Learning between leaders and team members must be reciprocal: Mallika Agarwala
Agarwala, Senior Content Director, Avian We, talks about striking a balance between work and home, the hurdles she face and the mentors who pushed her to success
A journalist-turned-senior content director, Mallika Agarwala has carved a niche of her own in the public relations and communications landscape. Having donned myriad roles in her career so far, she gives every task assigned her all and stops at nothing but the best.
In an interview, she opens up about leadership, how she coped with the pandemic and her achievements.
Excerpts from the interview:
The last 20 months have been trying for every professional, especially with the hybrid working model. How did you strike a balance between office work and household duties?
The hybrid work model is not new to me. I am fortunate to work with an organisation that embraced progressive policies to support the varying needs of its workforce at least a decade before the pandemic reshaped the workplace.
But the sudden blurring of boundaries between work and personal time was quite a challenge. With no domestic help, I found myself juggling household chores, child duties, a demanding husband (a journalist who did not have a choice but to go to office) and a bigger workload. As part of Avian WE’s marketing team, my job was to help the organisation communicate with employees and other stakeholders from a place of purpose, clarity and empathy. It was not easy, and I found myself burning the midnight oil, skipping meals and on the verge of burnout.
Eventually, I created a dedicated space for my husband, son and myself. The WFH routine that I was following before the pandemic helped me ease back into the new normal.
I soaked in the oft-ignored moments like meals with family, watching my boy learn and bond with classmates and teachers during online classes and occasional games in the evening. The entire experience taught me that kindness and love will see us through the dark days.
Women have been carving a niche for themselves and paving the way in the communications industry for the next generation of women leaders to follow. Tell us about your achievements and your contribution to the fraternity.
I began my professional journey with CNBC in 2001 after my post-graduation in broadcast journalism from the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), Chennai, A year later, I left television and joined print journalism and worked with several national dailies, including The Statesman, The Times of India and the DNA across the country.
After 11 years in journalism, I joined Avian WE (then known as Avian Media) in 2011 as Manager in their content team, where I developed and edited content, including newsletters, speeches and contributory articles, for clients across sectors. Language and interpersonal skills are my strengths, and I was encouraged to realise my vision of writing engaging, human-interest stories. In less than six years, I grew content into a revenue-earning practice. I also managed Avian’s awards programme and conducted workshops on how winning entries should be written. I have also conducted several internal training programmes.
In 2020, I stepped down from the role of Head of Content and joined the marketing and internal communications team as I wanted to do something new. Two years on, I am thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to bring brand Avian alive for our stakeholders.
What are the roadblocks that you have had to overcome to reach where you are today? What, according to you, are the makings of a leader?
I am fortunate to work with a company that walks the talk on gender and pay equality. Even though I have mostly worked from home, I never experienced any discrimination because I am a woman.
Makings of a leader:
Know your team inside out: Build a diverse team and know their strengths and weaknesses to deliver the outcome you are looking for.
Mentor and push people to do better: Point out their shortcomings in a constructive manner, and, at the same time, celebrate their good work. There must be a balance.
Receive and acknowledge feedback: Encourage transparent, two-way feedback and act on the feedback received.
Be empathetic: Business considerations are important and leaders must take tough decisions. But that does not mean we ignore our humane side.
Never throw your team members under the bus: Leaders are responsible for their teams. We cannot sacrifice a team member to deflect blame.
Lead by example: Leaders shouldn’t need to force people to follow them. They should be able to motivate and inspire with their vision and knowledge.
Nurture and create future leaders: Leaders must nurture and create other leaders by passing on the knowledge they have accumulated over the years.
What would be your advice to the young generation?
Absorb as much knowledge as possible to learn and grow. I was lucky to have industry stalwarts like Nikhil Khanna, Nitin Mantri, Hina Huria and Girish Huria as my mentors when I entered the industry. They weren’t easy on me. Looking back, I am thankful they pushed me so hard to do better. So, don’t take everything to heart, lose that sense of entitlement and be thankful for the good things in life and at work. Start working hard as young as you can to enjoy the sweet taste of success. When you are young, you have the energy to slog it out and go through the grind. So, do as much as possible while you are still energetic, both physically and mentally.
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