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Why Cognizant India's Nambiar considers Steve Jobs a mentor

Rajesh Nambiar, chairman and managing director of the IT consulting company, talks about spending time with freshers to gain fresh perspective

During the pandemic, Nambiar learnt to take time out for his well-being despite a hectic schedule.
During the pandemic, Nambiar learnt to take time out for his well-being despite a hectic schedule. (Cognizant)

Rajesh Nambiar, chairman and managing director, Cognizant India, was appointed as president of digital business & technology (DB&T) of the overall organisation earlier this year. Prior to joining Cognizant, Nambiar has worked with IBM's application services business and Tata Group. An alumnus of Indian Statistical Institute and Harvard Business School, Nambiar talks about having multiple mentors and practising the concept of ‘psychological safety’ at work. Edited excerpts:

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Who do you consider your mentor and why? 
Quite honestly, I can’t just name one individual here — there are a host of people who have had tremendous impact on me. Business leaders like Steve Jobs from whom I learnt that making your thinking clean and simple is hard work, and comes from conquering complexity; the Tatas with whom I worked for nearly two decades and learned that people are the greatest assets; Warren Buffet, who said risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing. 

Then there is (tennis star) Roger Federer who has shown that the recipe for success combines the will to win with the willpower to be resilient and motivated. There are many more such leaders. 

One major insight/change you worked on with a mentor's guidance?
I had worked with Amy Edmondson, a professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School, and one of the things she works on is this notion of ‘Psychological Safety’ in the workplace, which I have been able to use effectively with my teams. Looking back, I can confidently say that this concept has had compounded value. 

As a mentor and a leader establishing a larger culture of 'Psychological Safety’ my emphasis is on creating an environment where people feel safe to speak up with confidence, stand up for the right thing, and own up to mistakes without the fear of being perceived negatively. It’s where colleagues trust and respect each other and feel accepted. 

What does being a mentor mean to you? How do you mentor your colleagues at work?
Mentoring for me is a two-way street — you learn from your mentees as much as they learn from you. The most effective mentors are active listeners and hence, life-long learners, especially with the newer generation. I regularly interact with fresh graduates who join our company in what we call ‘candid conversations’ sessions. I learn a lot as I listen to their refreshed perspectives and view the world from their point of view. 

What time do you wake up and what's the first thing you do after waking up? Basically, what's your morning schedule after waking up?
I am up at 6 mam on most days. After a cup of coffee (or tea sometimes), I head to the gym, about five times a week. I have had this routine for several years now. Post the gym session, I usually catch up on the news and plan the rest of the day.

What's the one positive work routine you have developed during the pandemic?
One of the most notable changes for me was to finally listen to the stand-up reminder on my watch, which doesn't sound like much, but is a gentle reminder to stand up every 50 mins and move around a bit. Spending hours sitting down too much is detrimental to health, so this is one way to pay attention to your own well-being in the course of a hectic work day. 

Any book/podcast/app/videos you would recommend about mentorship and workplace growth? Why?
A book that fascinated me is Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind written by Yuval Noah Harari. For young talent who are setting out to change the world with technology, an understanding of history, human society and psychology can provide tremendous context.This book also shows how meaningful and collective change can happen in this world through the power of collaboration and working together. 

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