Anuja SinghGuest Blog and Interview by Anuja Singh 

Welcome to the September edition of our monthly CEWN segment about role models. We all make resolutions and set goals to improve ourselves– but somewhere along the way, life interrupts our plans, we find ourselves juggling different priorities and invariably things get dropped. What you will find in this segment are experiences of some ordinary people who remained focused and went on to achieve extraordinary results. Everyone featured in this series has faced challenges and opportunities that the rest of us can identify with. Let’s draw inspiration from the choices they made and aspire to the outcomes they created.

ShubraShubhra Sinha

Find out more about Shubhra.

Cisco Empowered Women’s Network (CEWN): You have had a successful career spanning two different continents – what impact did your formative years have on you?

Shubhra: I grew up in a very forward-thinking family with a lineage of giving-back to the cause of education and knowledge. I was always encouraged to excel at whatever I wanted to do – whether it was art, scriptures, or school studies. My father is a highly principled man who believes in achieving professional quality over just doing a job. I have the same principles and believe that success is based on hard work and merit and there are no short cuts. One of the core values of my growing years was to try my hand at different skills and be knowledgeable, if not a master of multiple trades. That learning has allowed me to be multi-faceted and adapt to different industries and show my value irrespective of the job-role I am in.

CEWN: Give us some practical advice on how you have managed your career?

Shubhra: I have always been able to map business needs to the technology that best services them and I use similar correlations when I am searching for the right work opportunity. I combine methodology (spreadsheet with details on the kinds of companies I want to work for– large/small/mid-size/start up and what role would I like there); network (see who you know at that company or someone who may know a person at that company); and hard work (look for and pursue multiple openings). Thus, I never felt a sense of uncertainty because I had built enough relationships with people who knew my worth that would help me land on my feet.

“…Time is like an elastic band – the more you stretch it, the more you have.”

-Shubhra Sinha

CEWN: How do you cultivate, invest in and maintain these relationships?

Shubhra: That’s an interesting question because it’s forcing me to think through and explain what comes to me naturally. I guess my approach is three-pronged depending on who the person is, how I relate to them in and what they have done or can do for me:

1) If person is senior and they have helped me gain access to their network or to a professional role – I drop a note to them highlighting anything positive or exciting that has happened in the role that they helped me gain. It’s a non-intrusive way of saying thanks to them and letting them know that you value what they did for you, and that you want them to enjoy your success.

2) If they are your peers, stay in touch, but also try and help them, because now you may be in a position to return favors. You can offer introductions as well as any industry intelligence.

3) And finally on a personal level, with people who have worked with you, for you – maintain a relationship outside of work. Value the many social circles you have and even grab an occasional meal together.

In all three cases, you can find a way to pay it forward and help someone else.

CEWN: You have moved back and forth between India and the US; between start-ups and large corporations; and have taken up roles in consulting, business development, software and hardware professional services as well as product marketing. Did you have any apprehensions every time you considered a change?

Shubhra: No, because of my upbringing, I never felt a lack of confidence or qualms about taking up something different. I have always enjoyed change and bring my life’s experience to it. My father had to change towns every 2 years as part of his job – and it was never a painful process. In fact my parents always viewed it positively while I used to look forward to a new place and making new friends. I have also never felt that I have to prove myself because I am a woman, just that I have to prove myself to deserve it. If we are confident in our abilities, then it’s only a merit-based discussion and you can welcome change without being nervous.

CEWN: You have run some large teams. What is your leadership style?

Shubhra: I believe I am a democratic leader. For me there is no ‘Not Possible!’ If I want to do something, I usually do so, but I first find a way to get everyone on board. To get my team on board I have to make them believe in the idea and concept that I am conveying. This was again a childhood lesson – growing up, my brother was naturally allowed to do a few things that I wasn’t. Not because I was being treated differently, but just because it may not have been physically prudent. I found that if I was able to appeal to my family with logic, then I was able to build trust, and that trust led to freedom.

I implement this with my teams – show patience, be open to dialogue, listen to all sides of the argument and then convey your point.

CEWN: You have certainly remained multi-faceted and multi-talented by merging your career with your passion for the arts. Even today, you hold regular performances of classical dance – how do you continue to excel at and enjoy both fields?

Shubhra: That is my mother’s influence. She is passionate about music and despite a busy life of raising three children; she decided to hone her knowledge by going back to graduate school for an additional master’s degree music. She believes that music can tie the family together and she taught all three of us at every opportunity she got. She would even teach us while she was cooking, and we would practice by performing in front of guests. We could never make excuses and say that we didn’t have time to practice. She taught me that it was up to me to be more efficient, to get up early or stay up late. It’s like Malcolm Gladwell says in ‘Outliers’ – “the key to achieving world class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing for 10,000 hours.” Even today, dance and music for me are my form of exercise and my passions..

CEWN: Leave us with your favorite Carpe diem statement.

Shubhra: I again credit my mother who has always said, ‘Time is like an elastic band – the more you stretch it, the more you have. So, don’t make excuses – you only live once, live it to the fullest’

Thank you Shubhra!

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Rehana Rehman

No Longer with Cisco