Genius or outlier: Inspiring the leaders of tomorrow

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Div Manickam is a product marketing leader, passionate to empower a mindful team and foster a vulnerable culture where everyone’s voice is heard and truly be themselves in a safe environment.

She has led product marketing in startups and Fortune 500 technology companies and loves to share her product marketing and leadership experiences.

Div was recognized as 2019 40 under 40 CSUEB recipient for contributions toward her workplace and community. As a Top 50 Product Marketing Influencer in 2019 recognized by the Product Marketing Alliance, she is redefining standards, shaping the evolution of product marketing, and elevating awareness among the C-suite.

As part of a mentorship program, I had a few folks ask a million-dollar question:

  • “How do you trust your leader?”
  • What gives someone the confidence to take that leap of faith?

I set out to find some answers.

Reflecting on leaders who have inspired me, I asked myself the following:

  • What makes these leaders inspiring?
  • How can we trust these leaders?
  • How do these leaders instill hope and faith (even if we have never met them in person)?

Trust and credibility are interconnected when you are charting your own path, and I believe an inspiring leader is often someone who will support you no matter what lies ahead. It’s a leap of faith on both sides.

The book Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, opened my eyes to questions I had never considered before:

  • Who decides a cutoff date for schools or programs? Why?
  • Are we giving equal opportunity to all students, irrespective of age?
  • Are we giving equal education to all, irrespective of background?

The book discusses how the years that people were born had an impact on the opportunities they had and how they charted their own futures and the future of the world. It’s amazing to see leaders who were born in the 1950s and 1960s — Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell — all set out to create a future for the world of computers. When I think about opportunities, I realize it often amounts to being in the right place, at the right time.

As Gladwell quotes, “Their success was not just of their own making. It was a product of the world in which they grew up.”

For me, my dad is my inspiration with his experimental mindset with electronics and computers. Passionate about certifications, he showed me that learning never stops. No matter what happens, my dad is able to rebuild with perseverance and passion. Every era shapes for the next generation, and I am lucky to be part of this family.

Another person I’m inspired by is Pat Wadors, who is honest and her true self in her course on diversity, inclusion and belonging (DIB). Belonging is what an inspiring leader makes you feel — that you belong and have every right to be your own true self, successful in your own way.

Inspiring leaders around the world

In an exploratory search, I looked to inspiring leaders aka geniuses in their own way, who have shaped the world today. I believe there are lessons we can all take away from their authentic leadership.

Princess Diana: Diana, Princess of Wales, charted her own path and challenged the norm. Philanthropic at heart, she did things that mattered: helping people and saving lives. As a leader, it’s important to have your people in your heart in whatever you do.

Simon Sinek: Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why offers a simple yet powerful concept. Find Your Why and The Infinite Game inspired me in ways I could not have imagined. Sinek’s concepts can help chart us to the future of authentic leadership where without people and values, there are no companies.

Thich Nhat Hanh: Miracle of Mindfulness showed me a new path — one where I can slow down, appreciate what’s around me and live in the present. It’s important for each of us to remember that life is not a race and now is all that we can control.

Bob Iger: Bob Iger’s book The Ride of a Lifetime shared many anecdotes of an inspiring leader. My favorite was how he earned the trust of Steve Jobs and Pixar. We must always choose to do the right thing and build trust and credibility.

Michelle Obama: In Becoming, Michelle Obama shared how her aspirations around nutrition transformed into leadership. The opportunity to influence and change future generations’ lives for the better should always be pursued.

Arianna Huffington: In Thrive, Arianna Huffington showed that people should care about personal health just as much as work — or even more. If we want to take care of others, then we need to take care of ourselves first. As a voice for our generation, where digital is all we knew growing up, Huffington reminds us that it’s good to wind down.

Brené Brown: Reading books on vulnerability and courage became the voice that helped me to lead with courage, to be vulnerable and provide a safe environment for others. By choosing to work on vulnerability and courage, leaders can become better leaders and positively influence others.

Steve Jobs: Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc. showed a different side of Steve Jobs — one that shed light on an inspirational leader. The best leaders help companies build cultures that outlive their leaders, are sustainable and transform into something more beautiful with every step.

Barack Obama: In Michelle Obama’s Becoming, Barack was shown as a father, a husband and a son. His responsibilities were challenged every day, and he needed to prioritize what was important at that moment in time. Sometimes, he chose family because that was the right thing to do. Being there for your family shows that you will be there for your people and that you’re able to make the right decision when it matters.

Inspiring Leaders Of Tomorrow

There is no single recipe to become an inspiring leader. Have faith in your decisions, and create a path for a brighter future. A few final tips:

  • Trust triumphs over everything. Build trust and credibility over your experience.
  • Trust has a domino effect. Don’t break trust, no matter what happens. It’s hard to earn back.
  • Actions speak louder than words. Your team believes in you and your actions.

Cheers to a future with good humans, positive leaders who believe in potential. Let’s bring teams together to be their own best, and set a new future for leaders to do the right thing.

You can follow Ms. Manickam on LinkedIn here.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The article was originally published in Forbes, and has not been edited.