Friday, 30 December 2016

Break Free from your Prison

Though it may sound strange, but fear is a common emotion which plays at workplace. 

Fear of losing your job. 
Fear of letting go of the knowledge to others. 
Fear of someone overtaking you in the office hierarchy.  
Fear of your boss 
Fear of your  peers.  
Fear of change 
Fear of losing a valuable team member.  
Fear of a smart subordinate. 
Fear of losing power ….

Fear changes how we see the world and how we treat others

Fear creeps in a gradual, subtle way, but with very very harmful effects.

Fear should have  no place in our workplaces or our families.
First and foremost, fear is harmful for our health. Both mental and physical. It generates a hormone named adrenalin , which acts as a chemical messenger which says “RUN” ! Adrenalin makes blood pressure go up and heart rate increase so that you can deliver more blood to your brain, muscles, and the other parts of the body important to survival. If this happens too frequently or over a continuous stretch of time, the body and mind become weak.

Secondly, fear creates a dampening field that blocks positive interpersonal behavior. Respect and care gets replaced with fear and sometimes hatred. When we become fearful, we narrow the scope of the respect and care we offer to only those around us who do not elicit our fear response. 

Third,  When we are fearful, we spend time trying to protect ourselves rather than reaching for our potential, and that reduces job satisfaction and productivity.  The damaged job satisfaction and productivity that are common in fear-based relationships translate into damaged organizational results

Fourth, fear leads to unethical choices . Fear is the toxic ingredient in many failed leadership strategies. When we are  fearful, we’re not at our best. We’re not thinking clearly. When we’re just trying to protect ourselves, we may quickly “rule out” positive strategies that would help us solve collective problems – including dialogue, cooperation, long-term thinking and listening to understand.

If we think someone or some group is “dangerous” or “harmful,” we do not want to get close enough to understand them.

Great leaders respect others AND differences.  If they begin to become fearful of a person or group, they recognize the signs, step back to examine their motives, and shift their thinking.

If ever fear creeps in, you become a slave of the situation or the person  whom you are fearing. 

The control of your life and emotions then goes in their hands. You become a prisoner of your fears.

Face your fears and erase them.

Never compromise on respect.

Never ever be dominated by fear.   Only you can set yourself free ....

Cheers and a Happy New 2017 !!

Saturday, 24 December 2016

How to deal with Negative Feedback

A few weeks ago, I experienced an extreme case of an employee not being able to take negative feedback. He had been performing poorly for quite some time and he was given feedback by his manager time and again. As is usual with a person who cannot take feedback, he did not improve at all.  After a few months,  his boss then involved his senior manager to have a conversation with the employee. For anonymity I will call him Offendix. 

This is how the conversation went : 

"Offendix,  you have been given feedback a multiple times about not performing well , but we see no improvement "

"I HAVE performed well. It seems everybody is out to get me !"

"No. We have shown you the data , Offendix ! It clearly proves the point !"

Offendix is silent for a moment . 

"But, the data may be incorrect . I have done well on dates blah, blah m blah and for tasks blah blah, blah .. "

"You have not improved !"

"There is nothing to improve ! There is politics in the situation. No one else is being treated like this!"

All of us have experienced the situation when negative feedback is dished out to us.  It is how we deal with it . Almost like looking at a glass and thinking it to be half full or half empty. 

No one likes negative feedback. 

And it takes a lot of maturity, positivity and experience to handle these situations. The most common reaction is of denial , just like Offendix.  We might have read so many articles on how not to react, but this feeling comes almost involuntarily.  We think we cannot go wrong and the other person is just showing his power and position to put us down. 

But usually that is not the case

In most of the cases, feedback is given so that we can improve. 

We might not like it but the key is to listen. And, usually, when we listen, at the back of our mind we are defending ourselves and preparing for the rebuttal.  We should try to listen with an open mind. Listen to what is being said . It is also a good idea to separate out facts from opinion.  Offendix had been given the data from the project plan when he could not meet the deadline. He was also given the data where numerous bugs were detected in in code . These are facts !  And there can be opinions - for example - "I did not like the way you conducted the meeting " .

Another way to conduct yourself, if possible ,  is not to provide justification on the spot. It is always a good idea to take a bit of time and then talk to your supervisor about it . It is perfectly justified to say " I get your point . But maybe, I am getting a bit defensive. I have noted down the points. Can I talk to you tomorrow ?This will show your maturity and it will be an indicator that you have listened to the feedback and are considering it important.  

Here is where the facts and opinion data will come in handy.  

You can frame questions like ,"In your opinion , I did not conduct the meeting properly . I think I started blaming Mr X . Is there anything else you can point out ? " Or " The bugs which have been marked against me, two of them were due to my negligence but the other two were due to the other changes being made  " . 

You will be more prepared and yes, you will be able to justify and clarify your points as well. 

In my experience, mostly, it depends a lot on how the feedback is given.  Most of the times , I hear things like "It is not about the feedback , but the way it was told to me ... " . 

Yes, there are people in all organizations  who of are egoistical and take advantage of their position, but when the feedback is being given, you should listen and not interrupt. But yes, in that case, take it with a pinch of salt or sugar ! Remember, you are a professional ! Behave like a pro !

Another point -  do not take it personally.  It is like if you fall sick and you go to a doctor who advises you to quit smoking.  You will not like it. But you know that it is for your good.  

Having said all this, one last word of caution

Know that  these only apply to constructive, well-meant criticism

Unfair and overly negative feedback is also used as a tool by bad managers and workplace bullies to demean and control others. Though not always possible, do not put up with personal and unfair attacks at workplace

Mind you, I have said "attacks" and not "feedback". .

We all desperately need feedback – both positive and negative. 

Tell me what I do well AND tell me what I can do better. 

Cheers !

Monday, 12 December 2016

The Dilemma of the inexperienced Daughter-in-law

I am writing the dilemma series after a long time . 

This case is a real one and I need your help on this .... 

Recently I attended a four day workshop on Developing leadership potential among women professionals in one of the most premier institutes of the world. In the workshop we had an "inside-out" session. It was an emotional experience where the participants spoke about their innermost feelings and recounted a few of their life changing event and problems. 

This was narrated by one of the participants and I found it really unique and wanted to share it with my readers. I have changed the names to keep anonymity. 

Alpana , an engineering graduate was wed in a business family. They owned a multi-specialty hospital . It was run by her Mother-in-law, her husband and her elder brother-in-law.  Alpana was also inducted into the organization as a Technical Director.  She was young and inexperienced but had a lot of enthusiasm and zeal. When she took over the post, she was very motivated and gave several new ideas and suggestions . She was modern and technical and hence her thought process was also technically inclined. But after a few days, she was dismayed to find that none of her suggestions had been taken seriously and there seemed no plans to implement the same. 

Her mother-in-law ruled the administration of the hospital. 

Her decision was the last word.  Whenever Alpana said something, she was dismissed very subtly , indicating that she did not have the adequate experience and the knowledge. Her husband looked after the sales and marketing and was out on tour most of the times. So, he was unable to empathise with her dissatisfaction and said that she should learn from his mother !

At her  brother-in-law's suggestion, she enrolled herself in a Executive MBA course and came out with flying colours . But this too did not change the situation and neither did the attitude of her family changed.  

She became so frustrated that she contemplated quitting her post and sit at home !  At that very juncture, Alpana's mother-in-law became severely ill and the doctors suggested her bed rest for 4-6 months. 

It was March - financial year end and lots of work needed to be done. Alpana rolled up her sleeves and dived into the work. She worked very hard , went through each and every file meticulously. She herself was surprised when she was able to take tough decisions . She guided the staff and the staff started respecting her. She implemented automation in the accounts, purchase and a few other departments. Within the next two months,  some of the cumbersome processes became smoother and faster.  Customer satisfaction improved. Alpana spent time with the staff and talked to the customers so that she knew what was happening on the floor. 

Within 3 months, she was being consulted for important decisions by the senior members of the hospital. The function heads started looking at her as their boss.  

Alpana was glad that she was doing a good job. She was satisfied that she could hold the business together in the time of crisis. 

But ... 

After 6 months, her mother-in-law was back at work ...

She did not like Alpana being treated as the boss and started removing her from important emails.  She made sure that the function heads reported to her and not to Alpana. 

Things were back to square one !!

Now, here is the dilemma ... what should Alpana do ? 

Should she fight for her position ... if yes , how ? Remember, she is not just an employee ... her family life is also associated with her work life ... 

Should she quit and work somewhere else ?

What should Alpana do ? 

Dear Readers, help in the decision making and put your remarks in the comments !

Monday, 28 November 2016

Hear the Unheard

Back in the third century A.D., King Ts’ao sent his son, Prince T’ai, to the temple to study under the great master Pan Ku. Because Prince T’ai was to succeed his father as king, Pan Ku was to teach the boy the basics of being a good ruler. When the prince arrived at the temple, the master sent him alone to the Ming-Li Forest.
After one year, the prince was to return to the temple to describe the sound of the forest. When Prince T’ai returned, Pan Ku asked the boy to describe all that he could hear. “Master,” replied the prince, “I could hear the cuckoos sing, the leaves rustle, the hummingbirds hum, the crickets chirp, the grass blow, the bees buzz, and the wind whisper and holler.” When the prince had finished, the master told him to go back to the forest to listen to what more he could hear. The prince was puzzled by the master’s request. Had he not discerned every sound already?
For days and nights on end, the young prince sat alone in the forest listening. But he heard no sounds other than those he had already heard. Then one morning, as the prince sat silently beneath the trees, he started to discern faint sounds unlike those he had ever heard before. The more acutely he listened, the clearer the sounds became. The feeling of enlightenment enveloped the boy. “These must be the sounds the master wished me to discern,” he reflected.
When Prince T’ai returned to the temple, the master asked him what more he had heard. “Master,” responded the prince reverently, “when I listened most closely, I could hear the unheard—the sound of flowers opening, the sound of the sun warming the earth, and the sound of the grass drinking the morning dew.” The master nodded approvingly. “To hear the unheard,” remarked Pan Ku, “is a necessary discipline to be a good ruler. For only when a ruler has learned to listen closely to the people’s hearts, hearing their feelings uncommunicated, pains unexpressed, and complaints not spoken of, can he hope to inspire confidence in his people, understand when something is wrong, and meet the true needs of his citizens.
The demise of states comes when leaders listen only to superficial words and do not penetrate deeply into the souls of the people to hear their true opinions, feelings, and desires.
The real challenge of leadership lies in the intangibles.  Our senses are not tuned to ‘hear the unheard’The real challenge in organizations comes from the units that are generally silent, not vocal and who even when neglected never crib nor complain. As leaders we tend to take silence for granted or wrongly believe that all is well
** This is a Chinese Parable which has been translated by W Chan Kim.

  • Sunday, 6 November 2016

    Ten signs that your employee is planning to Quit

    The other day a worried manager asked me ...

    "How do I know if my employee is planning to quit or not ? Attrition is a part of my KRA ... and I need some signs to know the intention of my team member so that I can take preventive measures so that I do not lose good people ..."

    So, here you go :

    Ten signs that your employee is planning to Quit

    ·         Exhibiting  less effort and work motivation than usual.

    ·         Their work productivity has decreased more than usual

    ·         They tell you about major changes on their home front

    ·         They approach conflict differently – they are disengaged

    ·         They are acting  less like a team player than usual.

    ·         They have been doing the minimum amount of work more frequently than usual

    ·         They are now not interested in pleasing their manager than usual

    ·         They are less willing to commit to long-term timelines than usual

    ·         They are exhibiting a negative change in attitude

    ·         They are less focused on job related matters than usual

    ·         They have expressed dissatisfaction with their current job more frequently than usual

    ·         They have expressed dissatisfaction with their supervisor more frequently than usual

    ·         They are leaving early from work more frequently than usual

    ·         They have lost enthusiasm for the mission of the organization

    ·         They have shown less interest in working with customers than usual

    ·         Demonstrating a drop in work productivity

    ·         Suggesting fewer new ideas or innovative approaches
    ·         You have a gut feeling

    Hope this helps !

    Thursday, 27 October 2016

    Is your team member ready to Manage a team ?

    Whenever there is a manager position to be filled , personally, I always prefer to first look  inside  the organization for capable people.  

    Promoting an employee boosts her motivation and increases the trust in the organization. It also acts as examples of career progression in the organization. It is a win-win situation for the employee as well as the organization because if we hire from outside, there is always a risk of the how the person will actually shape up.  However good the interviewer is, it is really very difficult to  assess a person's capability or potential in a couple of minutes or hours. 

    But again, it is also quite difficult to assess whether an employee is actually ready for the management role or not.  The criteria of becoming a manager varies in different geographies. In India, after an employee completes a number of years in her career, it is assumed both by the person as well as the organization that s/he should be put in the manager's role.  This is in fact a great fallacy. I have seen several employees who were excellent individual contributor fail miserably when they became a manager.  

    In this blog post, I will try to elucidate for both the employee as well as the organization to understand whether s/he is ready to step in the manager's role or not. 

    • First and foremost let go of the notion that individual contributors are somehow inferior to a manager and that after a certain number of years you are "supposed"  to become a manager and lead a team.  Both the roles are important. It is better to remain or keep an excellent individual contributor than a lousy manager.  Specially in R&D,  specialized programming,  architects , individual contributors are priceless. It depends upon what your preferences and interests are.  The employee should "want" to lead and manage and s/he can be asked about it. Here , some amount of discretion also has to be applied by the organization. I have seen some cases when an employee are a bit wary about taking up the new role as they feel comfortable in their existing one.  

    • Assess the experience : I once had a team member who approached me by saying that she is interested in a managerial role and would be happy to be given the opportunity.  I was in a fix since till then she had never managed a team and I was not quite able to assess her potential.  So, I tried a different approach.  I asked her    How do you spend your time outside of work?"  She said that  this she  is a part of a social service group and recently ran a campaign for collecting warm clothes for a few orphanages. That shows she likes to mobilize others and lead. Having the experience is key, but you’re also looking for evidence of growth.  That was clue enough for me.  I put her in charge of a small team and she is now managing a big team with great zeal and gusto !

    • Ask for examples of Model managers : This is another way of assessing whether the employee is geared towards management and has the basic personal traits for the role . You can ask her to cite examples and qualities of the best manager she has worked with.  If she cites characteristics like encouraging and appreciating the team,  helping the team to meet stiff  target and deadlines, empathy, knowledge, openness, sense of humour, team player, freely giving credit, you will know that she is a manager material. 

    • Look out for red flags  :  When evaluating management potential, there are certain negative characteristics to be on the lookout for. Beware of those who are not open to feedback. Think twice about candidates “who very rarely take into account other people’s points of view.”  Try to determine whether or not the person exhibits professional courage. If he won’t stretch himself, it shows that  s/he is not ambitious enough. Also look out for those who are not generous. A person who doesn’t work well with other people and who thinks he’s smarter than, or better than, others, does not make for a good manager. You want leaders who give credit freely, who acknowledge the achievements of others, who don’t punish people for their foibles, and who are willing to help. (courtesy Linda Hill, professor at Harvard Business School , and the coauthor of Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader.)

    • Opinion Matters : Take the opinion of others. By others I mean not only the supervisors but also from the peers with with whom the employee has worked for a period of time. I have seen that sometimes the bosses are very happy but the peers have stories to tell about the conceitedness and boot licking tendencies . Solicit opinion from varied and non homogeneous groups and then come to a decision.

    • The big picture : Before promoting an employee as a manager, check whether she has a clear idea of the organizational values , vision and mission and whether she can see the big picture where she fits in the frame. Can she connect the dots ? Can she comprehend and analyse systematically ? Can she prioritize in the correct manner ?

    Having said all this, I would like to add that no employee is perfect

    You will always have to use your discretion, intuition , experience and observation to make the correct choice and of course you should have trust

    Always remember your first time and how your manager trusted you with the new role. 

    Like the new manager, it is your responsibility too to help other people develop.

    Cheers !

    Saturday, 15 October 2016

    M for Marriage !

    Last week was a festive week for us here in Calcutta. 

    "Durga Pujo" as the Bengali's call it.  It  is more of a week long festival than a religious event.  The Bengalis go really berserk during this period, specially in  Calcutta. The streets are flooded with people. All ages, all sizes, everybody donning new clothes, laughter , food and festivities fill up the air. The "Pandal" or the makeshift area where the idol of Goddess Durga is put is really breathtaking.  Every year I am amazed at the passion and creativity of the people here. For four days , everybody forgets all their woes and joins the festivities.  Starting from communal lunches,  music, 
    devotional chants , new clothes,flowers, sandalwood, Dhak and of course lots of food ,  the environment is just ethereal.  It is something to be experienced. 

    Pujo is a period of togetherness. Friends and families come together. My daughter is also here for a week and yesterday one of her friends came to visit her. We were having a nice chat in the evening and the conversation steered around to relationships and marriage. 

    And she asked me a strange question.

    "Tell me one thing Aunty, don't you sometimes feel that you are tied down for ever ?"

    "Well ..." I said, floundering for words,  "It depends ... " 

    And then a more direct one .

    "You still do love Uncle , don't you ? "

    "I ... er... Yes ... I do , but over time , the nature of love changes , you know ..."

    It made me think what must be going on in the minds of these young girls ... lots of questions, doubts , random and erratic thoughts , confusion ... 

    So, though this post is not related directly to leadership, it is dedicated to all such young people , who are on their threshold of life, ready to take off on their careers, relationships ...

    And I being married for almost 28 years , do qualify to give a bit of advise , isn't it ?

    For my readers who are not well acquainted with the Indian culture and our ways of "arranged" marriages,  a bit of introduction. 

    In India, when girls and boys are of marriageable age and they have not been able to find a suitable partner for themselves, parents "arrange" their marriage. In fact, this is more preferred than boys and girls dating each other for "Love" marriages. The parents then look for appropriate partners thru relatives, friends and my overseas friends find this most amusing , through "matrimonial" sites. And let me tell you this, these sites are really thriving !

     Once they find suitable candidates, they meet (with parents of both the sides !) and they have to decide within a few days ! 

    Scary, what do you think ? ( Ha , Ha ... not really ... ask me !) 

    So, coming back, my dear young friends , here are some tips or pointers for the new and a very important chapter in your life ...

    • Let there be space : All of us are individuals with different needs , wants and preferences.  After the initial euphoria, we need our own little space. It is very important for partners to understand this and allow this space or "me time".  You should be comfortable with the idea that some of your liking might not be as likeable to your partner and vice versa. No need to get upset about it . 

    • Respect each other : I think this is the most important ingredient for a successful relationship.  If you do not respect your partner, the relationship is prone to get sour at some point or the other. When you are in a relationship or are about to get into a relationship , ask yourself, "Do I respect him/her ? " If there is any iota of doubt here, then re-look at the situation .

    • Stand up for yourself : In India, specially for females, there is tendency for us to put ourselves at the altar and doing things which you really don't want to do.  But girls, you have to stand up for yourself.  I am not saying that you should not adjust . Marriage is mostly about adjustment and compromise , but there are certain principles which should be dear to you and there should never be any compromise on those. You have to be assertive about whatever you are sensitive about.  Remember, the world is a cruel place and people will take advantage of your submissiveness and trample over you.  For me , some principles which are non negotiable are self respect , good behaviour, financial freedom etc.  You are the only one who can stand for yourself.  Don't quarrel and be rude. But clearly, firmly , make it understood what is important to you. 

    • Communicate : Communication is the lubricant of a great relationship. Talk, laugh , discuss, debate with your partner. Tell him/her about incidents at workplace , home, your feelings , your day , what made you laugh, what made you cry ! Sometimes, when I am upset over any incident at office or something at home , I vent out my feelings to my husband. And he says "What am I supposed to do ? " and I say "Nothing .... but you have to listen ... !"

    • Trust each other : If ever there is a depletion of trust in the relationship, the crack starts and it usually widens to a point of no repair.  So, dear friends, handle with care ! Don't let this ghost get between you and your partner.  And if you can sniff any odour of doubt, just diffuse it with frank conversation , before it engulfs you completely.

    • Do things together : There should be several things which you should love to do together. For example watching movies or a cricket match, listening to music , travelling, cooking, playing ... anything ... 

    • Best of Friends : You should be "friends" with your partner.  Let friendship be the foundation of your marriage. Don't ever lose your friend. 

    • Complement as well as Supplement : Your best can never be your partner's best and vice versa. Try to complement each other with the deficiencies as well as supplement each other with your qualities. Don’t Keep Score. Marriage is not a contest so don’t walk around with a watchful eye making sure your partner carries their share of the load. 

    • Be sensitive : Never ever criticize or make fun of your partner in public, even if you think that you are saying things in a lighter vein. Small things like a smile, holding hands or a light touch in public helps. Show gratitude and appreciation in subtle ways, give priority to him/her.  

    • Create your own rituals : It could be as simple as making your husband a coffee in the morning while he lets you lie in at the weekend. Whatever you choose, a ‘couples’ ritual is a way to connect with your partner in the madness of a busy life.  Have a ritual of anointing your wives back with talcum powder at night etc.

    • Cuddle : In the morning, a 5 minute cuddling sure helps in making the day brighter. Try it. I am sure you will love it. 

    • Love : The most important ingredient of a successful relationship.  Love changes its form over time.  But love has to be "kept" ignited.  You have to work on it. It does not grow by itself. Marriage and love have to be nurtured. You have to fuel it with your actions, attitude, communication, and the points which I have mentioned above. 

    Remember that it is very easy to let go of a relationship  and more difficult to maintain it.  You have to care about it. 

    So, Nurture it.  Water it. Fuel it.  

    Nurturing does not mean that you sacrifice your principles for your relationship. These go hand in hand and are reciprocal. 

    Sometimes married people think that during courting you talked for hours about various things  and now all you seem to talk about now is the grocery list or how much to spend on a new sofa? Try to re introduce meaningful conversation.  Asking about each other's day isn't enough.Try making a remark about something your partner deeply cares about that's bigger than the both of you—sports, politics, anything to get the ball rolling.

    To have a happy relationship , YOU have to be happy first. 

    Give time to yourself , spend time with your friends, be financially independent,  have a hobby and do things which makes you happy. 

    Be happy ... and have a happy , meaningful and a great marriage !

    Cheers !