Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Are blue Jackals recognized in organizations ?

Once upon a time , there was a jackal in a forest by the name of  Chandaraka. One day, Chandaraka went to a nearby village in search of food. Unfortunately, a group of dogs  started chasing him. He was frightened and fled in panic. He entered a washer man’s house and  trying to hide himself, the jackal slipped and fell into a tub full of indigo. Later,  when Chandraraka reached the forest, the  animals failed to recognize him and were frightened to see the strange blue creature.

Taking advantage of the situation, the cunning  jackal schemed quickly.  He asked, “Why are you running like this? There is no need to panic. I am a unique creation of God. He told me that the animals in this jungle had no ruler and he had nominated me as your king. God has asked  me to rule this forest. Therefore, all of you can live safely under the cover of my protection.” 

The innocent animals believed the shrewd jackal and accepted him as the king. The jackal appointed the lion as his minister, the tiger as his assistant and the wolf as the gatekeeper. After allotting positions to the animals, the blue jackal banished all the jackals in the forest for the fear of being recognized. He was the  self-proclaimed king and led a luxurious life.

One day when the blue jackal was holding his court, a herd of jackals were passing by , howling to their glory. Suddenly blue jackal forgot that he was a king and not an ordinary jackal anymore. Unable to control his natural instinct, he howled at the top of his voice

Soon, the animals realized that they had been fooled by a jackal. In a fit of anger, all the animals, at once pounced on the blue jackal and killed him.


In the corporate world too , there have been numerous instances where the people at the top of the hierarchy try to con their subordinates by not being transparent and use politics and shrewdness to stay at the top.  

But , like the story, does justice always happen ?  

What do you think ? Do write your comments !

Note : This is a popular story from Panchatantra -  Indian collection of short stories with a moral 

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Should Leaders Laugh often and much ?

I laugh quite loudly and people say that I smile a lot.

A few years back, a smart lady joined as a Project Manager,  reporting to me.  After a few weeks,  after we had our weekly meeting, she muttered, as if to herself, " I guess, I too can smile more, I thought leaders should not  smile.... " . 

This is a common misconception amongst many of us.  It is a universally accepted fact that smiling and laughing shows that a person is happy. Smiling also signifies submission and shows "Hey ! I am not a threat!". All organizations have some hierarchy and when a person who has a higher designation smiles, s/he appears more accessible and humble and vice-versa !  The team / followers open up to the smiling  leader and this makes the leader's tasks easier to get done.  

It is interesting that just like yawning, smiling too is contagious. It causes people to reciprocate by returning the smile, albeit even when both are faking it too ! Just like  The Echo Effect !  Professor Dimberg of Uppsala University, Sweden conducted an experiment. 120 volunteers were exposed to happy, scowling and frowning faces and were told to make expressionless or opposit faces. The experiment showed that the volunteers did not have a total control over their facial muscles. Though the volunteers tried hard, but the twitching of their facial muscles told a different story - they were mirroring the expressions which they saw . So it proves that the more you smile, the more positive reactions people will give you. 

Another amazing story worth telling is that of the Norman Cousins, who are famous for their book "Anatomy of an Illness", later made into a film. After being diagnosed with a collagen as well as heart disease, his doctors told them that their days are numbered and they will live in excruciating pain till they finally die.  The cousins watched and re-watched every funny movie which they could find and after 6 months, the doctors were incredulously surprised to find that their disease was completely  cured !

Smiles and laughter are the best way to bond. Remember how we giggled and laughed when were were in school ?  And if you think hard, the bonding of that period are the strongest compared to the acquaintances we make later. As an adult we laugh about 15 times a day compared to a pre-schooler who laughs 400 times !  As a ritual, in one of my project teams, whenever a new person joined the team, we played a game called "Hot Seat". Once he sat on the seat, he was supposed to answer just any question which was put across to him. It used to be a hilarious session and the team bonding was just superb !

Smile constantly. It will make people wonder what you have been upto and whether you know something which they don't !

I feel that a leader should smile and laugh often and much . Then team feels at ease with her and the working environment becomes conducive and healthy. But beware,  it is easy to catch a false smile - which does not reach the eyes. A false smile usually has an exactly opposite  effect and the team will feel that you are a liar ! 

"Laugh, and the world laughs with you,
Weep, and you weep alone ....

Rejoice, and men will seek you ,
Grieve, and they turn and go "  - Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Want to improve your productivity ? The simplest way ...

It is not easy.  Not easy at all !  

Six months back when I quit my 9 to 9 job and started working independently, I had a vision of my day. I would start my day with an hour long walk, then browse the newspapers, do some miscellaneous work and then from 10 am to 6 pm , I would have the whole day to myself !  I will have a 15 min power nap in the afternoon and then about 20 minute of  breathing exercises after 6 and then one hour of reading before going to sleep, I had thought.   Ah ! Finally I am the owner of  all my time ,  what a wonderful feeling it was !

But it did not happen that way !  I soon realized that time just passed by and all the things that I had thought that I would accomplish just did not seem to happen. I felt that I was more productive when I worked in the office . It took me about a month to figure out what was wrong. 

 I had stopped making my To-Do list.  

If there is one thing which I have to swear upon for time management, it is the quintessential To-Do list.  Here are some tips :

  • From daily to weekly : If you are a first time in creating to-do lists, start with a daily list , but eventually  broaden it till it covers the full week. This gives a better span for your activities and you will have a good sense of accomplishment when the week is over.

  • Write them: Write everything - make sections for official and then personal , sundry etc.  Once you get the hang of it, you will see how useful it is for planning and organizing your day

  • Prioritize  :  Once the tasks are written, you should prioritize. First tackle the most difficult one or the one which falls in the second quadrant of time management - important and urgent.

  • Cross the completed tasks : Once you have completed a task, cross them on the list or put a big tick mark on it. You will feel really good . Trust me !

  • Carry them over : There will always be tasks which will not be done on a particular day.  Carry them over to the next day's to do list

I have practiced creating and following a to-do list and I can guarantee you that once you start , you will be able to gauge the improvement in your productivity. 

Give it a shot and see your tasks get done like magic !

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

How to get Power

A leader should have the power to motivate people and get things done

Most of us think that power comes only with authority and designation.  

Legitimate or positional power comes from designation and job title.  

Reward  power comes if you have the ability to give bonus or punishment . 

Expert power comes from knowledge , if you are the subject matter expert on a particular field, but the power which I am going to talk about is called Referent PowerThis power usually comes from the personality and character of the leader.

I am sure you must have come across an individual in your organization who draws people towards him or her. He or she is so respected , loved and trusted that people come to him/her for decision making, guidance and mentoring. The person may not have any link with the project of the follower, but she has the power on the people. And according to me, this is the best form of power which a leader can have. 

  • These leaders get more power by giving it away. Real power is not about what you do, but what you teach others to do.   
  • When a leader enables others, s/he extends the power. If your follower can succeed  and achieve, you get more power . Your power gets established .
  • People with real power are not push-overs. Those who are afraid of losing power, cling to it and are afraid of sharing power. A real leader empowers others and aligns them with his values

Real power comes with passion, integrity , empathy, empowerment and when you treat them with respect and  help them shine !  

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Why I Loved my Lazy Team Member

Today , in Calcutta , India , it was a lazy winter morning. I got up late and  felt very lazy to go for my  routine morning walk. As I sat in my verandah with my morning cuppa,  the warmth of the bright and lovely sunlight made me feel even lazier!  After some time , I looked at my to-do list and just as I started feeling guilty about my laziness,I remembered him !

The lazy team member whom I loved to have in my team ! 

He was a very lazy, bright, creative person with lots of enthusiasm and initiative ! Yes, sure this sounds contradictory.... But after working with him for some time , I just could not do without him . Let me explain .

  • He was forever looking for ways to reduce his time for work  so that he could go and play table tennis . So , he came up with creative and very ingenious ways of doing things. Usually when I learnt how he did certain things , I made it a tool for improving the  productivity of the rest of the team members. 

  • He always looked for ways to automate things since he wanted to expend the least effort . He created marvelous macros in excel sheets, looked for tools which could simplify the complex and time consuming processes.

  • He never rushed into things and thought about the shortest and the best path . He tried to make things repeatable so that they don't have to go thru it again and again.  I could make many best practices due to  his laziness !

  • Since he did not want to spend time in rework, he always did things right the first time !

  • He was intelligent and very productive, so he was quickly promoted to lead a team. He delegated the work intelligently.  He leveraged the strengths of his team and got his work done so efficiently that his effectiveness as a lead was set as an example in the organization. He did not micro-manage his team and this worked famously with them and the team doted on him. 

And yes, I loved to have this intelligent lazy person in my team  !  

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Why you should SHOW your Anger

Once upon a time, in a deep forest lived a venomous snake.  

He loved the power of his poison and used to bite anyone who came in his way.  He poured his venom at the slightest provocation and everybody in the jungle was afraid of him.  He could get away with anything and laughed at other animals in the jungle who scurried away when they saw the snake coming towards them. No one ever dared to disobey him and he gloated over his ability to rule the jungle.

One day, a saint was passing through the forest. He had heard about the angry snake.  The saint deliberately took the path which would cross the place where the snake lived.  Hearing the unknown footsteps of the saint, the snake came out of his den and stood in front of him with his big poisonous hood, ready to strike.

“Who dares to cross this path without my permission? Don’t you know I am the ruler here ?”
“I am a saint and this jungle is not your property. Pray, tell me, why are you always angry ?”
“Well, I have power !  Everybody bows to me. If I am not angry, people will not listen to me !”
The saint sat down beside the snake .

“Dear Snake, do you realize the amount of sins that you are accumulating by biting innocent people? What will you answer to God when you die ? “

The conversation with the saint transformed the snake. He promised to the hermit that he will never bite anyone from that day.  

After a few months, the sage was passing thru the jungle again and he was surprised to see the snake lying on the ground. He was wounded all over and in a pitiable state.

“Oh !  What happened to you ? Who hurt you ? “

“I had promised to you that I will not bite anyone. Slowly the word spread in the jungle and the people who used to respect and fear me and listened to whatever I said started ignoring me. After some time, anyone who passed this way pelted stones at me. And nowadays they jeer and trample over me.  This is the outcome of my promise to you.  I am powerless without my anger “.   The snake wept.

“I asked you not to bite and get angry, but who stopped you from SHOWING your anger? Did I ask you not to “HISS” ?  

It is very common for the people at the top of the hierarchy to become tyrants and get their work done with the help of their positional power. They feel that if they have to control their team, they have to be autocratic else people will take them for granted, just like the angry snake.  This really does not work very well in the modern work scenario.  Nowadays the team wants a leader whom they can respect and love. Though this is true, sometimes, the managers and the leaders are taken for granted and then the managers lose control of their team. It is important for the managers to strike a balance.   Anger is a tool to manage.

Anger should be used as a useful weapon to be used in certain situations but you should be able to CONTROL your anger ….. Anger should not control you ! 

So, sometimes, when you think it is appropriate, SHOW your anger and “HISS” to control unwanted situations and avoid getting trampled by team members who act oversmart.

Note : This story is by a famous saint from India – Ramkrishna Paramhansa.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Are you listening with your Heart ?

Guess what is the first Rule of  Leading ? Authority ? Knowledge ? Sympathy ? Empathy ? Vision ?

 No. All these are incorrect.

The first rule of leading or managing is Listening.  

Not just hearing. Listening with a heart. Believe me , it is a really tough task !  The true leader is a listener. The Leader listens to the ideas, needs, aspirations and wishes of the followers and responds to them appropriately and adequately within the boundaries of her own beliefs.  

Leadership begins with listening. Usually we are so excited about speaking and expressing ourselves so explicitly that we do not even listen to the responses. When someone responds, our minds are so  busy and pre-occupied with our own thoughts that the inertia of motion of our thoughts overrides our listening capabilities. Inevitably, we miss out on vital clues inside the mind of our teams and this hampers the basic output or consequences.

 These tips will help us improve our power of listening :
  • Stop Talking : You cannot listen when you are talking. You will only be thinking about what you are going to say next ! Try to focus your attention to the speaker.
  • Put them at ease :  Specially when  you are in a position of authority, put the speaker at ease. Smile. Look at the speaker.  Lean towards him. Look interested. Remove distractions.
  • Listen with your eyes : Research says that  55% of the message is  nonverbal , 38% is conveyed by the tone of the voice and only 7% are conveyed by words.  So try to understand the true feelings behind the words. Listen for what is not being said. Usually people hesitate to speak the most crucial points !
  • Patience- Do not interrupt : Be polite and courteous and give ample time to the speaker to convey the full message. Interruption sometimes diverts the moot point.
  • Walk in their moccasins : Empathize. Sometimes just listening to the person helps him vent out his emotions. Remember , as a leader, you will not have ready-made solutions to all the problems.But just listening emphatically sometimes clears the clouds and the silver lining becomes visible !
  • Hold your own emotions at bay : When emotions are high, there is a tendency to become defensive or give unwarranted advice. So, hold your temper, do not argue. You will lose your credibility as a leader by doing so. Even if you win , you will lose ! 
I have been in many situations where just by virtue of listening, solutions to problems emerged, from the person himself who had come to speak to me. There have been  numerous instances when I could hold my emotion and kept quiet, but the other person cried and the tears made him lighter and he could face the situation in a better way. 

Your team or followers should believe that you really want to listen. And when they say something you will feel it with your heart and take it in the right spirit. They should feel that their point of view is important to you. 

It is in the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen. 

Open your eyes and  heart  to listen. Ignite the leader in you !

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Can we avoid FOMO ?

Today , as I  waited in the Airport lounge , I looked around me.  Though the sight was very common , but for a few minutes, somehow I felt very strange.  Almost 90% of the people were using either their cell phone or ipad or laptop, looking at the screen - sometimes smiling, sometimes frowning, some were clicking photographs , some people were talking but about something on their smart screens !  The power of connectivity ! 

We are always "on".  Checking and replying to messages, emails, tweeting or posting on social networking sites.  We reply within seconds ! The first thing which I checked after landing is whether my cell phone network is working or not.  Technology has brought about a revolution in keeping us connected through multiple communication channels.  Facebook has made us virtually omnipresent.  These have changed our lives drastically.  So big is the impact that a fear has crept in our psyche.  FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out.  

We are so connected with one another through our Tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn updates, that we can’t just be alone anymore. The fear of missing out (FOMO) — on something more fun, on a social event that might just happen on the spur of the moment — is so intense, even when we decide to disconnect, we still connect just once more, just to make sure.

When we see something nice, we want to click a photograph instead of  seeping in the beauty. Rather than writing something creative, we want to remark on some one else's comment or picture. Because of the attention span deficit, we prefer to look at photographs or visuals than reading something thought provoking.  In her book "Alone Together", MIT professor  Sherry Turkle has explored this aspect beautifully.  As I write this piece, I have checked my facebook twice . Is someone doing something more interesting , something more exciting or something better ? 

It is definitely a heady feeling to be connected with my old school friends , knowing what my contacts are doing or feeling (Facebook now prompts "How are you feeling Ananya ?" in the status update box). But sometimes I miss the feeling when in my childhood , I waited with bated breath , running towards the door, to check whether my Uncle has reached with my birthday gift. The excitement of opening a letter written by my pen friend. The gossips during our lunch breaks where we discussed the whackiest thing a friend did last evening. 

I want to break free  in 2013. 

I want to be missed, but  I do not want to be drowned in the fear of missing out.  

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Do you want a Pay Raise ? Tips ...

First of all a very Happy and prosperous New Year to all the readers ! 

As I talk about prosperity, usually the first thing which comes to our mortal minds is the annual increment . In most of the organizations, appraisal forms must have been completed, discussion appointments must have been set in the calenders and    every body must be waiting with bated breadth about the increment percentage ! At  this time of the year, the most common water  cooler discussions revolve around the percentage of  salary hike to be given to the employees.  

Is it possible to get a better raise ? Are you dreading the appraisal discussions and salary negotiations ? Some of you feel that it really does not matter. Even if you discussed and negotiated, will it really make a difference ?   

These are some tips which might help you in having a fruitful discussion and a better negotiations on the pay raise :

  • Research and prepare : Find out what the others make for similar role inside your organization and in other organizations. Your research should be well rounded and include everything - bonus, variable component, in hand salary, perks, incentives , working hours etc. Preparation is the key. You should have the data ready with you so that the discussion can be logical and factual. 

  • Think about your value to the organization : Sometimes people undervalue what they have to offer. Think objectively about your efficiency and indispensability to the organization. How do you compare to your colleagues ? Sometimes we have more "power" and "responsibility" than we think. But be careful not to become over-confident.   Just think in terms of the value which you bring to the organization and this will give you a better sense of pride and you will be able to discuss confidently  without being overtly aggressive. 

  • Advocate and Ask : In salary negotiation, the rule is "Don't ask, don't get".  I have experienced situations where people think "Why should I ask ? My work and performance should talk .. ". I think that is an utopia. We have to advocate ourselves , communicate our accomplishments , document them meticulously and precisely and then finally ask for our dues. The timing of your asking should be proper. Usually the appraiser/interviewer brings up the salary/hike discussion. 

  • Know your boundaries : You should be very clear about what you want and the best options for you. Prepare for the discussion and if possible try to do role plays with different scenarios.  While preparing , be clear what works for you and what is really acceptable to you. This will help you in managing the negotiations and the decision making will be easier. Know your limits - for example a range of the percentage hike ,  flexibility in timings , extra vacation time etc.. Salary might not only be cash in hand.  The negotiations can also revolve around things or opportunities which matter to you. Thinking creatively will also give the employer better flexibility and can result in a win-win situation for both. 

  • Put yourself in your boss's shoes : Test your requests from the employers' point of view. Think whether you are being reasonable. What is it in for them ? What is motivating them ? Have you overlooked any concern they might have ? How can you help them ? Ask how the boss will explain to the higher levels and your peers if they grant your request. Help them in explaining to others by documenting your achievements and accomplishments. Document if possible in monetary terms how you have contributed to the organization . Communicate how you have created value for the organization. Help your boss !

  • Don't overreact : It is very common to get shot down. Do not overreact or show too much disappointment. Take some time to think and maybe your boss also might want some more time to think about your request. Thank them for the discussion and end the discussion in a light note. This does not indicate that you have cowed down but it shows your etiquette and culture. You can always have the last say by smiling and saying that you would expect more. Remember that if you are really your worth, then the current organization is not the only one.  Be willing to search for and consider alternative job offers. Be professional and end the discussion on a civil note. 

All the best !

Thursday, 27 December 2012

4 Things Which the Employees want in 2013

A new year is knocking at the doors. There is something about January. We all feel fresh and rejuvenated. Our hearts are filled with a new hope, some new beginnings , a sense of freedom from the old ways and looking forward to newer things and meaningful changes. 

The following are my take on what changes the employees of any organization might be looking forward to :

  • Transparency and communication :  The new generation values transparency. They want more and more communication so that they can understand the actual status of the organization / project. They are adequately prepared to mould  themselves accordingly so that they remain in the thick of things and are a part of making things happen. Sugar-coating the situations and vagueness of the communication puts them off. 

  • Instant feedback : This is the age of  instant "everything".  The employees want instant feedback. Instead of waiting for the half-yearly or annual appraisal discussion, the Gen Y wants to get immediate feedback. And the managers should understand that their teams are capable of dealing with it.The   feedback will be appreciated more if they get time and chance to improve upon it rather that looking at it in retrospect. 

  • Empathetic bosses :  The stick should be replaced by a pat-on-the-back.  The employees expect their managers to be empathetic.  Technology has made things easy and the team expects their managers to be more supportive and friendly rather than being too technical.  Employees needs nurturing. They want their bosses to be more of mentors than supervisors. 

  • Flexi work hours :  I have seen many organizations trying to adopt flexi-timings . But sadly, they put in too many checks and balances which sometimes become quite cumbersome and not at all employee friendly. I think full ownership of the work should be given to the employees and after that total flexibility in timings. The employees do understand that there will be some project/organizational bindings - example, weekly team meetings , all-employee ,get togethers etc. The culture of the organization itself should make the employee "adapt" to these bindings.  Once the sense of ownership is developed in the team and when they get the adequate flexibility to balance the work and life, the employees will give their 100% to the organization !

I look forward to see these changes in 2013 ! 

A very happy and prosperous new year to all the readers . Welcome 2013 !