Uber’s Prabhjeet Singh on treating mentors as board members

If there’s one thing executives should take away from the experience of working during the pandemic years, it’s the need to adapt their own operating style, rather than just asking their teams to adapt to change, believes Prabhjeet Singh, president of Uber India and South Asia . Singh, who joined Uber in 2015, was appointed head of Uber’s business in India and South Asia in June 2020.

Also read: Mars Wrigley’s Kalpesh Parmar on authentic mentorship

The Gurugram-based IIT Kharagpur alumnus had previously worked with consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Singh speaks along salon about his attitude towards seeing himself as a unit and treating mentors as board members, about managing his emails and his favorite podcasts. Edited excerpts:

Who do you see as your mentor and why?

I believe that one person cannot meet all of the myriad needs that we have. Thinking of myself as a company, I’m fortunate to have an equivalent to a “mini board”. It’s a group of mentors, coaches and well-wishers who challenge me, provoke me and yet give me a safety net to lean on. This group currently consists of a former IIM Ahmedabad Professor, a former boss and a younger colleague who surprisingly has the deepest wisdom to offer! This expanded group of mentors helps me maximize my learning and focus.

An important insight that you worked on under the guidance of your mentor?

As a die-hard operator, I’ve often approached problems with a logical approach. However, my mentors encouraged me to complement this with deep, purposeful empathy. This has helped me in recent years to put people first in every decision. At Uber, for example, this shows in how we aim to support drivers, or in the conscious efforts I make to make our employees feel seen, supported, and included so they can fully engage in work every day. For me, the circle of empathy also expands from my home to the social network, the workplace and ultimately the communities in which we operate.

What does it mean to you to be a mentor? How do you look after your colleagues at work?

An effective mentor is someone who offers new perspectives, helps develop key competencies, gets us to dig deeper, and supports us in overcoming challenges to make better decisions. My mentoring approach is quite direct and based on radical openness. I lead through authenticity and don’t hesitate to show my own weaknesses. While this may seem counterintuitive, it helps people feel comfortable and open to input. I focus on asking questions, often starting with a “what if” challenge and letting the mentee discover their own answers; their own strengths. I’ve found that this approach is often more powerful than what I could come up with myself.

Also read: Why alerts are underrated productivity tools for Arman Sood

What is your morning plan?

I used to be a night owl, but now I’ve adapted to the morning schedules around my daughters’ eight and four school days. My wife, Sucheta, CEO of an emerging fintech company for India, and I take turns picking her up and getting her ready for school. So I wake up at 6:30 am.

I start the day with a strong cup of coffee along with three different newspapers, a quick round of Wordle, a game of tennis or a short workout three days a week, and then a quick barrage of emails to get the day started. I usually check in for work by 8:30am to clear the emails. I’ve tried but failed miserably at setting aside some meditation time and also struggle to stay away from Whatsapp triggers.

What’s the only positive work routine you’ve developed during the pandemic?

I missed the spontaneity, chance and joy of corridor conversations with my colleagues, especially younger colleagues who are often the loudest critics and have the brightest ideas to challenge you. I solved that by carving out a 15-minute slot to pick up the phone and just call two co-workers — just to say hello, stop by, share a few nuggets, and ask if there’s anything I can do could to help them. These calls continue to bring me joy now that I’m back in the office. I’ve decided to keep this “cold call” time.

I’ve also gotten better at managing my work calendar, taking time for reflection and recalibration, family time, etc. And one that’s high on my list is that prioritizing wellness isn’t a choice or a luxury is more. The focus is now on how we experience our work and our workplace. I always take time out for my family and end my workday with some time to myself..

What are your productivity hacks?

I prioritize and ruthlessly review all conversations, be they phone calls, two-minute check-ins, texts, etc., does it matter who really needs to be there, etc.

I also try to cluster my email replies at certain times of the day; usually in the early morning before the start of the working day and then in the late afternoon. Otherwise I think it sends you down a rabbit hole. Also, you don’t have to be the fastest finger first, sometimes others in the email can solve the problem.

After all, I start my week on Sunday evening. Spending an hour getting organized for the coming week helps me hit the ground running on Monday. It’s a magic sauce that I inherited from my consulting days.

How do you relax?

I’m a big theater fan. Before the pandemic, I was either watching or doing plays on weekends. I used to perform in street theater with a theater group in Delhi. We made plays on topics relevant to social issues. For me, theater is a change to escape from my corporate avatar. Aside from that, tennis and spending time with my daughters are the other ways I relax.

Any book/podcast you would recommend on mentoring and growth in the workplace? Why?

I have found byte-sized podcasts incredibly helpful. I’m a big fan of author and inspirational speaker Simon Sinek. I’m listening to my former McKinsey colleague Deepak Jayaraman’s Play to Potential podcast. He has a brilliant line up of India based executives to deeply relate to. Among the books I recently shared The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse by Charlie Mackesy with my entire leadership team. This is the most vivid and beautiful story of friendship, support, empowerment and edification for others.

monday motivation is a series featuring founders, business leaders and creative minds as they tell us about the people they look up to and their work ethic.

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