when the company had gone through some thoughtful restructuring globally. Morale was low and I needed to rebuild trust during uncertainty.

Be it in person or over video conference, nothing substitutes time spent with teams and team-members, and it was at this juncture that I learnt the importance of transparency as a leader as I had to make some people-related decisions that were tough but necessary.

After the restructuring, I went on to lay the foundation for the business to re-accelerate by motivating and building up a stronger team with the right skills. As we had to carefully prioritise investments and resources, we also had to pick and place our bets on the right markets to meaningfully scale our business.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In the early days, when I would meet Chinese clients, I would love to try and use words and phrases in Mandarin Chinese, a language I had learnt in bits and pieces over the years. Often I would be met with confused and embarrassed faces across the table and would quickly switch back over to English. I loved trying to make the effort but perhaps got the accent wrong.

Over time, I learnt to rehearse a few specific sentences that helped me kickstart a keynote presentation or hold a 3 minute conversation with a client before I declared that my depth of knowledge of the language had been reached and we switched back to English.

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?

There are many wonderful leaders and mentors who have enabled me to get to where I am today. But the one person without whom none of this would have been possible is my partner in crime in real life, my husband.

I am acutely aware that my career and family life wouldn’t balance if it weren’t for my husband. We started from a place of strength with a great relationship and marriage before we had kids. From changing diapers to giving the kids a bath to doing our taxes or attending school activities, he and I have always split it all consistently based on who is available.

He has a demanding career as well, as CEO of one of the region’s leading PropTech companies. But we prioritise being hands-on with our kids. It helps that we adopt a partner-mindset when it comes to parenting; it doesn’t solely fall on the shoulders of the mother.

My husband and I both being leaders in technology are able to support each other as sounding boards to one another. He also plays an important role in introducing me into relevant networks . One such network that I have found immensely useful has been YPO (Young President’s Organisation) where I have found not only strong networking opportunities for business, but also unique leadership and learning experiences.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

My stress relief comes from pouring myself into fitness and urban farming.

A good workout is always an effective stress reliever for me. I spend 3–4 days a week working out for about 45 minutes each time, and nothing makes me feel as sane!

My other passion that helps me to de-stress is urban farming. 5 years ago I started an experiment to see if I could make my family and myself self sustainable by growing our own produce. While I grow over 30 varieties of herbs, vegetables and plants, this goal may take a few more decades to master! Through this, however, I have found a deep love for plants. I could spend hours in the garden and it has become the thing that gets my mind completely off of daily stresses.

Embedded Tweet link: https://twitter.com/CrazyplantLadee/status/1289908318635360258?s=20

Via @CrazyplantLadee, Maya’s personal urban farming handle

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

The importance of inclusion and diversity cannot be understated. In fact, many research studies have shown that companies with diverse representation on their boards, executive teams and within their workforce enjoy various advantages such as increased revenues.

Benefits can be attributed to a variety of reasons. For one, individuals who hail from different backgrounds naturally come with their own world views, formed through their unique experiences. By being inclusive, organisations will be able to explore creative ways of problem solving and make better decisions. Not to mention, businesses that genuinely embrace diversity often have positive reputations and are also able to build a more satisfied and engaged workforce.

Particularly so in the tech industry, as technology is increasingly embedded in everyday life. The shift towards the mobile and the digital means that people behind the tech need to be diverse to account for different perspectives and needs, in order to deliver content and services that are relevant to everyone.

The deeper the sense of belonging to a company, or to a team, I find the greater the sense of longevity in the company, and the greater the productivity and collaboration. It is vital for industries to truly internalise this as both a business benefit and just the right thing to do.

At Twitter, we’re on a journey to becoming the world’s most inclusive and diverse tech company. We’re headed in the right direction, but we’ve got a lot of work to do and progress can never be fast enough. We’re more committed than ever to leading the way for our employees, our sector, and the people who use our service everyday.

We foster this conversation with managers, employee resource groups, and allyship programs internally in the company. We help our clients embrace these conversations with their audiences via Twitter and we contribute to the conversation by driving change in our own industry.

We’re in it together #UntilWeAllBelong.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

I think the first and most important step is acknowledging that there is beauty in our differences. Companies and society must recognise that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts. I firmly believe that everyone, regardless of gender, race or any other individual characteristic has something to contribute.

On inclusiveness — I think it’s largely around cultivating diverse day to day conversations in order for our employees to feel a deep sense of belonging. When I started my career in the US, I would fake interest in American sports that happened over the weekend to join in the Monday morning banter among my predominantly male colleagues. A couple of decades later, I find my Monday morning conversations much more diverse, and so are that of my teams. How can leaders ensure these are cultivated? That should be embedded in everything from team building to business meetings and more.

On representation — we should think about our choices of hiring and promotions — to truly seek out a diverse set of candidates. Before promoting a candidate, ask yourself: has everyone been equally considered? Is there a woman or someone of a different race who didn’t even make the consideration set? Regular talent planning along this vein makes this a sustainable effort, and an invaluable step forward to a well-represented organisation. We know representation targets work, because we’ve seen it in action at Twitter. We remain steadfast in our efforts towards achieving our vision for 2025: our global workforce will be at least 50% women.

On equitableness — checking and correcting for pay gaps across gender, race and orientation is a start. I believe there’s room to leverage technology platforms in compensation, package and/or talent planning in that regard that can actively identify and subsequently help leaders address pay gaps, biases, etc. Again, it’d be important to ensure a fully diverse panel is put in place before reviewing those decisions.

Throughout, we must remain transparent. Radical transparency drives accountability, and accountability will be critical to making our organisation and society more inclusive, representative, and equitable.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

Leaders at every level of a company no doubt play very important roles, but their responsibilities may greatly vary. For instance, functional leads are heavily involved in the day-to-day operations — they oversee and motivate their teams towards the completion and achievement of specific shorter-term or immediate goals.

On the other hand, CEOs and executives contend with a different set of expectations. These leaders must understand the company as a whole and be able to see the big picture. Considering greater industry trends and events, keeping an eye on competitor movements and determining the long-term strategic direction and business plans are part of their remit. At a high level, a CEO/ Executive tackles some core priorities such as co-creating and communicating the vision for the business, building a team and culture that will enable the company to achieve the vision and making decisions on what problems to tackle and which opportunities to invest in and prioritise.

These executives are also answerable to a different group of stakeholders, which is often the board and the company’s shareholders.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

One of the biggest myths about CEOs and executives is that we have zero work life balance. Although it is true that we can be incredibly busy, good time management plays an integral part in ensuring we make time for our family, friends and ourselves. Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s not always one or the other. I travel very often for work but I take night flights whenever I can, this way I can still put my kids to bed and have them feel like I was home for most of the day. Despite how busy my husband and I are, we still manage to eat dinner as a family more than 80% of the time. It’s not always easy to juggle work and family life but it’s definitely possible.

People also often have the impression that being a high-level executive is the most glamorous job one can have. They picture large offices in tall skyscrapers, luxurious networking events and a jet-setting lifestyle. While we do attend such events every once in a while and work does take us around the world, the day-to-day responsibilities of a CEO or executive are a lot less fanciful. Most of our time is spent holed up in conference rooms, poring over strategies and plans.

Lastly, believe it or not, we don’t have all the answers. As the company leaders, people often assume that we know everything, but despite the wealth of knowledge or years of experience we’ve accumulated, we are still only human, and we aren’t all-knowing! I think a large part of a CEO and executive’s success is dependent on the support they get from their teams. While we may definitely have the expertise, there is still always room for us to learn and I have greatly enjoyed discovering new insights from my Twitter family.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

The challenges faced by women at work are consistent across industries, be it getting a seat at the table to being heard in a meeting or the salary gap that exists between men and women. This leads to women hesitating to have a conversation with their management regarding career growth, or asking for a promotion or a pay raise, or speaking up to find mentors. My fundamental belief is that women need to stand up and ask for their rightful spot — and this is not easy, since I know women are devalued and overlooked at every step of the way as they grow up. But the moment that a woman sees another woman in a leadership position offer an opinion, or ask for that equal consideration, it changes the possibilities in their life.

Also, I have to be real about the fact that I have two kids. Many women in professional roles face these same challenges balancing work and family. Work cultures should allow for women, and for parents, to have this kind of balance, but not everyone is able to choose these kinds of supporting environments.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

As you may be able to guess, when I first started this job, I was focussed on driving the turnaround of our business in such a diverse and vibrant region. But I’ve come to realise it’s more than that — leadership is at its best when everyone on your team achieves his/her full potential. It may sound cliche, but my real role is not just setting Twitter’s course in the Asia Pacific region, but also galvanising, inspiring and guiding a team of incredible people towards achieving success for the company.

Couldn’t put it better than @ValaAfshar, Chief Digital Evangelist at Salesforce: https://twitter.com/ValaAfshar/status/1266783685896024064?s=20

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

While there is no magic recipe with fixed ingredients or characteristics for an individual to follow to be a successful executive, I have four traits that I try to keep in mind to guide my approach.

First, I try to lead by being open and democratic. I want people on my team to feel comfortable coming to me and speaking their minds. I think there’s a rightful place for that, and people will feel more empowered and invested if they feel like their leaders are listening to their concerns.

Second, I try to maintain a careful balance between approachability and aspiration as a leader. At Twitter, this is a more unique challenge, as we are all encouraged to use Twitter and live with the product every day, and by virtue of this, I would say that I use Twitter a lot more than other executives might. As a leader, the transparent workplace that we’ve created on Twitter helps me to keep tabs on the sentiment of the team. Even concerns that people might not feel comfortable bringing to me, I try to be aware of so I can make decisions taking their worries into account.

Third, I have an obsession with talent — I think it is one of the most important organisational virtues. I strongly believe in ‘hire fast, hire well’ — if you bring in the best talent, your organisation will end up in much better shape than most organisations when facing common business issues.

Fourth and lastly, I think collaboration and trust is incredibly important. I’ve witnessed firsthand the power of technology, and seen how it diminishes the borders and the distance between us, but this is obviously amplified in the post-COVID, WFH reality. It is important to make collaboration part of your organisation’s mission, and commit to building and empowering collaboration between teams.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Women executives tend to encounter challenges that their male counterparts don’t. While this is unfortunate, successful women leaders are proof that it is possible to overcome these obstacles. One piece of advice I can give to others is to be yourself. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I think that many women often overcompensate and try too hard to prove themselves. Although this is not inherently negative, I feel that effective leadership first comes from understanding yourself instead of trying to be something you are not. Everyone has their own unique personality and style; once you have identified what you are good at, you will be able to better leverage your strengths and address your weaknesses when leading your team.

Women often have an edge when it comes to communicating and winning trust. In the business world, EQ is equally, if not more important, than IQ, and women are generally more intuitive where emotions are involved. Once perceived to be a vulnerability, being able to express feelings and build authentic connections with team members is now a valuable advantage that many women have. To obtain cooperation and commitment from your peers and subordinates, female leaders should strive to show genuine care and concern for their team. Sincere appreciation, encouragement and respect can go a long way in motivating team members, so we should always aim to support them in achieving their full potential.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I am interested in supporting the start-up space and am currently a board member of ASX listed edu-tech company OpenLearning where I oversaw their IPO journey.

Leaders like myself have a unique opportunity to give back to the welfare of the community by sharing our experience. I believe in enabling entrepreneurship in local communities and currently chair TiE Singapore — a non-profit organisation focused on fueling the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Mentorship, enabling access for young entrepreneurs to funding and facilitating connections to customers are a core focus for me through my efforts at TiE.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Choose confidence

Growing up, I was awkward and lacking in confidence, and it took a really long time for me to start believing in my own capabilities and trusting myself to make important decisions. But that faith in self is key to effective leadership. As we progress through the different stages in our lives, the challenges only get harder so don’t rely on external achievements, accolades or praise to give yourself ‘worth’. Confidence should be built from within.

2. Be patient — life is a marathon, not a sprint

I have two kids and took 3–4 months of maternity leave with each — but during what should have been my down time getting to know my newborns, I instead found myself extensively worrying about my career. Had I indefinitely stalled my career? Was I being passed over for promotions? How were people going to view me now that I was a mom?

My beautiful children are now aged 13 and 8 respectively, and now looking back, I wish I’d been kinder to myself. The only person watching the clock was me, and with the benefit of hindsight, I’ve come to realise my career momentum stayed right on track throughout. Now as I lead my team at Twitter, I find myself often promoting capable men and women even while on parental leave, which just goes to show that it’s not a case of one or the other. A bit of patience, and there’s room for both.

3. Network outside just like you network inside

Building networks outside the company is just as important as forming networks inside the company. In fact, it’s often these external interactions that lead to the best discussions and insights for how to move the business forward. As a leader, I invest a lot of time and effort into developing peer groups so that I can both share and learn best practices and discover new ideas. This helps me to gain different perspectives and go outside the Twitter ‘echo chamber’, so to speak.

4. Ask for help — both at home and at work

There is no shame in asking for help. Early on in my career, I worried that asking for help would be seen as a sign of incompetence or weakness. Now, I realize that understanding my limits is, in fact, one of my greatest strengths in both my personal and professional life.

That said, it took me a long time to get comfortable with the idea. So, a few years ago, I decided to change tact and gamify the process. I now force myself to get help and support once a week on a given task — either from my family or colleagues. For me, it’s not just about lightening the load, but also recognizing that the people in my life play a big part in my successes as a leader.

5. Have fun, don’t take yourself too seriously

Work hard but play hard too. Life is a journey and it is meant to be enjoyed. Take a breather and slow down to enjoy the view. I know it can be easy to get swept up in our constant pursuit of success, but be careful not to let life pass you by!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

If you’ll allow me to get on my soap-box — we need to save our planet, period. The earth is in grave danger and my children’s generation may soon find themselves facing the perils of a harsh climate that could lead to a loss of freedom to live the lives as they do today. Indeed, if the recent pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t take anything for granted — let alone something as vital as our world’s resources.

From science and policies, to a change in consumer habits and preferences, a lot more needs to be done to address the climate crisis. My daughter and I have started a campaign called #ShareTheGreen, where we do our part by giving away hundreds of plants during each quarter of the year to our community. We hope that our effort will encourage more people to grow their own food.

I’d also encourage each one of us to vote with our money — if you can, opt for locally manufactured goods, or those with lower carbon footprints. Choose products with responsible packaging, and write or Tweet to your favourite brands to compel them to find substitutes for plastic containers! If you invest, select stocks in companies that use green energy sources to power their offices, data centres and manufacturing plants, or those that use vehicles that run on biofuels or electricity.

If everyone does their part, I am sure that we can accelerate change and save our planet for future generations.

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

My favourite quote is one by Mark Twain –

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

As I make decisions in my career and life everyday, this quote is my go-to sniff test to assess if things I lend my voice and time to, are in fact worthy of being in consideration of my purpose as a leader.

I have some clues as to my true purpose as a leader (my deep belief in social and economic empowerment of women or my love for the planet and sustainability) but if I am honest, I can’t be certain yet. I am enjoying this journey of pursuit for the day when I truly know my raison d’etre in this world.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I am inspired by the work that Bill and Melinda Gates are driving marrying investment in science with on ground practical implementation considerations and diplomacy across the world. A lunch or breakfast with them would be the perfect opportunity to learn from their intellectual and compassionate approaches.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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