Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Lessons from School

A few months back, I organized an old girls alumni meet of my school.   As I went about planning and  organizing the meet, I talked to many old friends, contacting them , talking to them after two to three decades ! We were so excited and could barely stop talking after the initial squeals of delight. We reminisced about our naughty childhood days, the mischiefs, the plays , the examination, gossips and what not. But there was one particular person who came up in my conversations with almost everybody. Mrs Nadkarni - our class teacher of  Standard 5. 

What was it about her that all of us remembered her even after 30 years ?  As I thought about it,  it was amazing to relate it with my corporate work. 
  • Empathy : Unlike other teachers, she could sense how each of her students were feeling and would make it a point to talk to the student who needed her attention after the class was over. All of us confided our joys, sorrows and innermost secrets to her.  She remembered our birthdays and we got a book from her every year as a birthday gift. I still have these treasures in my library. We coveted to be near her, learn from her. And our favourite subjects were the ones which she taught us.  As leaders, do we empathize with our team ? Do we notice their expressions when they come to office in the morning or we are drowned in our huge pile of emails and deadlines ?
  • Mentoring :  She was great mentor. If we were stuck with a difficult maths problem, she would never scold us. Instead, she took pains to explain the aspect of the problem to us clearly , as many times as needed.  She made the most talkative girl of the class as the monitor. She made us organize birthday parties, year end bashes and elocution competitions. While doing these, we learnt about teaming, initiative,participation and definitely leadership. How much have you planned and taken care about the growth of your subordinates ? Great leaders are multipliers of talent. And the multiplication happens with solid mentoring.
  • Trust and belief :  During our annual examination, all the other classes had invigilators to see that the students are writing honestly and without talking to each other. Her class was the only exception. She had so much of trust on her students that she had a standing instruction not to put any invigilators. Due to this, none of her students broke her trust.  Trust is something which has to be earned. A leader should be full of integrity, she should walk the talk, be passionate and fair. 

The above three things seem simple, but implementing them at the workplace work wonders. 

And , if you can  do so successfully, one day the people around you will remember you just like we remembered our dear Mrs. Nadkarni.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Power of 1

Recently, I experienced two incidents which reinforced my belief in positivism.  

The first one . A couple of days back,  I was travelling in a bus in the evening where most of the passengers were returning home from work. All of them were visibly tired and sat with a disinterested look on their faces. As I boarded the bus, I looked at my fellow passengers and  groaned -  my journey will be very boring , I thought. But I was in for a surprise.  As the bus started moving,  one person who was sitting near a window , started talking on his own !  He was an ordinary looking middle aged person , wearing ordinary clothes but had an enigmatic smile on his face.  He started describing what he saw outside. "See the beautiful child ! His face is like an Angel". "Look , the trees have different shades of green.. so beautiful" "The sky is ink- blue and the hues of orange in the sun set looks like Gold" "Now we are near Dalhousie square.  The streets look so busy and all the people have different clothes, different expression on their faces.  It is so very interesting !"  As he continued talking, everybody looked out of their windows. One person joined him and exclaimed " Look ! The shop in the corner ! It has been renovated and looking so different !" One by one most the passengers joined the game.  They became animated and interested. Everybody laughed and talked. I was amazed.  When the extraordinary person stood up, I looked at him. He smiled. I saw the bus conductor help him with his crutches. He had only one leg.

Second one.  Last week I had the opportunity of  conducting a session on TQM (Total Quality Management) for a reputed organization. It is a 150 year old organization. The factory workers and staff who attended the training session were all middle aged people, above 50 , and had served the organization for more than 25 years. Around 30 people sat in the training room with a  sullen, cynical look on their faces. As usual I started the session asking the participants to introduce themselves and talk about one thing which they loved about their organization. As the people started talking, the first, second, third and the fourth, strangely, none of them could say any good point about their organization. Just as I was giving up, the sixth person said  "Everyday when I come to work, I take a second to look at the Name of the company engraved on the gate. I am very proud about the quality of goods we manufacture".  Then , there was magic !  This was the spark which was needed.  One by one , all the participants had something positive to say about the organization. The sullen and cynical looks changed ! They smiled and beamed at each other. Yes, there were lots of things which could be improved they said, but all of them were proud to be a part of the organization. 

Yes.  One person can make a difference.

YOU can make a difference !

Monday, 23 July 2012

You Are Being Watched !

Twinkle-twinkle their wide eyes,
Yes they wonder - are you wise ?
Up above their role so high,
Like a diamond in their sky ….

When my daughter was small , many a time I have seen her  in front of the mirror, draped in one of  my sarees , lip gloss on her face, my laptop bag by her side, talking to herself . She must have conjured up how my office looked like , how I talk to my team  and then created her own dream world. 

Similarly, the team  emulates their leader. They talk like her. They pick up her traits – both good and bad. So, Being a leader is not easy. The leader has to walk the talk. She leads from the front. She has to walk the tightrope between what is right bas her role in the organization and her personal beliefs. 

The following are some of the things which I have practised and they have worked for me .
  1. Be CourteousThe team is in awe of the leader. She holds a position of power and authority. So when she is courteous and acts in the same way with people at different levels in the hierarchy, she earns respect.
  2. Be Fair -  Fairness is a quality which sometimes in practical scenarios , is difficult to practice. Nevertheless, some leaders do this naturally and some learn.  Fairness is one of the key traits of a leader.
  3. Laugh at Yourself – All great leaders have a huge sense of humour.  They have the ability to  look at the bigger picture.  I have seen tense situations melt away when the leader stood up and had a hearty laugh at herself.
  4. Open the doors – Both literally and metaphorically. If the leader has a personal office, keep the doors open. It signifies her openness.  While talking to the people below you in the organizational hierarchy, make them comfortable. A leader exudes warmth and friendliness. The team does not feel threatened. And once their hearts opens to you, they become your biggest allies.  Forever.
Remember, as a leader, you are constantly being watched. Go ahead and make your team feel “insanely”  inspired by your actions.  Let them experience your wisdom and warmth.  

And see them shine like diamonds.  

Monday, 16 July 2012

The idea of " Belonging"

In one of my previous organizations, it was a common water-cooler discussion about how the environment of the office has changed.  People lamented  It is not the same what used to be earlier”.  “I remember the time when we used to have fun at work. Now every morning I groan that I have to go to office”  “Nowadays people do not even smile at each other. Even the office fun activities which we have seems to be crafted and directed by the senior management and we are forced to participate”
What went wrong ? What changed ? Now when I contemplate about it, I think I know the answer. The employees did not “belong” to the organization anymore. They were just placeholders. Just as protein is needed in the diet for the health of the body, the feeling of “belonging” is a basic need for the mind and soul.  At home.  At work.

 According to me , here are a couple of things which the organization’s leadership should do increase the belongingness of their associates
  • The “Fun” activities should be driven by the employees – I remember the times when we formed a small drama society in our office. We used to cut back on our lunch hour and practice and rehearse and conduct shows. It was a huge success and I still receive notes from people (most of them have left the organization) about the fun we had. The people in this group are still a strong virtual community.

  • Ignite creativity by encouraging failure : Innovations happen in an atmosphere where people can work fearlessly. Yes, people will fail. And these failures will strengthen the culture of creativity. And even when he fails , the attempt to create is lauded , the fears will vanish and someday something great will be created. It is guaranteed. And the bond with the employee becomes like steel.

  •  Think Employees : The buzzword today is “employees first” . It is your employees who create the organization. They are the faces to the customers.  Cultivate them. Make them your partners. Have you tried being transparent with them ? Are you treating them fairly ? have you told them your problem ? I have seen magic happen when I have told about a grave situation about the project and the team have forgotten their own and have worked night and day to recover the situation. Smilingly. Without anything extra. With alacrity. Make them your ally. And see the change !

  • Initial touch points matter :  When a person comes for an interview he faces a couple of moments of truths.  Is the appointment happening on time? Is the interviewer smiling and asking whether he wants tea or coffee? In case he is waiting, what does he read ? In my own experience, a magazine or a      newsletter , created by the employees themselves acts as a very good method to start the bonding even at that stage. And even if he is not recruited, he goes back as an ambassador of the organization

  • Build Trust And stick with it : It is not easy. Just like Rome, trust cannot be built in a day. The leader has to be persistent. He will have to walk the talk. Just like in one of my earlier blogs, trust will definitely ECHO.  Yes, there will be non-believers. There will be cynical people. But as long as the organizational leadership repeatedly raise the issue of trust and be strong advocates of it, perseverance will win.  

All of us crave to “belong”.  If this feeling is enhanced, the employees will go the extra mile with a heightened level of ownership.  Win their commitment. And see your business boom !

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Wonderland of Alice

I love Lewis Carroll's "Alice In Wonderland" . 

Chanced upon the book again today while I was setting up my library at home.  I had read it when I was in the primary school, once again when I was in college and started reading it again today. Every time I read it, I fall in love with the book again. And again. Every time the same words convey different meaning to me. The same book , but a different me -  with a broader understanding, with a bigger perspective and different world-view. 

Lewis Carroll has put it so simply.  Alice says  "I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is 'Who in the world am I ?' Ah, that's the great puzzle!"   Brilliant ! Leaders are constantly re-inventing themselves. They do things differently. Everyday. All the time. At work and at home. And it makes them uncomfortable if they feel they are doing the same things.  

Are we living in the present like Alice feels  "But it's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then" .  Do we know our goals or are we like the Mad Hatter  " If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there".

Fantasy is powerful.  Close your eyes and visualize . Let the Alice in you create a Wonderland !

Thursday, 5 July 2012

The "God Particle" of Leadership

The "Goddamn Particle " of Leadership 

The big news today is that of the "God Particle" or Higgs boson. CERN has finally confirmed that the last missing piece of the Standard Model, which describes the basic building blocks of the universe , does exist.  The net, media, twitter etc. are agog with the news. We took 50 years to prove the fact which had been predicted by Higgs. This definitely is a major breakthrough in the world of nuclear science.

Makes me wonder.  

Is leadership science or an art ? Or philosophy ? Philosophy begins where science ends. Leaders have faith. Leaders trust. And most of the times , amazing feats are achieved with faith. Leaders just know. Their faith does not need verification or proof.  When I was a kid, my mother told me a story where a sage asked the milkmaid to bring him a tumbler of milk every morning. The maid said that she lived across the river and there are no boats available early morning. The saint said " Well , you can walk across the river. I know you can walk on water". And she walked on the water. And brought him milk every day. One day a passerby saw her and exclaimed " You can walk on the water !! How is that possible !" The maid said "Oh ! The saint said so and it never crossed my mind that this is impossible !" The seed of doubt germinated.  

She could not cross the river anymore. 

Leaders make the impossible very naturally possible. They create trust . They have the capability to put the "God Particle" in the soul of their followers. And these become the building blocks of a great team !

Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Dilemma : The Curious Case of the Unwilling Emailer

The Dilemma : The Curious Case of the Unwilling Emailer

There is a very popular story in Indian Mythology called  Vikram aur Vetaal. Vikramaditya was a very powerful , popular and just King.  The legend says that the King,  in order to fulfil  a vow, had to carry a corpse (betaal) on his shoulder to another plac -  in absolute silence. Enroute, the Betaal would narrate a story and pose a question to the King . If the king knew the answer , he had to reply. Else ,his head would  be split into a thousand pieces.

I present this series of episodes based on real life scenarios. At the end of the incident, there will be a question which you will have to answer. The correct answer will be rewarded with a surprise prize J.

Once upon a time,, in the peaceful land of Project “Eutopia”, a team member named “Disruptus”  arrived. Disruptus was moderately good at his work. He was part of an important module and did his work satisfactorily. Sometimes the peace was disrupted, but the leader managed the situation by talking to Disruptus.  He needed regular doses of feedback. One day, there came a need for a team leader for his module and since he was the senior most in his team , he was chosen for the role.  This role required him to check his emails from home and respond to them as appropriate. 

Manager :  Congratulations ! You have been assigned the role of the Team leader. You have wanted this role for a long time. So I hope you will make the most of it and do your best !
Disruptus : Thank You ! I will try my best !

 M  : You have bigger responsibilities now.  So it is inevitable that you will have to check your emails regularly from home and see that the  project work goes on smoothly.
 D : But I do not have internet connectivity at home !
 M : Not a problem. The organization has a policy where it will reimburse you certain amount of money for your connectivity.
 D : But the reimbursable amount won't be enough!
 M : The difference is negligible . I assume that you will do your personal work also which you will have to pay for yourself.
 D : I don't want to spend on the down payment of Rs. 2000. I would like the organization to pay for it.
 M : Our policy doesn't cover this payment and we cannot make  an exception for you since this will set a precedent!
 D : I have spent 3 years with the organization.  Don’t I deserve to get a small thing like this from the organization ?

What should the Manager do ?  Please post your reply in the comment section below.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The "Echo Effect"

The “Echo Effect”

Remember the time when we were kids and went vacationing to a hill station or some historical place? One of the most fascinating thing we experienced was how we could hear our own voice which reflected back as an “echo” .  

While dealing with people ,  I experienced  the same effect with equal fascination.  The more I gave , the more I received . In multiples! The more I trusted , I got their trust in abundance. I gave unconditional respect and I was amazed to see  the “echo”  reflected towards me !  I have experienced fierce loyalty, amazing love and lasting relationships.   Unlike the echo experienced on mountain tops and old monument,  this echo is endless.   

Most of  us  are a bit wary about giving away.  “What is it in for me? “ is the common thinking.  Give it a try.  You will be as surprised as a kid to see the effect.  Great leaders discover this trick and create magic.

So can you.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Being Nice

Being Nice 

Do you think that being nice to your team or peers or customers is not necessary ? Or are you of the opinion that if you are nice (specially to your subordinates), you will be termed as a "weak" leader ? I absolutely disagree with that . On the contrary, I think that being extraordinarily nice is the way to be !  You will attract undivided  trust,extreme loyalty exceptional customer satisfaction and above all you yourself will feel damn good about it. Believe me. It is contagious ! I have experienced it !

And "being nice" is not limited to anyone. Anyone can be nice. I recollect an incident which I experienced about 12-14 years back. I had gone on an assignment to London - for doing the requirement study for a large MNC.  I  had and still have an intense desire to explore new places and I was thrilled to bits about being able to see Big Ben, Thames, Buckingham palace, Harrods, Hyde Park and so on .. With very limited money and very very limited time (only on weekends), I tried to make the most of it. On one fine evening , I was very hungry and wanted to eat Indian food. Lots of Indian joints . The problem was that if I wanted to  have an extra serving of rice with the delicious prawn curry, I would have had to forego visiting the Oxford University and Avon. I decided on the latter and ordered the most frugal Indian meal . Somehow the Bangadeshi waiter understood and after a few minutes, brought a steaming plate of rice and said that this is free - from his own share ! He was being astoundingly nice.  I was so touched that whenever I went to London, I always visited that joint. And then I did not need free servings. Instead , I could  take gifts for him and gave very good  feedback about him . Guess what ? After a few years , he opened his own Indian food restaurant which is stupendously popular !

I have experienced the results of  "Being Nice" with so many people with whom I have interacted at my workplace. "Being Nice" and " being assertive" are not mutually exclusive.  You can be both. And  you exude power by Being Nice. 

Monday, 18 June 2012

The 365 list

The 365 things to do ...
I am travelling back from Kolkata to Delhi. My co-passengers  are a family of three. Husband , wife and their 13 year old son who studies in class 9 in Alwar. After dinner , the lady started some small talk with me and casually mentioned that they are returning after visiting their brother-in-law who has met with a terrible accident . He is a state of coma for the last 3 weeks and the doctors have not given any hope. Multiple organ failure has started. But they  have to return. The summer vacation is over, the husband does not have any leave , son's tuition is waiting . 

As she was describing the condition to me , I was struck with a strange feeling . Nothing very new, but somehow I felt the impact of how life will go on for them as well as the brother-in-laws family.  A grieved daughter studying Engineering and his wife are slowly coming to terms with the situation. No one really is indispensable.  

I thought about the person who is lying in a coma ... on his death bed, the people surrounding him praying for his peaceful death.  He must have had plans for tomorrow, for vacations with his family. Plans and worries regarding his daughter's education, marriage and retirement planning. While leaving for office at 8 am in the morning and coming back at 9 pm, thoughts of leisure and "adda" with friends must have come to his mind which he must have postponed for a later tomorrow . That tomorrow never came. 

All of us plan for tomorrow. Small things like talking to our parents, laughing with our kids, going for hike are planned. Some of the things do not need postponing - but we feel that these are small things which can be planned for and done anytime. " I will do it tomorrow". A very dangerous 5word sentence ! Our parents and child  might be waiting to hear just a few words from us which will make their day joyful. In our stressfull day to day life, we forget that  small things make a big difference.

Most of us usually plan our finances meticulously and we know exactly how much money we will get and plan for spending it. Why can't we the same with the priceless things in our lives ? Why don't we make a list of 365 things to be done before we die  ? Not 10 or 101. I want 365  things . At least one year of my life to do the things which really matter to me rather than living in daily transactions. I do not want to postpone buying the long awaited  gift for my childhood nanny and take my parents for a five-star vacation. 

I pray to God that the ailing person can live so that he can enjoy the simple pleasures of life and can complete his 365 things which he might have wanted to do before his final goodbye from this earth. 

I will start the 365 list today and make sure that I complete at least a couple of them every month. 

June 14, 2012