Uma Gopaldass was interviewed by Adrienne Smith for the Everwise Blog on November 2, 2017.
Over the course of her 25 year career, Uma Gopaldass has developed long-term strategies across a range of international organizations and industries. Gopaldass has designed and executed those strategies across cost management, operations, and people mobilization. She’s consulted in Indonesia, Singapore, and the US, working across the oil, gas, and mining industries.
These experiences all spawned a passion for purposeful, thoughtful decision making. Most recently, Gopaldass launched her own business to help companies wrestle with the difficult, high-level choices that drive their corporate strategies forward. Gopaldass’s company, Leading Lotus, guides clients through their choices — picking apart their biases, fears, and interpretations of data to clear the way for intelligent and unbiased decision making.
Gopaldass has applied the same manner of thinking to her mentorship experiences, both as a mentor through Everwise and as a protégé. Mentors should help protégés find the good in their choices — something Gopaldass said her own mentors have helped her with.
Read on to learn Gopaldass’s approach to mentorship and decision making.
Mentors are key to my success. I could never have seen myself grow into being a corporate and operational leader without mentors. I’ve had many.
My first came when I was in an internship program in offshore oil drilling. Strong leaders, male and female, didn’t look at me as a young undergraduate. They threw me into the field and said ‘sink or swim.’ They pulled me out of the water if I was sinking. But I never necessarily knew they’d do that. So, I swam.
I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had leaders and mentors that have helped and advised me along every career path I’ve chosen.
Recently, I met Jen Joyce, who runs a company called Quantum Leap. She focuses on mastery of personal skills when you’re communicating with leaders, having tough conversations, and so on. We met at a conference and got to talking. I asked for help and she became one of my best mentors. She pushed me to recognize a new stage of my career: that it was time to quit and start my own business. She questioned me when I needed to question myself. She provided the signal I needed to get out and start my own company.
I started it based on personal experience in traditional management and consulting practices. A lot of these practices didn’t sit well with me. They were lip services, a means to get over a hurdle. They don’t look towards long-term growth. And breaking these practices is very hard. Decision makers leading these companies are challenged and confused. The world is shifting so quickly, and our processes are remaining the same.
So my new company helps those decision makers by thinking about how the mind works and where biases come into these decisions. Did you know there are 180 types of biases that spill into human decisions? We use them to more easily make decisions and protect ourselves. But often, those biases lead to decision making that’s led by fear, and prevents us from going where we should go.
That’s where I come in. I mentor and advise these decision makers. When the company engages me, they’re either in confused mode or they’ve already had a solution in their mind and they want to verify it. I essentially am here to ask ‘Is this really the right choice or is it a bias? Where is this fear coming from?’ I do a lot of gut checks and fact checks.
Depending on how many decision makers I’m working with, I first understand each of their characters with individual assessments. Then I know how each decision maker sits on the issue at hand. And, usually, then I can pinpoint where any confusion is coming from. From there, I go through a group assessment to flush out everyone’s gut instincts.
Then I jump into the data. I train my clients’ minds to see their data differently — everyone views data through their own lens. And everyone’s experiences guides how they see that data which, in turn, guides their decisions. So I’ll read the data many times and then reframe it. We’ll walk through all the different interpretations and the different emotions those results evoke.
From there, I bring everyone back together. We walk through where the fear is coming from around the decision. We rationalize if each fear is true or not. We align, find a solution, and move towards it.
In some cases, we might find a solution that wasn’t even in the data or considered. That’s the most surprising outcome.
Well, I like when the conflicts arise. That’s what I’m there for — to bring out all perspectives, to bring every decision maker to the table. I can bring them towards empathy for what one another is seeing. From there, they can figure out what is a true conflict and what is a worry.
My primary guideline here is to be harder on the issue, but softer on the people.
I currently work with four types of clients:
I work with a lot of startups. These are people trying to create something they believe in. They’re working towards a brighter future. They also often struggle with the founder mentality: Startups spend all their energy building their company. Once it starts growing, they don’t know what to do. I love helping them make decisions here and guiding them in the right direction.
I work with angel investors. They’re playing a probability game and making difficult decisions all the time. Working with them teaches me about forecasting and future predictive capability. That’s a fun challenge for me.
I also do charity work. I most often help these charities identify how to get more funding. It’s so rewarding; they have a purpose and a heart and soul.
Lastly, I work with large corporate companies. Their mindset is very traditional and their processes are governed by existing guidelines. Breaking those guidelines is difficult. I don’t tell these clients what to do. I just help them find the pros and cons, the benefits and consequences, the real fears and the biased ones.
Down the road, I’m hoping to turn this methodology into a published book. I’d like to work more with universities to get this way of thinking into the brains of students studying business. So when they go out and work in any environment, they know that decision making is not just about a quick data-focused decision or a deliberate, rationalized decision. It’s a balance depending on the situation you’re in — you need to get input from others and make sure you’re aware of your biases.
Mentoring others is enlightening. I’ve floated through my career path. I never said ‘I want to do this or that.’ When opportunities came, I took them. When I needed to move, I just moved.
And I’ve realized through mentoring that life is not always that easy and straightforward. People need to navigate tensions. They need to navigate biases about their own capabilities and biases about the capabilities of others. They struggle with fear of how others see them. These things all drive us too.
There are different types of people: Those who take a leap of faith and those who wait, hoping an answer presents itself. There are people in the middle, of course. And there are people who can switch between the two — these are the resilient ones. They trust in their intuition.
Mentors can help remind others that whatever choice they take at a fork in the road, it’s still a choice that they have made. Whether you move forward or stay put, you’ve made a choice. There’s no real right answer. Mentors can also help others find the good in those choices. They can be a stable mountain to lean on, one that reminds you to take a breath.