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Crafting Success: Lessons from Rupal Patel's CIA Career to Entrepreneurship
Norm Goldman --  BookPleasures.com Norm Goldman -- BookPleasures.com
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Montreal, Quebec
Friday, June 14, 2024


Bookpleasures.com welcomesRupal Patel, author of "From CIA to CEO: Unconventional LifeLessons for Thinking Bigger, Leading Better, and Being Bolder"to our online interview series, where we dive into the fascinatinglives and careers of extraordinary individuals.

Rupal splits her timebetween New York and London, and is an author, executive consultant,CEO, and renowned speaker. 

Born and raised in NewYork, Rupal’s career journey is nothing short of remarkable. 

Inspired by her parents' dedication to collective progress, sheaccepted an invitation to join the CIA as an analyst, a role that sawher advising Four-Star Generals and receiving accolades for hersuperior support to the President of the United States.

Her high-octane career hastaken her from military briefing rooms in jungles and war zones tocorporate boardrooms and international stages. 

After leaving the CIA, sheearned her MBA from London Business School and went on to establishher first award-winning business over a decade ago. 

Recognized as a"Power Woman" by Harper’s Bazaar Magazine and a "superstrategist" by her clients, Rupal is a sought-afterinternational speaker and corporate consultant who has deliveredleadership and talent development programs for Fortune 500 companiesand even the White House.

Her newly released book,"From CIA to CEO: Unconventional Life Lessons for ThinkingBigger, Leading Better, and Being Bolder," offers a unique blendof memoir and practical guidance, serving as a comprehensive manualfor leaders, entrepreneurs, and anyone looking to chart their ownpath. 

Today, we look forward to exploring Rupal’s incrediblejourney, the insights from her diverse experiences, and her visionfor the future. Welcome, Rupal!

Norm: Good day Rupaland thanks for taking part in our interview.

Can you describe thetransition from working as a CIA analyst to becoming a serialentrepreneur? What were the biggest challenges and surprises?

Rupal: The hardest part ofthat transition was having to define myself for myself. Up to thatpoint, I had always been affiliated with prestigious organizations,from the schools I attended to the CIA. 

But when I left the Agency,and started my own businesses, suddenly I was a “nobody” buildinga “no-name” business from scratch that I had no idea if it wouldsucceed or not. Learning how to separate my sense of self-worth frommy job title/work affiliation was really hard. 

It took me years to dothe work of self-definition, but it was so worth doing because it isa life skill that I think so many of us need to master, and doingthat work has given me confidence that does not rely on externalvalidation.

The other major challenge,was battling persistent loneliness. I am a very outgoing person and Iwent from being in vibrant, intellectually engaging, social contextsat work and through my studies, to suddenly working for myself, bymyself, at home in the middle of nowhere. 

The loneliness was deep.And I had to re-learn how to be by myself most of the time. It took alot of effort, and many years, to see myself through the lonelinessand isolation. 

But it was another gift in disguise, because learninghow to be alone and NOT feel lonely is a skill that I know I willneed throughout my life and career. 

Norm: What specificskills or techniques from your CIA training have you found mostvaluable in the business world?

Rupal: Relying on“all-source intel” is one of the best skills I brought from theCIA to the business world. At the CIA, we would look at all of theinformation about a certain topic or area of the world: the TopSecret information as well as the publicly available information, andeverything in between. 

And by drawing on all sources, we were able tocreate more robust assessments about any given issue. 

The same “allsource-ness” is also incredibly valuable in business, in two ways.First, organizations can learn a great deal from other sectors orindustries, or even other parts of their own organization, instead ofoperating in silos and looking at their world very narrowly. Andsecond, businesses can also draw on the “all-source intel” withineach individual in their organization. 

So, even if someone is hiredto perform a legal function, they might also have talents that arevaluable in sales, or marketing, or strategy. By thinking laterally –being “all source” – about the resources they draw oninternally and externally, organizations can become much more agileand innovative. 

I do a lot of work with large multi-nationals onbecoming “all-source” because doing so helps them future-prooftheir organizations (being agile and innovative) and it helps themretain high-caliber employees who want to use the full spectrum oftheir talents and grow within the same organization, instead of beingpigeon-holed into doing once thing for their whole careers.

Norm: From CIA to CEO"is described as both a memoir and a trade craft toolkit. Can youelaborate on what readers can expect from the book?

Rupal: I share all of theinsights, lessons, and tools I picked up in my career and life thathave helped me succeed and achieve things I never thought possible.

And some of those insights are from my time at the CIA, some are frommy experiences building two businesses from scratch, some are from myexperiences as a parent, as a woman, as a daughter of immigrants, asa life-long learner and everything in between. In my previous answer,I talked about drawing on “all source intel” and that’s exactlywhat I do in the book: 

I draw on all of the “intel” I’vegathered over the course of my life and distill all of the keylessons, takeaways, and adaptable tools I learned or developed alongthe way that have enabled me to succeed and burst through barriers. 

What readers get is a veryinteractive book, full of tangible frameworks and exercises that willhelp them answer some of the biggest questions about how to lead alife on their own terms and in a way that is true to who they are. 

Atits core, From CIA to CEO is about the reader, finding, discovering,and honoring their inner powerhouse, and letting who that is come outto shine in every way possible. 

It is, as the subtitle promises, abook that arms readers with “unconventional life lessons forthinking bigger, leading better, and being bolder,” not just intheory, but in practice.

Norm: Can you share astory from your time in the CIA that had a profound impact on yourviews on leadership?

Rupal: When I was deployedto a war zone, my Chief of Station was one of the most ego-lesspeople I have ever met. He treated all of us as equals. 

He sharedresources and glory and credit and access to exciting projectsinstead of hoarding them. And he always made himself the leastimportant person in the room. 

He was so secure in who he was that hedidn’t need to be in your face or lord his authority over you. 

Heempowered everyone to do their best, got out of their way if needed,wasn’t afraid to learn from others, and operated as a “firstamong equals.” 

His leadership style earned him the loyalty ofeveryone around him, and made us want to do our best for him. 

Andwhat that taught me is: 1) leadership can look like anything; youdon’t have to act a specific way or take on certain qualitiesaggressiveness, assertiveness, charisma, etc) to be an effectiveleader; 2) being a good leader doesn’t mean that you pretend tohave all the answers; it’s essential to know what you are theexpert at, and what those around you are experts at; 3) instead ofbeing “all-knowing”, good leaders are “all-growing” and don’tlet their egos drive their decisions. He was one of three “greats”that I worked with at the Agency, and they all taught me similarthings in their own unique ways.

Norm: Identity DrivenLeadership and Personal Energy Mapping are intriguing conceptsmentioned in your book. Can you explain how they work and how leaderscan apply them?

Rupal: Fundamentally, bothare tools for better self-analysis and self-understanding so you canlead authentically as you are instead of following a paradigm ormodel that is external. 

So, Identity Driven Leadership is not aboutsuperficial identity or “identity politics”, it’s about doingthe work to crystallize what your values are and how they show up (ornot) in your life and how you lead; about gaining clarity on yourunique strengths and leveraging them as much as possible in yourday-to-day; and about understanding what you need to be and performat your best, and then doing what you can to create those conditionsas frequently as possible. 

Personal Energy Mapping isjust one element of this work. And charting your PEM is about payingattention to the natural fluctuations in your mental and physicalenergy and the kinds of tasks you gravitate towards at certain timesof the day, week, month, season, or year. So, for example, it’s notjust about being a “morning person” or “night owl”, but aboutunderstanding when you find strategic tasks easier to deal with, whenare you most creative, when are you best able to handle details, etc. 

And then charting the patterns and rhythms so you can work withinthem as often as possible and remove some of the friction in yourlife.

NONE of this is aboutwholesale overhauls to your life or dictating “my way or thehighway” to those around you. 

It’s about understanding how youoperate and who you are at the deepest level so you can leverage thatknowledge to be a better leader and person.

Norm: How do you thinkyour experiences as a woman in the CIA have influenced yourleadership style and business strategies?

Rupal: Being a woman hasmade me much more attuned to the subtleties of the environments Ioperate in, from the energy in the room, to the subtext ofconversations, to the shifting dynamics between people. 

And whilethese situational awareness and emotional intelligence skills werefine-tuned at the CIA, as someone who has always navigated betweenand among many different contexts where I often didn’t “fit” –and as someone who is an introvert at my core – I have always paidattention when others were making noise and learned how to operate inshifting contexts. 

How I lead, how I drive mybusiness, and how I advise other organizations is grounded in theseanalytical and emotional intelligence skills, and in the strategicsituational awareness I have developed by paying attention.

 I seewhat others don’t see, bring a critical eye to established “bestpractice”, and work to understand the fundamentals so I canidentify better ways of achieving certain outcomes. 

Some of thisskill set was developed because of my experiences as a woman, butmany of them are just how I am wired; the CIA helped hone the skillsthat were already there. 

Norm: What motivatedyou to move from such a high-stakes government role to the world ofentrepreneurship?

Rupal: I like operating inhigh-performance environments because I have a need to push myselfand stretch myself so I can discover what I am made of. 

There was nobig reason to leave the CIA, and there was nothing specific callingme, I just wanted to test myself in a different way. 

At the CIA, Ihad done a lot of the exciting meaningful work I had wanted to do,and learned skills I never thought I could learn, so I wanted to pushmyself and test myself in a different way and see if I could succeedin another high-performance context. Entrepreneurship seemed like theultimate test of my mettle, so that’s why it appealed to me, andthat’s why I went down that path.

I also like being my ownboss and getting to decide what direction my businesses and I go in.I like being able to drive my success in the ways that I want todrive it and explore the world of work and giving back in ways thatmean something to me and in ways that I craft and control. 

Norm: How do you handlethe high-pressure situations in business compared to those in theCIA? Are there similarities in your approach?

Rupal: In every area oflife and in every career, there are infinite elements that you can’tcontrol and a tight group of elements that you can control. 

So in anyhigh-pressure situation, I don’t get distracted by noise, oratmospherics, or what everyone else is doing or worried about. 

Instead, I zero in on the things I can do something about and thenfocus all of my energies on doing something about them. 

This was thesame approach I had at the CIA and it is the approach I bring toeverything I face now: control the controllable and don’t worryabout the rest.

Norm: In your book, youemphasize thinking bigger, leading better, and being bolder. Can youprovide an example of a situation where you applied these principlessuccessfully?

Rupal: Thinking bigger: Inever thought I would be a best-selling author, but always dreamed ofbeing one. 

So I focused on what I can control and started moving inthat direction: always writing, asking for help, asking for advicefrom people who were qualified to give it, and then doing the work,and persisting. 

I believe anything is possible, but you have tocreate the right internal and external context to make it so. Sowhenever I am thinking bigger – setting bold ambitions for myself –I create the context around me that will support that ambition: Icurate my inputs carefully (something I talk about a lot in thebook), I get smart on the topic, and then the rest is doing,experimenting, learning, and persisting.

Leading better: I believethat at home and at work the people at the “top” have a duty tolead by example, so my duty to everyone I interact with is to be thebest example I can be. 

For me, this means paying attention to what Iam saying with my words AND my deeds, and to course-correctingwhenever needed. It’s also about being honest when I don’t knowhow to do something or fix something and about having toughconversations when necessary. 

Leading better is a constant practicethat takes equally constant vigilance, so I make sure I have goodpeople around me who are willing to have honest conversations with meand not just tell me what I want to hear or to give me empty praise.

Being bolder: For me, thislast part is about testing and pushing myself. It’s about asking“why not me?” whenever I have that voice inside me telling me Ican’t do something. 

In leaving the safety of my CIA career andcharting a totally unknown path, I did something bolder than Ithought possible, and I did it by starting with that question. Andthen doing the work to figure out the answers along the way.

Norm: You've advisedFour-Star Generals and earned War Zone Service Medals. How do theseexperiences shape your current work and message to entrepreneurs andleaders?

Rupal: Two big lessons Ibring from my past experiences are: 1) Everyone is equal. It doesn’tmatter if you are an entrepreneur, or an investor, or an analyst, ora Four-Star General. 

Everyone is equal and everyone has something ofvalue to bring to the table. So focus on what value YOU are bringinginstead of getting intimidated by how “impressive” everyone elsearound you is. Investors need business to invest in; generals needadvisors. 

Everyone plays a role, so don’t diminish yours. 

And 2) Itis essential to communicate effectively with the person in front ofyou and not stick to a script. 

If you want to engage or influence orhave impact, you have to do the work to understand your audience,know what’s important to them, and speak their language. 

You arethe least important person in any conversation (and yes, I appreciatethis somewhat contradicts what I just said in #1, but it’s asuperficial contradiction; both #1 and #2 are equally true), so it’snot just about what you have to say and how right you are. 

It’sabout interpreting what you say so it will be received by the personin front of you based on how THEY operate and think. 

I had to do thistranslation/interpretation all the time at the CIA because the sameanalysis shared with the President had to be shared differently thanhow I would share it with a Special Forces commander; they havedifferent needs, wants, requirements, and languages to some extent. 

And this is a skill that we all need to master in life and inbusiness: speak the language of the person in front of you.Understand what’s important to them. And then adapt your delivery –not the message – accordingly.

Norm: Can you share anyupcoming projects or initiatives you are excited about that alignwith the themes of your book?

Rupal: Yes! I’m workingon my next book which looks at leadership from a perspective that’snever been looked at before and which has been hiding in plain sight. 

I can’t divulge details just yet, but it builds on the concept of“All-Source Intel” and is going to shake up the way we look at“work-life balance”, gender equality at work, and the future ofwork.

Norm: Where can we findout more about you and “From CIA to CEO: Unconventional LifeLessons for Thinking Bigger, Leading Better, and Being Bolder?”

Rupal: You can visit the Book’s Website and follow me on Instagram@rupalypatel

Norm: As we concludeour interview, what advice would you give to someone who wants topivot their career in a significant way, similar to your transitionfrom the CIA to entrepreneurship?

Rupal: It may take longerthan you expect so don’t wait! Talk to people who have made similartransitions, start researching areas you think you might want tobuild businesses in, and get all the practical considerations (howare you going to pay the rent, feed yourself, etc) out of the waybefore you leap. 

Also, your next movedoesn’t have to be your last move. So, just because you want to bean entrepreneur or move to a different industry, doesn’t mean youhave to quit your job today. 

You can stay in work, start banking asavings pot that will fund your early days as a founder, or startworking part-time, then slowly migrate into the world you want toenter: you can start a side-hustle, work for another start-up, dopart-time work at a different company (as long as it doesn’tconflict with your other job!), and just test the waters. 

There’s too muchpressure to make big, drastic changes but success at anything takestime, and it takes its own time. So don’t force it, and just keepmoving in the direction you want to go in. It doesn’t have tohappen all at once right away.

Norm: Thanks once againand good luck with all of your future endeavors.

 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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