Break the glass ceiling

By February 2, 2019 No Comments

Some summers ago, at a networking meet, I met a young chartered accountant who said, “Shridhar, I still remember the motivational talk that you delivered about a year ago – from CFO to CEO.  You told us to break the glass ceiling.  I know that soon I am going to do so – to setup my consulting firm.  I just don’t know yet what to do.  I’m afraid of doing something ordinary.  I want to do something new, something that has not been done before, something that will shake up the industry and make people notice!”

Most people associate the proverbial glass ceiling, (something I believe each one of us has, the difference is a matter of degree), with fear of the future, fear of taking risks, fear of failure, staying in the comfort zone and many more such FEARs.  What I discovered that day after talking to the young man was something different – a different kind of glass ceiling.

Let me recapitulate and explain.

Life, mistakes, experience – whatever you may want to call it – taught me that each one of us is capable of immense, nay, unlimited potential.  We have been endowed, from the moment we set foot on this earth, with whatever it takes to be great, to be successful, and to be remembered for years to come.  Each one is born with the same physical, mental and physiological faculties.

Ah!  I know you are asking – come on Shridhar, not all are the same.

If you don’t believe me, come with me on a short journey.  Minutes after my daughter was born, she was whisked away by the nurses to another chamber to be cleaned, bathed and fed.  After the excitement had subsided in the delivery theatre, I decided to take a sneak peak at my daughter.  So I asked the nurse where my daughter was and she replied, “Please go to the next chamber and ask the nurse there.”  I decided to look for myself and tip-toed to the chamber.  What I saw next stunned me – rows and rows of new born babies, some asleep, some awake, some smiling, some wailing, some dark, some fair, some hairy, some bald – and amongst pink islands of cute faces, all wrapped and tucked in – where was my daughter?  I just could not recognise her.  Until the nurse came to me and asked my wife’s name, not my name, then went to the crib and checked the tag on a baby’s wrist and brought her to me, “here’s your daughter!”  The CA in me brought forth my professional skepticism, and I immediately checked whether there were no fingers and toes missing!  Humour apart, what I realised was that except for a few visible differences, most new born babies look exactly the same.

Then why do some grow to greatness and others don’t.  We all know the part that heritage, culture, background, family, environment, et al play in the growth of an individual.  And we are also acutely aware that these are not necessary conditions for success and greatness.  As our great nation has seen, we can see this aspect of life being played out on our television screens, newspapers and media.  Dynastic scions flounder, a common chaiwala conquers, the common man reaches for greatness.

The answer is not difficult to fathom.  All we need to do is the scratch, and scratch really hard, at the surface and look deep ……… within!

Anyone who has achieved success, greatness, victory – has always broken the proverbial glass ceiling – not by one big karate kick or by a single humungous effort.  But by slowly chipping away, minute by minute, millimetre by millimetre.  Something akin to how a sculptor creates a masterpiece – by taking a huge block of stone – rough, without a shape and slowly chips away, bit by bit to create a masterpiece that stands the test of time.

Breaking the glass ceiling is not a single gargantuan effort to do something great.  It is the result of many small steps that each push you in the direction that you wish to proceed.

Below are some steps that I believe will help you break the glass ceiling.

  1. Aim big, but start small. Have a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal – Collins/Porras – Built to Last : Successful habits of Visionary companies) but start with small steps.
  2. Celebrate the small risks. Each step you take in the direction of your BHAG is a risk – so at each stage celebrate your mastery of the risk.  This will help you get used to taking risks and set the stage for bigger risks.
  3. Respect your co-passengers. Take them on the journey with you and respect their feelings, talk to them about their fears and eliminate their fallacies.
  4. Focus on the results. Keep focusing on the results and don’t get swayed by the minor irritants that threaten to distract you from your journey.
  5. Enjoy every moment of the journey. While you use the past to learn and the future to guide, enjoy every moment of the journey by relishing the small victories.

The steps above, though not exhaustive, have helped me break numerous glass ceilings in my life.  To move from being an accountant in a small firm to growing as a senior finance executive of a multinational firm.  And then when I quit my corporate life, in my journey as an entrepreneur.  I know it will help you in your journey as well.

Albert Einstein said – A man should look for what is and not for what he thinks should be.

Isaac Newton said – If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Neither of these two great men achieved anything in a single stupendous effort.  Their success and greatness came from years of painstaking effort, bit by bit.

So what was my advice to the young chartered accountant?  I requested him, “Don’t look to create something unique because in the thousands of years of human endeavour, there are very few things that may yet need to be invented.  Instead, look at your expertise and see how you can improve upon things that already exist.”

You too can! Break the glass ceiling!