I have always considered myself a left-brained person with strong analytical and logical skills. This was further ratified by my 5 years of Engineering from BITS, Pilani and my MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur. My logical brain told me that creativity is reserved for the artists, poets and writers. Then about 15 years ago, I became interested in photography and realized that I have a creative streak in me as well. I was in Mumbai at that time, and I had attended a couple of workshops to learn the basics of photography. During the weekends, I would go out shooting to further hone my skills. And it soon evolved from being a mere hobby to a very serious passion. My passion for photography has led to me to places that I would never go to, experience things that I didn’t know existed and meet people whom otherwise I wouldn’t have met. It has been an amazingly enriching journey.
I have learnt many lessons in Photography. These have helped me grow not just as a photographer but also as a person and a leader. I have applied them effectively in my earlier leadership roles in Marketing. And now, as the MD of Perfetti Van Melle Bangladesh, I am able to fully appreciate and leverage what photography has taught me. Here are some lessons for leaders from the world of photography.
Be mindful of the present: Photography has taught me to
pause, observe, understand and then shoot. It has made me more mindful of my surroundings, and has made me go beyond the obvious and delve deeper to see the beauty in things and in people. I was recently in Ho Chi Minh City on holiday, and was having lunch with my family, when I saw this guy cleaning the roof of the neighboring restaurant. I went across to shoot and I ended up getting some interesting pictures. Earlier in my career, like many of my other striver colleagues, I used to rush to meetings, run to catch a flight and jump from one task to another, never pausing to look around and take some deep breaths. Now I realize that Leadership is a lot about being mindful of things around you, seizing the moment, seeking out opportunities, and fully being in the present. This enables us to channelize all our energy into the present and make effective decisions based on a thorough understanding of the situation.
Focus on one thing at a time: Photography is all about focusing on one thing at a time. If I try focusing on too many things at the same time with my camera, it simply refuses to function effectively. And so is it at work. Research has shown that effective leaders focus on one task at a time. We might think we are being productive by multi-tasking but in reality our productivity actually drops. As leaders, it’s important to prioritize things as Urgent/Important and High/Medium/Low, but it is also important to focus on one thing at a time, and do a good job of it, and then move on to the next one.
Composition is key – the art of making choices: Composition is a way of guiding the viewer’s eye towards the most important elements of your picture, sometimes – in a specific order. In most cases, before I take a picture, I plan on which elements to keep in the frame and which ones to leave out. It is a conscious choice that I make, which helps me direct the viewer to the key elements of my images. Similarly, an effective leader’s role involves setting the vision for the business by having the right elements of the strategy in place, and then taking others with you. It is about making choices in terms of what elements need to be included and more importantly, what needs to be left out.
Look at things from multiple perspectives: Many of the really good pictures that I have shot have been the ones that I have NOT shot from eye-level. They have come about by looking at the subject from different perspectives, multiple angles and choosing the one that makes it the most interesting. I was shooting in the streets of Dhaka and I saw a boy reading a newspaper in a shop, waiting for customers – a common sight that we see almost every day. I stopped at the shop to buy a bottle of water, and was looking around when I spotted the mirrors on the ceiling. I took a shot of the boy’s reflection on the mirror, and it turned out to be a very interesting perspective. This is true for Leadership as well – in order to be effective, leaders need to look at issues from multiple perspectives and different lenses in order to arrive at the most optimum solutions. Diversity in thought is key for effective problem solving. And having a team with diverse backgrounds and leveraging this diversity further enables effective decision making.
Connect with people: When I started Photography, there was this initial fear of interacting with strangers, of taking their pictures. But soon I discovered that all it needed was a smile and I saw the magic of a smile opening doors, windows and hearts. I was in Nashik to shoot pictures at the Kumbh Mela and everyone had warned me to be careful of the Naga sadhus. I went to the area where they were camping and since it was raining, I had taken shelter in their camp and soon we got talking. And after a while the Naga sadhus were happy to pose for pictures and we even exchanged numbers and agreed to meet up at the Ujjain Kumbh in 2016. Everyone is human, yes even the people we work with!! As a leader it’s good to smile at people, listen to their concerns, be alive to their issues – these go a long way in building a connect with your team. I started this practice of having coffee with at least one employee per week and it has given me several insights into their lives, dreams and aspirations, and enabled me to further build employee engagement.
Over the years photography has become an integral part of my life. It has not only taught me keep my eyes open all the time, but also to keep my heart and mind open. And that is something that we all should do in order to be fully aware of the world and become truly effective leaders.