True leaders can feel few and far between these days. Anyone who has ever worked in the corporate world will know the difference between a boss and a leader. And while we can easily spot some of the qualities that make people leaders — support, empathy, communication — some of these special traits can feel far more elusive. Being a leader in the modern working world means being the full package — a person who can operate with a perfectly balanced approach to work who can make tough decisions with clarity and foresight with their employees’ best interests at heart.
Ginni Saraswati is the owner and founder of Ginni Media, a New York based podcasting studio that has worked with the likes of Allure, Architectural Digest, and Siemens. Something that makes Ginni Media different is that the close-knit team is made up entirely of freelancers. This requires a particular type of leadership approach. “A great leader is someone who helps bring about self-awareness in their team members, and holds space for people to be exactly who they are,” Ginni says. “Within the leadership team at Ginni Media, I know that they are all uniquely different people, each with their own zones of genius and skill sets. As the leader of the company, my job is to help them see their strengths, focus on their zone of genius, and also continuously improve upon their blind spots.” According to Ginni, this approach can be broken down into four core values.
“We invest such a significant portion of our life into our work, and we know that work doesn’t really ‘stay at work’. It comes home with us. That’s why community is so important to me as a leader. I feel a responsibility to allow the space in my organization where people feel connected, supported and, most importantly, seen and heard. When we’re all working together, we know we’re all part of creating something bigger than ourselves. As the leader of the company, it’s important to me to be involved in that community and connect with everyone.”
“Freedom is also important to me, as both a leader and a human. Everyone who works at Ginni Media is a freelancer, yet I treat them like full-time staff. I believe in allowing and encouraging people to design their own life and embrace each day for the uniqueness it brings. The truth is we don’t wake up the same each day, so to expect the same performance and attitudes each day, that’s just not realistic nor sustainable. There’s got to be room for flexibility to put time and energy into what each person needs that day. So, the freedom to design your day — and your life — is important for both me as a leader and for my team.”
Joy and Fun
“I also believe that valuing joy and fun in the workplace is extremely valuable for both leaders and teams. When we feel good — and we practice feeling good — that joy can be contagious. What I’ve found is that when you value practicing and cultivating joy, you create a culture where people look to keep things light, fun and connected. Of course, it’s not always easy; we’re humans with human emotions that fluctuate. However, if joy is the “resting vibration” of the organization, if people are generally happy, if their needs are taken care of, if they have community to lean on and live into, and if they feel free, that all surmounts to experiencing joy at work. When you cultivate a culture of joy in the workplace, then people focus on their work — not the bullshit, politics, or things that are making them miserable. They focus on the work, community, and their experience of joy all the while.”
“At Ginni Media, we’re an accountability-led organization. It’s important that my team are okay with sharing their mistakes, because that tells me two things: they’re brave enough to make a decision and take accountability for it, and secondly that we, as a team, can hold space for people to make mistakes, learn from them, and do better in the future. I share my wins and oops openly alongside them. Together, this becomes an opportunity for growth and development, and ultimately this is a space where growth stems from on a regular basis.”
Crucially, Ginni believes that a great leader should be both a leader and a teammate. “It comes down to one thing, listening,” she says. “I have quickly learned that people don’t listen. People hear, but they don’t truly listen; they inject their own meaning, react, or just wait their turn to interject. Listen first, hear what’s being said, digest it, and then respond. Listen to your team. Listen to yourself. Listen to the whispers before they become screams.”
In terms of what makes Ginni a modern leader, she takes pride in her “offbeat” nature. “I’m not a traditional person in any way: Sri Lankan born — where you get 20 years in prison for being gay, which I am — raised in Australia, living in New York, and I bring all of me into my leadership style in my business,” she says. “As a modern leader, I believe that freedom is one of the most important elements to instill in a company culture: freedom to design your schedule and life, freedom to show up authentically to work, and the freedom to do what brings you joy.”
Ginni Saraswati is the owner and founder of the Ginni Media, a one-stop shop podcasting production house providing multiple podcast services in one company. Ginni Media has worked with clients including Allure, Architectural Digest, and Siemens.