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Blending emotional intelligence with leadership - Abha Banerjee [Interview]

Blending emotional intelligence with leadership - Abha Banerjee [Interview]

HR blogs
Zeba Kazi
March 8, 2022
Human Resource Management Platform

About Abha Banerjee

Blending emotional intelligence with leadership - Abha Banerjee [Interview] | peopleHum

Abha Banerjee is the founder and chief mentor at Success India. The People Building Company. She is a business lawyer turned people building expert. Abha is India's first internationally acclaimed woman motivator and best selling author on thought leadership.

She is also a highly sought after keynote speaker for topics including leadership for women, bringing with her a lot of diverse experience. We are happy to have someone of her experience in our interview series. 

Aishwarya Jain

Blending emotional intelligence with leadership - Abha Banerjee [Interview] | peopleHum

We have the pleasure of welcoming Abha Banerjee today to our interview series. I'm Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team. Before we begin, just a quick introduction of peopleHum. peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated Human Capital Management Automation Platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work with AI and automation technologies.

We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.


Welcome, Abha we are thrilled to have you.


Thank You, Aishwarya so nice to be here. My pleasure. 


It's really our pleasure. Thank you so much. 

So Abha, tell us a little bit about your journey that brought you to Success India.


Aishwarya you just mentioned Success India, it's called the People Building Company, the idea around Success India is primarily that I am one person who, since being a kid has been fascinated with people's potential. I really believe that it always boils around the people. Like Zig Zigler says, "You don't build a business, you build people and then people build the business." And that's on your website. 

So I am one person who has taken it upon herself very proactively, ever since I was a little child, something that we believed that we should be able to do. It all boils down to doing something in life. People want to do so much in life. And in my personal experience, I had some kind of a sad experience where I saw a lot of high potential people where I was a kid, could see solutions and they couldn’t. 

Why? Because they were made up in their mind in a certain way, and they would say, No, it's not possible because of maybe some social conditioning, maybe from where they came from. But I could sit there and see a solution. And then at one point, I got so agitated and I was like this mini rebel in my house who would say, "No, no, it's possible", and my parents would say, "No, no, it is not possible." And I would just go up and do it to show it is possible. 

And over those years and this like very early childhood. And I realize that there is something missing either in the social space or in our education because my parents were reasonably smart people. And why would they say that it's not possible and so many people on the way that I would sit in the midst of that? I was this highly opinionated kid, and this is probably an embarrassment for my parents, who thought that I would be standing on the doors and say I can solve everything, but I realize it's all about your mindset, and either you are born with it or you can build it. 

You can work around it and a lot of people do not know. And having said that, my interest in people building began very early. I was living with this vision at the age of 17 to work around people and to be able to help them build their potential to a point where all of us become effective. Where all of us become our highly productive selves because that is what we are meant to do. We are not supposed to live less in any way.  

"I was living with this vision at the age of 17 to work around people and to be able to help them build their potential to a point where all of us become effective, where all of us become our highly productive selves because that is what we are meant to do. We are not supposed to live less in any way".

And that is what brought me to Success India. Because as a lawyer, I come from that ancient decade were only three things were available to people. Whether you are a science student, commerce student, or an Art student. So I was this Arts student to pick up the law because I really wanted to be in the social sector working around people. And that is what I aimed at as a lawyer as well. 

I had a lot of social work to do, I was part of human rights organizations, I was a part of doing a lot of things. But I realize at some point that this is not going to get me where I was thinking I could go and I needed to re-educate myself. So I had to put it on the side a little bit and get into understanding what build people? What built people's minds?  What brought about change? 

And that sort of made me jump into and leap into something of a totally unknown place where I had to learn psychology, society, religion, philosophy, economics, politics and you name it and the human body and how the mind works. And that took me to this place. And eventually when 2008 Success India was born. 

Again a little bit early in time because, as I said, I start off a little bit early with everything even as a kid and now also with Success India came in earlier than it was supposed to be, because people building in itself is not something that people really focus on. We want results, but we don't realize it's the people who bring results. 

Build People, people are going to build results. So Success India was my vision, my dream, around making India and Indians aware of their success that potential lies that it's the right that belongs to everybody. Everybody should try to be successful, and we define it in terms of either whatever stature or whatever we want to call it. But there is a lot more to it, and it's about potential. So let's bring the potential out in the country, let everybody become high potential people. And that is the dream of success India. That's what brought me to bring up Success India 


Wow, that is so inspirational and really kudos to you for the great work in helping women and having that inequality level brought down which is so important. 

And because you started up so early, you had to learn so many things and have so much diverse knowledge to actually make people aware of the country, where they just don't have awareness above this and in respect to that can you also give us some insight on your ideas for leadership for women? 


You mentioned bringing down these inequalities, we are living in a social set up and an extremely subtle level of social expectation around both men and women and it's worse for them. What it does it brings down women's potential rather than bringing it up. So when it comes to biology, we have a different biology, but I think the mental framework of how women function is again a very biological fact. 

And I don't know if you're aware that women's communication centers are bigger than men's communications, and it happens when they're still fetuses. A child, A fetus is born, gender-neutral, exactly conceived general neutral at about 7-8 weeks of pregnancy, a shot of testosterone are sent to the male mind and the shot of testosterone are not sent it's a female mind. So the communication center for the female remains bigger, while as the short of testosterone are sent the male center becomes shrunk.

Now that is why we have men focused on this tunnel way of hunting, and that's what they are biologically supposed to do. Now if we were to leave it with that, and then we live in the same hunter-gatherer and nurture kind of capacity. But now times have changed and we're into a place where science has proven beyond doubt that the brain functioning can be altered, depending upon how we teach our brain water what to do. 

So now bring it down to a woman's place, and she can do exactly as much as a man can do because of this brain function and the science around the brain functioning and even as a biological function. So the leadership of women is not something that is commonly accepted as normal. And why is that? The question would arise. Why is that? Because leadership, as understood in the marketplace, supposedly requires a certain level of aggression which women are deemed not to. 

They say they cannot deal with the big stuff. They cannot deal with aggression. They cannot deal with problem-solving. They cannot deal with competition and so on, and so forth. All kinds of perceptions that revolve around being a woman in a society like ours or anywhere else in the world, and we are facing the problem elsewhere in the world too. So having said that, what does this bring us to? It brings us to a place where we will have to see what are women capable of wherever they are. 

Number one. And how do we build them up from there? So we cannot take them to zero and say, Okay, now you want to become a leader. They are already leading their lives in a certain way, successful in some places, not so successful in the other, plus fighting this perception that 24/7, 365-day basis that they can't do this. So there are a lot lesser women out there who have broken that ceiling. 

They have actually proven themselves. They work harder than everybody else. But it boils down to women embracing it in themselves that I am capable of doing this because even men don't become leaders because they're men. They become leaders because they can lead. So now we have to teach women that and make them accept this, that if you are in a position to lead even wherever you are, you are still a leader. 

But they don't consider themselves a leader. They need to be pushed to tell "You can, you can." And the confusion is in their minds. Men think they can’t but then the women also think they can't. So we are continuously fighting over that and there is a fight for equality. The fight for getting we can compete with men as men. We have to compete for an environment from a place of leading and from a place of value, which is what is valued in every place. So whether you're a man or woman, I don't think it's much of a difference.

"We have to compete for an environment from a place of leading and from a place of value, which is what is valued in every place. So whether you're a man or woman, I don't think it's much of a difference".

As long as you can do a good job. You will be faced with people coming in telling you, "No no not like this", like in my case. I was very happy. I was studying abroad, I actually had to stop and go study abroad. 

I came back to India, happy about my knowledge and thinking, "Oh my God, I am going to make a huge difference." I was kicked up totally. Totally not accepted, totally not received. And what is this? What are you even talking about? And here you see seven years from then, five years from then and everybody, the people, finally, get to a point where they understand that building people is an important part of it. 

So that's where the women's leadership thing needs to be taken very seriously from the place of human potential. Let's build our women's potential to a point that they can lead. Leadership in itself has a lot of new ones that can be learned. It's all not behavior. You need to be able to push yourself against problems, solve them, push, solve, push, solve. And it's a dynamic that women have to go into. 

They don't get those opportunities. A lot of women are working in a safe job. So where is the opportunity to fight? Where is the opportunity to solve a problem? Where is the opportunity to hit back at the competition? Where is the opportunity to face aggression except for sexual violence, we don't place any other aggression. So we fought that, it became the normal circumstance. Where are the women getting these opportunities? 

So we need to let them see and go, and probably sometimes it's important to create those opportunities for yourself, find your strengths. Find your potential. Get it out into the open, create something new because people are not going to give it to you. It is not going to be happening in the normal course. So how do we make women leaders? 

We train them to become leaders. We train them to be valued rivals and to train them to be the people who can bring that potential out and lead anything and to all the other things that men say we can do, so we can fight. We can fight aggression. We can compete, we can be aggressive at times and it's already all in a context it’s not about men and women. So if we understand those little basics, I think women need to begin to embrace the thought of being leaders and build themselves as much as they can, irrespective of wherever they are. 


Absolutely. And as you said it's really a problem of self-confidence and lack of self-worth where women are even afraid to ask for help. After that, it is such a big problem.  


I agree. See we are taught not to. So we need to get off that conditioning and social expectations. What is the worst-case scenario that would happen if you can ask for help? Somebody else would say, "Sorry, we can't help", or somebody would say, "How foolish can’t you do it yourself", or somebody would say, "Okay, she is trying to" - this commonplace I hear - "seeking attention In the name of help." 

What happens, the world does not end there. We need to be tougher than that. We need to be able to knock more doors. We need to be able to take a lot more rejection. We need to be able to take a lot more of these social definitions around women. Women are afraid and hesitant. And they resisted themselves because we are told to be nice, we are told to be poised, we are told to be coy and we can be all that. 

But that doesn't mean we can't be tough and all that boils down to your level of communication, understanding, knowledge, and your experience in these circumstances. You really don't go and punch people right? Even men don't punch. So what is the difference? The difference is being able to handle the issue through our communication and being tough in that space to be able to sort that have to become people who can sort of think. 

Problem solvers. And then we become tough. So if women don’t ask for help, they don't communicate, they don't express themselves. How on earth are we expecting them to lead others to do the same? So we need to bring that up and let our women see their potential and see why they need to talk. How much can they talk? Where do they need to talk? Understand those contexts? It's not very difficult but it needs to be done not without action.



And previously there was a lack of awareness and just talking about the sensitive topics. It was considered a taboo. But slowly there is much more awareness in people and they are opening up to this topic. And have you also seen that in your lifetime career? 


Yes, I think in the last five years, because there are working women now. Let's face it, India has a very high percentage of working women, but they're not in leadership positions. In the last five or seven years, we have seen all these women rise up and talk because they actually do talk. They are running some organizations. They are running some parts of organizations, they are running part of businesses, they are running their homes. 

So they're not people who can't function or who are not functioning well. So before five to seven years ago, we did not see a lot of women coming up and talking. But you see, the last three years have had a sudden upsurge of women coming and talking about these things and wanting these things to be spoken about, wanting some kind of insight, wanting some kind of deliberation on that, some kind of conclusion.

Okay, like we can move forward from here, which is a very good sign. But again because I came in and I was a woman and I came in at a time where there were only two people sitting in the United States over Indian origin people, but were the only people who were doing personal development. And I wasn't accepted. I met a lot of men. I knocked on a lot of doors and I sought help. 

I put together our ideas and I pitched them. They looked at me and they said, "Great idea, very good. Now we can do it ourselves, we don't want you around here okay? Why do we need you? We can do this ourselves." So I faced this for a good four to five years. When a lot of big people picked up those ideas and tried to do them. They don't know what it was all about, but they just can handle a woman making sense. 

We are supposed to be somewhere listening to them and they're giving the solutions. So if a woman gives a solution, I have been giving a solution since I was a kid. So I am not accepted very well in a lot of places, not just here. Even my parents get very hostile. So I have a solution for everything and they come out to be right. Not because I'm smarter than anybody, but I really do apply my potential to any given situation. 

And if you look for solutions you’ll get solutions. People don’t look for them. They don't expect a woman to have a solution. That's the way it is and I am very happy to see what's happening in the last five years, but we really need to train our women. And I think they have the potential, some of them are sitting at some end somewhere to just take that lead. But they don't have the space to lead, there is nobody telling them you can now take the lead from here. 

The ones who are built. They're already doing it. But there is a majority who needs that kind of support and needs that kind of understanding and loving, understanding so can go ahead and do it. Let's do it, come on. 

I’m trying very hard to work on that. 


Ya, I completely understand your struggle. And there are so many leaders that do not even understand or recognize the potential of women. 

And do you think that's also because of generational gaps? Because now the millennials and the Gen Z, they are much stronger and they are bolder in their thoughts and then there are baby boomers who are were very traditional or still traditional in their approach.


Absolutely, but you see Aishwarya, we're talking about 50% of the overall human potential existing on this planet. Let's talk about India. If we were to do their 50% is 1.35 billion people how much does that make? The new millennial generation is definitely stronger. Because they have been educated differently than the generation before that, which is like maybe my mom’s generation. 

I mean extremely strong women who have run households, who have run the whole backend of their husband's lives or Children's lives. Raising kids, that itself a leadership job, and they have all the skills. Even they had the skills but they had no space to use those skills. The moment they came out into the open, they were not able to function because the requirement of that out in the open is very different. 

Now the millennials, the women now they are at least comfortable. They don't feel out of place when they're out there, which is one very good thing. Which is like the last 20 years, we've seen 30 years, we have seen an extremely positive scenario where women are way more educated, way more expressive, way more open and willing to talk. Still, not all leaders are capable of becoming leaders, because if you have the communication skills, if you have the skill to go and handle issues, so you are already a part leader. 

But then we need to hook ourselves to something which benefits more than us. That's when you will be in a position to lead. So I am very hopeful now with this generation, the kind of kids we are meeting, the kind of younger women we are meeting, very strong, very powerful, very wanting to go and do something, they are not just going to raise kids and go back home as my mom did it. 

So she raised four children and she was always tired of her children. And she was a very strong woman and we used to find her strength. So we got our strength from her because we will fight with her. This generation and the millennials are really out there to beat the life out of what's going on. They want to be part of what's going on. They want to be in the midst of it, and that's a very positive sign. 

So I am sure lot of them will just come up because of their own potential because of their own hard work, which is where I think I have been lucky to be able to talk to women in the corporate women, my generation women, and the younger lot as well because I go to college and talk to women. The questions are awesome. When we were kids I mean, I look at it and so I must have been terribly dumb, I did not know this. 

So we laugh at each other, but it's going to be fun from here because this generation and the one before this are very strong women. And I am sure lots and lots of things are gonna change if we have more women in the mainstream. They are not in the mainstream. They want to be in the mainstream, and that desire itself is sufficient for the change they're looking for 


Absolutely. I think there's drive and a passion in the women now. They really harness this in the right way. There is no stopping them. 


Of course, they should come to my workshops and in three days they can become champions 


Absolutely. And you also talk about you know organizations being emotionally fit to give us a few tips. 

How do you understand if an organization is emotionally fit?


Emotions are our guiding guidance. So if emotional intelligence merges itself with normal human intelligence, our own awareness of ourselves becomes much higher as compared to if we are not aware of our own emotions, what does it mean? What makes me feel good? What makes me feel bad? What makes me angry? You need to deal with those things in ourselves. Now emotional intelligence about self-awareness and self-functioning, social awareness, and social functioning. 

"If emotional intelligence merges itself with normal human intelligence, our own awareness of ourselves becomes much higher as compared to if we are not aware of our own emotions".

And if we were to merge this together, we are looking at a very optimized version of functionality where you can handle people. It's people handling people, people doing their things and then people handling people, this is all that happened in the entire world, but any framework around and its people with people. Now if people are not emotionally intelligent. The chances of their functioning at their optimum levels are lower as compared to people who are emotionally intelligent because they can handle it. 

Their anger, the bad moods of their own mentality, because they become learners of their own emotions and they keep growing on them. Now bringing to an organizational circumstance where one of our workshops is called Emotional Fitness for Corporates. We believe and this will be more successful work so far that an organization is a sum total of all the emotions of all the people working in there, plus all the people affected by that organization. 

Put the two of them together, you talking about the results of that organization, including the bottom ones or the numbers. So emotional fitness would mean how strong are your people in removing the roadblocks. This is one of the key works of emotion: removing the blocks on the way. That's where our emotions work. So today I can get very angry and stop talking to somebody. 

I’ve not solved a problem, I don't like what somebody else is saying, so I leave the issue and I walk away. I am not solving the problem, so unless and until we keep moving. And a momentum needs to be maintained before which emotional witness, individual assets, as well as collective, is very important. What about the conflict in dispute resolution? How fast will it do, it needs extreme levels of emotional intelligence in the people who are doing that? What about change management? 

Extreme levels of emotional intelligence? What about crisis management? Look at what's happening. We're sitting in our home. We're working. People are depressed. People are worried. All those kinds of things are happening, all our emotions are coming up. Are we able to face them, are we able to handle them, have we become better, have we become worse? So learning about yours and becoming aware of your own emotions equip you to learn about other people's emotions. 

Whether it's your stakeholders, whether it's your employees,  whether it's your customers, whether it's people who are looking at you, it's everything, so that is one of the key skills that one needs to have and your corporate culture around that is built where if you have some smart people over their space is going to be smart and fun, and have some quiet people, serious people, problem-driven people who are all over the place. 

You think about what would happen to the environment, so emotional Intelligence literally creates an environment which leads to a very high happiness quotient in whichever area it is. Whether it's in the organization or outside the organization, therefore emotional witness for corporates will include a level of this thing where the roadblocks removed and the happy momentum is maintained in an organization. And that is emotional fitness and that is what we workaround. 


Wow that is very interesting work. And do you also believe that technology plays a role in this? 


It definitely does, you see now technology it's like a Siamese twin you can't do without it, and you have to live with it. So either you take it or leave it or you have to take the good and bad both with technology. I will share with you something that I used to think as a kid. I used to think why this country's better, that this country is to ask a lot of questions and bore my mother because she never liked this question. 

I realized that technology at least frees your mind to think differently. If you are still in a survival state which is what countries in the developing world are or underdeveloped countries are, your mind space is already very occupied with surviving. Technology frees your mind because you can do the job faster. But what do you do with that free mind that is the question. So technology is going to make a huge difference. 

It already has made a huge one downside of it is that our free minds of not being utilized for something which is productive. We are utilizing a free mind so create more sometimes more destructive things because we have the mind, we have the time, we have the faculty. But if we do not apply that free mind into something productive, we will be wasting that which is where I think that is the downside. 

But otherwise, I think technology sort of the speeds of everything makes us see things from a different perspective. It has created the massive possibilities of people and people apply that technology to put their potential and possibilities together. You can imagine what it means. Use technology for good reasons. And that's what I believe even in the organization's going to be a huge change to what we are doing now. 

You see, everything is locked down. We are all still working and suddenly within 10 days, people all back on our feet and how this whole online place and this whole whatever we are doing just now has changed the way people are ever going to work. So I think I was thinking of artificial intelligence but two or three years from now, COVID has done it. So we are again two to three years ahead of time again. 


It's very interesting how, just changing the dynamics so quickly is great 


Agreed, look at the way people are adapting to it. That's the interesting part because I'm a people's person. I'm watching people. I really believe that the way people have handled this crisis, the way people are not just adaptive to it but attacking it, in a very, very constructive way. I am almost all day in an online meeting with people across the world, so literally it looks like nothing has stuck.

My daughter's having classes, online classes. She sleeps through that but she has to wake up. She has to mark attendance to it. They have an on-camera assembly and kids were thinking it's a holiday, but school is back, so it's gotta change a lot of stuff from here. So I am waiting to see how it works. It's going to be fun. 


Absolutely, let's just see how this works out. 

Do you also have some kinds of tips to keep in mind right now? How should people cope with the situation? There are of course lots of women who are struggling as well. Do you have any tips for them?  


I think all of us are facing that situation and men and women together. What could and what has become a problem is the loss of work and consistency in people like, which is going to be an issue for a lot of people. I hope this lockdown does not extend to a longer period. We have had issues like this earlier, many, many such viruses and we get our lessons from there. It's gotta be a lot of mental health issues might come in. 

People may have to become more innovative or get into double jobs to raise the kind of money that they need. Offices and companies and corporates will have to figure out ways to fulfill their own needs and the needs of the people that are working with them. So, every day it's changing. People are coming up with all different kinds of things. It could be quite bad if it extends longer than I hope it doesn't. 

I mean, I don't even wanna say the number but have been reading since the last two days that it could extend to a longer period, which is going to be a crazy situation where people might have to take up things that they have never done. So a lot of distress may happen, and in that circumstance, I hope I think we all say, "Let's keep our hands folded and pray that this ends fast and they can get back to normal life and the things start flowing all over again." 

But through that period, do something like keeping your health in check, both physical health and mental health and emotional health. You know, people for the first time, maybe some families for the first time they're together in years together they don't know what to do with each other. And they are talking on the phone here and there. And they are looking at each other's face, they just don’t want to do it with each other. 

They were fine going in the morning and meeting each other in the evening for those 30 minutes or an hour. Now they're sitting on each other's heads for 24/7 and they don’t know what to do. So we can add a little bit of lightness to the situation by turning this whole thing into something that we can get to know each other in families, spend some family time together, get to know each other. And we just talk about emotional intelligence. 

That's a very powerful way to deal with your emotions at this point of time as in through crises, through change and help each other to do that and become better friends with each other, support each other, get to know each other better and keep each other's health and mental health in check and just keep up with the whole thing. I mean, we have to go through this either we do it nicely or don't do it nicely. However, you can do it nicely. Please do that. Do whatever you can but keep up the spirit. 


Absolutely, there are so many things that in your busy life you say, I don't have the time to do this. You have the time to do this now, So you better have no excuse now. 


Agreed. When this happened, the first thing in my family was that I hadn't slept in a long time and people went off to sleep. And after two days they said, 'God, how much can I sleep honestly' and then they said, 'Okay, let's sit down and talk to each other.' So three days we talked and how much can we talk. So then we had to come up with what to do to keep ourselves not just busy but productively busy and not feel or go down in our spirit because we are not used to this kind of thing. I never stay indoors. 

But I'm built in such a way that I can manage and all kinds of change, but not for the other people in the family. So one day, we get very happy. And then one day we cook new meals. Next day what you do now, what new things can you bring up. So we have now settled in and settled down. People have picked up their things to do what they thought they could do best. And whatever we can make the best of this time, we have a lot of time in hand now. So keep the peace, rest, and get ready for what's coming after this. Now we have to become very aggressive. As soon as this opens up, we should be at our 100% level. 


Absolutely, Abha it was lovely talking to you, it was such a learning experience for me and I really appreciate your time and your views so much for participating in this.


Thank you so much Aishwarya, Lovely being here.


Thank you so much, let's stay in touch and have a healthy time ahead of you.


Stay safe, stay healthy. Bye, take care.


Bye, take care.

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October 25, 2021

A very inspiring list. Thanks for putting this together


October 25, 2021

This is such a great list of women leaders! More power to you all

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