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Espresso with Monica Powell - Part 2

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As promised, we now bring you the intense finale of this interview, may the force be with you as you enjoy reading this interview with Dr. Powell!

Q) As a kid, what did you see your ‘adult’ self as… an actor, a doctor, cartoonist?

I saw myself as a private detective. I was a huge fan of the Bobbsey Twins (if you are wondering who that is, they are two sets of fraternal twins, solving mysteries) since third grade and have read the entire series. (I still treasure the original 10 books that my parents gave me.)

Even now as an adult, I love following crime shows like “Law and Order,” “Cold Justice” and others.

My husband keeps asking me, “Can we watch something more cheerful”? The truth is I relish getting to the end of these episodes when I finally get to check whether or not my hypothesis was right.

The answer does not end there. I have solved crimes in my adult life, too. One included a hit-and-run driver who I tracked down. He was later convicted and ended up going to jail.

Q) Most of us are in our 20s now. Give us a glimpse of 20-something Monica Powell.

Here is the crux of it. In my 20s, I looked 14.

For one of my first jobs, I worked at a television station as a camera operator. It involved moving cameras, climbing up and changing studio light bulbs — I was terrified of heights, but that did not stop me as I was willing to do anything for my career in my 20s.

One day the news producer did not turn up. I offered to take up the role for that day, and before I knew it I was promoted to a news producer.

To make me look like a 20-something news producer, my superiors had me use spectacles, I wore a three-piece suit, and my hair was tied up. However. I also started noticing that the more professional I looked, the more respectfully people treated me and the more difference it made to my work.

In my 20s, I was just as energetic. Busy as a bee! I was incessant! So much so that I felt sorry for the people who had to work with me!

I never worried about what I did not know or could not do, for I always knew that I would find a way through things.

Q) That is quite a story, so what advice would 24-year-old Monica have for us?

She would say, “I wish someone had told me the following:”

• Don’t invest time in worrying about what other people think.

• Learn to be a listener first; we often tend to speak when we should listen instead.

• Don’t let yourself be shy or timid, for you don’t want to miss out on all that life has to offer.

• Always think before you speak.

• Don’t ever have any regrets; regrets are a choice after all.

• Live every day as if it were your last.

• Always, and I mean always, tell people how you feel about them, especially when you love them or cherish them.

Q) Fast forward a couple of years to Monica Powell, the senior associate dean. What advice would she give her students now?

If there is one thing that I would tell my 20-something students, it would be to NOT make any excuses. If you make a mistake, OWN it rather than come up with an excuse for why you failed to do something.

It absolutely frustrates me when people won’t try something because they are disabled by their fear. Just try once and before you know it, it is going to become easy and natural! Being open to criticism is also a key to being successful.

Q) Is there any incident in your life that has made you become a better person?

I believe in defining moments. I believe that everyone has their own defining moments. I can give you an example here. My dad was in the military; because of that, we had to travel all over the world. Believe it or not, by nature I am an introverted person. It was right before my fifth birthday, and we had already moved four or five times. We were moving again from Hawaii to Washington state, and I started whining in my squeaky little voice, “But Dad!! I just made friends here and attended three birthday parties. It took such a long time to make that happen!”

To which my dad was quick to reply, “Monica you have to understand that because of the career that I have, we will keep moving. You have to accept that. Do not be shy; just get out of your comfort zone, because if you want to go to a birthday party, you have to make that happen!”

I had to be OK with being extraverted — if not I was not going to have birthday parties or friends! That was inspirational enough. My career also expects me to be that. My private time back home helps me get that introvert energy back. It’s a balancing act, I would say.

Other self-defining moments involve my remarkable bosses and the remarkable gifts and attributes that I have acquired from them, such as the ability to listen, be compassionate, work hard and be forgiving.

Q) Do you have any self-made philosophies?

Smile even when you don’t feel like it

Even when I don’t feel great, I know that if a put on a smile, I will figure out a way. I force that attitude on my students too. People have no option but to be cheerful when they are around me.

Q) Your thoughts on luck, hard work, success, love and life?

Luck

I don’t believe in luck, I believe that people create their own luck. When I was a kid, and when I said, “Jeez! I got real lucky,” my dad would point out, “No Monica! You make your own luck.”

Hard Work

Hard work is a life choice and is involuntary to me — just like breathing is.

Success

Success is what you feel inside. It’s not about the money, promotion or certificate; but it is that little voice inside you saying, “Yes, I did it!”

Love

Love is the heartbeat of humanity. One of the great things about Jindal School is its amazing environment. We are so diverse, in looks, thoughts, dress, food we eat and languages we speak; but all of us have the same heartbeat representing love, which makes us this unique group of humans…so strong and powerful; and when we realize that, anything and everything is possible.

Life

Like my dad says, “Life is what you make of it, Monica!” If you don’t make anything out of it, then you really don’t have any life.

Q) How can a leader ensure that the team succeeds as a whole?

As a leader, always demonstrate humility. I showcase to everyone that I am indeed an imperfect being. I share my mistakes and also what I learnt from those mistakes, and eventually my team understands that there is nothing to be intimidated about.

Realize that when you don’t give up and when you keep pursuing a problem, you will eventually figure out a solution.

I also ensure that an equal level playing field is provided as I never want anyone to feel that I am above them, but rather with them. That in itself eliminates ego. Everybody knows that sometimes we need to take some precarious journeys to get to certain decisions, and while we are at it, we might as well have some fun and have one heck of a story to tell, when it is over.

Q) If you were to write a book, what would it be about, and what would you call it?

I have in fact been writing a book; it is called “Walk around Naked.” It has 13 chapters, with each chapter dealing with a piece of advice someone has given me over the years. I have been working on it for about four to five years now, and it will be published sometime in the near future.

You must be wondering about the odd title. A week before my marriage, I went to my grandmother for some advice, and she said, “Walk around naked.” This is what it essentially means: You have to be authentically who you are and be at absolute ease and comfort with that authentic self of yours.

If you have noticed, I always wear spike high heels. My grandma was born sometime around 1907; she was a very stylish lady and left behind about 70 pairs of spike high heels. I wear them to honor her.

Q) What are Monica Powell’s thoughts on adulthood?

1) Don’t become boring.

2) Don’t become outdated.

3) Don’t become conventional.

4) Don’t become limited.

5) Don’t lose your curiosity.

6) Don’t lose your capacity to forgive.

7) Always wear heels even when you are old.

Q) To inspire is a beautiful thing. Name people and/or things that inspire or have inspired you over the years.

My father was an incredible mentor. He also had the most amazing laugh. I can hear it even now.

Q) Where do you see yourself a decade?

I suspect that in one decade I’ll be right here taking care of Jindal students. I feel very honored to serve the Jindal School and to mentor, guide and educate tomorrow’s business leaders. I often marvel at the notion that I get paid to do my job; I am very fortunate to be in this position.

Q) Any final words for our JSOM Perspectives Readers?

All of you Jindal students: take one single moment out of your life right now to stop and think where you are and the privilege you have to be right here, right now, at this time, with these people, setting the direction for your life.

All of this should overwhelm you: the faculty who will go the nth degree for you to be successful; staff who will find what you need for you; your friend who stays up all night with you as your dad back home is ill….I don’t know any other place else in the world, that is quite like the Jindal School.

As I walked out of Dr Powell’s office (with a huge smile), the quote that kept coming back to me was:

“Each organic being is striving…and the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply.”
— Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species

It was such an honor interviewing her, a highly remarkable person who shows precisely what it takes to live this quote.

Devi Priya Karuppiah

Devi is a graduate student in the ITM program at the Naveen Jindal School of Management and is currently serving as a research assistant. She previously worked as a technical writer. She calls herself a right brained, ambiverted-neophile. She loves spending her time trying out new things and aspires to write a book someday! Read more articles

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