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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This Special Women in Sales episode podcast , hosted by Gina Stracuzzi, featured an interview with Radhika Shukla of Microsoft.]
Find Radhika on LinkedIn.
RADHIKA’S TIP: “Your network is your net worth. Find your right mentors. Find your role models that you’d like to emulate. Find the next best role for yourself. Tap into your strengths. Be willing to meet and connect with as many people that can lead you to your next role. That has really helped me in my career journey a lot.”
THE PODCAST BEGINS HERE
Gina Stracuzzi: Radhika Shukla, thank you and welcome. Radhika is an Enterprise Sales Director at Microsoft in Michigan. She and I had a wonderful conversation beforehand and I know that she’s going to give our listeners some great and valuable insights. Welcome, Radhika. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Radhika Shukla: As you just mentioned, I have been working in Microsoft for the past six years. I’m an Enterprise Sales Director. My team supports US manufacturing East region customers. I did my MBA here from University of Michigan, Ross School of Business, go Blue. Immigrant from India. Came here 20 years ago and I’ve been in sales throughout. I love being in sales, in technology sales especially. I’ve also done pageantry. I have actually participated in four pageants. My latest one was Mrs. USA, where I was second runner up. I think the reason I got into pageantry was because I do a lot of community service. I’m very passionate about giving back to the community. I’m on the boards of three nonprofits, Pioneer Medical Research, which helps with saving premature babies, My Family Services that helps victims suffering from domestic abuse. I’m also a part of Michigan Community Crisis Services that was formed during the COVID crisis.
Through pageantry, I feel like my social causes got a louder voice. I was able to amplify my voice and talk about my causes on a national platform. My husband is also at Microsoft as a cloud solution architect. He works there as a cloud solution architect. I have two kids. That’s the role I’m most proud of. I have two amazing kids, a 15-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son.
Gina Stracuzzi: Well, then you can really speak to what a lot of women in sales deal with when you’re a working mom. Sales can often include a lot of travel. It can be hard. You need a support system and it takes extra doing. Hats off to you, and I know that our conversation will be of great value to all women in sales, but particularly working moms. One of the things that I really was taken with was your working mantra, that your network is your net worth. Let’s talk a little bit about what that means to you and why you find it so valuable.
Radhika Shukla: I think it has helped me a lot in my career journey. My advice to women in sales or women in every sector is threefold. One, your network is your net worth. Find your right mentors. Find your role models that you’d like to emulate. Find the next best role for yourself. Tap into your strengths. Be willing to meet and connect with as many people that can lead you to your next role. That has really helped me in my career journey a lot.
Second, be bold, be fearless, embrace change, take risks. As Satya says, learn it all. For me, my mantra is that if you stop learning, you start rusting. Try cross-functional roles, step into your strengths. Find what excites you. I think that’s very important. Your passions, they fuel your purpose. When you get up in the morning, you should be excited about coming to work. It’s very important that you find what really truly excites you and never stop learning. Continue to build on your tech intensity, understand industry strengths, whichever industry you want to pursue a career in. Make sure that if you are entering into a leadership journey, understand what goes into becoming a strong leader. Continue to upskill yourself.
Lastly, look at the bigger picture. Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. I think many of us do that, women especially. We are constantly trying to prove ourselves. We are constantly doubting ourselves. Don’t let anyone question or define your self-worth. I think I have done that a lot early on in my career, and I think you do you, that’s important, and believe in the limitless potential of your dreams. If you think you can do it, trust me, you can do it.
Gina Stracuzzi: I know that you also believe that our potential is limitless, and we have the opportunity to write our own destiny. Talk to us a little bit about that and how you’ve used that.
Radhika Shukla: First step is find something that you’re extremely passionate about. I think that’s my superpower. Coupled with high energy, dedication, empathy, my leadership mantra of inspire, empower, appreciate. The fact that I’m very passionate about something, whatever I put my heart and soul into, I’m successful at it. That has really helped me in the long run. Be it people development, just giving back to the community, working with various nonprofits, or even with working in pageantry. I’m a short girl, ordinary looking, I would say, but I made it in pageantry. That’s because I believed in the beauty of my dreams. First of all, you need to find your passion. Where does your passion lie? It is that one great force that unleashes creativity. If you are passionate about something, you’re willing to take risks, you’re willing to have a bigger impact, and you’ll be able to measure that impact.
Then once you’ve found what you are passionate about, then you go about building a support system. I think for women especially, women should empower each other. We should be proud of our unique skills. As I just said, we should not let others define our self-worth. Then make sure that we find a tribe of allies, men and women that support us. That’s your network. That’s your network that comes into the picture. I think we should not try to always connect with men over football, or drinking beer, or playing golf. We bring our unique strengths to the corporate world, or any other sector that a woman decides to plunge into, and just tap into those strengths.
For me, for example, I’m passionate about helping people, coaching people, understanding human behavior, nurturing relationships. I think it takes great people to build technology, make decisions, apply and manage it to get the desired results. Technology is shaped by human interactions, and if you’re good at human interactions, it’s a huge strength. I have tapped into that strength of mine, and I have found a set of mentors who have given me honest, raw feedback, literally raw feedback, brutal feedback, that has really helped me understand a different perspective around leadership, around business management, people management. Again, just find your passion, build your network, find your allies, and you do you, believe in the potential of your dreams.
Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s talk a little bit about technical selling. It is primarily historically been a man’s world and it does require more and more. It requires a greater understanding of technology. One of the things that you hit on is the importance of tech-skilling. Can you talk to us a little bit about what that means and how that works in your career and how others can put it to work for them?
Radhika Shukla: This is my favorite topic. I have 11 certifications, and I’m very proud of those certifications, as you can tell. For me, technical skilling relates to self-empowerment. What are you doing to invest in yourself and make yourself better each day to have meaningful conversations with your customers, with your team members? How do you develop those skills that can make you a better leader? Currently, actually, besides taking those technical certifications, I’m also enrolled in eCornell’s leadership development program because it helps me define team objectives, enable success across boundaries, help my team adapt and learn new technologies. I think tech-skilling for me, as I said, if you stop learning, you start rusting. To keep evolving into a better leader, into a better human being, into a better technical sales leader.
Technology is changing at the speed of lightning. Industry trends are changing. If you don’t keep yourself abreast as to what’s latest and greatest out there, you’re going to fall behind. You will not be able to sustain a meaningful conversation with a customer or even with your team, and then your credibility is questioned. You need to be viewed as a trusted advisor. You need to be viewed as a thought leader. To continue to build on that brand, it’s imperative that we continue to learn, we continue to embrace new skills. The best way of doing that is just seek every opportunity out there to study and get better.
Gina Stracuzzi: Learn every day.
Radhika Shukla: Learn it all, like Satya says. Have a learn-it-all mentality.
Gina Stracuzzi: We all stagnate if we don’t continually challenge ourselves, which you obviously do, and it’s amazing the amount of growth. It helps to do all those other things that you’ve talked about, which is build your network and find your passion. Sometimes your passion can change, and if you’re not doing continual learning, you could be doing yourself a disservice because there might be something out there that really just clicks for you and takes your career to the next level.
Radhika Shukla: Think about it, why should people listen to you? Why should people take your advice if you are not coming in with the wealth of knowledge, if you don’t have data to back your opinion? Oftentimes people have a lot of opinion and they don’t have data to back that opinion. I think that data, that knowledge comes by learning. Be it technical skills, be it industry trends, be it leadership skills, constantly keep making yourself better. I think that’s the mantra.
Gina Stracuzzi: We’ve talked a lot about self-empowerment. Let’s talk a little bit about how you empower your team and what kind of diverse people do you have on your team and the importance that you feel about that.
Radhika Shukla: As a leader, this is, again, a topic very close to my heart, because oftentimes we talk about building great talent, coaching teams, but there are so many ways of doing that that it can get overwhelming. I think the three to five key methods that I have adopted from my mentors, again, my network, my mentors, my role models, who’ve taught me how to go about it, and those things have really worked for me.
One, define teams objectives and outcomes. If your team doesn’t know what goals they’re pursuing, if they don’t have a shared vision, then how are you going to hold them accountable? Coaching the team for empowerment and accountability begins with defining objectives, determining what the team must prioritize, explaining the business context behind that decision as to why they should prioritize, because everybody has limited time and everybody’s calendar is a mess these days. Time becomes a big issue. Having that shared vision, those priorities clearly defined, can help you coach the team for empowerment and accountability, and then you enable them by providing them the right resources, the right tools, so that they can do their jobs effectively. Enabling success across boundaries, coaching them to thrive, fostering collaboration between different organizational team members, colleagues, and partners. Removing roadblocks. As a leader, it’s our job. It’s our duty to remove roadblocks to enable team success. When a team collaborates effectively, you will see that they have a completely different level of satisfaction. They come to their jobs, they feel very fulfilled because they’re able to collaborate with their team members and solve business problems for their customers.
Lastly, help them adapt and learn. Learn it all does not only just imply to me, it also means that it’s something your team can learn from you. I do that very effectively in my team because they see that I am constantly trying to take these certifications and upskill myself. My team follows suit and they constantly are trying to adapt and learn and provide feedback to each other. I think that’s very important. Learning doesn’t only come by taking those certifications. Learning also comes from providing constructive feedback to improve performance. We need to create learning opportunities. We have these Focus Fridays that we do at Microsoft where you can just invest some time in upskilling yourself. I think that goes a long way in attracting and retaining great people. You can build a team that feels valued. You can tap into each individual’s capabilities, their aspirations, make them feel recognized and in alignment with your company’s mission. You can help them navigate and grow in their career as well if you follow those.
Gina Stracuzzi: All of that sounds like great advice because if you’re not feeling empowered, it’s hard to empower your team. If you’re in leadership, it’s constantly motivating yourself so that you can motivate others. I like your thinking that it comes from continual learning and continually challenging yourself so that you feel empowered and therefore they do. That is brilliant.
Let’s talk about women in sales, because that’s what we are, and that’s what this podcast is about. Women, as we discussed, are often head and shoulders more successful over men in selling, and leading quite often. What particular advice do you have for women in sales especially when they run into roadblocks that technically shouldn’t be there, but still are even in many well-meaning companies, there are cultural phenomenon, shall we say, that still linger, and they aren’t always the most motivating or the most empowering. What advice would you have for women in those cases?
Radhika Shukla: To summarize your question, so if you’re stuck in a male-dominated boys club, what do women do? Build your own spot. Do not beg for a seat at the table, but go ahead and build your own table. That’s where your network will come into play. That’s where your passion will come into play. That’s when finding your allies will come into play and that learn-it-all mentality will come into play. But don’t wait for a seat at the table. Build your own table. You can add a lot of value by tapping into your unique strengths. As I mentioned before, your strength doesn’t lie in being same, but it lies in being different.
You have to ask yourself, what is it that you are truly passionate about? If you’re stuck in a company where there’s a toxic culture, where you are not feeling valued, where you’re not feeling recognized, find what excites you, find what your strengths are, and go pursue those, because nobody is going to actually help you chart that career journey for you. You will have to build your own journey. Each of us has our own challenges that are unique, just as we have our strengths. I think it’s very important to just empower each other, focus on self, educate and empower yourself, and find your sisterhood that can bring about a positive change. Women empower each other, and I think that’s very critical. Find your male allies if there are out there, but believe in yourself. Don’t let others define your self-worth. Don’t let others make you question your self-worth, and stop being dependent on others.
I think very often women are very hard on themselves. They become dependent on others. Have mentors, build your network, but that doesn’t mean you become dependent on them. It’s important to believe in yourself, have faith in your strengths, and focus on those. I think too often we are doubting ourselves. I would say our biggest challenge is self-limiting beliefs that we struggle with. We are not assertive, we don’t take credit for our achievements. We are always fearing that we are going to be judged, which is fine. If people want to judge us, let them judge us. But I would never, ever advise any woman to bear or tolerate a toxic culture or any kind of microaggression at work.
Seize opportunities when they arise. I think that’s key. Oftentimes, we wait and we feel things will get better. Things will not get better. Seize opportunities when they arise because I think men do that a little better than us. We are busy overcoming feelings of doubt while the rest of the world is getting ahead. I think just grab every opportunity that’s out there. For that you have to first believe in yourselves and tap into your passions and strengths.
Gina Stracuzzi: We are at that point in the conversation where we like to ask our guest for one final piece of advice, something in this case that women can put to work for themselves starting today. Some simple thing they can do to start taking their career to a new level.
Radhika Shukla: I did touch on it earlier, and I’ll bring it up because this has been a hindrance in my career journey in the initial stages of when I started off. Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. Often time we feel, “This is not the perfect role for us,” or, “This is not a perfect environment for us”. I would say take baby steps in the right direction. Obviously make sure that when you are switching jobs, you are not going from one toxic environment to another, but everything will not be perfect on day one, and that’s okay. It’s just believe in yourself. Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. Progress to excellence should be your mantra. Take baby steps in the right direction. Be bold, be fearless. Embrace change because change can be uncomfortable. But trust me, every time there has been a change in my life, it has only led to something beautiful. That’s what I will leave you with.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo