With her work, Bengaluru-based psychologist, psychotherapist, leadership coach, and author Sailaja Manacha offers women a window into their own capabilities, and how they can use simple tools to expand possibilities, whether it is in organisations, society, or in family life.
This is also the theme of her bestseller Step Up: Women’s Journey into Identity, Success and Power, which invites the woman reader to tackle certain psychological aspects to “step up”, take charge of her life, and lead.
Sailaja is also the founder of Step Up, a 100 percent online women leadership course launched in March 2018. With her background in psychology and psychotherapy, Sailaja has been able to go beyond theoretical concepts into the practical realm, to aid women in their transformational journeys.
“I have a master’s in psychology with a specialty in organisations, so I went into the corporate space. On the side, I had begun to do counselling and I think that was really the start that sparked the urge to study again and become a psychotherapist. Coaching is something I picked up along the way about 14 years ago. Given my background in psychology, it was a very useful progression into coaching and beginning to use my skills in listening, supporting, and facilitating transformation,” Sailaja says.
It was in 2010, when Sailaja was facilitating a workshop for a women-only group, that she noticed a different “energy”, something that was absent in mixed groups.
“It was a phenomenal experience, more of a sacred space that was created. I noticed so many bright women, who seemed to be stuck in family situations or careers. They were driving with their brakes on, and when they started to have a deeper awareness of their inner mental makeup, they started to flourish and move upwards in their careers,” Sailaja shares.
As she began working with more women, Sailaja realised that several roadblocks stemmed from societal and familial conditioning in how girls are treated differently from boys in their childhood. Women carry this part of their “personal self” into their adulthood and experience “stuckness”, which stops them from unleashing their full potential.
“I find a lot of women give up aspiring for a full and expanded career because of their conditioning. By belonging to these groups, they get in touch with their dreams and aspirations, and there’s no stopping them. They are willing to put their energy and will towards their expansion. It’s a higher capacity for an expanded life, whether work or personal. A greater capacity to be a designer in some way rather than being a passive observer,” Sailaja says.
She has facilitated thousands of training and coaching programmes, both public and within organisations. Her clients include Siemens STS, Cerner Healthcare India, Infosys, and Firstsource, among others.
As a leadership coach, Sailaja has often emphasised on the importance of early years in shaping a person’s personality. The inner barriers that culture and family create are carried into adulthood, which then shows up in the fear to express themselves, or take charge. Speaking of her personal journey, she says her parents encouraged her to make bold choices as a woman, something that is also the central piece of her book. Her family inculcated the core values of awareness, choice, and lifelong learning, which are all intrinsic to Sailaja’s personality.
“I have been shaped by my circumstances and family. Their core values of being a learner in life, and constantly striving to open up new possibilities, is something that I have learnt from them. I am a teacher and coach, but I also see myself as a lifelong learner. The other aspect I have learnt is to live a life of a certain purpose and passion, and contribute and add value socially and individually to other people,” Sailaja adds.
She sheds light on how early experiences also reflect in the body language. Avoiding eye contact, or walking with a hunch show lack of confidence, which is why Sailaja believes the “body is a place of learning”.
“It is important to identify emotions in our mind and body, and then learning to navigate and understand these aspects,” she says.
The making of a woman leader
Sailaja believes that the world today is in immense need of feminine energy and that women need to show up as a potent and powerful presence in all spheres of life. Sharing the qualities of a good woman leader, Shailaja says they are not afraid to call out discriminatory behaviour, albeit in a respectful manner.
“It is easy to polarise oneself and take a conflicting view. We have to deal with things with some humour sometimes, sometimes directly, or point it out in a lighthearted way. These are good ways to combat prejudice in organisations.”
Another thing that Sailaja considers non-negotiable is self-care, which she calls the “bedrock of leadership”. “We cannot serve and add value or put ourselves in a zone where people are looking at us for guidance and light, if our energy reserves are depleted. It is absolutely essential to have a few uncompromising factors for self-care,” she adds.
Embarking on a transformational journey isn’t easy, but questioning our belief systems and gaining a deeper understanding is critical to bring about change. It all begins when you understand your contribution to the world.
“The moment we understand that, we do not forget our dreams and aspirations. Learn to ask for what is needed, learn to bring your voice and sit at the table. Be on a radical self-inquiring journey so that you can understand your own inner path that will help in designing your life and career,” Sailaja signs off.
(Copy edited by Teja Lele)