Sunday, 30 September 2012

Amazing teams !

A few weeks back,  I met some of my team members from one of my previous organizations.  They were reminiscing about the “Good old times, the high energy environment and the real work”  they did.   “It is not the same anymore … “  they lamented.

It made me ponder. I always thought that I was a very lucky one to get such hardworking, talented, energetic, enthusiastic people working for me who took so much of initiative.  What was different, I thought …

  •  Delegate Power  : It is important not only to delegate work but also delegate power !  Only then your team will take the full ownership and initiative.  The team will know the importance and repercussion of the work delegated to them and believe me , will go all for it!

  •  Make them feel proud :  When your team does big work and takes big decisions, they feel amazing !  The more you trust them , they respect you more and work harder.  A sincere pat on the back, a few words of appreciation and giving them the credit for their accomplishments works wonders.  When they feel good and proud about their work, they will move mountains. I have seen my team working day and night without any complaint when they had to deliver a piece of script which they owned.  Making them feel amazing makes them super humans. The business booms. Delivery happens on time . Customers are delighted.  All this - without micromanagement !

  •  Foster positivity  : Negative criticism and unproductive arguments create a vicious environment. Eliminate it.  Encourage people to come up with solutions to their problems when they complain.  Do not let the negativity sap away the trust and energy of the team.  Remember, one rotten apple spoils the full basket.  So remove the bullies and foster positivity and harmony in the team. 

  • Communicate Effectively :  The communication from the leader should be clear, crisp , precise and concise. The team should understand the plan, have clarity about the decisions being taken and the direction in which they have to proceed.  They should be aligned with the overall goals and objectives of their project and it should be clearly communicated to them how they are contributing to the end result.  Clarify any question that come from them as early as possible. There should not be any ambiguity about the project priorities.  
When you do these, your team thrives.  They are energized.  They move mountains for you.

And whenever your paths cross ,they will always remember how they felt like superheroes when they worked for you !

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Never say never

Have you heard yourself say "I can't do this", "This is impossible", I do not have time for exercise", "I don't think I will be able to do my Masters" etc. etc.  All of us have been victim of excuses sometime or the other. But last week I had a life turning experience which will prevent me from giving excuses. Ever. 

In Calcutta, there is an Institute for Cerebral Palsy and I was invited to visit them a few days back. It is an institute which helps the Cerebral Palsy kids and coaches their parents. The visit was therapeutic and an inside-out kind of an experience and I will talk about it  later in my future blogs. I met a lady - she must be in her mid thirties. She cannot move one hand, walks with a limp, is almost blind and has great difficulty in speaking. The social worker who took us around introduced her to us. She is heading the legal department of the institute and works as a consultant lawyer for  the disabled people . She is a double gold medalist from Presidency college and a Leeds Scholar !  Her parents had left her with the institute when she was about 5. From her childhood, she was an avid learner and  operated the computer with her feet ! She never said never and now has become a role model for the institute.

Sometimes, the environment around us imposes the condition for excuses. So, stop listening to the voices who say "You can't do it".  There was a competition between a team of frogs and a team of  goats as to who can reach the mountain top the fastest.  The leader of the goat said to the leader of the frog " Why are you all even trying ?" Everybody knows that we will win ! We have nimble feet, can run fast, whereas you can only jump , you have heavy body, you cannot see ..... " This went on and on . The frogs  were convinced that they cannot do it and started to retreat , when suddenly they saw that one frog had already reached the mountain top ! 

"Hey !" Everybody said "What is the secret of your success ?

The leader of  the frogs said "He is deaf ! He could not hear what we were discussing. He never thought that he cannot reach the top " ! 

Successful people do not make excuses . Leaders do not fear failure.

They create results . 

Without making excuses.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Three Best Practices

 Here are the three best things which I have learnt from the best organizations that I have worked with.

Best Practice : Include the family : I was in my formative years of working as well as a mother of a four year old. My days passed in a haze. Deadlines, technical problems, teleconferencing along with tantrums of  my daughter. The organization dedicated a day for the families where the employees did cultural activities with their families. I enrolled my daughter. The organization took the pains of picking her up from home, included her in a group dance and she proudly performed on stage ! A  story book was given to her by the CEO of the organization as per the policy of rewarding the kids of the employees who stood first in class. And my daughter just loved the "300 Bedtime Stories" she received. She still cherishes the moment and the book.  A small act , but it had a lasting impression.

Best practice : Being on Time :  The mantra was "Be on Time every time".  Posters were all around the organizations. Everybody came on time for meetings. If someone was late, everybody stared at her ! The leaders were always 2 minutes before time. Such was the culture of the organization, that it was ingrained in everybody. And for me, I have carried this to all my organizations as well as in my personal life. Being punctual is a commitment for respecting yours as well as others time.

Best Practice :  Let them see it :  This organization had whiteboards on every possible place. The walls, the pillars, the partitions !  Every project had whiteboards assigned to them where the daily activities of the team were written. There was a morning ritual for the project to have daily stand up meetings. Everyone knew how the project was doing, what were the issues and risks , what were the to-dos for the day, who needed help and what were their commitments.  It was an open office with no partitions and the white boards were visible to the full team . Always.  And the visibility had a profound effect on the project and team dynamism. 

Want to try these  in your organization ? 

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Choice

Once upon a time, a donkey fell inside a dry well. He brayed and brayed and started crying. The farmer  who owned the donkey tried to pull him out but failed to do so. After doing his assessment, the farmer decided that neither the donkey nor the well were worth saving. So , he arranged for mud and dirt to haul it inside the well so that the donkey could be buried and his braying and crying would end for ever. When the donkey understood the plan, for some time he did not know what to do. He was hysterical. But when the first haul of mud fell on his back, he suddenly understood what he would do. Just SHAKE IT OFF AND STEP UP ! So, blow after blow, however painful and distressing the situation was, he kept himself motivated by telling himself  "Shake it off.. Step up... Shake it off...Step up ...."   This went on the whole night and in the morning, the donkey was out of the well into the cheerful morning sunlight !

At work and in our personal lives, mud will be hauled at us. It depends on our attitude and perseverance how we take the dirt and make it a stepping stone for further growth. Either we sink or we just "Shake it off and step up". Either we give in to panic, self-pity, bitterness and cynicism or we take each blow as a learning opportunity and convert the adversity into opportunity. Make your own choice.  Either make it a stepping stone or a stumbling block.

The choice is yours.

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 !