From being a national award-winning actor who has worked in over 200 films across twelve languages, to now also becoming a motivational speaker, storyteller, thought leader, and so much more, Ashish Vidyarthi can be aptly called a man of many shades. Finding new reasons to be passionate about every single day is by no means an easy feat, and this is exactly what Ashish does. In spite of donning so many hats, Ashish is still willing to try new things and considers himself a professional learner. It's little wonder that Avid Miner, of which he is the Founder, is just over seven years old, and it has already made a strong mark by contributing profusely in transforming people and organisations to realise their unique identity and extraordinary potential.
You have charted an unusual career path from being an award-winning actor to becoming a top-rated thought leader on personal and professional transformation. How do you look back at your journey traversed thus far? Also, in what ways have your acting and theatre experience helped bring new perspectives to the corporate arena?
For me, any profession is part of life’s journey, and, at different points, we do whatever is needed at that point. It isn’t easy to put a design to it. Hindsight is always twenty-twenty, but, when we travel through life, we discover opportunities, and we try to match our qualities with those opportunities to create something meaningful. For me, my journey as an actor has also been such.
I studied history at the Hindu College, then went over to the National School of Drama, after which I started doing theatre. At that point, my career choices made me move to Mumbai and start doing Hindi films. I do see, in hindsight, a logical progression of me acting in Hindi to acting in various languages, and then, over the last six years, speaking to organisations and groups of people as an Ignite conversationalist.
The way I have grown in terms of my outlook towards life involves seeing myself finding a container or containers, if your career choices may be called that, which I fit my life into. Each time that container can’t contain me, though it comes close, I have my aspirations, which are wider and further than that.
At this very point, until a few weeks back, it used to be one-on-one in front of people, igniting conversations with large groups of people, and coaching or doing workshops. Now, over the last few weeks, I have been pouring myself into the digital space, where I’m expressing myself and reaching far beyond what I ever thought I could do. I am a natural progression of myself, and it’s not at all by design.
For me, acting in theatre and films can never be separated from who I am. Everything that I do or everything any of us does bears witness to what you have experienced in life, what has touched you, and what has impacted you. My theatre acting, travel, relationships, the people that I’ve met, the thoughts that I’ve been privy to, things that I missed, things that I wanted, etc. all come into play in my conversations and workshops. I help people make the most of what they have. Therefore, for me, this element of acting in theatre allows me to captivate and engage people in interesting conversations. Communication is a key skill for any leader or person.
Now, more than ever, leaders must use their executive presence to instill hope and inspire action. However, many find it hard to define and even harder to embody. What, according to you, is executive presence? Also, how can leaders uncover and cultivate their unique presence?
Executive presence, on the one hand, is a badge which people wear—or want to wear—and on the other hand, is something ethereal that is felt when a person walks in and speaks of vision. To me, the ability to draw people towards you by connecting with them on an authentic level is executive presence.
In our executive presence workshop, one of the things that we are continuously dealing with is convincing people that this is not a matter of strategy. It is, in fact, a connection with their own extraordinariness. The extraordinary is inside each of us; for me, it is my inner voice. Once leaders relate to their own voices, that is when they realise that their life, their culture, their upbringing, and their background have shaped who they have become as a unique individual. And when they bring these unique perspectives and experiences into their daily work through communication with others, and by sharing dreams and passions with teams, their executive presence is defined.
Storytelling has become a mainstream management tool that offers a wealth of business benefits. How can leaders use stories to authentically engage and influence people in accomplishing organisational goals?
Apart from being a hot topic, storytelling has always been an inseparable part of our lives. We have loved stories since we were children. Every story, parable, and fable were meant to communicate certain key points. Rather than being instructional, a story should be crafted in a way that the learnable part touches people to inspire action.
Today, as we aspire for a wider impact, our skill as an effective storyteller—to create compelling narratives of what we are committed to—is an amazing power that is available to each of us.
Everyone in your immediate circle—be it your parent, sibling, or a close friend—believes in a story about you that they comprehend and see in you, that they imagine you to be. As we expand our narrative to reach a larger audience, we must keep in mind that those people may not have the same kind of interest as your immediate circle. So, the need to be a listening communicator is a vital part of storytelling. Our workshops are created around allowing organisations to see and hear the people they are communicating to, providing the value those people want, and connecting that value with what the organisation has. Storytelling is something that captures the imagination of people and allows them to take action when they are touched.
Teamwork is a timeless management topic, and its importance is further accentuated by how technology continues to change the way we work. What do you feel are the biggest stumbling blocks that leaders should look to avoid when building successful teams?
If teamwork is really a great thing to do, we should start investigating why it doesn’t happen so easily. If you ask anyone, they will agree that their fist is stronger than five fingers. Conceptually, everything works. However, there’s something about teamwork that stops us—not conceptually, but practically. Teamwork requires listening to other points of view; people are not just things; they have their unique way of working and set of abilities.
The moment we look at teamwork, it is about each one bringing in their best. It is akin to a set of people around a pool, in which they are pouring their best and allowing each other to partake in that offering. Teamwork requires substantial generosity and the ability to take constructive criticism. When done correctly, a team project allows its participants to be present for the times that are not so good as well as for the identification of everyone’s amazing talents.
Teamwork is a two-way process. Not only do you gain from others, but as you participate, you’re also contributing your best and allowing people to bring out the best in you. The context of the word teamwork should be changed from being the “right thing to do” to the added value of teamwork, in which one plus one truly becomes eleven, and more.
COVID-19 is the defining test of leadership in many ways. What would your advice be for leaders as they navigate this crisis scenario and the growth challenges ahead?
First of all, leaders are people who, for me, speak into disbelief. So when the rest of the world doesn’t believe it, a leader has the ability to speak and create a new reality, and then invite people into it. That’s the first part.
Now in this COVID era—and I’m not saying the post COVID era, it is going to be the COVID era from now on—even the leader does not know what the future beholds. They did not know even in the past because the future was uncertain. But uncertainty has broken all past references and models that we had.
The pressure put on leaders is overwhelming; they’re supposed to know everything, but they don’t. Leaders must present themselves with an opportunity to acknowledge that it’s all right not to know and to share with people: “I do not know where the future is. But I know that together we can manoeuvre and be whatever the next moment will need us to be.”
A leader’s game is not necessarily in knowing the final destination. The role of a leader is to get people to embark on a journey of finding their way together. Therefore, leadership does not imply knowing where the road is leading to, but rather commitment and action. This is definitely a time for leaders to nourish their teams and let them know that they have to create more from themselves, more than they have ever done in the past because this new world is going to require more from each one of us.
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