Strategies, Resources and Tips for Leading Through a Pandemic: From a Head of Engineering

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Anu Dodda

Photo courtesy of Thomson Reuters.

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Fairygodboss
April 13, 2024 at 7:19PM UTC

“I have always been a believer in leading with compassion and empathy. My experience has shown me that the outcome of that leadership style is powerful and impactful to my team, our customers and the business,” says Anu Dodda, Head of Engineering, Corporates Tax & Trade at Thomson Reuters.

During the pandemic, Anu tells Fairygodboss that she never specifically adjusted her leadership style but, rather, elevated the need to be more empathetic and compassionate for her team, customers and herself.

“This helped me to better understand the needs of my team members, colleagues and stakeholders, and enabled me to support them effectively despite the challenges we all had to go through,” she explains.

We caught up with Anu to learn about her leadership style, particularly during the pandemic, as well as what advice she has for other women who want to pursue leadership roles in today’s world.

Tell me a bit about your current role. What are your priorities?

As a Head of Engineering and Chief Technology Officer of the Corporates customer segment, I am responsible for the Corporate Tax & Trade Products Technology Strategy as well as Development & Delivery from a technology standpoint. I lead Engineering teams around product development and delivery, infrastructure service and operations. 

My priorities are delivering what is needed for our customers and providing them with best-in-class service while enabling necessary product engineering transformations that align with Thomson Reuters transition from a holding company to an operating company.  Our vision is to be the world-leading content-driven technology company, powering the world’s most informed professionals.

Paint a picture of a typical day. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up and the last thing you do before you go to sleep?

I am a mother of two young boys, so my mornings are always busy getting them ready for school, making lunches while trying to fit in a quick walk or exercise. There are days that I win in doing them all, and there are days that I don’t. I’ve learned to be ok with it either way.

My work day typically starts around 8:00 a.m. ET and is non-stop with MS Teams calls and meetings. I sit on the leadership team for the Corporates Business Segment and the Technology Leadership Team, which helps me get a broad business perspective and helps set priorities. I also reserve several blocks of time each day for my direct reports to ensure they are getting the support they need to do their jobs effectively. They sit in the United States, Canada, Mexico and India. We check-in quarterly on goals and career progression, so our daily meetings tend to focus on more of the day-to-day work of development. And then there are the longest days, around Tax season, which require an all-hands on deck approach to ensure our customers have full access to the products and troubleshooting throughout. We have to be at the top of our game so our customers can be at the top of theirs. That is really rewarding. 

On a typical day, I try to end calls by 6:00 p.m. ET to spend a few hours with my husband and children. That helps keep me grounded. The last thing I do before I go to sleep is self-reflection. This is a habit I’ve adopted over the last few years that I really like as it gives me an opportunity to assess myself and my day: what went well, what can improve and all the little things that I am grateful for. I also find that this practice gives me a better start for the following day.

What resources or support has Thomson Reuters offered employees during the pandemic?

I'm so proud that our organization has so many options when it comes to mental health and wellness. We now offer two mental health days annually for employees; they are recognized globally as additional paid-time off. The company has also provided free-of-charge access to meditation and relaxation apps, and encourages participation in Virgin Pulse mental health challenges, which makes it fun. There are loads of other resources available to employees that provide guidance and support to get through their specific situations.

How is this support reflective of the overall culture at Thomson Reuters?

Thomson Reuters goes above and beyond what the typical organization offers. Not many companies offer as many flexible working options, tools to support personal growth and development, and extra days off a year to support good mental health and wellbeing. The organization takes a very human-centric approach to building culture and ensuring our employees feel cared for, supported and empowered.     

What has been the biggest challenge for you as a leader during this time?

The biggest challenge for me during this time has been seeing the death toll rise across the world, losing loved ones to COVID, and worrying about the safety of friends, family and my team. I am grateful to my team and my family for all their support and to the Thomson Reuters leadership team for making employee mental health and wellbeing a priority during these challenging times. 

What strategies have you used that have been most effective in promoting connectivity across your team?

Promoting connectivity across the team is not only about having regular touch points and turning on video for meetings; it is enabling the team to see each other as a support system and helping them to turn to each other in need. When that happens, we are one big happy family working together to do what is right for our customers and our business. 

Reaching out one-on-one with folks on my leadership team to encourage them to participate in broader discussions and giving them a spotlight when they do not feel connected or engaged has helped in getting them back on track.

What is your best advice for leading through crisis and uncertainty while keeping employees motivated?

The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health, especially for women. The combined pressure of job and familial responsibilities has amplified stress and burnout.

 A few things I find helpful for supporting and leading through crisis include: 

  • Practicing empathy and being compassionate with your team, stakeholders and customers.

  • Keeping teams connected through every means possible.

    • Building in time for casual conversation and interactions along with regular touch points is critical.

  • Being transparent and managing expectations with your team, customers and stakeholders is more important than ever before.

    • Make it clear that your team can take the time they need to deal with personal matters and give them the freedom to create flexible working hours that work for them.

  • Strategizing and explaining the big picture by taking a long-term view as well as focusing on the most important things for your customers and business.

    • For your team, it’s important to provide a lot of clarity on where you and the organization are headed so they can more fully understand the ‘why’ and ‘what’.

  • Reminding every single leader and team that what they do on a daily basis really matters. 

  • Make it a practice to express genuine gratitude for what team members do to achieve the visions of your business and customers. 

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