Vishakha RM, managing director and CEO, IndiaFirst Life Insurance Company, tries to live by the IPOD mantra — inner peace and outer dynamism. That’s because she believes that one of the jobs her position entails is being the mood-o-metre of her company. “I may be in a bad mood because of some non-work reason but the people around the office, looking at your, may assume the worst based on their internal fears. So, you should be visibly dynamic and energetic but also peaceful and calm inside,” she says.
Mumbai-based Vishakha has been heading the life insurance company from 2015. Since the time she took over, the insurance company moved up the rankings of the private life insurers vertical — from 21st to 11th place.
Vishakha, who is also the co-chair of the pension and insurance committee at CII, speaks to Lounge about why having a competent second rung of leaders is crucial, on learning to let go and not being hung up on perfectionism, more. Edited excerpts:
Who do you consider your mentor and why?
I have never had any formal mentor in my career. However, John Holden, a former boss, helped me grow. He had the least amount of insecurity in having a very competent subordinate. I have always told my team that they need to keep on growing because that’s the only way I will grow and the company will grow. It will push me to constantly upskill and contribute something more.
One major insight you worked on with your mentor’s guidance?
One of the pieces of advice that a mentor shared over a decade ago has always remained with me. As I was competing with my peers for a position, he said to me: You are a performer. You have focus, determination, grit, and result orientation. However, please remember that you also need to be electable in the company. It taught me a very important lesson — to focus on the impact that I make, not just on the team that reports to me but, also on the entire organisation.
What does being a mentor mean to you? How do you mentor your colleagues at work?
Being a mentor is about placing the interest of the mentee first and always being contextual. It is about ensuring that the company gets the best out of the mentee and vice versa. It is about promoting and placing his/ her perspective to be understood better, and for their skill sets to be leveraged better.
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 an early riser and get up by about 5-5.30 am. I then do a two hour fitness routine which is a combination of physical and breathing exercises and meditation. I then relax with a black coffee or tea, depending on my mood that day, and go through the newspapers. I then get ready and am off to work by 8.30-9 am. I avoid checking mails or responding to anything, unless it’s urgent till I reach office.
What’s the one positive work routine you have developed during the pandemic?
One of the things that I became more considerate about is stress levels. I was and am a perfectionist, and I made a conscious effort to tone that down. I started to ‘let go’ and ‘not allow perfection to become the enemy of the good’. I have tried to restrain from giving inputs for minor improvements and only give feedback based on materiality and impact assessment.
What are some of the key productivity principles that you follow?
One of the big productivity principles I follow is to keep asking myself: Why are you doing this? It gives me clarity of objective and helps in decision making. This particularly helps when I have to make difficult decisions. In those times, I write down why I have taken a particular decision. I park it aside so that if things don’t work out, then I can go back to it to see why I went with that decision at that time given the information I had then.
The other thing that helps is, I believe in are the concepts of dharma (duty) and karma (actions). What’s the right thing for you to do in a situation? Sometimes I may not like what I am doing but if it’s the right to do for the company then I have to take decision accordingly. As a CEO, at the end of the day, my job is the company.
What is the one innovation you would like to see in the insurance sector?
One thing I would like to see is integrated benefits. How insurance policies can offer benefits from purpose perspective. So, supposing I envision a certain lifestyle, can the ecosystem come together in an integrated manner to give me that lifestyle? With the tech development now, this can happen.
How do you unwind?
It depends on how much energy I have. If I am feeling energetic then I go for a walk or play table tennis. I love walking. If I am feeling drained, then I opt for meditation or chanting. I also love to read and watch movies, especially inspiration ones.
Any book / podcast /videos you would recommend about mentorship and workplace growth?
The movie The Intern starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway is a beautiful movie on reverse mentoring. The books Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler, and The Speed of Trust by Stephen Covey are high impact books that will help any individual aspiring for progress. And, at the risk of being misconstrued, the Bhagavad Gita is such a brilliant handbook on duty, responsibilities, principles and expectations among others.
Monday Motivation is a series featuring founders, business leaders and creative individuals who tell us about the people they look up to and their work ethics.