How Payal Nanjiani overcame odds as an immigrant in America and built a global business in leadership development and executive coaching
1. Hello! Who are you and what expertise-based business do you own?
I am Payal Nanjiani, a globally acclaimed Indian-American leadership expert, executive coach, and author. As a part of my work, I help people make a massive shift from being trained leaders to becoming transformed leaders and achieve a leadership breakthrough.
When I founded ‘Success Within Leadership’, its main aim was to develop transformed leaders who innovate, influence and implement with speed and serenity for the wellbeing of the people, the organization and the country.
Our clients come from all over the globe and I get the opportunity to interact and coach leaders from a variety of cultural backgrounds. However, our focus is on the mid-level executives in the workforce and on entrepreneurs who want to grow and make a difference while leading a fulfilled career life.
My transformative leadership talks and workshops have positively proven to help people to recognize and overcome their leadership challenges so they can be world-class leaders who make a difference. I have been recognized by the TIMES Group as the most influential personality in leadership speaking and coaching and continue to work towards helping people grow.
2. What were you doing before starting this business and what is it that you wanted to accomplish?
I never knew that I would be a leadership speaker and author or, for that matter, an entrepreneur. I had a very successful start in my career in India before moving to the United States of America. And that’s when life changed for me.
In the beginning, things were great. I lived the so-called ‘American Dream’ and was excited to move ahead in my career. But there was a feeling of unfulfillment because of the reality I saw around me. Despite information and resources available and being in a land of opportunities, most people struggled at their work. There existed a huge gap between the “successful few” and the “unsuccessful many.” and I wasn’t in favour of that and felt uneasy.
When I look back, I can say that the feeling of uneasiness is good- it changed the trajectory of my life and brought me immense fulfilment.
So, I left the comfort of my well-settled corporate America life and immersed myself in research to get to the root of this gap. It was my curiosity and research that helped me understand the reason for this gap. This eventually formed the springboard of Success Within Leadership.
Fast-forward, today my work has changed and improved the results of numerous organizations and millions of people across the globe. It has now become my life’s mission to help more people and organizations to develop a leadership mindset and succeed -at their work.
I feel blessed that to date, my workshops, keynotes, and books are helping millions of people awaken the leader in them.
3. What insight led you to start your business?
That’s an interesting question. It all started with a question in my mind- ‘why do we have only a few exceptional leaders and high performers in any organization?’
I think that the majority of people are working extremely hard to survive in today’s uncertain market. I also believe we are in an age where abundant information on success is readily available. In America alone, we spend eleven billion dollars on leadership seminars, training, books, and upskilling. These trends suggest that a majority of people in the workforce should be successful as leaders. But in general, only twenty percent in any organisation are exceptional leaders who are responsible for 80% of the crucial work.
So, what about the remaining people who are working hard, upgrading their skills and doing what it takes to get there? If information, ideas, training, upskilling and positive thinking were all that was needed, everyone would be a great leader and high performer. Yet there is a huge gap today between the exceptional leaders and average leaders in every organization. Seeing this gap led me to do what I do and help people become the most effective, results-producing leaders.
4. What problems did you face during the early days of your business?
The first challenge was to get corporate America to believe in my unique leadership content. To globally spread the concept of transformed leaders was another added challenge. It took me about seven years to get organizations to see the incredible results after their teams had attended my keynotes, and workshops.
Those first few years of starting off as an entrepreneur were very difficult for me. Because being a woman of colour, it created a big challenge for two reasons:
Firstly, no women of Indian descent had entered into the field of leadership speaking and book writing. It is typically white-dominated. I was well warned by my well-wishers to not get into this field. But my problem is, the more you tell me a NO, the more I hear that it can’t be done, the more I desire to do it.
Secondly, India is viewed as a country that produces more engineers, doctors and MBAs who work heads down and focus on technical jobs. So, when people would see me on stage or in the corporate training rooms, they would be, “shocked.”
Hence, getting corporate America to trust my leadership insights was a huge challenge. I must have gotten more rejections than anyone, but that did not deter me because I believed in my content. To date, my leadership content is very different from what’s out there today.
Leaders also saw a change in themselves when they would sign up for a 1:1 executive coaching with me. The only reason I was able to sustain for those initial five years and not give up is that I knew what created the gap between the peak performers and average performers. Furthermore, I had tremendous belief in my techniques and practices that can get people to be successful at their work.
5. How did you acquire your early customers, and validate your market?
I had a very unconventional route. For one, in my work life, I’ve always had the opportunity to work closely with CEOs and high-end executives. I’ve seen how they work and think, which is truly different from the majority of us.
So, I began to distil what I learn from these CEOs and share it through training in companies I worked at. I would share it with my friend circle and soon people were telling me they were seeing some shift in their results just by practising these techniques.
Slowly my friends began inviting me to speak at their company and I would do it at no cost to avoid conflict of interest in my current company where I was working as a regional head.
From there it started off step by step. I first did a lot of research to understand more about this concept of the gap. People began approaching me for coaching and my calling became loud and clear to me. I decided to do what many wouldn’t- leave the comfort of a well-settled Corporate America job and dive into the unknown. But I had trust in my calling, trust in my work and offerings and trust in the universe.
6. What were the big achievements after you overcame the setbacks of your early journey?
After a couple of years of struggling and continuing on my path to offer a transformative leadership program, my very first achievement came when I was called to do a 2-day workshop for a Fortune 500 multinational company in San Jose- CISCO. It was one of my major breakthroughs and since then CISCO has been a regular client of mine.
I have since then spoken and transformed the lives of more than a million people. My next big achievement came when my leadership book Success Is Within was picked up for publication by Routledge publishers-one of the top publishers for the corporate world. And now my third book is being released. And since then every little thing has been an achievement close to my heart.
7. What habits and systems did you build for your growth and transformation as an entrepreneur?
- Personal wellness system: Yoga and Meditation
- Productivity system: I practice FME- Full Mind Engagement technique. I imbibe discipline in my everyday life.
- Relationship building system: I believe networking starts after 6 pm.
- Work life system: I do not advocate work-life balance. I believe in work-life prioritizing, where you are able to create harmony between the two.
- Mindset that empowers me: I have learned first-hand the power of setting my intention on my goal and making all decisions based on that intention by trusting my gut feeling more than ever.
8. Which books, podcasts, blogs or newsletters have influenced your work the most?
- I personally like to read and I read a lot. Two books that really helped me in my life are The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs and the Biography of Nelson Mandela
- I like to listen to any podcast that I can get my hands on for anything that helps me grow.
- I have been influenced first by my family who instilled in me the way to lead a disciplined life.
9. What advice would you give to a 5-years (or 10-years) younger self?
Enjoy your season. It’s something I’ve written in my 2nd book – ‘Achieve Unstoppable Success in Any Economy.’
In our work life, we face numerous seasons: slow economic seasons, conflict-filled seasons, opportunity- and problem-rich seasons, retirement seasons, growth and learning seasons, promotion and layoff seasons. The most challenging season of all is the season of silence. It is when you are working hard, putting in the effort, and yet you see no results. But you’ve got to know that most of the time before things come to pass, there is a season of silence where you are not seeing anything changing. It seems the needle doesn’t move.
While you are putting in the effort, behind the scenes, changes are taking place. The universe is lining up with the right opportunities. So while you are passing through the season of silence, dig in your heels and believe that you will see the results.
As the biblical scriptures read, “And let us not be weary in doing well: for in the due season, we shall reap if we faint not.” Don’t give up just because you don’t see anything happening on the outside. Know that a lot is happening inside. Just as a seed takes root inside the ground in darkness, so are your results shaping up in the season of silence. Trust your actions, trust the process, and most of all, trust the success within you. Nothing is permanent in this world and so never take any season too seriously.
10. Where can we learn more about you and your business?