Sailaja Manacha never planned to be an entrepreneur. She came into her journey, and had to learn on the go. But the way she responded to this challenge would go on to shape a successful business at the cusp of psychology and leadership, for the next 17 years and counting.
Sailaja started her career as an HR professional, but after working for 8 years, she found herself in a position that many women do. She had just had her first child whom she wanted to spend enough time with, she wanted to do something for herself, and she wanted to continue working and earning too. She was being pulled in many directions, and was not willing to give up on any of them. She quickly realised that no corporate job would give her the choice, flexibility and fulfilment she was looking for. That meant she’d have to start out on her own. Choosing to change tracks and training for a brand new specialisation wasn’t easy with a one-year-old daughter at home. But her burgeoning interest in psychology and therapy prompted her to make the leap, and she decided to go back to studying.
Freshly trained in her new field, she started her entrepreneurial journey with training and leadership development, in collaboration with a few partners. ‘That was a great way to start because you’ve got the power of multiple minds working together, multiple resources and networks being pooled in and multiple strengths complementing each other.’ Excited with these advantages, she operated collaboratively the first few years. But this came with its own challenges too. Some of the partnerships she formed were not fruitful. Sailaja ascribes this to a lack of self-confidence and awareness about one’s own value that many women experience at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey. ‘It is not enough to have the same vision, you need to share the same values too. When a partnership is unintentionally unequal, that creates a lot of bitterness, which takes away the creative energy you need to run your business as an entrepreneur.’
Over time, she fine-tuned her business model and started Physis — her own leadership development and coaching company. This required conscious efforts towards learning and upskilling, and Sailaja Manacha made it a point to set aside 10-15% of her earnings every year, to invest in her own learning. She signed up for courses with new teachers, she reached out to coaches, and she invested in technology that would help her expand her business. That really gave speed and momentum in her business and equipped her to adapt and grow as needed. For instance, when the pandemic hit and many others in this space felt uncertain about their path ahead, Sailaja seamlessly steered her business towards a digital model. She keeps a sharp focus on learning even today, always aiming for higher credentials in both coaching and teaching.
Today, she is one of the few coaches in India who operates in this unique area of psychology-focussed coaching. She specialises in self-enquiry in unlocking leadership potential, especially for women in professional spaces. She designs her own programs, creates bespoke coaching solutions for businesses, and conducts innumerable sessions and workshops. One of the best parts about her own learnings has been how well she’s able to handle the highs and lows of business. ‘To remember my purpose helps me put things in perspective. My work is not to count the number of ups and downs. It is to be in action, and continue doing what I care about.’