Emotional fitness guru of India for personal and business transformation, Abha Maryada is set to launch an iconoclast and visionary leadership book to help women reclaim, redefine and internalize leadership within themselves. With the undeniable background of gender issues across the world, India’s First internationally acclaimed Woman Motivational Speaker, Thought Leader, Visionary, One of the Top 10 Life, Business and Success Coaches in Asia Pacific and Icon for Personal Growth, Abha Maryada Banerjee, now introduces on the ground solutions, tools and strategies, to help women become leaders of their lives, their environments and in their workplaces…
So Abha, can you tell us about your entrepreneurial journey so far?
I am a lawyer by profession and took up law when I had finished School and College as a post-graduate degree. I have successfully practiced law full time for 10 years. I am also a problem solver, improvement and growth addict and believe that creativity can solve a lot of human needs. Often solutions need to be re packed to be understood better. I always did something that would create and sell as a result. At the age of 9 , I would collect waste wax, make candles and sell them. I have painted people’s homes and sold the concept of designer homes , sold products, raised money for animal shelters and old age homes with totally new concepts and some other things. This started quite early in life. My final plunge into Entrepreneurship was in the year 2000 when I quit law to specialize in people’s development and people building. It needed me to run it as a business when no business like this existed in India as I needed to sustain it on its own. With a creative head, I got down to working on an edutainment business model and my knowledge of business law came in handy. Also as a Solutions person, I had developed the capability of combining different disciplines to come up with ‘what works and sells’. Two years into that, we established our brand and product as a unique one. I have launched six more ventures ever since related to sports, media, television content development and alternative education. As of now, I have also partnered with Angel Investors, to identify iconoclast social ventures and support socially conscious Entrepreneurs.
What are the main ideas behind your new book?
As a woman, I find that a common concept like Leadership is not as fashionable as fashion, when it is do with women. Apart from that, in my years of work around people, I found that the gender backgrounds, almost block women to think of becoming serious leaders. A Woman;s movement is often restricted by many social do’s and don’ts. The main idea behind the book is to make Leadership a common possibility for women, despite the social contexts. Why would we need that? Because we are losing out on high potential individuals to contribute back to society what they take away from it via education or opportunities, simply because women have been asked to work well, but not told to lead. Leaders can make a huge difference wherever they are and we need to have more women in mainstream leadership to make that difference. As Leadership is a skill that can be honed, learned or acquired, the book shares many path breaking thoughts that women can immediately start to use in their lives and environments to take control of situations. I want to convey the Leadership Vision to women as a possibility for them, as n number of women I met underplayed their talents and selves, fearing judgment or not believing in the possibility that they can and should be in the forefront.
Without being a feminist, I believe women must play a larger role in transforming society and environments. That would need them to come forward and take charge, train themselves, learn and apply.
Do you think there are different types of leaders?
Primarily there are two differentiators that would identify different leaders. The idea that they propagate , lead, endorse or that which made them Leaders. Secondly, the conduct that leads the idea and how they set out to achieve the idea.
My book refers to the two major qualities of being a Leader, i.e The Noun of the Leader and the Verb of the Leader. The person herself, the character, nature and drive needed for leadership. The second is the execution and that includes vision building, people , teams, plans etc.
From which great leaders in history do you draw inspiration from?
I am an ardent admirer Swami Vivekananda, the youth icon of India from 1800’s, Krishna the Leader, Chanakya, the politician and economist, Jesus the revolutionary, ( nothing to do with religion) , Buddha for his idea of oneness, Mahatma Gandhi for a weaponless crusader, Maya Angelou for her tenacity, Margaret Thatcher ( Her being the Iron lady) Present day entrepreneurial Leaders like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Elon Musk . The spiritual Leaders like Dalai Lama.
You’ve even been fondly dubbed the Asian Oprah. This must’ve been a really motivational compliment to hear…
It came as a shock at first J but certainly helped me to see myself in a place of responsibility or inspiration. I was not aware that the way I worked, spoke out and what I did, projected me as a person who could make a difference. It was a realization that I could inspire others or that people were following what I did and how. Now I love the compliment and grin from ear to ear in gratitude J
Which other successful women do you admire and why?
Lucille Ball gets my all time vote, for being beautiful, sexy but never putting that in front of the World. She chose humor and how! Built a whole Empire around it and there was not a speck of following rules, sticking to norms for women or any such like. She broke all rules, I must say. Oprah Winfrey of course, has inspired many of us. What is exceptional about her is her capability to innovate and create longevity apart from the fact that her Shows help people to work around themselves, free of cost. Melinda Gates, is yet a woman who works in the background but makes a huge impact. From India, there is Indra Nooyi.
Many female celebrities, the media and the fashion industry etc can damage the perception of women and what they are supposed to be and look like. What pressing matters do you think are the most important right now?
The biggest hazard at the moment is the negative obsession with body at the cost of mind and emotion. Women’s identification of self has become simulated in all the noise that we hear each day and the information that we are bombarded with. The women are capable of more than being a good looking body. They also fail when dealing within this environment as there are unreal expectations from self. The energy spend can be used to build strength in women so they can choose or reject rather than getting pushed by everything around them. The distortions of the mind, need to be dealt with immediately and that needs to fill the mind with something more empowering , like a Self that is capable of being a Leader rather than being a follower of sorts of every trend in the World.
Are most young women striving to achieve an unrealistic or unobtainable image?
They are not striving, they are struggling with the unreal or a simulated version of a Woman. I am not aware of that perfect woman or what she looks like. Women have to have the courage and will to get real and be themselves. If they want to strive, they should strive to create beauty in who they are, power in who they can become and life in their idea of Self. Society should not be the guide. We are society, we make society. We live in society, we are not married to it that we have to bear with it. Women have to become strong enough to be creators of their lives, bodies, well-being, contributions.
Do you think we can ‘have it all’?
Boils down to how we define ‘ALL’ for ourselves. It is a possibility provided we know what we want. Then we can get after how to achieve it. It needs to re-organize and re-orchestrate our thoughts, habits and priorities and to strive to cultivate an exceptional mind to get there. We can have ‘what we want’!
So you want people to reclaim the leader within them selves; what methods do you use?
Vision, Mental Strength and Self Efficacy are the Leaders of the many methods shared in the book. It is important to go inwards instead of playing into the hands of the simulations created by the outside World. Identify and work around our biggest strengths, connect it with our Vision of what our life must look like, learn the ways to conduct optimally and then come back to the World to apply ourselves. There are also concepts like Womanon-fiction as against the fictional woman all women striving to be. Understanding Neutrality apart from femininity and how to be deal with neutral things in life. Understanding the state of Zero Limitation in mind and body etc
What kinds of problems have you personally experienced to become an authority on the subject?
The first one was the lack of trust in women’s capabilities. Though I found women to have much greater integrity and tenacity to work well, they are considered less capable. Secondly, Inability of society to accept women as strong people and men find it difficult to work with women in the lead. Most men come to help a woman instead of working with her. Thirdly, despite fantastic results, acceptance of women as leaders or as a decision maker is not very high. Fourthly, to be a stand alone leader in a totally new field, trying to communicate the need for a new idea was not easy. Fifth, raising money, will she deliver is the question. Sixth, very high rejection rate for women as leaders, I had to build my capacity to deal with that effectively. Seventh, Intelligence and women have often not gone together if it is to do with women, more so, when you are in public space, the judgment on women is very harsh. Needed me to be very tough at the same time very focused. Eighth, there are unreal expectations and unnecessary judgment. You do you are damned, you don’t you are damned! J
Personally I do not term anything as a problem, It is a happening that gives me an experience in life and with that approach, it is comparably easy to handle whatever comes as a problem. Treat it as independent of yourself, deal with it, learn from it and move forward with your Vision.
What drives you?
My Vision is to be able to make a dent in the social contexts pertaining to human dignity and to be in a place of being the catalyst in human thought development and transformation. This is what gave the Vision and work around it. This is also my purpose and calling .
Can you tell us more about the kinds of foods and drinks you enjoy on a daily basis?
I am a vegetarian, I cook my own food, love vegetables, all kinds. I create a lot of recipes myself. Eat a lot of raw food. I love Indian food especially the lentils. Indonesian vegetables for the way they are half cooked and stir fried with fresh spices. Chinese clear soups and Thai Mango Salad. I go on and off fruits once every 3 days. I also like to eat local foods as I travel to different countries. On the East of the World, is lot of greens in the oriental food. I love local drinks especially the ones with coconut water.
I love the variety of breads in the west.
My daily drink is ofcourse water, lemon water, mint water , apple cider vinegar water ( digestives) and lots of tea. I have a collection of teas from all over the World. These days, I am hooked to flavored teas like jasmine and cammomile. And the Indian way of tea, little milk and some sugar.
What else do you do to keep energized and focused?
Yoga , Long walks, aerobics and focus. I do a lot of breathing exercises to make sure I do not get exhausted and not forget to breathe well. I spend time in silence to retain and regain focus and stay mindful. I take power naps every now and then. I never force myself to work or exercise and bring my mind to it before I begin. That keeps me completely immersed in whatever I do. I go with the flow. I listen to a lot of music and spend time interpreting lyrics . I write poetry ( I already have a published poetry book- two poems out of which are also part of the Leadership book ) I am an Actor , I work on my Monologues, they energize my mind completely. I love to talk to my daughter whose interpretations of life are quite a handful to engage in and enjoy.
I cook as a matter of rule, it is like therapy to me. It helps me de-focus and focus at the same time. De-focus from a draining situation and focus on the creation of food and what I am feeding myself and my family. I read a lot and write a lot more, to keep me energized, sometimes just in the head
What exactly is emotional fitness and how can we achieve it?
Emotional Fitness is the understanding of your own deepest emotions and being able to channelize them into a productive self. Emotion is a precursor to Action and all action is accompanied by Emotion. This knowledge is common but not fully understood. How to get the right kind of emotion into an act or how to use a certain emotion to accentuate an action. Therefore, understanding our emotions, giving them space, the right kind of definition, understanding how they affect our way of being and how we can use them as signals to perform at the highest strength levels is the key.
Women are called ‘emotional’ and treated therefore as not being strong enough to take decisions. That is only partly true, if women understood how to use emotions, they can use them as strengths. That is why one need not be emotional to be emotionally intelligent.
What are the different ways of being a successful woman?
We can invent as many as we want J but the most important one would be a very strong and clear sense of self. To know what we can do, what we will not and why then creates our boundaries and expanse both. Secondly, creating forward living ideas into our today to be continue to work on them and constantly move forward. Third is time efficacy. Women with multiple responsibilities multi- task by default often losing track of either themselves or the time. Fourth is clear communication. We must know and say what we want to do with our lives, how we wish to contribute, what we want to achieve and stick to it.
So you look at gender issues and use this as a way to turn people into leaders…can you explain more about how this method works exactly?
Gender Issues are socially driven ideas of how a woman should be. They are not created by women but for women and consciously or unconsciously women have to live through them. They do not have a choice. I am born into the gender issues, I did not have a choice . NUCLEUS, provides a sure shot methodology to define our choices as women, as leaders and in any given space, gender or no gender. If we were to sort these issues, we may have to spend lifetimes doing that, infact women before us have spent much of their life fighting this.
I am calling women to stop ‘fighting’ and start ‘living’. The gender issues do block living and resisting them beings more of that. If we did not resist, instead began to live in a more empowered choice driven, vision driven and merit driven way, the social contexts have to fall apart wherever such a person is.
Can you talk more about the social aspects that exist today?
I believe in the philosophy of no giving in and no giving up. While there is rampant sexism, misogyny etc..I am focused on the social aspects in women’s minds and how we can change that. We are perceiving society and allowing society to dictate ways of being. A way of being is always a choice and we need every bit of ourselves to understand that. We have spoken about unreal image on the physical front, there is a real need in the mental space for women, to look at themselves far bigger than they see themselves now. I want to challenge women’s minds and ask them to shift their thoughts to create a more empowering social setup for themselves.
What has led to people thinking that women can’t be leaders in the workplace?
The perceptions about Women- Their decision making capability, their lack of will to negotiate, their need for approval, their non-confrontational attitudes, their not being tough enough for a competitive environment.
Can you recall any words of wisdom you were told as a child that has remained prominent in adulthood?
I have never told that I am a girl, therefore, I cannot do something by my parents. I have been raised like my brother. I was checked for discipline but never for expressing myself or doing something that got my attention. I was given free space with a set of supporting parents who said, you can do anything you put your head to. I have lived this way everyday. There are no mental blocks or ideas of incompetence or failure. My father is my Hero and he always said, all is possible.
What are your relationships with your parents like?
I lived in a very positive World in my head and my parents did not interfere. They were supportive in giving me as many opportunities as possible to live and be. I come from a generation and family where parents did not communicate very much with their children, they just did their duty of bringing up. I have learnt much from observing them, their way of being, their struggles and strengths. I expressed myself very freely and at times they found it a little too much to handle. I have fought with them but loved them from the Core, for who they were. They were exceptionally strong and honest people who came from a very small city to the capital of India, with just one dream, to give their children good education and keep them away from the clutches of small town life which was restrictive.
Do you think family support is integral to becoming a successful person with emotional fitness?
I would believe so, as without a good support system and family life, the physical and mental pressures of becoming successful, working late hours and emotional support come in very handy. For women especially, families and children have a special place. Most women love that role and if they manage it well, it is very possible to have a brilliant support systems within their own first/inner circle.
Support though can come in many other ways too. Friends, relationships, peer groups, help etc
Okay, so before you go, can you reveal one of your DIY exercises for personal development from your book?
Every Chapter in my book has a heading called Break Even Point in day to day life and in everything we do. I call this the point of sufficiency in understanding. Whatever we do, if we asked ourselves 5 questions..we will learn and evolve faster, have more clarity and more understanding of ourselves.
With what we do, read, learn:
-Has there been a change of thought or belief about it;
-An action that could be taken immediately with the new thought;
-What do you now give yourself freedom to do or walk away from;
-Where all in your life, the new learning can be applied;
-The Most powerful thought amongst all