7 Steps to Transform your career and realize​
your leadership potential

7 Steps to Transform your career and realize your leadership potential

Chapter 3. The Journey Is the Destination

Chapter 3. The Journey Is the Destination

Abhijeet Khadilkar
Author & Leadership Coach @ CareerTiger

5 minute read

Luck is where preparedness meets opportunity.”

- Seneca

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

- Mark Twain

I came to the Bay Area in the '90s with a dream—to become a top programmer. Little did I know I would end up leading large-scale business transformations for the top tech companies on the planet. More on that later.

California in the late '90s was a place in the grips of dot com fever. With my programming skills, I knew I could make my mark as a great software coder.

I found myself working in San Francisco on one of the earliest online banking products. My job was to perform quality assurance (QA) for a whole bunch of software code. The code mapped banking processes to software functions that were written by an army of programmers. In today’s terms, it was a fintech product. It was detail-oriented work; it was fulfilling and paid the bills.

Being new to the United States, I was itching to get a first-hand view of how corporate America worked. The ringside view was not enough; I wanted to be inside the ring.

But there was a problem. See, I was not “Career Rockstar” material. Not even close.

Here’s what Career Rockstars have:

  • Strong academic pedigree
  • Phenomenal network
  • Amazing personality

Even the lowest of the low Career Rockstars has at least one of these assets.

Here is what I had:

  • My undergrad degree was, let’s just say, from a rudimentary university. Far from Ivy League. Or any league.
  • I had just moved to the United States, and I had zero networks.
  • Since I wasn’t tall (I’m still not tall!) :) and have a face made for the radio, I was never going to be mistaken for a charismatic leader

It was depressing. The thought that I had nothing going for me created a dark emptiness that threatened to engulf my life. Imagine feeling weak and poor right in the home of democracy and capitalism.

It would have been easy to wallow in self-pity. But I’ve always prided myself in making the most out of available opportunities.

So, I made some promises to myself. I would:

  • Work my tail off more than anyone else I know.
  • Learn more about the industry and customers than anyone else.
  • Learn soft skills, not just the required hard skills.
  • Figure out how to create value for customers as well as for my team.
  • Build a great professional network.

I took advantage of a strong job market to network and interview successfully with Deloitte, a premier management consulting firm. This was a strategic move that would enable me to learn how different companies and different industries worked in corporate America.

Remember my software QA skill set? I parlayed that experience into any management consultant’s dream—business process re-engineering. These three words, at the intersection of business and technology, describe the necessary “last mile” work to ensure that large enterprises can automate processes and get the most out of their investments.

I served clients across the United States in many industries, ranging from energy, automotive, consumer, healthcare, pharma, too, of course, technology.

Thanks to a great firm and supportive colleagues, I was promoted twice and became a consulting manager. Instead of performing business process re-engineering, I was now leading business transformation engagements. Business transformation involves strategic work across multiple functions in the company. Which means more heavy-lifting and definitely more fulfilling work.

Management consulting in a Big 5 (now the Big 4) accounting firm was a great experience. However, it did have a major downside. Travel.

I was on a plane. A lot. Every. Single. Week.

With a growing family, I got weary of this traveling lifestyle. I quit  moving to a local boutique consulting firm, Trianz. Here I was able to serve the local tech industry in Silicon Valley.

Becoming a Consulting Leader

While I was building my domain expertise in the tech industry at Trianz, one of the senior partners at Deloitte transferred to a large, public services firm: Cognizant. His charter was to start and establish a management consulting practice in a (predominantly) system integration company. He asked me to be part of his leadership team. I interviewed successfully with them and joined the party.

It was very entrepreneurial and exciting to build a brand-new management consulting practice from the ground up and serve clients around digital transformation. I helped technology companies figure out new business models at the intersection of cloud, analytics, mobile, and social.

I went from serving one client and handling one project model as an individual contributor to serving a client on multiple projects as a manager. In no time, I was serving multiple clients on multiple projects as a leader. In consulting terminology, I became a consulting principal aka "partner."

That is how I became a leader in the tech industry:

  • Focusing on client value
  • Developing T-shaped domain skills
  • Having a great work ethic
  • Exceeding expectations
  • Telling my story effectively
  • Building a great network

These practices and approach became my playbook for a successful career. The playbook was indeed working. I was about to discover a critical element for my career playbook: taking advantage of market disruption.

In 2011, Marc Andreesen came out with his seminal essay, “Why Software Is Eating the World.”

At that time, he argued that every major industry was going to be transformed because of software. “Companies in every industry need to assume that a software revolution is coming,” he said. It was a prescient observation. Andreesen’s hypothesis has been proven. Every industry from transportation, manufacturing, and healthcare to education as well as many others are undergoing digital transformation.

As I was helping multiple tech clients in the SaaS and cloud space, it became very clear that this industry was about to blow up. In a good way! Management consulting was always dear to me, but I wanted to get more skin in the game, especially in tech.

In 2013, one of my clients at Cisco recruited me into their leadership team to focus on customer experience and monetization. That experience turned out to be way better than expected.

My management consulting experience driving large scale change combined with SaaS domain expertise came in real handy.

That is how one gets lucky: when preparation meets opportunity.

You get lucky when preparation meets opportunity.

I was in the eye of the storm. Breaking glass every day. Learning new things. Driving critical transformations that drove incremental revenue measured in $B, not $M.

This journey created even more opportunities for me personally and professionally:

  • Exposure to products across some of the most cutting-edge technologies: SaaS (Webex, AppDynamics), cloud (Meraki), security, and the internet of things (IoT).
  • Experience in developing business models, pricing, and go-to-market plans at a global scale.
  • Product management experience to drive AI and analytics features based on data points gathered from millions of connected devices.
  • Involvement in the guts of incubating customer success and digital experience for hundreds of customers.

It was clear that the cloud and SaaS wave was here to stay.

In fact, Gartner’s 2019 cloud report shows that SaaS will continue to grow at 20 percent.

Table 1. Worldwide Public Cloud Service Revenue Forecast (Billions of U.S. Dollars)

BPaaS = business process as a service; IaaS = infrastructure as a service; PaaS = platform as a service; SaaS = software as a service
Note: Totals may not add up due to rounding.

Identifying market trends is critical to career moves. Realizing the market was trending toward customer experience expertise in a major way, I made my move from Cisco to a new SaaS entrepreneurial opportunity, enterpriseCX. In this new role, I am helping enterprises and SaaS companies create more customer value and drive subscription growth.

And I am always learning.

Always Learning
In my journey so far, I have learned much from my mentors and my network. There are people who don’t even know I have learned from them. This book is a way for me to pay it forward so others will be able to learn the tools and techniques to unlock career potential and elevate themselves to be leaders.

The Network Effect
Every single career opportunity that came to me was through my network.

It is so important to build and nurture our networks so we can create value for others, and also so others can create value for us.

The Reluctant Leadership Coach
I've always been passionate about helping professionals, both in my network and out of it.

In 2009, in the midst of a financial recession, I started helping out some friends with their job search. They were successfully hired despite an unbelievably tough market. Then they told their friends. Soon, my phone was ringing with requests from complete strangers. As I coached more people, I was featured in newspapers, magazines, and online media.

Assisting others with their careers wasn't restricted to off-work hours. In my leadership roles, I always pride myself on being available as a coach and mentor to my team members and people in other functions in the broader company. Yep, anyone from marketing, sales, product, operations, supply chain, HR, or IT would request my time.

For ten plus years, I’ve had the good fortune of helping thousands of people with advice, mentorship, and access to resources.

But something was wrong. Extremely wrong.

The truth is, I never wanted to be a career coach or a leadership coach. I was concerned about how much this coaching work was eating into my personal time.

There were many voices in my head, and one of those voices was saying, “I am the quintessential technology business leader with products to build and markets to capture. Why the *bleep* am I spending time and energy with so many folks?”

I struggled with this for a long time. I couldn’t say no to them because they needed my help. My empathetic side always won over the dark side. I obliged and made time for coaching others.

I finally found the answer.

By serving others, and helping them become successful leaders, I was becoming a better leader.

I had accidentally discovered servant leadership.

And this continues till today; complete strangers email me or call me for help. I answer that call. Because by answering that call, I’m helping myself.

It may seem like cognitive dissonance, but by helping others, I am selfishly helping myself. The playbooks and tools I had used for myself, are now being used to help others.

The playbook and tools are included in this book.

By serving others, and helping them to become successful leaders, I was becoming a better leader.

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