Shiv Paul of Caprihan Consulting: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times

Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine
Published in
13 min readAug 29, 2022

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Operate with self-sacrifice: The job of a leader is to operate with the best interests of their people and the organization in mind. Those two things are not at odds with each other, yet too often leaders will sacrifice people, and resources and compromise what they state their values are for profit and for self. Companies are fond of spinning a narrative that they are a family and the workforce are family members but they punish rather than help people for poor performance, admonish people for standing up for what’s right, and reward and even incentivize bad behavior. I’ve seen this in every organization I’ve worked in.

Shiv Paul of Caprihan Consulting on the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times.

Shiv Paul is a facilitator of change, with 20 years of management consulting experience at McKinsey & Co and Adobe Professional Services group. He’s worked and lived in New York, London and Mumbai and has an ecletic list of achievements across a range of areas including making a documentary film about diversity in sport, ‘Queens at Court’, a fascinating story about the experiences of a group of (LGBT) individuals navigating the world of tennis.

His years of diverse experience position him perfectly for the next chapter of his career — running his own firm, Caprihan Consulting — providing D&I strategy advice to various companies. Shiv believes organizations that focus on people, culture and structure are the companies of the future.

Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My name is Shiv Paul. I am the youngest of five. I was born in India but at 6 months old moved with my family to the UK where we settled in Epsom, Surrey. We were one of few families of color in Epsom and most certainly the least traditional!

Ever since I can remember two things were true:. First, I never wanted anyone to feel unwelcome if I was present — likely because I always felt a bit on the periphery of things myself. And second, I sort of always went with the flow without too much thought or worry about where I’d end up.

That meant I took a long route to get to where I am today, often because someone suggested a path and I thought “Yeah, ok.” I wanted to act, I did an MA in French because I was good at languages, I went to work in Italy after university because a friend of mine suggested I go for an interview with a travel company, I went to Mumbai to act because a family friend said there’d be lots of work ‘for someone like me.’ I fell into management consulting because a friend worked at McKinsey and suggested I apply. I moved to New York with my then boyfriend because he wanted to go there. The list goes on! And even when it felt like I was going along blindly, I think there was part of me that was actively co-designing the experience. But it all led me to exactly where I want to be–at 51 years of age–working for myself and helping people feel like they belong, by embracing the full extent of who and what they are.

My contribution to the world is through helping people understand human behavior (including, obviously, their own), motivations, de-motivations, triggers etc so they can learn to live from their point of truth, work towards their goals in a sustainable way, and ultimately feel like they deserve a seat at our world’s table. I got started on my own because I wanted to return to the UK from New York to be closer to my 85 year old mother. I was working in a very negative environment and my request to be relocated was denied. So I decided to take the plunge, return home and start working for myself — something I’d wanted to do since I was 18 years old.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons you learned from that?

There are probably too many of these to mention but I definitely have a better antenna for when people, including me, get things wrong with regard to belonging, inclusion and fairness. As human beings we are evolving and when it comes to capability building, it’s a process not an event.

Some of the examples that come to mind are perhaps more cringe-worthy than they are funny. Most recently, I was co-facilitating a workshop with a friend, a woman, and after I introduced myself to the group, I accidentally gave her permission to speak, “And now I’ll allow my co-facilitator to introduce herself.” It was a weird slip of the tongue probably because I was a bit flustered for some reason. She laughed about it, and I then used it as a teachable moment to the group about how language is really important in terms of building relationships and how its misuse can be divisive. And also how part of this work that requires being mindful means paying attention not just to your thoughts but your physical, spiritual and emotional self. All of these can trigger behavior in us that we don’t intend. The lesson here — which I state to all participants in my sessions — is that even the most seasoned of us make mistakes, and it’s ok. It’s how you react to those mistakes that matters.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you are grateful to–who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’ve been blessed in my life to have so many people who have advocated for me in different environments and different stages in my life but I will mention 3 here:

First my Father, Santosh Kumar Paul. He was a very successful, self-made man. A geophysicist with a flair for the creative. He was a real risk taker and as a result experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in his career. Many of his decisions affected our family in good and bad ways and I didn’t understand them at the time. But they shaped me into who I am today. And I couldn’t be more appreciative of that or more proud to be his son. He often saw things in me that I couldn’t, and always believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.

Second is one of my oldest friends, the writer, Tracey Sinclair, who I’ve known since university. She set up her own writing and editing consultancy years ago. I had been wanting to work for myself for years but was so fearful and once, when she was visiting me in New York, she said: “The thing is, you think you’re safer working at a big company than for yourself but are you? If they didn’t want you, they’d get rid of you immediately.” That really struck me and made me delve into how my sense of safety was driven by fear which is why I never felt truly free no matter how much I was earning or achieving. It set me on a path to change that narrative so I didn’t feel trapped in my own life.

Third is a friend of mine, Kevin Jennings, who used to read my Tarot cards in New York! When I was on the edge of starting up on my own but still afraid of how I would support myself, he said: “The question you will end up asking yourself is not ‘where will the work come from?’ but ‘where will the work not come from?’”. And he was right.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

My personal vision is to be a facilitator of change. My company’s purpose is “To facilitate achievement of goals of individuals, organizations and their workforces through the development of client-created holistic and balanced strategies that stick.” My purpose is to help people live, as much as possible, according to their truth which is based in their values, and, therefore, achieve their desires, goals, visions. I say ‘as much as possible’ because living according to our values 100% of the time is unrealistic. I’m pretty sure even the Dalai Lama has his off-days!

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

When George Floyd was murdered I explained to the whole department that I was having a hard time, and imagined they were too, and so I wanted to have a facilitated session where we could listen and talk. Every single person attended. During the pandemic, since I am a certified personal trainer, I invited everyone to a weekly exercise session over Zoom for anyone who wanted to attend. As a leader it’s also important to look at your wider set of skills and talents and bring those to the proceedings during challenging times where appropriate. Often these help us as well as our teams.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

No, I have never considered giving up. Even in my very darkest moments — 2010 comes to mind when I was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually broken and honestly found it difficult to see the other side — but there was a tiny little speck of light in me that somehow wouldn’t allow me to give up. It kept reminding me what I was going through was temporary and every new moment was different from the last and to just hold on until I had enough strength to find control. My calling in life is to help facilitate change through whatever medium lends itself to that process. The motivation and sustainability of what keeps me going, I think, is tied to my own philosophy of life which is the purpose of life is to live. We are here to experience the world, people, our emotions, our bodies and more and it’s more fun to focus on positive experiences and be an active creator in the process of manifesting those than to be led by our insecurities or negative thoughts. Of course, some days I feel exhausted because I feel I’m having the same conversations time and again about inclusion, belonging and prejudice and it feels like little is changing but then I remind myself this is a process not an event.

I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

Right now I’m reading “How to lose friends and influence white people” by the Australian journalist Antoinette Lattouf which has proven eye-opening and educational. It has given me new insights into the DEI landscape which after 20+ years in this area, I really appreciate.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

To lead by example and to be kind.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

The future is always uncertain because there are so many possibilities — that’s something we can count on. But uncertainty doesn’t mean you cannot make plans. The best way to boost morale is to ensure that, first, there is a clear vision based on clearly understood values and to use that as an anchor in the storms. The way you get there (your strategy) can change according to the circumstances. So what? Sometimes even the vision changes. Focus on the process of getting to where you want to go, not on the actual achievement of the thing itself and 1. You’ll have a more enjoyable time , 2. You’ll learn more about your character and others’ than you thought possible, and 3. You’ll find it easier to sustain motivation and to recognize and ,therefore, follow inspired thought and action.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

In a practical sense this depends on the nature and character of your audience. Different people require different approaches to receiving difficult news. Some require you to start with logic, some require you to start with emotion, some with empathy. Ultimately, we all want to experience the spectrum of emotions and reasons but the first thing we hear is important in order for us to absorb this information and, hopefully, get on board with it, however painful. And that depends on what motivates and influences us. Having said that, several qualities are required for all approaches: transparency, empathy and honesty. Also, prepping the conversation is really important using the Four Ps: Purpose (“I have some difficult news to share with you”), Payoff (“By the end of our conversation I want you to have an understanding of how we got here and what this means for you and the organization”), Preview (“I’m going to cover the following points”) and Process (How you want to run the meeting i.e. “Feel free to ask me questions along the way” or “Please hold questions to the end” and also “If I can’t answer your question I will make sure I get you an answer asap.”). The Four P’s are useful for any conversation or presentation.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

The future is always unpredictable and so we must be fluid and adaptable to change. During these times we cannot always make decisions or choose options based on logic, we must also employ and trust our intuition. Listening to your gut helps formulate a practical approach and focus on the ‘why’ of your goal. The why is more important than the what because that’s where our motivation is contained.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Remember your values and rely on your intuition and use those as both an anchor and for guidance. Values inform your vision. Visions can change according to circumstances but values don’t.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

  • The absence of a change management strategy.
  • Sacrificing people for profit.
  • Wanting to mirror a successful company (“Just tell me what [X market leader in my industry] is doing and give me that strategy”)
  • Focusing on a strategy without having a vision.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Operate with self-sacrifice: The job of a leader is to operate with the best interests of their people and the organization in mind. Those two things are not at odds with each other, yet too often leaders will sacrifice people, and resources and compromise what they state their values are for profit and for self. Companies are fond of spinning a narrative that they are a family and the workforce are family members but they punish rather than help people for poor performance, admonish people for standing up for what’s right, and reward and even incentivize bad behavior. I’ve seen this in every organization I’ve worked in.
  • Develop and use empathy: Empathy, in my opinion, is the number one quality of leadership. Empathy helps us develop emotional intelligence and that is developed by increasing self-awareness which in turn is cultivated by checking ourselves and being introspective about our own biases. Without empathy you end up not truly listening to what is being said and, therefore, don’t deliver what is really needed.
  • Be authentic: Understand your values and try to live by them as much as possible. Remember we are human and not Jesus/Gandhi/Buddha (insert your preferred enlightened being here) and so are unlikely to do that 100% of the time. Being guided by your values helps you stand up for others and for yourself. And don’t confuse this with bringing your whole self to work. I don’t think anyone wants to see that.
  • Be adaptable: Change is a constant and we must be able to adapt, and quickly. The most successful businesses are in some way disruptive. You cannot be innovative without being so. Visions sometimes change and strategies often need to. But values never do.
  • Listen to others: The number one cause of imposter syndrome is thinking you have or feeling you should have all the answers. No one does. A good leader listens to what is being said and not said by those around, above and below them. This includes inviting feedback and being introspective about it, not defensive.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Two if I may:

“The key to successful relationships is not through trying to understand someone but by accepting them for who they are.” Santosh Kumar Paul, my father. I have found this to be helpful in every aspect of my life.

The second is a paraphrased version of a Stephen Hawking quote with a my own spin::

“Human intelligence is characterized by an individual’s — or an organization’s — ability to adapt to change.”

‘Or an organization’s’ is the Shiv addition. His original quote is actually “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change”

How can our readers further follow your work?

I’ll be back in the US soon actually. I am giving a TEDx talk in Dallas, Texas on September 11. The talk is on ‘How to use your Superpower to Change your Life’. And I’m also speaking at the Empowerment Summit in London in October on Leading with Inclusion.

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shiv-paul-b609a4/

Website: https://caprihanconsulting.com/

Email: shiv@caprihanconsulting.com

IG: shiv.k.paul

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator