Ashu Khanna on Nurturing the Leader Within

This article is a lightly-edited summary of the key takeaways from our speakers’ appearance on our podcast, “The Shape of Work.” If you haven’t listened to our show yet, be sure to check it out here. These speakers have an incredible stable of startup experiences to draw from, the kind of stories that are unbelievably helpful for HR/people managers to hear.


“The more I am anchored and aligned internally, the more I’m able to observe and align externally. Leadership is, therefore, a role which requires a lot of agility and resilience as you are dealing with situations and people that are constantly changing”. 

Ashu Khanna, Founder and CEO at Arka Leadership.

In our interview with her, she throws light on the importance of creating an environment of shared leadership- where you harness complementing skills for which you’ve hired the rest of the team. ARKA Leadership is a movement to promote authentic leadership. Their sole purpose is to fulfill their vision of #JoyForAll by inspiring people to align their relationships with the inner self and the world. The philosophy of Arka Leadership is a confluence of the science of Vedic scriptures and the science of coaching.

Ashu has successfully partnered with many CXO’s to reimagine possibilities and be empowered to design a life of success and happiness. She has been ranked #29 by YourStory amongst the “100 Emerging Voices in India”; and received an award as one of the “101 Fabulous Coaches in India” by World Coaching Congress.

Great Leaders are made not born

Ashu believes that there is a leader in all of us. Everyone has the capacity to nurture and develop that leader.  However, it is important to understand what it means to be a leader. It should not resonate with the “I lead and you follow” ideology. It is more about creating a space for harnessing the skills of your team and holding them accountable at the same time. This is what can be understood as shared leadership. This can be done by recognizing them for doing a good job. Leadership requires getting out of the way, being vulnerable, and doing everything that is required for the betterment of the team. These traits are not necessarily taught but learned on the ground.

Organizational design and restructuring

Ashu shared that there is no single perfect organizational design for one organization. Organizational design is mainly divided based on

  • Geography
  • Function
  • Sectors
  • Industry
  • Capabilities
  • Countries

For this reason, every organization goes for restructuring every few years. 

Any matrix will create complexity where people have a dual reporting line. However, bigger organizations like Ernst and Young and Citi Bank which have thousands of people in multiple locations have no option but to own a matrix structure. Organizational restructure should not occur without the why being explained.  Every organization requires a different structure that best suits its pattern of work.

“Even after having an organizational design in place, any startup takes a year to three years for it to fall into its truer space. And even after that, it evolves and morphs into a more mature form. It is all about being open to those evolutionary phases.”

Self awareness in Leadership

Self-awareness is the key to a successful leader. Gone are the days when it was just about technical expertise because today we are also managing people. It’s the people that are managed while technology acts as a facilitator. 

We need to understand the rules to know how to operate a computer. Similarly, managing people requires self-awareness. The more you understand yourself, and your triggers with people, the more you’ll be able to understand other people’s triggers and create a culture of inclusion and shared leadership.

Being empathetic and passionate to be with people doesn’t mean you’re not empathetic to yourself. A one-way street never survives. Any people officer is ultimately the vision of the organization. The values of the organization and the vision of the people need to come together. Once you’re able to align the ‘what’s in it for them with the ‘what’s in it for you. That’s where the magic happens.

Traits of a good leader

Leadership is about walking the talk. If you’re not being authentic, you cannot expect others to be the same. Leadership requires a tremendous amount of curiosity, and the capacity to explore experiments. This is achieved through expanded self-awareness. 

Things that start with self-awareness grow into self-leadership, and then into expanded awareness. 

Egoistic leadership is not authentic leadership. It is about doing the right thing at all times for the entire team and not simply trying to be right. Doing the right thing takes a lot of reflection and mindfulness, to think about what is actually required.

Coaching leaders

It is impossible for everybody to be authentic in your team at the same time. Individuals have different journeys, progress, and perspectives. Considering all these filters, leaders need to cater to diversity. By understanding diversity, we can create developmental programs efficiently. For some, coaching may be a great deal, while for others, more group-based learning may work. Organizations need to understand that learning has to be a combination of both, classroom and group-based. 

Finding work-life balance

With lines blurring, it gets challenging for people to balance life. Ashu shares that one of the most important things is making time for yourself. She talks about her practice of starting the day with an hour for herself with Yoga or meditation. This ‘me-time is what gives her balance for the rest of the day. It is her tonic and she doesn’t compromise on that.

The second thing itself is the morning which helps her to focus on what’s important. The third thing is to limit your non-work screen time which requires discipline and motivation. This was not a problem earlier when mobile phones were not such a huge part of our daily lives.

Follow Ashu Khanna on LinkedIn

Priya Bhatt

I cover Employee stories at Springworks.

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