Leadership Lessons Reconnected Through Photography

What began as a source of play in 2016 has taken over my weekends and, also, my life. Light is no longer just light. Shadows and lines cast from objects have stories.

Photography helped me revisit some established thought and ways of working. It has helped me find patterns and see situations with clarity in mind. Photography has opened a floodgate of learning – the power of human connection to create better work, and my understanding of leadership.

As I look back to this passion of mine, I am amazed at the parallels it has to the work many of us are doing at our workplaces. Here are four lessons reconnected thus far in playing with photography, with some of my work dotted throughout.

1.Practice fuels passion

2.Focus helps manage distractions

3.Diversity propels opportunity

4.Creating a masterpiece takes time – Patience helps!

I hope it inspires you to pick up a new craft for the sole purpose of finding out what’s inside you.

1. Practice fuels passion

I like feeding birds. One morning in Boston, we kept a left over pizza in the balcony to see if any bird comes to feed on it. They did – but flew by quickly. Shilpi, my wife, insisted on capturing the sparrow nearing the pizza. In the beginning, my clicks were callow. I had less patience and a shot like this, where the birds flew in a jiffy wouldn’t have been any of my interest. It took me 20+ shots and immense patience and practice to get one fine picture!

My journey with work and leadership can be all attributed to practice. I started my career in sales in medical devices with no prior experience or education in the field. I was to sell orthopedic implants to surgeons and one critical step was the demonstration of working of the device. Internal Training, product manuals, experienced senior colleagues, customer interactions, online tutorials and repeat – supported the learning process. It was a lot of struggle but it amazes me to look back today at how this practice got me success.

Lessons Reconnected: Practice is the key to doing anything – the process perhaps starts with accepting failure. When stakes are high – practice cuts down risk – making way for learning and innovation.   

2. Focus helps manage distractions

My first picture was a blurred mess – focus just wasn’t right! After multiple failed attempts, I learnt that not just the camera but also the photographer needs to be present and focused in the current situation to get a perfect shot.

I relate to a similar stint in my professional endeavor. Due to many internal and external changes, the pace of growth in our organization slumped. I was expected to turnaround the business situation amidst that change. Focusing on the basic principles of business, like a customer-centric approach, robust and regular business reviews, developing trust with stakeholders etc, the company gained growth again.

Lessons Reconnected: Focus on the Basics of managing business and relationships in spite of workplace distractions, it will help your team see and emulate what is most critical to success.

3. Diversity propels opportunity

I used to be naturally inclined to shoot in daylight or in a well-lit place. Somehow I believed that the subject is better captured in light. Till one day my 14 year old asked me to shoot while she was taking a picture inside a dungeon in Kraków, Poland. The outcome was fantastic. That day I experimented and learnt finer aspects of digital photography in minimum light with a well-defined focus. In hindsight, being open to ideas helped me learn things faster.

In large organizations multiple groups with conflicting priorities work together to move the business forward. Each opinion can be key and can play a vital role in providing solution.

On one field visit, brainstorming a business issue with the field teams – a sales rep suggested that the answer may be with the service team. Since this was a sales issue we had left out the service team – who happen to be holding a lot of equity with the same customer. We involved them and got an innovative solution.

Lessons Reconnected: It pays to create a system that values diverse thinking which helps us see situations in a broader light, opening doors for improved solutions. 

4. Creating a masterpiece takes time. Patience helps!

On a trip to Ajmer, India – I found that pelicans migrate at this time of the year. The thought of capturing their moves in water excited me. I was looking for a perfect landing with full view of the pelican’s frontal body without any other bird blocking the view; I didn’t realize how I spent almost 2 hours and multiple clicks to get to this one!

I couldn’t help drawing business parallels here. Once, I had the opportunity to drive an acquisition of new technology at a global enterprise. The due diligence was so uptight that it took 18 months just to evaluate the technology! We could acquire it only after 3 years of constant scrutiny. Although it was difficult to stay patient during the process, it made business sense.

Lessons Reconnected: Managing change and transitions is a time consuming process. Investing in technology and training people can help speed up the process. It is also crucial to balance this with recognition of which elements can be accelerated and which can not.

Getting behind the lens has channeled my curiosity to zoom in and zoom out with equal pace. Thanks to my family who decided to gift me a digital camera with a note that said when you need a break – try this!” A peripheral advice then is now an escape from bottlenecks and a way to refresh and come back to work with creative ideas.

Up Next

Image like this (courtesy @yashmahadikphotography) has been an inspiration to pursue wildlife photography…. Preparation and planning is underway both in terms of upgrading my skills and technology – I look forward to that learning journey.

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