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The Vulnerability of Leadership
Episode 105

The Vulnerability of Leadership

CI to Eye with Priya Iyer

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

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In this episode, Erik speaks with CI’s new President, Priya Iyer, about her experience navigating a new and challenging leadership role. They discuss what supportive leadership really looks like, how to embrace feedback as a gift, and why it’s important to make space for celebrating your accomplishments. In this vulnerable conversation, Priya reflects on the imposter syndrome she’s felt in her new role and how her integrity has helped to carry her forward through challenges.

Erik Gensler: Welcome to CI to Eye, Priya.

Priya Iyer: Thank you so much, Erik. It’s so exciting to be here.

Erik Gensler: I know. I can’t wait to talk to you. So, let’s, there’s so much to talk about, but I guess let’s talk about you coming back to CI as president last summer and, you know, you were, you were on our team for four years and then you left to go work in San Diego for a marketing agency. And what was that experience like, to leave and come back during such a unique time, for lack of a better word, in our world? What was it like for you?

Priya Iyer: Yeah, unique. What a good word for the experience we’ve gone through over the past couple of years. Um, yeah, I mean, so, it was interesting for several reasons. First of all, my entire life and career has been driven by the arts and going to San Diego and having this CI hiatus, as I now like to call it, was not about the arts. So, that was kind of the first time that I had an experience that wasn’t … that was driven by my passion for marketing over my passion for the arts, which you know, which was really interesting. I think my driver and in being connected to the arts has always just been the fact that I believe that the arts have this magic and actually have the power to change the world in that I think people see how they fit into a world or see how their place in the world might be defined by art. And I think there’s just such an influence in that. And so, you know, I had an opportunity, it came outta nowhere. It fell into my lap. And so, I decided to take a leap of faith and go to San Diego and join a creative agency and just kind of see what that experience was like. And then, of course, three weeks after I joined, the pandemic hit.

Erik Gensler: (Laughs)

Priya Iyer: (Laughs) And so-

Erik Gensler: Yeah, I remember that conversation when you, when you left and like, we talked.

Priya Iyer: I know.

Erik Gensler: I mean, it was, yeah, no, you, you thought so much about it, but-

Priya Iyer: I know!

Erik Gensler: So yeah, three weeks into the pandemic (laughs).

Priya Iyer: I know, I know. Yeah. So yeah, I already had gone through this, you know, experience of making this decision, going, taking a leap of faith, and then pandemic, and that completely changed, you know, Raindrop at the time. It completely changed the makeup of our clients. It completely changed the focus. We shifted our client focus to be much more in direct-to-consumer clients. So, we started working a lot more with clients who were really focused on bringing products that they were coming up with directly to the doors of their consumers. Personally, the part of that experience that was completely different is, I wasn’t spending my, my time there focused in the arts in the same way that I had in the past. So, this, this driver, this passion that I have for our arts industry wasn’t there. And also, I was learning all of these new things and moving very quickly with those direct-to-consumer clients. So, it felt like a completely different world. It felt like an experience that came as a calling from the universe. But I did start to feel that though there was this passion for the work—I still felt so much passion for the marketing, for the measurement, for all of those pieces—I was losing a bit of that, sort of the, the purpose-driven part-

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Priya Iyer: … I guess you could say, of my role. Not that I didn’t believe in my clients there, too, but I think, you know, there’s something about the arts. The arts had always just been at my core and I, I missed that piece of it. So, I was starting to feel like, “Okay, like I’m not contributing to something bigger. I’m not contributing to the world in the same way that I was feeling when I was in the arts,” and I just sort of like kept coming back to that. And so, Erik, when you called-

Erik Gensler: (Laughs)

Priya Iyer: … and, and asked me this question that I was definitely not expecting by any means … I mean, in some ways, I was kinda like, “Yeah, you know, I was entertaining what it could be like to come back to Capacity and to come back to our industry.” Obviously I was not expecting you to say, “W ould you like to come back as President?” Um, but you know, took that in stride, I guess? I was driving, you may or may not remember this. I was driving.

Erik Gensler: I remember

Priya Iyer: From … yeah. From LA to San Diego. And I think you said, “Do you wanna pull over?”

Erik Gensler: (Laughs)

Priya Iyer: Which was just such a wild experience to go through. But coming back, I think it’s, to me, you know, once I got over the hump of processing what you were asking me to come back and do and, you know, the opportunity itself, I feel like the importance of our industry has never felt more obvious to me. because you know, through the pandemic and not just the pandemic, you know, over the past, over the past couple of you years, many things have happened. And there are a lot of … there’s a lot of healing that our world needs to go through right now. It feels like we, we went through George Floyd’s murder, we went through an election that feels like it continued to separate us as a nation, more so than anything else. And I think there, there is so much healing to do. And there is so much that the arts offer in terms of healing. I think, again, this power that the arts have in terms of people understanding their own place in the world and understanding themselves better and understanding, more than that, the people around them better. I think the arts offer this incredible opportunity to open people’s eyes, to experiences that are not their own, but are experiences of the people around them, that build empathy, that build connection, that build just what we need to be making space for in today’s world. I think there’s an opportunity that the arts have to bring that to people that I don’t see in any other industry. And that, to me, feels important. It feels like we’re contributing to a better world by serving this industry and by serving these stories that need to be told and shifting the stories that are being told to make sure that they’re capturing the experiences that they need to capture to build that empathy for ourselves as a society. So, to me, it was that sort of over overwhelming, emotional experience of coming back and being able to be a part of this industry again, in a time where I think what we do has never been more important, if that makes sense.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. And what you’re saying around the idea of having your work be meaningful, I think, you know, the pandemic and working from home has really cracked open, I think, for a lot of people, you know, what work means in their life. And I think the people, from what I’ve read and listened to on podcasts or just experienced is, like, work having meaning being bigger than a paycheck is just so fundamentally important. And you know, and to be able to, at the end of the day, you may have had a challenging day, you may be busy and, and overwhelmed or stressed, but at least at the end of the day, you feel like you’re contributing to an industry that you care about and you feel is inching our society in a beneficial direction. And I, I think that is, that is huge and so important. And I think you, as a leader and as a person and why we had that phone call where you had to pull over to the side of the road, because I think you are such a empathetic human and the ability to be a successful leader is so driven by the ability to understand people, to understand difference, and navigate that in lots of really complicated directions. So, I, you know, I think there, there’s a, there’s a lot to dig in there, but you really do take the time to understand the people around you and you’re incredibly thoughtful and supportive. And I’d just love for you to share a bit of how you think about being a supportive leader, uh, just in general and in this moment.

Priya Iyer: Yeah. Well, first of all, thank you so much for your, for your kind words. They mean a lot to me. To me, supportive leadership now and in general come down to two main things. And those two things are empathy and compassion. And I think, especially today, especially given what the past couple of years have looked like, but even beyond that, just in life, life throws a lot at us. Right? And we don’t come to work having washed all of those things away. We can’t just walk through to a door and wash all of that away. And you know, now we now we’re robots and we sit down and we do our work. Like that’s not how life works. And I believe that-

Erik Gensler: I wish people could see that motion that you just were just doing, the robot (laughs).

Priya Iyer: (Laughs) I know, I’m like that cat. I dunno if you guys have seen, there’s like a gift of a cat typing on a keyboard. That’s what I’m doing.

Erik Gensler: Okay. Got it. Yep.

Priya Iyer: Yep. But anyway, you know, we can’t, we can’t just do that. We can’t just walk through a waterfall, wash it all away, and then go to work as robots. We are human beings, we’re full human beings. And, to me, the responsibility of a leader, a supportive leader is one who strives to actually understand what the people around them are going through, what the team around them is going through. And not only acknowledging it, but honoring that everybody’s experience is different. Everybody’s experience, every single day that they show up for work, is different. What they show up for work with on their back is different. It’s invisible, you can’t see it. And everyone has a different ability to do what they have to do in that day, every single day. The answer to that is different. And it’s the reality. And I think, as leaders, we have a responsibility to acknowledge that and to honor that, and to really help the team around us believe that, that we are human and that is all that we can be expected to be, is human. We’re not superhuman. We are human beings. And that has to be the expectation through which we do all of our work. And not only is it okay to be human, but that’s what we should be celebrating. The fact that we are human beings on this earth, and, you know, I think as leaders, we have to strive to understand what people are going through and acknowledge that and to honor that. So, that’s the empathy piece. And then to me, the compassion is taking it one step further. So it’s not just about acknowledging and honoring it, but to lead with care and support for the people around you. So, everybody is walking in with a different experience, with a different ability to do their work in that day, and we have to lead with care and support with the version that is able to come through the door in that day. And I think that’s, that’s really what it means to be a supportive leader.

Erik Gensler: And I think you do that brilliantly, but I also think you have, you know, very fair expectations. And you are able to make that balance between empathy, compassion, understanding, but also, like, being really clear about boundaries and what’s expected. And I think, I know that is not easy. So, I wanted to just say that I, I think the way you handle is really impressive.

Priya Iyer: Thank you. Boundaries are hard, but they’re important (laughs). I think, I think functioning without boundaries is incredibly difficult and is also a pressure that a lot of us feel. And it’s really, it’s really hard to function without boundaries, but it’s also really hard to draw them. So, the balance there is very, very difficult to achieve.

Erik Gensler: And we’re all coming from such different systems of, you know, our parents, our, our life. I think that sort of goes to your piece around empathy, which is like, boundaries is, is such a piece of that. So, you know, yeah. I think that’s why, like, the leadership of setting what those are and, and how an organization sets them and, and sticks to them and applies them. Yeah, It’s tricky and it’s always changing. And I think one way we do it and—and this is something else I’ve always admired about you and also another reason for that phone call last more than a year ago now—you know, you are such a straight-shooter. And if I know that you will tell me if you have something you need to tell me. You do not hide it. You do not, like, dance around it. And it just creates a, a safe space for me that I can do the same for you, where, you know, we have this … you know, and I think you’re very good at building the relationships of just direct feedback. And so, I’d just love to hear a bit about, first of all, you make it so easy for me to give you feedback. You’re, you’re so gracious about it. I hope you feel the same. And I’d love for you to talk about how you think about feedback in the context of work and growth and in our professional lives.

Priya Iyer: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Well, I think my embracing of receiving feedback started rooted in something that’s, that’s not super healthy. It developed and it grew, and we’re all human beings that sort of grow and develop. But I remember having a conversation with a close friend of mine who used to work at CI, actually, about feedback. And, and she also is incredible at receiving feedback. And we had always got gotten feedback that we were good at receiving feedback—try saying that three times fast. And, you know, we spent some time with some wine talking about why that might be, and what we both realized is that, you know, I’m somebody who, I don’t like being surprised by someone else’s perception of me. I think I pride myself in self-awareness and I pride myself in just being able to read between the lines and understand the dynamics of what’s happening around me and my sort of place in that. There’s a lot of roots to that, that I won’t get into today, but, you know, I pride myself in that. And so, I think, for me, I also, I always want to be able to anticipate what somebody might say about me or to me constructively. Like, I want to anticipate where I might have fallen short before somebody else sees it before me. And that’s not a healthy thing. That’s sort of where this thing was born, is like, I want to be able to give myself the feedback that’s constructive to myself so that no one else realizes this thing about me before I realize this thing about me. And that’s, that’s not a healthy version. Let me tell you, that’s like a very, very slippery slope, but it is where the root of my ability to receive feedback comes from. And there’s been a lot of work for myself over the past several years to get beyond that idea of, you know, receiving feedback or any feedback that somebody might give you being a thing that I need to get ahead of. And instead, understanding the value of somebody choosing to come to you with an observation that they’ve made about your work, about your actions, about your, insert whatever here. There is so much that that person who’s giving you the feedback has gone through to be able to have this conversation with you, to be able, and they’re doing it for your sake because you are the only one who has something to gain, or you’re the one who has the most to gain by having the opportunity to grow. Certainly, the person giving you the feedback might have a better experience working with you beyond giving you that feedback. But to me, that’s a, that’s a shorter term piece. To me, the longer-term piece, or the longer-term effect of receiving feedback is your opportunity to get better. And someone else is giving you the gift of being able to get better. So that’s, that’s kind of how I see feedback now, right? Like you, Erik, see an opportunity for me to grow. And though you know you could walk into the room and that could be a challenging conversation for X, Y, and Z reasons, you still choose to come and give that to me and I see that as a gift because if I didn’t get that, then I wouldn’t have the chance to shift, to consider how I might shift, and to consider how I might grow beyond that piece of feedback. So, so for me, it’s really evolved from that, like, “I wanna be able to anticipate anything, anyone, someone might say about me and my work and where I can improve,” it’s shifted to, “Somebody else wants to offer me the gift of the opportunity to get better, so who am I to refute it?” That’s not to say that anything that anyone ever shares has 100% validity and we should take all of that on and put all of that weight on our shoulders and constantly be pulled in all these directions that we are not defining or in control of. But it is to say that we, when that feedback is offered, sometimes, I think of it as a, like a buffet and you take from it what you can, what you can in the moment, what feels valuable in the moment. And then, that buffet is available to you in the future. And you’re able to go back and you can get seconds or thirds, you know, you do you. Yeah. But it’s available and somebody gave you the buffet. So that’s, that’s kind of how I see it. Sorry, go ahead.

Erik Gensler: And if you don’t like the cottage cheese, you don’t have to have a scoop of that, but…

Priya Iyer: (Laughs) Yes. And I do not like the cottage cheese, so yeah.

Erik Gensler: Oh really? I just had cottage cheese as my snack (laughs).

Priya Iyer: Oh gosh. It’s the texture for me. It’s I can’t do it. I can’t. I hope you enjoyed it.

Erik Gensler: I do. I love it. You and I have very different eating styles. It’s so funny.

Priya Iyer: We do. We do. We really do.

Erik Gensler: We, we manage to work it out, though.

Priya Iyer: I know.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. I mean, feedback is fertilizer, right? Or a buffet. I don’t know. It has to do with eating or you’re a planner or human, but I think that’s great. And I think if you’re in a relationship or a work relationship where it’s no longer safe to give feedback, like, oof, it’s hard.

Priya Iyer: It is. Yeah. And I see that, too as … so that was all of about receiving feedback, but I feel like the same framework can be applied to giving feedback, in that if someone has taken the time to offer you feedback, again, offer you the gift of the opportunity to improve or to grow, that’s something that you want to be able to do in return for them, right? And having gone through those conversations builds trust and builds care, I believe if done the right way. There’s certainly not great ways of giving feedback that could lead to other circumstances. And you know, it doesn’t always work out that way, but when it does, it builds that care. It builds that trust, which I think is such a nice ground from which to have continued feedback conversations, because it’s a constant give and take. None of us are perfect. We’re all human. As I said earlier, there’s always an opportunity to grow. And when someone else can identify that and give that to you, you want to be able to do that for them, too.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, and that’s assuming you’re in a culture where the person authentically wants you to grow. Right. It’s the whole radical candor level, care personally, challenge directly.

Priya Iyer: Absolutely.

Erik Gensler: What’s the thing you always remind me of. So the opposite of radical candor, if you know you need to give some feedback, but you don’t say anything.

Priya Iyer: Oh, ruinous empathy.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. Say more about that. What’s ruinous empathy?

Priya Iyer: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, ruinous empathy is where you don’t see offering of the feedback, again, as like that opportunity that you’re giving somebody else. But rather, you want to save someone from the feedback. You want to protect them from it. You want to make sure that, you know, “Oh, maybe this is something that’s gonna spark defense in them or is going to trigger a thought about the past or something like that.” And so, you decided to hold it to yourself because that person’s having a bad day or because you know what that person is going through right now. And don’t get me wrong, we all have bad days. And, and it’s nice when our colleagues have a sense of that and they can be sensitive to that. Rhetorically sensitive to that. All of that, I think, is very positive and healthy. But if you are consistently trying to hold back that feedback and to protect the other person, the other thing that you’re doing is you’re preventing that person from growing with that feedback. Right? You’re keeping the information back. And so, the ruinous empathy, again, as somebody who is, who strives to be very empathetic, who is very empathetic, I get that. I know what it feels like to want to make sure that somebody is able to be cared for, is protected, especially if they’re going through or a hard time. But in those moments, I really try to push myself to say, “Would this person want the feedback? If they knew that I was sitting on this feedback, would they want me to continue to sit on it? Or would they want me to share it?” And nine times outta 10, they would want me to share it. So, I try to use that as sort of the lens, you know?

Erik Gensler: Yeah. And timing is everything. Like you said, like, obviously, you wanna be thoughtful about the day and how you, you know, what you said earlier is like, we’re all going through different things. You don’t know what people are carrying. So, being, you know, making sure you’re … you wanna do it at a time when, when it’s gonna land, right?

Priya Iyer: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Erik Gensler: So, let’s see, we had our conversation more than a year ago. You’ve been at CI since last summer. I’m curious, this is a big question, but perhaps, like, what’s something you’ve learned in your first, you know, it’s been in between, it’s like eight months in your, in your new role as president of CI and like, what was, what did … yeah. What, what have you learned?

Priya Iyer: Yeah. so I’ve learned a lot.

Erik Gensler: I know that’s a big question. “What is something you’ve learned that you want to share to our podcast listeners?”

Priya Iyer: (Laughs) I like that. I like that. Yeah. It’s just been drinking from a fire hose over here, but let me speak about one droplet. So, I feel like one of the biggest things that I’ve learned is that this role is not … so it’s interesting, the title, President, right, you think of as like all the things, right? It’s such an overarching title president. Like what does president mean? It feels like this big overarching thing.

Erik Gensler: It’s grand. It’s a grand title.

Priya Iyer: Yeah, absolutely. Holistic, robust, all of these words. Right. And so, you know, I think coming in, I sort of came in with this mindset of flexibility and, like, trying to be you inside of all of the things that I need to be in and to support and contribute to all of the things. And I think the biggest thing that I’ve realized in the past eight months or however long it’s been is that that’s not actually my job. My job is actually to create an environment in which everyone else can be successful. That is my job. And that is hard because I am a doer. So, when I see something or I, when I see somebody is challenged, when I see somebody needs help, I want to jump in and do that. Like, I’m a doer, I want, I’m an action-oriented person. I’m a solutions-driven person. Like, these are all traits of my personality that I know about myself that have been told back to me. And so, stepping into this role, it’s not about that. It certainly is about contributing in that way, but it’s not about that. It’s about creating this environment in which people can find solutions, can come up with their own solutions. It’s about creating an environment in which all of that is possible. It is not about taking everything off of people’s plate when they’re feeling challenged. It’s not … it’s about moving out of the way and helping people grow and helping people realize their own potential. And that, I mean, there’s so much reward in that, in being along for that journey, but it certainly isn’t natural to me to, you know, when someone says, “Oh my gosh, I’m having a really hard day. Like, these are all the things left on my list.” What I wanna say is like, “Okay, let me, like, I can take this thing. And in this thing,” and like, that’s not what this role, that’s actually detrimental when I try to do that. And I’ve seen that happen, you know, through my own learning, through my own mistake-making. It’s also not sustainable, you know, like I can’t repeat that over and over again in this role because you’re pulled in so many different directions. And so, that’s what I’ve, that’s the biggest thing I will say, is that this role is not about doing all of the things. It is about creating an environment in which our team can be successful. And that’s, that’s different, you know? Like I’ve, I’ve been a leader of people before, certainly never on this scale, and I think on this scale, it is even more important that people, you know, people continue to be able to feed their own purpose, recognize their own value through the work. And it is simply my job to create an environment and support an environment in which people are able to do that, our team is able to do that.

Erik Gensler: That’s beautiful. Yeah. Has there been anything really unexpected in this, in this role? Or like, I, I mean, I mean, having, having done that job for—how long was that—for 14 years (laughs), you and I talked a lot about like, how you do it’s gonna be different than how I did it. And, and, and that’s great. Yeah. And God, I wish I knew what you just said when I, a long time ago. I’m still learning it. (Laughs) What else? Um, has anything been unexpected or another droplet, perhaps?

Priya Iyer: Yeah. Yeah. I’ll offer one more droplet and then I’ll offer the unexpected piece. The other, the other droplet that I’ll offer first is just the importance of flexibility. I talked about this a little bit before but I am a planner. A lot of these things are about, like, who I am and how that needs to sort of shift in the way that serves me in this role, I think.

Erik Gensler: Oh, yeah.

Priya Iyer: You know, there’s a lot of that sort of reflection on what I’m used to and how this is different. So, that’s where all the learnings are for sure.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. It all starts with you. I don’t know if you remember that when, you know, long time ago, you and I talked about that, like leadership just starts with you, so yeah. Tell me more.

Priya Iyer: Yeah. Yeah. So, so flexibility, I think is a big one. So I’m, I’m a planner. So this, like, breaks my brain a little bit. I’m one of those people who wants to start a Monday morning, come up with a plan of attack for the week, come up with my priorities, come up with how I might be spending my time. That’s, that’s natural person inside of me. Uh, that’s, that’s what I want to be doing. Can’t do that in this role (laughs). You can try, you certainly can try. And I think going through the exercise helps distill priorities, helps distill, just from, like, an essentialism lens, what is the right thing at the right time, and I think having that in this role is super important, as well. But you never know what a day is gonna throw at you and you have to find a way to be resilient through that. You have to find a way to metabolize that, to not allow that to drain you, and to allow the flexibility to be present and to allow yourself to be present through all of this flexibility, through all of the unknowns, through being able to metabolize that. Because if you can’t, if that drains you, if it takes away from you, then you’ll quickly have nothing left. You know, like, you’ll quickly, at the end of the week, just simply have nothing left and that’s not a sustainable way to be in this role, either. So, I think the flexibility and being able to metabolize the idea that unknowns are thrown at you left and right on a regular- that is the constant, is the unknown. It’s the constant. Yeah, exactly. And, you know, you can, best laid plans, right? You know what they say about best laid plans. So that’s, that really resonates for me now. And that’s been a huge learning. So, that’s my second droplet. And then, I will say, in terms of unexpected, I am a person who struggles with imposter syndrome. I think coming into this role, you know, I talked about this idea that when you called me, it was very unexpected. But I think beyond that, all of these sort of questions came up of, like, why me? And why is it that you think that I can do this? Like, I don’t, I don’t see this in myself and I don’t understand why you would ask me to do this. So, imposter syndrome is essentially the feeling that you are an imposter in your own life, that the way that you’ve gotten to where you are doesn’t have any sort of validity, any sort of grounding. It’s happened by chance or, you know, there’s nothing that you’ve necessarily done to contribute to get to where you are. So, you feel like you’re an imposter. You feel like at any point in time, someone’s gonna call you out for being an imposter. They’re gonna catch you. They’re going to say, like, “You’re not meant to be here and I found you out.” So, you sort of go through your life feeling like you want to make sure nobody catches you in the act. So, it leads to fear of mistakes. It leads to fear of, when a mistake happens, somebody calling you out, somebody saying, like, “You shouldn’t be the president of Capacity Interactive! Who put you here?” Like those that’s, those are the thoughts at their peak. And I think that there are benefits to it but it will always be prevalent, in one way or another, as I sort of continue through this role and success needs to be defined not as the absence of imposter syndrome, but rather as the ability to manage when it happens, to name when it happens, and to have tools in my back pocket to find my grounding when it happens. And remember the confidence that I also do have that has grown over time. I think for me, you know, I, and it, we can talk more about this in a little bit, but I have never really been one to acknowledge my accomplishments. And there’s, you know, there are many reasons for that. I think when I, when I was younger, I was very much focused on this idea of like productivity. So, any conversation that we were having, what is it helping us do next? Like, how is this a productive conversation that’s getting us to the next step? And I think celebrating and, and thinking about your accomplishments, there’s, there’s not necessarily a clear line between, “Oh, okay, I’ve accomplished this thing, and this is the next step,” you know, there it’s, it’s, there’s not as much of the productivity in it. And so, I think, I think for me, there, I don’t always take a moment to look back and say, /This is a thing that I did. And I worked hard on it and I, and it was challenging and I was able to get there and that’s something that’s worth celebrating.” I’m not somebody who does that naturally. That’s not a natural part of my day-to-day. But I think that that feeds into this idea of imposter syndrome, because when somebody asks you to be the president of a company and you haven’t acknowledged any of the work that’s gotten you to the point of that phone call, then you’re sort of like, “What? Like, how did I, how did I even get here?” You know? And like, “What are you seeing? Cause I, I don’t see it.” So, I think for me personally, that’s where some of it comes from, it’s not natural for me to, to do that. And so, I think for me personally, that’s where that’s where some of it comes from. But it can be very paralyzing. And I will say that imposter syndrome is not, it’s not … it doesn’t always make sense. I’m using air quotes, you can’t see me, but “make sense” in that, you know, there’s not like a intellectual path that gets you there. It’s a combination of several factors, but when it’s triggered, it can cause you to really question everything you’re saying or everything that you’re doing. It can really paralyze you and there is no way to solve it, necessarily, with outside factors. You have to find within yourself the solution. And when you’re in that paralysis, it is really hard to find anything within yourself. So, it’s hard. It’s a huge challenge. And that’s why I think finding a way to get that grounding in the middle of it has been the really, really hard part of this for me.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. And I think you’re really, you know, brave to acknowledge it and name it and say it out loud and not, you know … you talk to me about, talk about it openly. And I think there’s this false perception that leaders can’t be vulnerable or leaders can’t show their soft spots. And I think it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s the ability to openly talk about those things that I think make you a wonderful leader. I, and thank you. Yeah. And I really appreciate you, you sharing and talking about the importance of acknowledging your accomplishments, right?

Priya Iyer: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s … when you acknowledge your accomplishments, I think you, it’s something to call back on when you don’t feel like you’re accomplishing what you want to accomplish, when you don’t feel like you’re succeeding. You have that tangible moment where you, where you did acknowledge something that you accomplished, that you’re proud of. You celebrated it and you get to take that energy with you for the moments when you don’t have that, for the moments when you feel low, when you feel like you don’t know when you’ll succeed again. And we all have those moments, we’re all human beings. And we all have those moments where, you know, we’re low and we feel like we don’t know when we’ll see success again, we don’t know when we’ll feel that warmth wash over us again. And I think having something tangible to remember of those moments is invaluable. And that’s what I’ve realized that so much over the past several months, cause there have been many moments where I’ve been like, “Why did Erik call me to do this? I don’t understand.”

Erik Gensler: I’ve never doubted it for one second. Which doesn’t, I mean, I that’s neither here nor there, cause it’s not about me, but you know, from what I see, I mean, and for let the record show, like you’ve done an exceptional job in this role and continue to do an exceptional job in this role. And um, yeah. So, it’s thank you so much for so honestly being open and, and, and sharing that.

Priya Iyer: Of course, of course.

Erik Gensler: Okay, so, let’s uh, round this out. Time flies on these interviews. Let’s do a lightning round, one thing you’re proud of and one thing you’re working to improve, and then we’ll go to our CI to Eye moment.

Priya Iyer: Yeah, yeah. so I actually, it’s interesting.Tthis, I will give you the same answer for both and I’ll explain. So for me, one thing I’m proud of and I’m also continuing to work on is finding mindfulness in my life. This is a common theme. I’ve mentioned this throughout today’s conversation, but what I’ve realized is that when I am able to find a way to be present, it allows me to be better for everybody around me. And I don’t think that I understood that more clearly than I do now, after the past several months in this role, and just in this life, you know. I feel like I have such a clarity in that, and I now prioritize it in a way that I never have in the past. I prioritize my meditation. I prioritize finding ways to be present and to be mindful for myself. And I’m proud of that because it is not easy in, you know, everyday life to make space for that. And I, you know, I’m one of those people who, at the end of the day, I’m really tired. I wanna just go to bed, but I didn’t meditate today, so, I want to sit down and meditate and then go to sleep. And that, you know, that’s, it’s, I’m proud of that. I’m proud of creating this space for that. And also, I think when things get really hard, when there is a really hard week or low week, even though, intellectually, I know that that’s the thing that’s going to help me get out of it, get past it, move through it, it is the thing that is so easy for me to wanna throw out the window. So, this idea of self care, this idea of eating healthily, this idea of getting enough sunshine, getting enough water, walking enough in a day, like all these things that we do to simply care for our souls, for our bodies. Those, for me, personally, are the first thing that I throw out the window when I’m having a bad day. When I’m having a bad day, I wanna go to all of my bad habits. I want to order terrible food on Seamless and eat it. I want to have a glass of wine or three, you know. Like, that’s what I wanna do because that’s what I think will bring me comfort and it never does. It never does. And I know that intellectually, but I’m working on, in those moments, not allowing that sort of triggered response to take over and to reminding myself that caring for my soul, caring for my body is actually the thing that will give me the resilience to get through the tough times. And even though, you know, you have a bad day, the first thing you wanna do, isn’t like eat a salad, maybe that’s the thing that’s ultimately gonna help you and, you know, getting through it that way is important. So, I’m working on improving that, cause I think when it gets, when I get low, it’s hard for me to remember the impact of mindfulness. So …

Erik Gensler: Yeah, and I heard recently the meditation is the practice that then allows you to be mindful. So, yeah, it’s, you know, and it’s like building that foundation of exercise, sunshine, that … Because leadership is hard and to do leadership well is so hard and you really have to put your own oxygen mask on first, which is you know, it’s hard to believe that, but I mean, I certainly, I love that you’re sharing that and, and absolutely have had similar experiences. So, thank you for sharing that. So we are onto the final question, which as you know, is our “CI to Eye moment” and the question is, if you can share with the executive directors, leadership team, staff and board of our arts leaders listening to this podcast, what advice would you provide in this moment to help them in their work and in, in, in their lives?

Priya Iyer: Yeah. So, we touched on this throughout, but what I will say is … what I’ll say is that nothing is more important than your integrity. And um, you know, I think if you lose your integrity, you lose yourself and you can’t do any of this work in front of you without at least you on your side. That’s been a huge, huge learning for me over the past several months. And that’s what I’ll share today, is that you, there is so much noise around us on a daily basis, especially in this day and age. And as we think about what it means to recover as an industry, what it means to come through the past couple of years and find what it feels to thrive, what it feels like to thrive again, there is so much noise around us and finding the integrity in all of it and finding solace and allowing the integrity to be enough is the thing that will help you move forward. Because if you lose yourself in all of this, then there’s no one left on your side. There’s no one left with you standing next to you. You have to stand by yourself. Then the only way that you can do that is through the integrity that you have. So, nothing is more important than that.

Erik Gensler: That’s a beautiful way to end. Priya, I could talk to you all day, you know, we normally go over, but we can’t now. So, and know you’ve taught me, let’s not go over on our meetings. Let’s balance and, and respect our time. So, thank you so, so much for, for this beautiful conversation.

Priya Iyer: Yes. Thank you, Erik, for this conversation and for everything.

About Our Guests
Priya Iyer Doshi
Priya Iyer Doshi
President, Capacity Interactive

Priya Iyer Doshi spent four years serving on the consulting team at Capacity Interactive and in July 2021 returned to CI in the role of President. Prior to CI, she worked in marketing and sales on Broadway. In 2019, she moved from NYC to Southern California where she lead the client services team at a full-service creative agency. Outside of work, Priya enjoys soaking up the sun, dancing, exercising, spending time with friends and family, traveling with her partner Neil, cuddling with her dog Bibo, and taking quiet time to unwind and meditate.

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