I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to sit with one of my clients, Swati Raghunandan, who looks after Manager Capability and Learning for Microsoft India. Swati and I got together in early June to talk about her recent experience in the Challengers’ Circle, including what she learned about executive presence and the wins she has had as a result!
Here’s our conversation:
Kore: What is one significant win you have had because of your participation in the Challengers Circle leadership development program?
Swati: Executive presence. Being able to articulate and deeply understand for myself what executive presence means. I now know it has to do with high amounts of integrity, accountability, and bringing a vision for myself that guides my decisions and the actions I take. I also now see how having a business-first focus and putting drama or ego aside is so much a part of showing up with executive presence. This has been a game changer for me, but I have never heard it explained this way in any other training I have been a part of. So now I always ask myself, does what I am thinking about doing move the business forward, does it produce the business outcomes? This gives me the clarity I need to keep my momentum and bring everyone along. A couple of recent successes that are on my mind right now are I was able to produce cost-savings by cutting a program I previously would have held onto past its useful life; in another instance, I was able to navigate through a conflicting situation with a colleague and get us both unstuck.
Kore: How often are you able to use what you learned in the Challengers’ Circle program?
Swati: Multiple times a day. There are several techniques and tools I am using regularly. One example is transforming complaints into action. I look at the things I am not as satisfied with and then use the Complaint Transformation framework to shift my complaints into powerful asks I can make of myself or others. This gets projects moving instead of getting hung up. I have seen a positive difference in the outcomes I achieve from using this approach both in professional and personal life. Another example has to do with creating more clarity in group projects. I have been able to create clarity and generate energy in critical business initiatives, especially new initiative launches by leveraging the Challengers’ Clarity Checklist. Using this tool has supported me to spend more time on the Why, which I didn’t do before. This shift has really helped people I collaborate with get super clear on why we are doing something and that, in turn, empowers them to be really significant contributors. This has saved me time and also meant I can step back into more of the coaching role I want to be in as a leader. It’s really refreshing to find material that is so on point and immediately helpful to me.
Kore: What were your main goals or expectations for participating in a leadership development program at this time?
Swati: When you are in mid-career, you think about what makes you move further, how can you advance. I identified Executive Presence as the next thing I wanted to work on. I know what got me here won’t get me there, doing the same things isn’t the way to advance. Different skills will be called for. I used to think executive presence was all about how you look and inborn charisma, but now I know it is something I can cultivate and now I have the tools and confidence I need to do that.
Kore: What was different about the Challengers Circle?
Swati: I would say three things. First, I quickly saw myself and where I was on my leadership journey reflected in the materials. Second, the Challengers Circle content is so high-quality, and it feels very personalized, as if someone is speaking directly to you. Third, the design. You read the course material; you have the opportunity to practice individually; and then you practice more with your cohort. So, you get a high-retention rate with this structure. You also get a sounding board throughout the program. I gained so much perspective from my fellow participants in the program as the group discussions provided the chance to see from different eyes. It was quite a moving experience. I also loved that it offered additional reading and resources for those who want to go further in their learning. This wasn’t one of those trainings you do and then forget about it.
Kore: How would you sum up your overall experience in the Challengers’ Circle?
Swati: When I started, I was unsure if I could commit to the time and effort the program would require, and I was also wondering if it would really deliver, if there would be good ROI. Challengers Circle was positioned to participants as a training for strong performers that would enable us to break barriers, build resilience, grow leadership capabilities, and become better at collaboration. As the Manager Capability and Learning Lead for Microsoft India, I have been exposed to a lot of training and leadership programs. But when I experienced this training with its high-quality content, the space provided for reflection and practice, and the support and accountability of my cohort that were all part of the overall Challengers Circle program, I was inspired and knew this was going to be unique and long-lasting experience. I am so happy I was part of this program.