Three steps for breaking the mold

I began my school career with a passion for building things and anything involving numbers. The spread of computers and the Internet led me to study Engineering and Math. I hold a Bachelor of Technology degree from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT Madras) and a Master of Science from Pennsylvania State University (University Park). I joined Vanguard in 2001, and after several roles, I am now a Senior IT Program Manager supporting Vanguard’s Office of General Counsel, responsible for providing technology solutions for Legal and Compliance teams. Additionally, I am a member of Vanguard’s crew resource group, Leadership and Engagement for Asian Professionals (LEAP).

Pictured with colleagues.

Posing with colleagues.

Beliefs, values and cultural stereotypes can keep you from seeing how far you might go in your career. If you choose, it is possible to change your perspective and challenge preconceived notions about what you can do. As someone who never considered people leadership as a viable career option, I have learned a few things along the way which allowed me to break out of the mold. Growing up in an Asian culture, I focused more on building subject matter expertise only, always deferring to authority and never speaking up unless asked. These rules influenced how I saw my career options, especially in an American corporate culture where my strengths didn’t necessarily align with typical leadership traits.

Looking back on my journey, here are three approaches that helped me:

1. Use Feedback

I’ve always stayed open to feedback, whether it was from my leaders, peers or crew reporting to me. Feedback enables you to figure out how to create a concrete path forward to achieve your professional goals and prepare for your next role. I give credit to my leaders and peers for providing ongoing feedback that helped me grow into the leader I am today, despite my somewhat limited view of my career trajectory. I still vividly recall when I was seeking advice from a leader and he brought up the idea of pursuing a people leadership opportunity. My immediate response was, “No way! What makes you think I can do that?” The thought had never occurred to me. When I reflected on the recommendation, I realized I had mentally blocked the idea as I hadn’t seen a senior leader who looked or acted like me.

Being able to observe someone who has similar experiences and background enables you to see outside the mold. But role models are not always readily available. My recommendation would be to build a strong support network and actively seek feedback from that group to understand the opportunities that might be available to you. Remember, feedback is a gift.

2. Be Fearless in Taking Risks

My career has taught me it can be transformative to experience discomfort. Even if it feels scary, taking a leap of faith can move you into new realms. Having the courage to speak up and express my thoughts was a big challenge for me. I appreciated how my leaders encouraged me throughout my career to share my thinking and put forth my ideas for tackling problems.

An example I can share is from my role as the Head of Workforce Planning for Information Technology (IT). When I was first asked to consider the position, I was reluctant since it didn’t align with my strengths. The job responsibilities were completely out of my comfort zone, not requiring any direct IT skillsets, like using technology to build products. After my initial hesitation, I decided to take it on as a way to build additional skills. For one of my early challenges, I was tasked with scaling up our crew hiring from 30 people per year to over 300 per year. At the same time, I wanted to modernize our hiring process so it fit the needs of the new, fast-moving IT group. Working with the IT Senior Leadership team and HR, I created a new hiring process. This included real-time programming tests, as well as hiring managers asking more deliberate, open-ended questions to truly understand the candidate’s thinking process. My leadership team stood behind me, and the new approach proved successful at identifying the right people as we continued to meet our growing hiring needs while keeping the bar high for talent.

3. Expand Your Vision

I believe a critical skill for being a successful leader is to have a strong vision. As your career journey evolves, you need to look farther afield for strategic advantages that can help define a future state for your business and assure its success for years to come. To build this vision, it is important to understand how the world is changing, from both a business and a technology perspective. At Vanguard, by setting our sights beyond the technology and financial services industries, new inspiration can bring innovative solutions and new ways of working. I find it equally vital to have the conviction to follow your vision, even if it is unconventional.

I believe that with an open mind and a willingness to take risks, you can challenge and break out of molds.

—Srinath C.

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