Fairy tales for the corporate world

Tulika Tripathi is managing director of Asian operations for Nasdaq-listed global talent solutions company Hudson Global Inc. Having begun her career in management consulting, she now provides career advice to job seekers. In this interview with Swetha Amit, she talks about her new book, Alice in Corporate Land, which draws career growth lessons from the popular fairy tale Alice in Wonderland and how to be successful in corporate life.

Fairy tales are surreal and known for their 'happily ever after' endings as against the hard-hitting realistic corporate world. How did you manage to draw analogies between the two?
I believe that fairy tales are hardwired into us from childhood. I wanted to write about what it takes to be successful in the corporate world in a way that everyone could relate to. Fairy tales provided that connection. While I agree that the corporate world is hard hitting but then so are fairy tales! In fact fairy tales contain events that are so much more gruesome than the corporate world - from the attempted murder of Snow White to poor Cinderella scrubbing the floors all day!

The difference is in our outlook. We feel a sense of optimism that "everything will be ok in the end" when we read fairy tales as children. I believe it is the same in the corporate world. ''Everything will be ok in the end and if it is not ok, it is not the end". That statement for me defines the resilience required to pull through the challenges in the corporate world. Similarly, fairy tales are entertaining and fun. There is no reason why we can't feel the same sense of fun and enjoyment with our jobs! In fact most successful people do.

Do you think a person with good networking skills will be more successful in the corporate world as opposed to someone with very good abilities but lesser networking skills?
I believe networking and developing a network of mentors are two different skills. Networking involves building a series of sometimes superficial relationships for mutual benefit. To build a network of mentors, you require something much more.

You require the ability to introspect and learn from others, the courage to accept that you still have gaps to bridge and the will to perpetually be better. If you have this, then you will build a network of mentors, whether you are good at networking or not. You will learn from those you respect and admire and adopt them as role models.

You will seek wisdom in places where you can get it and even people in your organisation will start to notice that you are inquisitive and willing to learn and hence will engage with you more.

Cinderella emphasised the importance of finding mentors for career  progression. How does one identify these mentors in the real world and build relations with them?
The best way to find mentors is to start by looking at your immediate circle of family and friends and identify who you admire and would like to emulate or learn from. As you grow, you can continue to add to your network of mentors.

 Some people believe that to find a mentor, they should contact a CEO or some other successful personality that they have had no real relationship with. This rarely works. My first mentor and role model was my grandfather. There are brilliant people all around us that we can start turning to for advice.

Alice in Corporate LandThe character Gepetto [the wood carver in The Adventures of Pinocchio] stresses how appearances matter for one to be taken seriously in the book. Do you think many people lack the ability to look beyond appearances to realise their worth or true potential?
I think that in this world, most people lack time. First impressions are important. If you make a poor first impression then it is going to be an uphill climb to help the other person look beyond their already formed perception of you.

If you form a favourable first impression then the perception is yours to lose! I believe that while it would be great if everyone could judge you on your 'true potential', placing your future in the hands of someone else's ability to look into your soul is risky. Packaging is important - any marketing person or consumer behaviour specialist will tell you that. Packaging ourselves is equally important- ask yourself, why should anyone buy you?

It is mentioned in your book that apart from black and white solutions, one is also advised often to consider shades of grey, which act as suitable solutions a lot more. This requires great maturity on the part of an individual. Do you feel that such an attribute is present more amongst seniors or does one see this rare trait in youngsters as well?
I think to a large extent one learns this from experience. Having said that - a youngster who is wise learns from the experience of others!

Feedback is a vital tool in the corporate world. How does an employer provide this to employees in a manner that they use it as constructive criticism rather than feeling offended or demoralised?
No matter how feedback is delivered, an individual can choose to take it well or badly. So unfortunately some of the responsibility of taking feedback constructively lies in an individual's ability to receive it.

An employer however should deliver any feedback quickly and in a clear and objective manner. Not giving feedback to an individual is cruel as it takes away an opportunity for them to develop themselves. An employer can ensure that feedback is more constructive by backing it up with an explanation as to why this could help someone succeed.

In the quest to reach your goal faster, one tends to get deluded by greed and pride just like it's mentioned in the 'Forest of Greed' episode in the book. How should one resist such temptations and develop patience to attain the same?
There is no such thing as a free meal. When something looks too good to be true, it probably isn't. In mid-career, many individuals feel they know much more about a senior job than what they are doing currently.

A healthy amount of ambition is good. However, when one starts believing that they don't have any real gap or that they have never really failed and that they don't have any more to learn to do a much more senior role, then these are warning signs of pride. Even if you do manage to get waylaid by a much larger job or a job that pays much more, if you compromise on the quality of the employer or are not prepared in the former case, you may be setting yourself up for failure. 

'Minds are like parachutes. They work best when open' How does one open their minds to newer possibilities and challenges in order to grow in the corporate world?
I think the best way is to stay curious. There is so much to learn. Read a lot, introspect, ask people lots of questions and aim to learn something new every day. These are some of the traits I have seen in open minded individuals.

You have stated that 'the higher you go, the lonelier it gets.' How should one retain the ability to connect with those below to ensure an effective line of communication which is essential in a corporate world?
I believe if you are a good leader, you get ''pushed up'' rather than ''pulled up'' into more senior roles. By this I mean, you grow by developing talent in your teams. If you are a strong mentor and are developing the people below you, there is no question of a disconnect.

Lastly, do we see any more books from Tulika Tripathi in the near future?
Absolutely! I have really enjoyed the process of writing this book and am planning my next one. Watch this space!

An excerpt from: Alice in Corporate Land

''That is my home!'' Alice exclaimed and turned to step off the gold brick road. She was stopped by a tug on her dress and turned around to see that Rabbit was looking at her with beseeching eyes, shaking his head vigorously.

Alice pushed Rabbit away with a jerk and turned again to step off the gold brick road when Rumpel interjected, "Not so fast dearie. Here I am, showing you your way back. You must give me something in return."

"Okay…of course'=", Alice ventured. "What do you want?"

"Nothing too much or too valuable. A small token will do. How about giving me Rabbits ''Patience'' potion in return for my services?" Rumpel drawled.

"But that is not mine to give!" exclaimed Alice.

"That, dearie…is your problem. Not mine", Rumpel replied, a bit more impatiently.

Alice paused. Compelling as the thought of reaching home was, she couldn't very well steal from Rabbit. She had learned so much in the last few hours and Pinocchio's words echoed in her ears.

For a short while as she was walking through the forest, she had thought she knew better than everyone else. What Rumpel was offering her was too good to be true and she had almost become too greedy and taken what looked like an easy win. She thought back to her discussion with Mr. Cuppa T and paused. Things weren't always what they seemed.

She read the scroll once again: Beware of wins that come with pride and greed

She had become greedy and had started believing that she could find a short cut to success. She had lost her humility and thought she knew better than anyone else. Her greed and pride had made her careless and she had almost stepped off the road.