In Conversation with Gunjan Jain – Author of ‘She Walks, She Leads’

As an inspired writer, speaker and thought leader, Gunjan Jain is keen to interpret leadership. A principled follower of the Bhagvad Gita and Jnana Yoga and the values they uphold, Gunjan’s most compelling source of motivation is her keen interest in people – to learn from and connect with universally.

She has studied in five countries across three continents. A graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, USA, with a BSc in economics and finance, Gunjan earned her Master’s in investment management from Cass Business School, City University, UK. She holds a diploma in Image Management from the London Image Institute and the Academy of Image Mastery in Singapore and a diploma on International Etiquette and Protocol from the finishing school, Institute Villa Pierrefeu in Switzerland. An explorer by heart, Gunjan travels where work takes her globally and currently has her roots grounded in New Delhi, Mumbai and London.

Tell us something about yourselfgunjan-jain-2

I was born in a traditional Marwari family in Kolkata and spent the first 18 years of my life living a protected existence. I then went abroad to study and spent many years away pursuing my Bachelors and my Masters. The time away from home and everything familiar opened me up to facets of myself that I did not know existed and eventually led me to my raison d’etre – writing.

How did you come up with the idea of penning “She Walks She Leads”?

Today, our society is in a state of transition where there is a constant struggle between abiding by our traditions and at the same time keeping pace with the current times. And women, in my mind, feel most stuck in the quagmire. But, it is clear that many of the successful women have figured out how to toe the line. I would read about these successful women in the papers and magazines and wonder how they could manage it all.  And, then it occurred to me that if their success stories could be brought out, they would be a great source of inspiration for those of us who are starting off or striving along our chosen paths. This thought was the starting point of She Walks, She Leads.

The book, therefore, does not eulogise the achiever, but instead revisits every impossible struggle, every hard lesson, every defeat and every revival…in a bid to inspire and teach.

How did you choose the achievers to be included in the book? What was the basic idea behind preparing the list?

I think it would be more appropriate to say they chose themselves! Their lives, their achievements – and disappointments – their world view, their joie de vivre all came together in the final selection. My original list had more than 150 women and I wish I could have retained them all…but of course that was not an option.  I spent days and nights agonising over every name that I left out. I made up my mind from the beginning that I would not let my own predilections lead my decision, but instead I let the material dictate the course. I, also, did not use filters like field of work, age, experience, etc. to finalise the list…and the result is an eclectic list of 24.

How much research you had to do before commencing writing?

Extensive – would be an understatement! The first step of the research was to create a list of the achievers who could be featured in the book. That list had more than 100 women and I created a research document on each one of them. Once, it was whittled down to the final list of 24, I carried out more in-depth research on all of them. There was a lot of information out there about some of the women, so I had to filter and organise it and figure out different and more interesting angles for my interviews. There were others who had guarded their privacy so firecely that very little was known about them. For those women, I knew I would need to dig deeper and bank on their interviews to fill in the gaps in the stories.

Can you tell us something about your experience of writing and getting the book published?

This book had been a tremendous personal journey for me. I learnt the importance of perseverance and surrender. I learnt how to deal with different kinds of people. I have also learnt that things will not always go my way but that just means that I have to change my direction. There were so many peaks and troughs. Each day brought someone new to meet, something new to deal with, something new to learn.

The conversations I had the privilege of conducting during the writing of this book changed me, personally and professionally, because they offered me a rare chance to truly understand the architecture of success and gain some lessons from them. The whole journey has been an unforgettable experience. No doubt exhausting and unnerving at times…but nevertheless something I would not trade the world for!

What was the most challenging or difficult part during the process of writing and publishing the book?

Definitely, the editing. The decision of what to leave out and what to keep gave me nightmares. In the process of writing and researching the book I had grown so close to my subjects, that there was no anecdote, no comment that I wanted to edit out. To those around me I must have seemed like a tigress protecting her baby cub. I felt, that all of it needed to be read and known. But, of course that was impractical. The book needed to be brought down to a more practical size, publishing-wise. It was heart-breaking but I must admit the book is the better for it.

Who is your favourite author/s and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

I have been a voracious reader from my school days so it is difficult to choose one. But, Arianna Huffington is one of my top favourites. I enjoy her writing because I think she delves into topical issues and so her books are relatable. One of my favourite books is Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I am inspired by how she has managed to create a movement through this book.

What can we expect from you in the near future? Any other book lined up?gunjan-jain-1

I do have an idea for my next book and I will be starting on that pretty soon. But, it is still early days to divulge more about it.

What was the most enriching experience for you during your journey of writing the book?

Each of my meetings was an experience, one that I will always cherish. They gave me a glimpse into the real person, sometimes quite different from the image I carried.

One of the persons I was most delighted to meet was Sudha Murty. She appears so gentle in her pictures in the papers but she is also razor-sharp…a lethal combination of grace and fire. Another meeting I was looking forward to was Priyanka Chopra. I remember being struck by a strange feeling – a sense of both awe and familiarity. I was in the presence of this huge star but I also felt an intense sense of déjà vu … like I was meeting a long-lost friend! It took Priyanka no more than a minute to put me completely at ease and we plunged headlong into an easy, friendly banter.

The one meeting I was nervous about was Nita Ambani. I made sure I had all my research at the tip of my fingers so that I would not stumble. She is such a busy person that I wanted to make sure that I utilized her time optimally. But, she made me feel like I was the person of the hour! She was focussed on our interview the entire time that I was there and I realised that was how she juggled all her duties, by giving each one undivided attention before moving on to the next.

If you have to give one reason to our readers to get hold of your book, “She Walks She Leads”, what would the reason be?

You may think that you do not have anything in common with the stories featured in there, but you will be proved wrong. You will discover anecdotes that will resonate with your experiences and emotions that you will identify with. There will be many points in the book where you will stop and think – I know what that feels like.

Any message you would want to share with our readers?

My message would be exactly what I learned in the process of writing this book. Everybody struggles and trips and falls, the key is to keep going. Successful people don’t achieve their goals because they don’t face failure, they achieve them because they muster the strength to over come the obstacles that come their way. Nothing is insurmountable.

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