We all face turning points in our lives. The question is how we are going to meet them.
This is the subject of Radha Ruparell’s new book, Brave Now: Rise Up From The Wrestling And Unleash Your Better Self. A cross-sector leader with expertise in leadership development and personal transformation, Radha works with CEOs, executives, social entrepreneurs and local leaders around the world to develop their inner strengths.
I had the opportunity to interview Radha recently. Here are some highlights from that conversation:
Jill Griffin: So tell me a bit about your background.
Radha Ruparell: Sure. I work in leadership development. Over the past two decades, I have worked across industries and around the world with CEOs, Fortune 500 executives, and social entrepreneurs to develop and enhance their leadership.
These days, I run a leadership accelerator within a global network called Teach for all. The grand vision we are working towards is a world where all children realize their potential so that they can shape a better future for themselves and for us. My focus is on how we can develop the leadership capacities of people around the world who are reinventing education.
It’s my daily job, but another interesting part of my story is what happened last year. In April 2020, I became very ill with COVID. I was one of the first people to get sick in New York City. In the first two months, I wasn’t sure I would get there. Last year I became a COVID long haul.
Griffin: Oh, I’m so sorry.
Ruparell: Yes, I’m happy to be on the other side. What happened, Jill, through this experience was that the leadership work I had done with others – building resilience, navigating uncertainty, finding inner strength – I had to rely on these principles. As I started to improve, I wrote a book about it called Brave now, where I share these lessons in life and leadership.
Griffin: Thanks for sharing this; it further highlights your skills in this area. Let us go back for a moment. How did you begin your ascent to your sweet spot of leadership?
Ruparell: Well my journey started as a transformative experience when I was 12 when my parents took me to a village in India where my family is from. It was this rural village, three hours away on a dirt road. I saw these kids running around, and they were just amazing, enterprising and lively kids. But I realized that they didn’t have the same opportunities as I did.
From this early stage of life, I became obsessed with the idea of our potential as human beings. Why do some people have opportunities and others don’t? How can we harness our potential?
I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, so I spent the first part of my career in business. I spent many years as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company working with executives on their biggest business challenges.
I spent a few years at the World Bank. I have worked with non-profit organizations on the ground in Tanzania and India. I then spent a few more years in global health consulting. I then went back and finished my studies. I went to Harvard and got an MBA and a degree in public policy.
I have to say, however, that I think my greatest educational experiences have been learning on the job.
Griffin: Yes, life is the best teacher.
On that note, your book is called Brave now. What are its key points?
Ruparell: The basic premise of the book is that we are all going to face turning points in our lives. The question is, are we going to let these moments bring us down, or are we going to pick ourselves up stronger?
A key point that I explore is the idea of building resilience. To do this, we need to connect more authentically with each other.
Griffin: What would these connections look like?
Ruparell: Here is a personal example. When I was confronted with COVID, one of my biggest supporters was a colleague of mine. When I got sick, she started reaching out to me every day to ask if I needed anything.
Leaders like to project their strength: “I am strong. I do not need help. And so, at first, that’s what I would say. But over time, I started to be real with her. Through this connection, which was a lifeline for me, I was able to heal faster and the work we do together is even stronger now.
A second question that I explore in the book is: “How do you slow down and become more present?”
Griffin: Oh yes. COVID has taught us a few lessons about this.
Ruparell: He has. This year has given us a lot of challenges, but one gift it has given us is a collective slowdown.
I used to fly on a plane every week and go to work every day. I didn’t have time to call colleagues and friends. In this collective slowdown, we’ve actually had more room for it. My biggest thought now is how to maintain it?
If I hadn’t slowed down, my colleague’s kindness might have escaped me. I am now doing a lot of work to train leaders to slow down. Take a break between meetings and take two deep breaths, so you don’t let the clutter from the previous moment get in your way.
After we pause and are present, the next step is to ask, “How do we listen from a clean slate?” How to listen with curiosity, without entering with our preconceived ideas? ”
Griffin: I like this.
Radha Yes, it is that simple. Another simple lesson is about uncertainty. There is so much uncertainty in the world. I learned that “what we resist persists”. If we can accept that there is some uncertainty in the world, all of a sudden it no longer has a hold on us.
Griffin: Have you ever thought the world was bringing COVID to you for these revelations?
Ruparell: I thought about it, Jill. COVID has been a learning opportunity. I feel more alive and awake. I feel that I can now contribute to others. I don’t waste a single moment.
Griffin: What you are proposing is remarkable. I’m sure there is a lot more to cover.
Ruparell: There really is. One thing I tell people is to start with micro steps.
Maybe you want to learn more about meditation and slowing down, but the idea is overwhelming. It was my experience. So I started with just a minute a day. One minute I would stop and try not to think of anything like reflective practice. Another example: when we try to be vulnerable with each other, we don’t have to tell every person in our life everything. I started off by saying, “What’s one thing I’m a little afraid to say that I can share it with?” ”
Griffin: I like this.
Ruparell: Law? Because you’ll end up saying, “Wait, is that it? It wasn’t that hard, was it? You can start small.
Griffin: Yes you can. Thanks Radha. I got so much out of it.
Ruparell: Thanks, Jill. I appreciate it so much.