Photography is my earliest/oldest passion, which I picked up from my father, whilst accompanying him through the forests of Central and Northern India, handling his Rolliflex camera in the 1970s. Photography equipment then was mechanical and analog. I started using digital cameras only from 2009. Today, I use professional level digital equipment (Sony Alpha Mirrorless and Canon EOS DSLRs). While technology may have evolved from Analog to Digital, the passion, creativity and joy of creating stunning images remains the same.
Wildlife & Nature photography is my favorite genre in photography. It is known to be one of the most challenging genres as one is at the mercy of nature with little control over the outcome. Pretty much like life, right? Over the years, whilst spending time in the jungles and forests across the world, I have learnt some important life lessons from wildlife photography that can also be applied to Leadership & Management. Here is a list of my top 10 lessons:
- You cannot control everything: What you learn very quickly in wildlife photography is that you cannot control the subject, its background, its foreground, the frame, the lighting conditions, etc. What you can control is your equipment – so make sure that you know your equipment 100% and use it in the most skilled manner to create the image, with all the limitations. Your knowledge, skills and creativity will help you overcome all obstacles. Similarly, in life, especially in the corporate world, you cannot always control all important variables, such as people, external factors such as economic forces, government regulations, etc. If you apply your knowledge, experience, skills, creativity and act effectively in your area of control, you are likely to be very impactful. In-fact Steven Covey’s concept and advice for being effective is to act in your area of control instead of worrying too much about the areas of concern things that you cannot control. It seems to be a lesson straight from wildlife photography
- Focus and Exposure is very important: In photography, focus and exposure is critical. If you are not able to focus sharply or clearly enough on your subject, you won’t have an image. Also, the right exposure (level of highlights and shadows) of an image is a must. If you overexpose the frame or your subject, you will get a burnt image and if you underexpose it, you will get a very dark image. Similarly, in leadership and management, a sharp and clear focus on your goals and objectives is very important and making sure you expose yourself and your people in the right manner is equally important.
- What’s the story? Every image/photograph tells a story. A great image is a great story that people decipher, without being told. Therefore, creating images is the art of storytelling. While everyone can tell a story, only a few tell it effectively in an inspiring manner. In wildlife photography, when you create an animal portrait or an image of an animal in its natural habitat, or a beautiful landscape, you record a natural history moment and tell a very inspiring story. Similarly, leaders must act as storytellers to share a compelling vision with their team and then rally people towards achieving it.
- What you create will be critiqued: Every photographer loves his/her own work. But when that image is shared or promoted, not everyone will react to it in a similar manner. Similarly, as a leader when you take certain decisions, you will be appreciated by some and critiqued by others. I have learnt that it’s okay to be critiqued; if you listen to your detractors with an open mind, you only get better at your craft. Try it!!
- Virtues to emulate: Patience, Perseverance, Ethics, Humility and Teamwork are some of the common traits of a wildlife photographer and a corporate leader. Some of my best images have come after waiting for hours – that’s patience and perseverance and it comes from realizing that you cannot control everything, hence you have to wait, stay positive and hope for it to happen. It takes a lot to create one stunning image, but you cannot make it by compromising with the ethics of wildlife photography (such as disturbing animals or getting too close to them or by defying the laws and rules of the country and its forests). This has reinforced my belief in the ethics of doing things the right way. Wildlife photography is teamwork, I may be the photographer, the lead player, but I depend so much on my safari driver, guide, naturalist, tour organizer. It’s teamwork and if you do not value it, your experience and images won’t be any good. One last thing on Ethics is that as a photographer you learn to appreciate and respect others’ work and you never take credit for someone else’s work. Similarly, as a leader you give credit where it is due and take your team along with you.
- Lifelong learning & adopting new technologies is the secret of success: Photography is an art and craft, and in this craft your joy and success depends on how adept you are at continuous learning. Especially learning about evolving technologies of cameras, lenses, image-processing softwares, etc. Similarly, in leadership and management, if you are not a lifelong learner and an early adopter of new technologies, you are preparing for failure.
- Domain expertise is important: In wildlife photography, you cannot create stunning images of animals if you don’t know the animal, its behavior, its antics, its habits, its habitat, etc,. Similarly, it is important to be thorough and have expertise in your area of work to be an effective leader and guide your team.
- Compassion and Creativity are the bedrock: Without compassion for animals, their habitat and nature, you cannot become a good wildlife photographer. Creativity of a wildlife photographer lies in imagining and composing the image in one’s mind, much before its clicked. Same goes for leadership and management, isn’t it? Without empathy for one’s people and their compulsions and priorities, one cannot gain their respect and support.
- You compete with yourself and not others: I learn a lot from others wildlife photographers and admire their work, but I don’t ever want to compete with them. I compete with myself and my objective is to create a better image than the last one. Hence my best image will always be in waiting. That’s the reason, I loathe photography competitions and barring two (during my early and young days), I have refrained from participating in competitions. The biggest lesson here for leaders is to stop competing with others and instead, focus on improving yourself. Competition is fast getting replaced with Collaboration, Continuous Improvement and Innovation.
- Last but not the least, as a corporate leader, the most important lesson that I have learnt is that it’s very important to have a hobby and passion outside of work. It helps avoid burn out and maintain mental wellness. During my boyhood days at the Scindia School in Gwalior, there was a strong focus on co-curricular activities for all students. The reason for that is, when you present various avenues and platforms for expression, they develop holistically. Many students who lack in academics, find their strengths and talents in other activities. When they do well in those areas, it builds their confidence and that in turn makes them perform well in academics too. Why shouldn’t companies too encourage people to have a hobby outside of work to pursue in their personal time? It is bound to help the wellbeing of the employee and harness his/her potential.