“Understand Servant Leadership and Interrelatedness” With Bestselling Author Divya Parekh
I wish somebody had explained the concept of interrelatedness to me when I began my career. Servant leadership is as much for you as it is for others. Take the ocean, for example. The sea is an excellent example of a community that nurtures interdependence as every plant, animal, and organism lives its own life. I invite you to begin with yourself and zoom out to your family, friends, neighbors, community, nation, and the planet. When you help others succeed, you bring joy to yourself and others. When you build a community of interdependent members and serve the greater good of “us,” you create a human ocean that nurtures all of its inhabitants.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Divya Parekh, a 5-time #1 bestselling author, CEO, award-winning business leadership coach, and international speaker. Divya brings over 25 years of broad experience to everything in which she’s involved. Her experience as a scientist and biotechnology professional has given her powerful insight into the multifaceted field of leadership coaching. Her professional wisdom has prompted multi-million dollar entrepreneurs, seasoned executives, and influential nonprofit leaders to seek her out for leadership coaching and advice. Her leading position on the International Coaches Academy, an international coaching school spanning 90 countries, has also increased her executive leadership proficiency. Divya has been endorsed by foremost thinkers like Brian Tracy and Marshall Goldsmith, which helped her become a significant figure in her fields. She has mastered the ability to connect with audiences across all industries. Realizing that life is not just about career, she seeks to make a substantial, positive impact on those around her. Divya has made it one of her life’s primary missions to teach and nurture those around her as much as she possibly can. She spends much of her free time as a regular contributor to Forbes Coaches Council, an Associate Professor at NC State University, a mentor for a local robotics team, and an advocate of women empowerment. Her willingness to encourage meaningful change to communities around her has not gone unnoticed. She’s received numerous recognitions, including a feature in the Women of Distinction Magazine, a magazine division of the National Association of Distinguished Professionals, as well as being 2013’s VIP of the Year for excellence in her craft by Worldwide Branding. Divya’s resolve and enthusiasm to change the world has been featured by news organizations such as BBC.com, CBS News, USA Today and many more.
Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?
My journey of embracing, loving, and forming relationships with people as the centerpiece of my “why” began with my liberal upbringing in India. My parents encouraged my sister and me to have open minds and to be progressive. They taught us that there were no limiting gender boundaries and helped us realize our full potential. They showed us that any limits we thought we had were just our imagination.
India is a land of diverse cultures, languages, religious beliefs, spiritual beliefs, compassion, and much more. I grew up with meditation and exposure to cultural diversity at home, school, and in society, so meditating became a way of life rather than a chore. It helped me to dream big, define my vision, lay the groundwork for clarity and purpose, and then start and continue on my journey with discipline. When I moved to the United States to pursue my education, the variety of cultures, perspectives, and outlooks of both students and professors facilitated my transition. Because the seed of connectivity took root early in my life, I felt like I was one of them, and soon we were comparing the merits of the Yankees to those of the Mets.
Through my studies, I realized that I enjoyed figuring out how and why things work a certain way. In my biochemistry studies, I learned about the connection between body, mind, and intellect. I began my career as a university associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, splitting my time between leading research efforts and teaching graduate students. I left academia and entered the world of research and biopharmaceutical organizations. There I had opportunities to lead multimillion dollar projects and be part of a process that included engineering, coaching, and partnership development. One common thread throughout my career is my connection with people and how each relationship became a thread in the fabric of my life. I was fortunate to connect with people and enjoy meaningful relationships in all facets of my career. While enjoying my evolving career, I have conscientiously applied myself to learning and using new knowledge in all of my pursuits.
In both my academic and biopharmaceutical career, I developed an intense passion for coaching. My uncontainable desire to make a positive impact on people led me to believe my true calling in life was to help leaders, entrepreneurs, and achievers see their genius, reveal their masterpiece, and craft their message more powerfully. I was able to merge my bio-pharmaceutical career with coaching to develop practical, evidence-based leadership and partnership programs. I had the opportunity to work with several pharmaceutical and financial organizations and helped them achieve the results they wanted. The relationships and connections I built with people was perhaps the most important and memorable part of my career, making my life more productive and fuller.
In addition to coaching, I realized how much I loved speaking and the far-reaching effect my message can have on people. Each opportunity to speak at workshops and conferences allows me to share with others what I have learned through my experiences and my association with an international coaching school. Additionally, I have hosted a radio show and been involved with a multitude of programs to help my message reach even more people. When I realized that I was making a difference in the lives of others, regardless of the platform, I knew I had made the correct career choice.
I have also discovered that another of my callings is being a writer. Several books I read opened a whole new of world of knowledge, insights, and perspectives for me, and I wanted to do the same for others. I write to my reader, and I am humbled when my readers share that my books added value or had an impact on their lives.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you in the course of your career?
There is one event that stands out to me especially. After the completion of a project, our team was celebrating with pizza and drinks. I saw a colleague, Maria, whom I had not seen in quite some time. Maria and I started talking, and she told me about the substantial, positive impact the project had on customers and the company. While we didn’t work on the same aspects of the project, it was great that both of us were involved in the process as a whole. That day, she had on a yellow, flowing dress that I perceived as a maternity dress. I beamed at her and said, “Congratulations.”
About 10 seconds later, a colleague of mine pulled me aside and told me not to ask her when her baby is due because she just got back from childbirth. I felt myself going red with embarrassment but saved the situation by clarifying that I meant “Congratulations” on having the baby and wanting to see the pictures of the newborn. I learned three valuable lessons that things are not always what they appear, not to jump to conclusions, and to be thankful for friends who have your back, especially in these types of potentially volatile situations.
What advice would you give someone who wants to emulate your career?
Although passion is vital, you cannot build your life, business, or organization on emotion alone. Applying passion towards a dynamic purpose is essential. You need a process that will propel your passionate goal towards success. The purpose is the grit, the “why” that stimulates your passion and allows you to make a difference. Passion is the energy in your brilliance, what you love to do, and what makes you come alive. Vision is the intersection between passion and purpose that creates the pulsing dream or goal that you want to achieve in your life. The mission is the “how,” the action plan to translate vision into reality to be the “you” that you want to be.
Most of us look for happiness and a sense of well-being everywhere, not knowing where to find it. What we do not realize is that our happiness and prosperity are directly related to the happiness and well-being we see in other people. The innate sense of unity and connection in people is invaluable to our success and the greater good of the whole of humanity. Alone, you can you grow only so far. Together, we can create a harmony like the Three Sisters of gardening — corn, beans, and squash, complementing each other as we grow.
Life is not a journey with a defined destination; it is an evolving system with technology, complexities, and ambiguity. The best way to deal with life is to live with the intent to help others grow and succeed. Only through this can you receive the highest and most satisfying level of joy and fulfillment. While my business was growing, I received the gift of multiple fractures in my shoulder on the last day of my vacation. Fortunately for me, my friends, business colleagues, and clients enveloped me with their love and support. What could have been a horrific experience confirmed the belief I have held my entire life. What you give, you will someday receive.
Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?
My father always led by example. He never complained about anyone, and he rarely raised his voice. One time, my mother and father came out of a restaurant happy, laughing after having an excellent dinner. My father went to get the car while my mother waited outside the restaurant. She watched him walk away when suddenly she heard a loud thump, and my father disappeared in front of her eyes. She rushed over and found that he had fallen into a ditch. Some irresponsible construction workers had removed the signs indicating road work. He was unconscious, and we immediately called an ambulance. My mother was extremely worried as my father went through surgery. The doctors inserted a metal plate in his leg, and his entire leg was in a cast and raised above the bed. The next day, when he regained consciousness, he looked at his raised leg and said, “Thank God it was not my head!”
His optimistic and cheerful outlook, even in a negative situation, is a valuable lesson I follow to this day. Also, the fact that he led by example is essential. I always liked the saying, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one.” That is how I try to comport myself daily.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Are you working on any meaningful or exciting non-profit projects?
Over the years, I have partnered with children, youth, and adults to help move them forward in both their personal lives and in their careers. Giving is receiving. I coach all my clients to partner with communities or organizations that are in alignment with their core values and beliefs. The rewards of doing so are endless.
One organization that perfectly aligns with my beliefs is Kiva (Kiva.org). It is an international nonprofit that connects people through lending money to alleviate poverty. By loaning as little as $25 to Kiva, anyone can help an entrepreneur, farmer, or an aspiring individual grow their business, enroll in further education, realize their potential, or access clean energy. That loan helps some survive and allows others to thrive. I work to bring women entrepreneurs affected by this organization together to share part of their profits with global women entrepreneurs. It’s not just about declaring your message: it’s more about making your message a movement.
I’ve also partnered with nonprofit organizations like Youth Community Foundation, which focuses on accessing, developing, and nurturing the talents of young people. Our youth will be the leaders of tomorrow. In some places, they have limited access to educational opportunities that could help improve their lives and communities. I believe in a systematic approach that addresses the root of the issue and aims to prevent it rather than curing the problem after the fact. I also work with Little Makers Academy, which emphasizes collaborative learning and critical thinking with young students through hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) activities.
Additionally, I have partnered with InspireNC, a student-led non-profit organization which promotes interest, knowledge, and involvement in the fields of STEAM and strives to develop leadership in the next generation. As their business and leadership mentor, I see young students eager to become leaders and raise STEAM awareness in their communities. During community events, you can watch the students grow as they absorb the knowledge and skills they need as they work together to build robots. I don’t know how many of them will become great scientists or engineers in the future, but I know that I am positively impacting them by widening their horizons.
I also devote a great deal of my time to a women empowerment organization called Womelle, because in most cases a woman empowered is a family empowered. Womelle is not just an organization; it is a community that brings women across the globe together to share ideas. It provides guidance that helps women achieve both individual and collective goals. Its online community offers networking opportunities that empower its members to fulfill their potential.
I have always believed in living my legacy through relationships, and I still consider the contribution I make to others’ lives. When you add value to your life, a loved one’s life, or someone else’s, you blend your experiences and wisdom into theirs. If every one of us found opportunities to genuinely help others whether it is something small or a larger endeavor, I truly believe that we, as the human race, would be happier, more prosperous, and possess a deeper meaning of purpose.
Wow! Can you tell me a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?
Well, I am humbled to say that I have had the opportunity to impact others from an early age. Whether I am speaking, coaching, consulting, writing a book, mentoring, or volunteering, my “why” is to inspire and impact others. The joy I get from my “why” is immeasurable and incomparable. I want to share a story about when I was volunteering at an event as a robotics team mentor. The purpose was to inspire STEAM interest in children through conversation and interaction with mini-robots. While I was working with the team, I saw a little girl hovering around the group of kids doing the building. Although she seemed hesitant to join the group, the desire in her eyes to study and help was evident. I slowly approached her, started a conversation to make her feel comfortable, and then invited her to join the group. In our discussion, I encouraged her to try building the robot.
Once she sat down, there was no stopping her. She finished the robot very quickly. The girl continued interacting with other kids. Seeing that she had achieved her goal, I went to talk to other parents. In the midst of a conversation, I felt two little arms hugging me tightly. I looked down and saw the little girl looking at me with pride in her eyes and a smile on her face. The sparkle in her eyes outshone any star in the sky. At that moment, I felt like the wealthiest person on Earth!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Servant Leadership — I wish somebody had explained the concept of interrelatedness to me when I began my career. Servant leadership is as much for you as it is for others. Take the ocean, for example. The sea is an excellent example of a community that nurtures interdependence as every plant, animal, and organism lives its own life. I invite you to begin with yourself and zoom out to your family, friends, neighbors, community, nation, and the planet. When you help others succeed, you bring joy to yourself and others. When you build a community of interdependent members and serve the greater good of “us,” you create a human ocean that nurtures all of its inhabitants.
2. Collaboration, Not Competition — When you begin with the intention of helping others succeed, you will find that doors you didn’t know existed open for you. Working in alignment improves overall performance, enhances employee productivity, and invites new business. Successful partners regularly participate in knowledge-sharing and collectively exercise value-discount measures to optimize their alliances. For example, I connected Jane, one of my colleagues, with an influencer, and she landed her dream job. Years later, Jane sent quite a few clients my way. When you collaborate instead of competing, you give your knowledge to others. In return, you also receive something of value.
3. Build Relationships That Matter — We do all things in our lives for the sake of happiness. According to economists, when you see a close friend on most days, it has the potential to elevate your joy equivalent to earning a $100,000 salary. Additional studies, like Harvard’s 80-year-old happiness study, show that you can live longer and be happier if you have embraced the community and are satisfied in your relationships. It is essential to develop relationships with people with whom you resonate to achieve success. In resonant relationships, people understand one another and embrace each other’s shortcomings and failures with grace (and sometimes with a touch of humor). Moreover, the mutual trust established in resonant relationships allows you to share your emotions, communicate openly, and learn, grow, and succeed together. When I was writing my last book Reveal the Masterpiece Within, I was afflicted with an active case of writer’s block. I was stuck at a point and could not get past it. Raina, a good friend of mine, told me without hesitation that I was sulking and needed to do something about it. I walked away from the book for a few days. When I returned to my desk, I was able to complete the chapter quickly.
4. Mindfulness Works Everywhere — Practicing mindfulness consistently generates awareness in the present moment. As a result, the brain creates new neural networks to avoid the harmful reactivity of absent-mindedness which is toxic to our physical and mental health. The practice equips you with a healthy perspective toward life, making your ability to reframe the situation positively grow exponentially. A mindful spirit creates the freedom to live life joyfully as well as overcome life’s most difficult complexities and uncertainties with equanimity. One time, Raina insisted that I coach her sister Jane. Upon meeting her, I quickly realized that Jane was constantly disengaged and restless. I had a heart-to-heart conversation with Raina and told her that Jane needed to see a psychiatrist. Mindfulness allowed me to say what I had to with genuine compassion. Later, we found out that Jane was suicidal. Raina was devastated but was thankful that I practiced mindfulness and recommended that she needed treatment, even though it was difficult. I am glad to say that the alternative to coaching was definitely the right choice and helped Jane immensely. Today, she is alive and well!
5. Know Yourself — Comparing the past and the present, it is clear that the world is indeed changing. Now is the time to be your authentic self, even if that means acknowledging your shortcomings and embracing discomfort as you pursue what you love. When you take responsibility for your emotions, decisions, and actions with compassion and humor, you will be able to absolve yourself from any guilt over your imperfections. Acceptance of reality creates the fertile ground in which change can begin. As you gain momentum, you continuously improve to become the best version of yourself. Once, due to a looming deadline, I hired a contractor without doing my due diligence. The contractor turned out to be a lemon. Initially, I was upset with him. However, after giving the situation some thought, I took ownership of my actions and reached out to a friend and humbly asked for help. My friend graciously shared her contractor with us who helped us meet the deadline. Knowing yourself and accepting the reality of a situation can lead to making the best of any case.
You are a person of significant influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I have already started a movement: “Mobilize Your Message.” Whether consciously or unconsciously, each of us lives a message. Why not reveal your genius and have an impact on others? That was my goal with this movement: to give those who have something to say an opportunity to speak. I love to help people gain clarity, get better, play big, and craft their authentic message. The goal is to create a sense of belonging and fulfillment beyond fame and name. My movement encourages people to build a community. As people develop their message, they grow their business or write a book to help their message reach audiences everywhere. I encourage them to contribute time or share a portion of the profits to support their favorite cause.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not. It is the first lesson that ought to be learned, and however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.” Quote by Thomas Henry Huxley
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this :-)
I would love to have a private meeting with Richard Branson. He is an inspiration to me as an entrepreneur, and he’s done remarkable things in a wide variety of businesses. I admire how he gets an idea, develops it, and then does all he can to establish his vision as a reality. While his ideas are bold, such as his current endeavor with space travel, they are all rooted in common sense. He shows that with vision and leadership, you can indeed achieve anything. What I also really like about him is that he’s never let his fame go to his head, since he gives back to others and the world. I honestly believe that sitting down with Mr. Branson would be a valuable learning experience, as I could both learn from him and tell him my vision and what I do for others. His nonprofit program, The Elders, is an independent group of global leaders working together for a more peaceful and generous world. The Elders represents an independent voice, not bound by the interests of any nation, government or institution. It is genuinely a real organization, one that is committed to promoting the shared interests of humanity and dedicated to making the world a better place for all peoples. It is a community of people who believe that in any conflict, it is essential to listen to all of the views and opinions of the participants, no matter how unpalatable or unpopular they may be. Just like The Elders, I believe that it is the responsibility of every one of us to act boldly, address the most difficult problems, and tackle taboos. No single person has the answers to all of the world’s problems. However, if people join hands as they do in The Elders, it is my sincere belief that each of us can make a difference and create positive change in all societies by contributing our ideas.