Leading with intention

About Parul:

Parul Somani is an incredible leadership speaker and coach who has inspired countless individuals and businesses to reach their full potential.

Parul brings a wealth of experience and insights to her work as a speaker and coach, drawing on her background as a cancer survivor, BRCA1 carrier, and former genomics executive. She has authored the book "New Job. New Baby. New Cancer." which has been read in over 85 countries, is featured in Stanford Health Care films, and is a bestselling book on survivorship and mindset.

As a speaker and coach, Parul has worked with various clients, from Fortune 500 companies and private equity firms to start-ups and non-profits. She is known for her ability to empower and inspire others, helping them to overcome challenges and reach their goals.

In this talk, Parul shares with us some key strategies for leading with intention include setting clear goals and priorities, being mindful of your own thoughts and behaviors, and actively seeking feedback and opportunities to learn and grow.

If you want to skip to some of the key messages of this conversation, take a look at these highlights:

More about Parul on her website: https://www.parulsomani.com

Picture of: Sohrab Salimi
Sohrab Salimi

Sohrab ist der Gründer und CEO der Scrum Academy GmbH und der Agile Academy. Er ist Certified Scrum Trainer® und Initiator der agile100 Konferenzreihe sowie Gastgeber der Agile Insights.

In Conversation with: Parul Somani

Sohrab: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of the "Agile Insights" conversation series. Today I'm being joined by Parul Somani. And she will introduce herself in a few moments. But the interesting thing is Parul and I worked at the same company, but we never worked together when we were at Bain. And we have common friends, someone who I call my cousin, but she went with him to business school. And we are in very similar life situations being parents of kids in the same age, but a long distance apart. So, she's at the West Coast of the U.S. if I'm well informed, and I'm based out of Germany, as many of you know. And today, we are going to talk about leading with intention, which has become one of the topics that Parul speaks about as a speaker, but also coaches leaders about.

And I want to dive into that topic a bit deeper. So, compared to many of the other people that I interview, I haven't gone through any book. And this will be a bit of an improvisation. But as we've always had good conversations, I'm sure this one is going to be another great conversation. And most of the topics are going to be about resilience, both personally and as an organization, about agility, and about leadership. So, with that said, Parul, welcome to this podcast or to this videocast. I'd like to give you some time and space to properly introduce yourself. And, obviously, I'm very, very thankful that you're making the time to speak to me today.

Parul: Oh, absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. I am Parul Somani, as you correctly said. I'm based on the West Coast in California, the United States. And I'm the founder and CEO of Silver Linings, focusing on life leadership consultancy and empowering people to thrive from change and strengthen their wellbeing. And it really comes down to living and leading with intention. So I primarily work with employers and leaders looking to better navigate uncertainty and develop a mindset that helps them live and lead with intention. And it's really from channeling my 15 years of corporate experience, both as a management consultant at Bain & Company, as well as in leadership positions at startups, as well as the personal challenges and curveballs that I've experienced myself and the learnings that have come from that, that I combine all together to bring to my clients now.

Sohrab: Yeah, cool. So this is going to be interesting. Now, Parul, if you don't mind, I would start with asking about some of the, like, steps that you took as part of your career. You mentioned working as a management consultant, but also working in some startups. And if I followed you correctly, as we were not, like, seeing each other on a regular basis, but I followed you on LinkedIn, in many cases, some of the positions that you also took in startups were related to the personal challenges that you went through. And if you can share a bit more about that background, I think it also allows our viewers to better understand from which position and which perspective you're coming from, and what your own experiences have been.

Parul: Yes, absolutely. It's interesting because this focus on intention, I think I've inherently had throughout my professional career, and I just didn't necessarily realize it as much. But I had always had a focus on knowing what is it that I'm optimizing for. And when I went into management consulting out of college, it was really because I was optimizing for, you know, gaining this business experience that's still going to leave the doors open for other opportunities, because I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. And I ended up loving Bain & Company, stayed there for many years, both before and after business school.

But in 2013, late 2013, 9 years after having initially joined, I was on the path to partner and realizing that I don't know if that's actually optimizing for what I want in my career anymore. I was fine with working hard, but I wanted to feel like I was building something. And being here in the Bay area surrounded by Silicon Valley startups, there's always excitement going on. And I transitioned into a startup. Even that recruiting process was newly figuring out, what am I optimizing for now? And two weeks after I left Bain, I learned I was pregnant with my second daughter.

And so, now I was both pregnant and going into startup recruiting, which can be, you know, two crazy times of their own. And so I knew that what I was optimizing for is something that would let me transition into a building and doing an operating role even if it doesn't necessarily optimize for the industry I'm most excited about, but also be part of a people culture and group of colleagues that would be supportive of me as I'm going through this motherhood journey. I ended up finding a great team to work with in the retail consumer technology space. I was focused on weddings.

And, you know, six months after I joined them, you know, my water broke, and I delivered my daughter two weeks early via C-section. But in that exact same time period, literally, on her one-week birthday, while I was still recovering from my C-section, I was also diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.

Having optimized for working with a great team of people, I was very fortunate to be very supported by my colleagues through that personal journey. I went through 10 rounds of chemotherapy, 4 surgeries in the year that followed. But I did go back to that same startup, that same team that had been so supportive, and continued to work there for a couple of more years until we were acquired by Gap Inc. And that became another inflection point of what do I wanna do with my career, and how have I changed from this very character-building and transformative personal experience that I had just gone through with treatment?

And I knew I wanted to do something more mission-driven, but I didn't actually know what that was until I came across a TechCrunch article about a genomics company that mission was to democratize access to genetic testing for hereditary cancers. And it was knowledge of my own genetic risk. I knew I had a BRCA1 mutation that gave me a very high risk of both breast and ovarian cancer.

So, when I was 31, when I was pregnant, and I felt a lump, and I was being told that it's nothing to worry about because it's just a clogged milk duct, I knew I had the information to empower me to advocate otherwise and empower me to advocate for that biopsy.

And so, I truly believe the knowledge of genetic information saved my life. And so, when I came across a company that was focused on democratizing access to this same type of information, also for inherited cancer risk for others, I felt like it was a mission that had found me.

And that's what I was optimizing for at that stage in my life, is something more mission-driven. So, I joined this company as their head of B2B marketing. And I lead all of their B2B and B2B2C marketing across their both enterprise channels as well as their clinical channels. And through that role, had the opportunity to also present at a lot of healthcare conferences and share my personal journey and inspire others with those experiences and insights.

In late 2018, roughly a couple of years into that role, that company then went through their own strategic pivot, and I very unexpectedly got laid off. And that felt like an entirely new curveball in life where... You know, any sort of job loss is difficult, but when you feel like it was your calling, and you had almost put so much weight into it as being this life mission and the purpose that had come out of this hardship, there was a lot of grief that came with that loss as well. And the emotional rollercoaster I went through after my cancer diagnosis in very different, and yet similar ways, was a rollercoaster I went through after my job loss.

And that then took a new form of introspection to determine what is it that I'm now gonna optimize for, and what is going to be next for me? And I intentionally took many months off, first just to be present. Then I started having meetings thinking, "Okay, you know, I'll go back to healthcare startup." And as I spent more time away from the traditional corporate track I had always been on, I had more realizations of what I want has actually changed. And the self-identity that I'd always associated with had evolved in ways that I wasn't necessarily always comfortable with, but I knew was the right direction for me.

And it was in October of 2019 on the exact anniversary of my 5-year remission date that I launched Silver Linings, because I had reached a point where my intention was now to have the autonomy and flexibility that I want in my life to be able to be present with my daughters at this age where they still wanna be friends with me, but also knowing that I have this mission of wanting to help others, of wanting to bring the learnings from my hardships and give them meaning to a way that can inspire and empower others. And so, launching Silver Linings in fall of 2019 is the work that I continue today, which is really focused on mental well-being, life leadership, and also the healthcare pillar of patient empowerment.

Sohrab: Wow, a lot of things. And I took a lot of notes here. So, we have a lot of topics to dive into.

Parul: Lots to cover, yes.

Sohrab: Now, first off, great storytelling in this case, because you started with this question, what were you optimizing for? And it came up again, and again, and again. And while you were sharing your story, I got to think about, "What have I been optimizing for?" Because I've never looked at it this way, intentionally. But I think, unintentionally, I've done a lot of those things, going through different stages myself, starting out as a medical doctor, because I always wanted to be one, then moving into management consulting, as you mentioned, because I wanted to go into an area which gives me a lot of opportunity afterwards, right? I wanted to expand my horizon, and then getting into building your own company, because that was an interesting thing that I wanted to do at some point in my life.

And back then, I was not a father yet, so I thought, "If I don't do it now, when do I do it?" And ultimately doing the work that I do right now, which is something that I'm very passionate about, but it's really with that question, right? What is my intention, or how you phrased it, what am I optimizing for? So let me dive into a few of those things and understand a bit better why you had those certain intentions. So, after you left Bain, you mentioned you wanted to build something, and at the same time, you wanted to build something with great people. Now, having worked at Bain myself, one of the things that I miss most from that time... I don't miss the 80-hour weeks, I don't miss being on the road all the time, but I do miss the people because there was like a very interesting bunch of people. Now, when you left, was that also a feeling that you had? And when you were looking for companies to join, were you looking for a similar type of people, both in terms of intelligence, work ethics, but also personality types?

The Culture of a Company is Important

Parul: Yes. I would say, absolutely, in the form that some of my lifelong friends have come from Bain. And I didn't know that going into Bain, I wasn't optimizing as a college senior necessarily for a company that was going to become a population of people that could become lifelong friends. You know, it was really just, "Okay, where can I get an offer at a place I'm excited to learn and grow in?" And I was very fortunate to be surrounded by so many wonderful people, intelligent, hard-working, but just truly kind, generous, fun people that I've created so many life memories with. I think the people that you work with is incredibly important, whether they're your manager, or supervisor, or the team that you hire, or your lateral peers, because, ultimately, they are the ones that shape the experience of your day-to-day job and how fulfilling it is.

And a huge part of why I stayed at Bain for as long as I did is due to the people, you know, I enjoyed working with them, I enjoyed solving problems with them. And so, knowing that the culture of the company that I go into is important, and are these people that I would want to work long hours with if needed, and as needed, and build something with, I knew that was going to continue to be important. I think what was different for me in terms of, you know, that layer of what I'm looking for in people culture, that was different from my young 20s when I first joined Bain to now in my early 30s when I joined the startup world was this element of support for my whole self.

It's no longer just the career, the job, and the person that I am at work, but it's recognizing that I now am a mother, and, you know, a mother of young children and a growing family, and my responsibilities are bigger than they were in my early 20s. And so, knowing that I was going to be part of a culture of people that would support that was important. And then it became invaluable when I had that curveball of a cancer diagnosis. Because the support that team played during that role was also above and beyond. I mean, I had colleagues coming and taking me to chemo appointments. And I had only met them less than six months earlier when I joined the startup, but they were just fundamentally that good of people beyond just being that good of colleagues.

Sohrab: So, now, I would like to dive into this period of your life, if you're comfortable with it. And the reason is the following. When I speak to others talking about, okay, what was it how you build a great product, or a great company, or when you had a great project? All of that is about work. And I realize that from work that you do, experiences that you have, you can take a lot of insights. And especially as a coach, as you are, as I am, we can, like, wrap those insights into stories and then share it with others so that they can also take insights from that. But my sense is, my guess is that some of your biggest insights came from this curveball that life threw at you. Right? Not the positive ones of being pregnant, and becoming a mother, and being excited, and going through all of that.

I took some of my biggest leadership lessons from, like, raising my kids. But in your case, there is nothing exciting about getting that kind of a diagnosis. Probably, you've got that question a lot. But what were some of the most relevant lessons you took away from that period in your life other than the importance of having people around you that, as you mentioned, a few moments ago, despite having met them only six months ago, are going to take care of you and all of that, but what else did you take away from that period?

Advocating and Empowering is very important

Parul: Yes. There's so much. You know, one is the importance of advocating for yourself. And that can imply in health, it can apply in a career setting and going for a promotion. But it was truly advocating for myself, pushing back against the healthcare providers that were suggesting it's probably nothing to worry about, and insisting on a biopsy. Being my own best advocate, both during the diagnostic phase and beyond played a life-changing role in, you know, both my prognosis and, ultimately, my recovery.

When going through any sort of shock like a diagnosis, or a job loss, or really any stressor and setback, there is that emotional roller coaster. And, you know, oftentimes, there's this focus on positivity that can be very toxic where as well-meaning as it is, you know, people are like, "Oh, it's going to be fine. You're strong, you have nothing to worry about." And while that's all well-intentioned, when you're deep in it, especially early on, when you're still struggling with, like, the shock, and denial, and even like the depression of the situation, it's important to recognize that it's okay to feel that way, and it's very natural and it doesn't make you not a resilient person, or not a strong person if you have those moments. Because those moments for me came in waves throughout my journey.

It wasn't just when I broke down crying the day I got my diagnosis. It wasn't just the day, you know, I ended up shaving my head because of the hair loss. It was in times where even everything was going smoothly, and I would just become over overwhelmed with emotion that potentially was pent up for me. And that was all healthy, and normal, and important to be recognized as being okay as well. What I realized, though, through all of that is... So my husband and I would talk about, especially during the diagnostic phase, when we were still trying to grasp the stage of the disease, the severity of the situation, that what we would talk about is that hope is not a course of action. That it's important to have hope and be hopeful and optimistic, but it's more empowering to actually do something.

And for us, during those early weeks, you know, as much as it was okay to feel upset, it was more empowering to feel like we were taking action and doing something, whether that was getting a second opinion or, you know, learning about the different treatment options out there, talking to people who had been through it before, so we felt armed with the right questions and information. That felt actionable and, you know, more uplifting in an otherwise difficult time. And that's an insight that I've taken in and applied in other aspects of my life too, that I can't necessarily control the situation that's happening to me, and I can't control the difficulty of it, but I can control how I respond to it.

And responding with action, responding with grounded hope, so there's hope and optimism, but it's grounded in the reality of the situation, those are just examples of some of the insights I've learned through that experience and have continued to apply in my personal and professional life.

Sohrab: Yeah, this is really powerful. So, the three things that I wrote down is advocating for yourself, allow that emotional roller coaster to basically take place or happen, and move into action. Now, let's take each of those. And let's start with the first one, advocating for yourself. And I'm gonna skip a few years, when you worked at that healthcare startup, and then you ultimately started or founded Silver Lining, your company right now, in 2019, when you now work with organizations, when you work with leaders, and probably my assumption is you do a lot of work in the Bay Area, so startups, but also more experienced than larger companies, how does that piece, that learning, that principle that you had during your time, basically fighting breast cancer, how does that translate to their business advocating for yourself? How do you make that transfer?

Parul: Absolutely. So, you know, advocating for yourself and implicitly within that assumes you know what you want. And whether that is you as an individual, employee, or a leader managing a team, or the C-suite managing an organization, in order for you to be able to advocate for yourself, for your team, or for your business, requires a clarity of your own North star. And we talk about North stars and, you know, vision statements for companies, but I think that applies for people as well, that we should all have that clarity of insight into what it is that we're pursuing. And it really ties back to what we talked about earlier around, what is it you're optimizing for?

Sohrab: Yes. What is your intention?

Parul: What is your intention? What are you optimizing for? What are you aiming for? Because only then can you actually make the choices in your life and not let them be made for you, but advocate for the choices that you wanna make that are gonna keep you on this path that you want to be. And that can, you know, apply to pursuing a career path or can apply to pursuing a product expansion or a strategic pivot, and, you know, getting pushback from the board, or customers, but...

Sohrab: Or shareholders.

Parul: Or shareholders. But if you know and have clarity of thought around why what you're pursuing is important, then you'll feel more empowered to advocate for that even in the face of pushback.

Sohrab: Yeah. I mean, there are great examples of that. Now that you bring it up, right, if you think about a person like Jeff Bezos, who, like, always had the same key principles, and for a long time, was completely misunderstood until people realized, "Oh, man, this thing is a rocket ship." Right? Or if you think about Elon Musk with Tesla. So there are a lot of, like, very prominent examples out there. But also in small and medium-sized businesses, there are a lot of people who basically work under, like, or are not seen that much in the public, but they have a very strong belief, they have a lot of clarity about where they want to go. And that clarity not only drives them, it also allows them to advocate, as you mentioned, for their own perspective for themselves, and that helps them take a lot of people with them, right? Because if you don't advocate, you're probably not going to create a lot of followers for yourself. Is that understanding correct?

Being a Leader means having influence amongst a greater population

Parul: Yes, absolutely. I mean, part of advocating for yourself, that journey requires being able to educate and inspire others to believe also. Because, especially in a leadership setting, whatever it is that you're pursuing probably can't be done single-handedly. It requires the support of the teams that you work with, the clients that you, you know, partner with. And being a leader just fundamentally means that you're having influence amongst a greater population across the organization and being able to advocate in a way that is actually grounded in clarity and, you know, in proof points, like, in examples that can be communicated in the way that we really get that buy-in from all the other stakeholders, that's going to be a very important part of that journey.

Sohrab: Yeah. Now, when I work with leaders, and you brought up the concept of a North star, independent from whether you're building a company, whether you're building a product, or whether you're thinking about a sales strategy, whatever, you need that North Star. And you worked at Bain, I worked at Bain, we talk about True North, which is also some kind of internal compass that helps us go towards that North Star. What I found always difficult for a lot of people, and also for myself, is to actually identify what that North Star is, what that intention is, right? The question that you brought up, what is it that I'm optimizing for, is a very powerful one. But other than that question, how do you help people? Because before they can advocate, they need to know what their intention is. So how do you help them find that intention, find that North Star?

Parul: Yes. It does require space. It requires space and time because we all get caught up in the inertia of the life that we're already living, whether it's the, you know, career path that we're already on, the job that's already taking up all of our time, or, you know, the family responsibilities. And, you know, it all comes back to intention because you need to intentionally seek your intention. Right? If you passively hope that it will just come to you, then it's much less likely to happen because the introspection that's involved does require asking yourself questions like, "How have I changed? What do I now value?" What experiences have I gone through that have changed my outlook on what it is that I'm now seeking next? If you had asked me 5, 10 years ago if I would be doing what I'm doing now, it just was nowhere on my radar, right? It's not at all how I expected the course of my life to go.

You know, I went to HBS for Business School. And in a leadership class that we have there, we had to write letters to our 10-year future self. So we had to write a letter to ourselves about what we think our life will be like in 10 years. And I wrote about family and, you know, the big P&L that I would be running as a division head or a CEO of some larger company, and all of these aspirations of how we think our life will be. But no one writes a letter to themselves in 10 years also baking in all of the curveballs that they're gonna experience. Everyone always thinks everything's gonna go rosy.

But we all have lived a lot more life, you know, as those years pass by, that we realize not everything goes as planned. And as we go through those experiences, our own ambitions might evolve, our own aspirations might change, and being able to keep a pulse on that and recognize that our own sense of identity may have evolved, only by having a pulse on that, can then you start unwrapping, "Well, what does that now mean for what is it that I now seek?"

Sohrab: Yeah, I think this is very important. You started with, it takes a lot of space. Right? And that really is the case. If you're constantly running from one meeting to the next, from one client to the next, you never take the time for introspection, for reflection, to understand how you have evolved yourself over time and what changes might be the result of that. And usually, there's quite a lot of changes. So, while you were speaking again, I had to think about what I've been doing, right? If someone had asked me 20 years ago, what would you do, or what would you be doing, I'd be now running a surgery department. Now, I'm very far away from that, right? And in the meantime, every three to five years, I have significantly changed careers. And none of that I could foresee.

And, fortunately, I haven't had any curveballs being thrown at me. It was just seeing different opportunities and understanding that I'm passionate about something and following my curiosity, and then doing those things. But If I now have to predict what I will be doing in 10 years, not 20, in 10 years, the wisdom that I have right now is not the ability to predict what it's going to be. It's more about being aware that I don't know what it's going to be, but that I have the skillset and the ability to dive into a completely new space and be successful. That's the certainty that I have as long as life doesn't throw any curveballs at me. Right? And probably I'll learn how to deal with those things as well. But I cannot make the prediction what it's going to be concretely other than knowing that I will follow my curiosity. But I think you wanted to say something.

Parul: Well, I was just gonna add to that, that, you know, I think an important nuance to that is not just recognizing the uncertainty, but actually viewing it as an opportunity.

Sohrab: Yes.

Parul: Because uncertainty can be very scary for a lot of people. And so to just live life, feeling like, okay, who knows what's gonna happen, who knows what curveball is gonna is just around the corner, that can be very scary, and that can be very stressful. But if you layer on to that the belief that you have the adaptability and the agility to be able to navigate that uncertainty, and that while you can't always control what's going to happen, you can control the meaning that you create from it, or, you know, how you respond to it, and what opportunity you tap into because of it. And when you view the uncertainty of the future with that lens, then it can be much more exciting because it feels like no matter what happens, you have the belief that you can control how you let it impact you.

Sohrab: Yeah. So what I love, I really use that word now consciously, about what you've been stating for the past 10, 15 minutes, everything that you say is very action-oriented. That was also part of your third learning, right? Hope is not a course of action, you need to actually take action. But you also emphasize on this concept of control. And I assume you're familiar with this concept from Stephen Covey, right, the circle of control, the circle of influence? I guess you are.

Parul: A little bit of it. Feel free to expand if you'd like.

Sohrab: Yeah. So it's about being aware that there are certain things that are within our control and there are certain things that we cannot control, but we can influence. And there are certain things around that which we can neither control nor influence.

Now, let's take a current example, the war in Ukraine. I can neither control nor influence how that thing will turn out. But at the same time, we see a lot of people spending a lot of their time, a lot of their energy, a lot of their passion talking about these things, worrying about these things, etc., but they can neither control it nor influence it, but they're losing their lives energy on this thing. And Stephen Covey goes so far to say that, "Forget all of those things that you cannot control or influence. Those things that you can influence are probably in someone else's circle of control." So identify that person, and go to that person, and try to influence that person so that things turn out the way you want them to turn out, but spend the vast amount of energy on the things that you can control.

Now, why I thought about that or why this came up is you've, several times, mentioning, like, putting yourself into a position of control. So, not looking at yourself as a victim, as someone to whom something has happened. And I mean, in your case, with your breast cancer, it was not at all your fault, right? As a medical doctor, sometimes I saw patients who have been smoking all of their lives, they got lung cancer. And, yes, as doctors you think like, "We told you so." Right? But in your case, this being something genetic, nothing you can do about, you still, and at least that's how I perceive it, did not look at yourself as a victim. You looked at... Because a victim basically does not take control. But you said, "What can I do with this." Right? "How can I take control of this situation? How can I...? The way I respond is all up to me. What life throws at me, I cannot control. But the way I respond is all up to me."

And that, I found very inspiring. Now, when you work with leaders, and probably some of the people that you work with are also now dealing with a lot of challenges, right? A tougher market to raise money, stocks are down if you're working with people at publicly listed companies, supply chain difficulties, inflation, all of that. I believe the lessons that you just shared with me might be super helpful to them to put them in a position where they start thinking about, "Okay, what can I control? How do I respond? How do I not look at myself at my company, as my team, etc., as a victim?" Is that assumption correct? And if yes, how do you approach that work? How do you help them take control of their situation?

Parul: Yeah. So, you know, that's absolutely on point. I very much have a bias towards action and have seen that play out in my own, you know, mindset and response to changes in my life. And I feel like that momentum help of, you know, and focus on moving forward is what ultimately helps me kind of navigate that challenging time, and I believe, ultimately, thrive from it. Because the same situation could break a person. And yet, it's this bias towards action and focusing on what can be controlled that can empower someone to then actually thrive from their situation.

So, a couple of thoughts in response to what you were just mentioning. So, about 70 years ago, there was a psychology concept called locus of control that came about. And your locus of control is your belief of what impacts the outcome of your life. And if you have an external locus of control, you believe things are happening to me. You believe it is external factors that are going to influence how your life plays out. And if you have an internal locus of control, you believe, "I can make things happen." You believe that what is within you internally is what is going to control the outcome of your life.

And I strongly believe in having an internal locus of control. Because even within those, you know, circles of control and the reality that there are things that you just can't control and you can't influence, when you have an internal locus of control, you can still believe that, you know, A, "I can control how much I then focus on those things, right, and I can choose to let go because I know that that's what's going to better serve me. Or I can choose to figure out what is that," what I call seizing moments of empowerment, but it's really seizing moments of control within an otherwise uncontrollable situation.

So, an example of that is when I got diagnosed, I was told very explicitly that exactly two weeks after my first chemotherapy infusion, my hair would begin falling out. And even though I was made, you know, well aware of that, it was still very shocking when it happened and very traumatizing when it happened and began happening because it felt like one more thing that was happening to me in an already uncontrollable situation.

And I didn't like that feeling of one more thing happening to me. And so, I chose to proactively shave my head. As soon as it started happening, I wanted to turn what otherwise would have been one more uncontrollable thing happening to me, instead, to a choice that I was making to shave my head in advance and turn that into a moment of empowerment. But it takes intention and openness to see those opportunities.

So, as leaders are navigating their difficult time or their uncontrollable situation, I would encourage them to, one, embrace an internal locus of control, both as a leader as well as an organization, to embrace that mindset of what can I make happen, rather than being victim to these external factors. And secondly, what are the opportunities or those moments of empowerment that we can seize amongst everything else that might feel uncontrollable to us?

Sohrab: Yeah, this is very powerful. So, a couple of questions around that. You mentioned these moments of empowerment and seizing them. My question here is, when you personally, and probably, you've observed the same in other people, when you thought about something happening to you, I guess it was something that also took energy from you, whereas when you seized that moment of empowerment, when you made an active choice, it might have given you energy and power.

Grief an joy can coexist

Parul: Absolutely. Absolutely. And, you know, it's important to acknowledge that grief and joy can coexist. So, what I mean by that is, when I was at the hair salon and my head was being shaved, I was both crying and celebrating all at the same time. Like, it's okay to acknowledge that the difficult situation is still difficult, but that you're trying to make the best of it. And to focus on what you're doing to then make the most of it does give you energy back.

Sohrab: Yeah. And you basically empower yourself. You don't wait for someone else to empower you, which is something that a lot of people do. So, I work in organizations or with organizations where the aim is to create more autonomous, more empowered teams, basically. And all of those teams are waiting for someone to empower them. But now, here you come, and your message is, "Go ahead and empower yourself, right? You don't have to wait for someone. You can seize that moment of empowerment." And probably, when you do that, you also create more trust in others, not in this case, with you being a cancer patient. But you can create a situation where others then see that and they build more trust into you. And then based on your own empowerment, they also give you more freedom, more empowerment, and then you can be more autonomous. Now, the second... Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead. I have another question, but...

Parul: Oh, just on that point, you know, when it comes to businesses and organizations, this is why it goes back to the Norths star being so important, as well as the organization's values being very important, because as long... It's great to empower teams to function autonomously and feel empowered to make decisions and pursue actions that they can run with independently, but that only works if everyone is on the same field of what you're running towards and the guardrails around how you're comfortable pursuing that. So just making sure that the North Star of where you wanna go as well as the values of how you want to get there are properly communicated and truly understood by the entire organization. Because as long as that's established, then the, you know, grassroot empowerment and autonomy is going to get you there faster.

Sohrab: Yeah. So, going back to Roger Martin, this would be his where-to-play and how-to-win framework in terms of creating a strategy, right? And every organization needs to do that. Now, my second question, based on what you mentioned earlier, you said you recommend to people to embrace or to go into an internal locus of control mode. But how? So, how do people... Because this is a mindset shift, right? It's not something that probably you can do like this. Similar to helping people identify their intention, how do you help them to build up this internal locus of control or this type of mindset?

Parul: Yes. So, the first step is just awareness that there is a decision point that we each have to make when we're navigating a difficult time. So we talked about the emotional rollercoaster, like, when we experience some sort of hardship, and how that shock and frustration is natural and reasonable for someone to go through. But you also don't want to just get mired in those early stages of grief, right? At some point, you want to traverse into the stages of acceptance where you can actually start thriving again. But I believe there's a decision point that happens to enable someone to decide, "Okay, I'm now going to figure out how to move forward." And being aware that that's a decision that you need to make, It's almost like activating a switch in your mind, just realizing that that decision doesn't have to happen passively or just on its own, that you can almost have an out-of-body experience and analyze your situation from the outside as if you were an advisor to yourself.

And creating a little bit of that distance to your situation and viewing it as an outsider can then help you gain some perspective on whether it's time for that decision point, that activation of I now need to pursue action. I now need to pursue moving forward. I now need to pursue, you know, a new normal. So, one is just the awareness that is a decision that someone chooses to make. But the second is exactly what you said, is that it takes training that mindset. And it's important to remember... You must be familiar, as a doctor, the concept of neuroplasticity.

We can physically change the shape of our brain

Sohrab: Yes. Which is a fairly new concept, if you look at the history of science.

Parul: And is fascinating that we can actually physically change the shape of our brain by how we think. And that the...

Sohrab: And act. Important. And act, not only how we think, and act.

Parul: Yes, absolutely. It always comes back to action, right? So, if our, you know, instinctual response to any setback is like, ''Oh, no, this is failure, this is difficult, this is going to be hard," that, over time, will become our more natural reaction to every setback. It will continue to have that more negative perspective and mindset. But similarly, if slowly and on a daily basis, and even for the smallest of things, we can recognize that, "Okay, I'm tending to have this negative view, let me step back and try to reframe it. Let me try to think about what would be the more sort of grounded hopeful perspective of looking at this, or what is the meaning that I can create from this or the moment of opportunity that I can seize from this."

Pursuing that line of thinking and making the decisions and choices to act in those more productive ways, over time, will actually rewire our brain to more naturally think that way. It's like viewing resilience as a muscle, right? It needs to be trained, it needs to be exercised. It doesn't happen after just one Pilates class, It requires commitment and, you know, dedication. And the same applies for training our mindset or building our resilience. It does take time and exercise, but it's the benefits of compounding. Like, the more you do it, the better it'll become.

Sohrab: The better it'll be, and the more you have an advantage if you think about this in the marketplace compared to others. Now, I hadn't heard of this concept of locus of control, but I absolutely love it. And I will dive deeper into this in my own research. Now, this reminds me a lot of another concept, which is different, but I think, to some extent, also similar, which is "The Growth Mindset" from Carol Dweck. And in that book, Carol Dweck dives also into how we can help kids from an early age develop that growth mindset compared to fixed mindset. So, instead of telling them, ''Oh, you're so smart, or you're so talented," emphasize on, "Hey, you've done hard work. See, you studied hard, and that paid off," so that they understand that it's been their action and not something that was given to them by their genes or whatever that made them succeed in a certain scenario and also whenever they had setbacks. Now, my question to you, do you also use this concept of the locus of control in raising your kids? And if yes, how? This is from a father to a mother.

Parul: Yes, absolutely. I use the both concepts, the locus of control as well as growth mindset in my parenting. With locus of control... You know, I'm definitely no expert on raising children. I'm definitely just figuring out it out along the way as the rest of us are. But for locus of control, I like to lead with questions. And, frankly, this could apply for a leader to their organization as well. You know, there's that saying, right, like, don't bring me problems, bring me solutions. I say the same thing to my children. So when they bring me a problem or a complaint, it's the question of, so what can you do about it? Like, how do you want to respond? And it's questions like that that put the focus of control back internally.

Sohrab: Yeah, it's in their hands.

Parul: They're fostering that internal locus of control. Because if we keep talking about this person did this, or you know, my sister did this to me, or this situation happened at school, those are all the external factors. So let's bring it back to the internal. What is within your control, and what can you make happen in the context of this situation? That's fostering the internal locus of control.

Similarly, for growth mindset, it's when something doesn't go as planned. Instead of the focus being on the setback, or the failure, or the loss, asking, "So what did you learn from this? What can we learn from this? What can we do differently next time?" That puts the focus on the growth that can come from that setback or that situation and fosters that mindset of, you know, failure isn't failure. It's a learning opportunity, and that we can continue to grow if we continue to work, you know, harder and smarter on the topic.

And with children, you know, you never know what's gonna resonate and what's not. But I think this was maybe about three years ago now. I wanna say my younger daughter was around five years old. And she was doing some, like, math work. And she was getting very frustrated. And she goes, ''Mommy, my growth mindset isn't working today.'' And it was just the cutest thing. And I was so proud that my 5-year-old child knows what a growth mindset is, and that even if she felt like it wasn't working for her that day, that that's okay. Because I think even as adults, we've experienced that. And we go through those, you know, feelings as well. But to have the awareness that there is this concept and that there are going to be times where our growth mindset does work, and it's going to better serve us, that was a very rewarding experience as a parent.

Sohrab: I can imagine. I will take it even a step further. I think, not only being aware of the concept, but also being aware that she, in that moment, was not able to apply it by herself, and, therefore, asking for help actually demonstrates her growth mindset because she knows if she gets someone else involved, there's probably a solution to that problem, and maybe she just needs a little questioning from your side. So, yeah, that was a very, very nice story.

Now, Parul, we're approaching the end of our time box. What I want to ask you, like, as our last question, and a lot of my customers watch these recordings. And then sometimes they come back to me and say, "Well, this was excellent. And where can we get in touch with this person?" So, how can people get in touch with you?" And what kind of work do you actually do with organizations where you apply all of the wonderful things, and I'm sure much, much more than this, that you shared with us today?

Parul: Yes. Thank you for asking. So my website is parulsomani.com. And on parulsomani.com, my various pillars of work, you can learn more about, one is on the healthcare side, patient empowerment patient voice, and the second is on life leadership, coaching, training, both as individuals and as leaders. And I'm also on social media. So, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. @PDSomani is my handle for most of those things. And the work that I am largely doing with employers is on this life leadership pillar of what I call personal leadership training. It's these concepts that can apply to all aspects of our life, to our full self, whether we're navigating our personal life or leading the teams and the organization.

But the speaking engagements generally are in the format of either presentations and audience Q&A or longer custom, more interactive workshops with a subset of the population of the company. It could be the leadership team. It could be one particular division. It could be people managers separately, you know, junior direct reports separately on topics ranging from managing stress and burnout to navigating uncertainty, to navigating and thriving from change.

So, lots of different topics that all of us experience as both individuals and as leaders. But my goal is to really empower people with the skillsets, and the mindsets, and the frameworks that can help them thrive and live their best life.

Sohrab: Yeah, cool. And I think your action orientation, actually, it speaks a lot to me and is very much in line with what I also share with my clients in terms of building a culture, building your own mindset. I specifically use the term built because when we build something, we are in action, and we're moving forward. So, with that said, Parul, we're going to link all of the things that you mentioned, your social media profiles, your website into the show notes of this video. It was a pleasure to talk to you. I could go on for hours. But, unfortunately, our time box is at the end. But big, big, big thank you for sharing these things with us, sharing your time with us. And I hope to have another conversation with you at some point sometime soon. Thank you.

Parul: No, this was fabulous. It was so fun. So thank you so much for having me.

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