With Vishal Agarwal, Former Global Top 500 Senior Leader for General Electric Chairman, CEO of his own private investment management firm, Full Circle Africa, Author of Give to Get: A Senior Leader’s Guide to Navigating Corporate Life
Vishal Agarwal began his corporate journey as an intern, working his way up to Senior Deals Partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He continued on to become a Global Top 500 Senior Leader for General Electric and now serves as Chairman and CEO of his own private investment firm, Full Circle Africa. His book, Give to Get: A Senior Leader’s Guide to Navigating Corporate Life, talks about navigating corporate challenges and turning them into strengths to fuel your success.
Vishal has made it his mission to help corporate employees and leaders acquire what it takes to stand out and succeed in the corporate structure. In his book, Vishal explains how to work through the inner structure of a large corporation, turning the challenges that arise into fuel for success.
Give To Get
Success is often determined by how you lead, your ability to be strong, and how to guide a team to move in the same direction. Many natural born leaders have no trouble standing out and taking control.
However, Vishal points out that being a strong leader comes down to two tenets:
- What do you give?
- What are you getting?
Give It How You Get It
First, you must build trust and relationships. You must understand your teams’ needs and you must be willing to be a “servant leader”—in other words, be willing to serve your team.
Vishal discusses, both in his interview and his book, his own experience of going from a comfortable cushy job to entering a new position where initially, things did not go well. After some thought, he soon realized he wasn’t interacting with his team nor making an attempt to get to know them better.
Vishal explains that in order to succeed, one must see beyond the pecking order. New leaders often make the mistake of having a do it my way attitude. A successful leader has a let’s do it together attitude. To serve themselves, they must serve the team.
Get It How You Give It
Build trust with those around you. Take the time as a leader to show what you can contribute and bring it to the table first. The more you put into the relationships around you, the more you will receive back. An employee who trusts that their leader has their best interest in mind will go much farther than one who resents authority.
Understanding Culture Is Key
Culture can have a lot to do with miscommunication. How can we expect to get results if we don’t understand each other? A common mistake many new leaders make is assuming their form of communication is best. It’s better to first learn where the team is coming from and create an integrated culture in order to create a culture of better understanding.
Are You A Lion Or A Goat?
As Vishal points out, there are major differences between the personalities of the lion and the goat. He uses the vast contrast as a simple visual guide to identifying who you are in the workplace.
Roaming through the African Savannah with pride, the lion always keeps his head up. Even when tranquilized, the lion’s body is the first to fall, with the head following last. The lion is regal, confident, and courageous and only roars on rare occasions, a sound which is met with respect and never taken lightly.
The goat is the opposite of the lion. Being indecisive, the goat makes a lot of noise and is quick to flee at the first sign of trouble. While a lion carries its own weight, a goat easily gives in. When a goat is tranquilized, the goat’s head is the first to fall, with the body falling last. Although it’s better to be a lion, we are both the lion and the goat. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “do we want to succeed as a leader or hide like the goat?” Who are you?
Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily of the radio show. Interviewee is not a representative of the radio show. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions. Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances. The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by the radio show.
Steve Pomeranz: A corporate career can feel like a never-ending grind. Endless meetings, frustrating bureaucracy, constant travel, late-night conference calls, and time away from your family. But working for a large corporation can be a thrilling ride as well if you know how to navigate these challenges and how to turn them into strengths to fuel your success.
Sounds easy, right? Well, it’s not. So just how do you do this? Well, my guest has lived the corporate life cycle from start to finish, beginning as an intern and working up to Senior Deals Partner at Price Waterhouse Coopers. He was also a global top 500 Senior Leader for General Electric before becoming Chairman and CEO of his own private investment management firm.
And he’s written a book, Give to Get, and he’s with me today to talk about corporate culture and how you succeed in this very difficult environment. Vishal Agarwal, welcome to the show.
Vishal Agarwal: Thank you, Steve. Good to be with you.
Steve Pomeranz: And we’re speaking to you from Nairobi, right?
Vishal Agarwal: That’s right, I live in Nairobi, Kenya.
Steve Pomeranz: Very good, you really do sound—this is a Skype call. Right, Erica? And you sound like you’re in the next county, so wonderful. Hey so, Vishal, so much of success in any situation is predicated on the ability to lead, the ability to be strong, to build teams of support, and getting everyone moving in the same direction. As I said before, it’s easy to say, but actually, how do you do it?
Vishal Agarwal: Well, Steve, for me there are two principal ways. One I would call, what do you give? And the other is the approach. And in the what do you give, for me, it is all about giving trust, right?
You give trust, you build relationships. The second part of this is really about approach. And I think a contemporary leader today is nothing but a servant leader. A good leader today ought to be a servant leader, a good leader today ought to serve his teams. So, that’s I think, sort of the ideology with which how I lead today, and I’ve learned it over years.
And I love to share with everyone because I think it is an effective way to move forward.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, let’s look at a situation. Let me just draw something up here. You’re successful with a particular company and then you decide to join a new company and really apply those skills, but the people at the new company don’t really know anything about you, and your career is kind of discounted there. And you’ve got to start from scratch building trust. Give us some ways to think about that in order to be successful.
Vishal Agarwal: Really, good question, Steve, and I talk about this quite a bit in my book. It is something that every executive will face at least once in their career, right?
So, most people isolate themselves; most people think about why they were hired; they think about, well, think about my experience says. Steve, when he comes into a new position to personalize it, Steve. And you begin to talk about all your accomplishments outside to try and make an impact inside.
But the only thing that really matters inside is your track record inside. And most people fail to do that, right? So connect with people. Give them trust, given them relationships, listen to them, understand their culture, understand how they do it right without telling them how they should do it right, right?
A lot of us make that mistake. So, we get into the job, the new role, we kind of say, look, time is ticking because I too have to be comfortable. I want some wins. I’ve got to be able to show some early progress. So, do for me. Well, why should you do for me, Steve? If you are on my team, what have I done to earn that from you? Is it just my title over yours? That’s just not enough today.
Steve Pomeranz: Mm-hm, yeah. So, the team has got to have skin in the game. And how do you get them to have that skin in the game?
Vishal Agarwal: Well, you’ve got to have skin in the game first, and that’s the ideology with which I offer people to lead, right? I mean, I’m calling on leaders to kind of say, give first. If you give, you shall get, and that’s the whole ideology, right?
Steve Pomeranz: So when you say give, give me an example.
Vishal Agarwal: So give them trust first, right? Serve them first. Go into the trenches and work with them first. So do stuff, roll up your sleeves, and do stuff for them before you ask them to do things for you, right?
Steve Pomeranz: It reminds me of, Lou Gustin, I believe his name was, who came into IBM. Did I get that name right?
Vishal Agarwal: That’s Gerstner.
Steve Pomeranz: Gerstner, thank you. And this was years ago. And IBM was really suffering. And he spent a lot of time really studying the company. I guess, going down to all the different levels and subdivisions, and so on. And he was able to synthesize that company and to turn it around to lead once again.
Is that the type of technique that you’re talking about in order to become part of the company, rather than just some leader standing on top making directives?
Vishal Agarwal: That’s right, so listening to your people, understanding their culture, assimilating to that culture. Not discounting the culture that you find, not picking flaws with it are a good place to start, right?
Often, people will come in and say, let me show you my way. Do it my way says a new leader. As opposed to let’s do it together, right? And leaders today, I think really need to show the emotional IQ to learn themselves, right? To listen themselves, to be serve themselves.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, Vishal, these kinds of large concepts are very good, but I really want to hear something specific. Maybe something that you personally have experienced, so we can all get a sense of what’s happening really on the ground in real life.
Vishal Agarwal: Sure, Steve. Let me give you a pretty good and personal example. We talked earlier about me living in Nairobi, Kenya. That wasn’t always the case. I moved to Nairobi, Kenya after working for a decade in the United States. I was a legacy Price Waterhouse guy, and I moved here to take up a new role with Price Waterhouse Group in Africa, to build a team, right?
Build a business ground up. So I had a nice big job. Nice big title. And I came to a firm that I had some familiarity with. Yet, in the early days, I felt isolated. I felt not involved. I felt not trusted enough. I was feeling like people were leaving me out of team meetings.
I was feeling like people were not inviting me out for lunch. And these are all things that I was not used to because in my previous role, I had built all these relationships. And I got to some level of success, so I was enjoying a level of social capital, if you will, which I was comfortable with.
Here, I felt something was wrong, and I would stay up often and worry about did I make a mistake? Is this a culture thing? Why am I not assimilating? It’s the same firm. I then saw a couple other hires of the same level. I came in as a non-equity partner, as a director, so pretty senior within the firm, and there were two others at two other departments.
We would talk about the stuff all the time. We would meet over lunch and talk about the stuff all the time. And they too were feeling this. Then I realized one day that perhaps, by not hanging out with these people, that were also new and actually spending more time with my team and listening to my team better, building trust with my team better, working with them in the trenches, traveling with them more, I would accelerate my assimilation, that’s what I did, that’s what worked for me. And in the context of the others that were in a similar situation to me, one didn’t last six months and one finally left the firm because, while he had some success, he didn’t make partner.
And the reason why he didn’t make partner is because he didn’t build enough trust and relationships. So still was looked upon as the outsider, right?
Steve Pomeranz: Okay, in your book, you talk about the lion and the goat. And I think those are two really good examples of what you’re trying to convey here.
We have a few minutes left. Tell us the story of the lion and the goat, and how it relates to what we’re speaking about.
Vishal Agarwal: Sure, it’s a parable that I made up some time ago and have been using. And I tell this story of in your career or in corporate life, you meet only two kinds of people.
This is my version. So, you either meet a lion or you’d meet a goat. And the lion is someone that even in the most difficult situation will keep their head up. So if you think about a lion across an animal park or the African Savannah, in the wilderness, and for some reason, a game park needs to move the lion and tranquilize it, might be cornered. The lion as it’s being tranquilized, moves its body and head up behind. Now let’s talk about the goat. The goat, in contrast, is very helter-skelter. Is very indecisive. It bleats. Makes a lot of noise, runs around.
But when you’re actually about to slaughter a goat, let’s say, for whatever reason. Eid is an example I talk about in my book. The Islamic holiday of Eid. You will see this and you can YouTube it. The goat’s neck automatically goes down. Meeting the DNA of these two animals is one that in the case of the lion in the most difficult situation still holds its own and the goat gives in.
But also the goat is restless, the goat is indecisive, the goat bleeds and makes noise, all right. The lion, on the other hand, seldom roars. Has courage, has confidence, has regality. But when a lion is actually aroused, right, will roar, and that roar is not to be taken lightly.
But doesn’t do it often, right? So that’s kind of my story, and I’ve used it with mentees and colleagues for many, many years to kind of say, look, we were all lions when we were born, is my theory. And we all have lion-like tendencies, but we all can see goats in ourselves.
So be the lion, not a goat.
Steve Pomeranz: Be the lion, not a goat. So if you’re learning how, trying to figure out how to navigate these challenges, and turn them into strengths to fuel your success. I think we’ve scratched the surface on how you need to think about yourself, and the role you play.
My guest is Vishal Agarwal, speaking to me from Nairobi, and the group, and the book is Give to Get. Vishal, thank you so much for joining us.
Vishal Agarwal: Thank you, Steve.
Steve Pomeranz: To hear this again and listen to the full show, or get a summary of the lessons learned here today, go to stevepomeranz.com.
And while you’re there, sign up for our weekly update where we will send you the important lessons from the show straight to your inbox. That’s stevepomeranz.com.