Sunday, 18 August 2013

Be sure that the work will NOT be done IF .....

All of us know the story about Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. Just to re cap ...

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it.

Everybody was sure Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job.
Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it.
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when actually Nobody asked Anybody.

This is the age old  recipe for the work not getting done !

I have experienced many meetings where significant decisions were taken and there were several to-do's listed out.  All of us nodded our agreement to do these, but finally it was not done . The sole reason for this was that there was no designated "Owner" for the tasks. 

  • Against each line item of to-do's , put a name. This is the owner of the task. Being an owner does not mean that s/he is supposed to DO the task. Her responsibility is to see that the work is completed.  She can create a group or delegate the work, but finally, she is answerable if the task is not done

  • Even if you put a name, be sure it will stretch endlessly if there is no planned completion date.  Insist on an end date . Reassure the owner that the date can be modified in case there are any hurdles in the job. 

  • If the above two points are there and you do not have any means of tracking the items, again, you will not be sure that the task list will see the light of the day.  Create a regular mechanism to track the list . It is not necessary that you would have to meet , but emails, phone calls etc can be simple mechanisms for tracking.  What works best for me when there are multiple tasks and owners,  after tracking, consolidation of the progress of the item and sending the update to all the stake holders - including the owners. 

The above points makes everybody focused on the tasks. Tasks get done because ownership is given to one person. S/he feels responsible, important and answerable and usually the work gets completed successfully.

What do you think ? Any more tips from your experience?

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Five Great Ways to build Culture

I perform a simple test in some of my Leadership workshops. 

To the group of  leaders sitting in the room, I  ask "On the piece of  paper in front of you, write the names of two organizations where you really enjoyed working and you get just 2 seconds to write".  And once they are done, I ask some of them to tell everybody why they loved to work there. 

Inevitably, what comes out  is the admiration of  the "Culture" of the organizations. 

As Leaders, we have to build the Culture of the organization. Culture is like Internal Branding.  Culture is built upon the Values , Mission and Vision of the organization. Culture binds the employees together and they feel themselves as  a part of a community. 

These are some great ways to build the Culture :

  •  Rituals :  In one of the organizations where I worked,  every project had their own "Team Cheer".  At the end of every meeting or gathering or celebration, the full team cheered together . I remember calling out "Hakuna Matata " (No worries) every time we had a meeting in one of my projects. When we said it together, we all smiled and felt geared up, cheerful and ready to take on the world ! Simple rituals like Monthly birthday parties, team huddles, burger parties builds a cult in the project and the organization. The best companies - Google,  Walmart, Dell have these rituals. 

  •  Values :   Most of the organizations have values. And most of the values are just a picture on the wall , near the reception area.  To build a culture, the first step is to create a solid set of  values for the organization. Something which the leadership believes in. Things which define the character of the organization.  The next and the most difficult step is to communicate the values and actually "live" them.  Talk about the values in all the gatherings, meetings, presentations, activities. Touch upon at least one facet of the values whenever you talk to your team.  Act according to the values so that your team can emulate you.

  • People  :  It is the employees who build an organization. So , to build the culture, we have to build them first.  Be paranoid about recruiting the best fit not only for the present but in the future too. Investment in employee development like organizing Leadership workshops,  team leading, team building sessions,  technical trainings etc. go a ,long way in building the culture of  learning in an organization.  The employees should be nurtured such that the culture is ingrained in their hearts and they it in the organization 

  •  Unique Story :  Every organization has its unique story. How it was started by five college friends with their savings in a garage. How they overcame the hurdles. These stories should be narrated at the appropriate time and gathering. These informal stories become a part of the culture and instills a sense of pride. 

  • Workplace Setup :  Many  organizations do not have any cubes. It shows "Open"culture. Why does Google let their software engineers decorate their own desks ? Yahoo now wants their employees to run into each other for better and more frequent interaction. So the way the office is designed impacts the behaviour and reinforces the values and the culture of the organization. 

So, do you want to architect the culture of your organization or your project ? 

Which ones from the above do you think you would like to  implement ? 

Monday, 29 July 2013

2 stories which my Granny told me

My Granny was a feisty lady and she told me many tales. These are two of them , which I find relevant in all situations in life . 

Thinking out of the Box 

Long time ago,  a merchant had the misfortune of owing a large sum of money to a wicked  moneylender. The moneylender, who was old and ugly, fancied the merchant's beautiful daughter so he proposed a bargain. He said he would forgo the merchant's debt if he could marry the daughter.

The moneylender told them that he would put a black pebble and a white pebble into an empty bag. The girl would then have to pick one pebble from the bag. If she picked the black pebble, she would become the moneylender's wife and her father's debt would be forgiven. If she picked the white pebble she need not marry him and her father's debt would still be forgiven. But if she refused to pick a pebble, her father would be thrown into jail.

They were standing on a pebble strewn path in the merchant's garden. As they talked, the moneylender bent over to pick up two pebbles. As he picked them up, the sharp-eyed girl noticed that he had picked up two black pebbles and put them into the bag. He then asked the girl to pick her pebble from the bag.

The Girl thought quickly. She has the following options :

1. The girl should refuse to take a pebble.
2.The girl should show that there were two black pebbles in the bag and expose the moneylender as a cheat.
3. The girl should pick a black pebble and sacrifice herself in order to save her father from his debt and imprisonment.

The girl put her hand into the moneybag and drew out a pebble. Without looking at it, she fumbled and let it fall onto the pebble-strewn path where it immediately became lost among all the other pebbles.

"Oh, how clumsy of me," she said. "But never mind, if you look into the bag for the one that is left, you will be able to tell which pebble I picked." Since the remaining pebble is black, it must be assumed that she had picked the white one. And since the moneylender dared not admit his dishonesty, the girl changed what seemed an impossible situation into an advantageous one.

Do not be intimidated by the size of the problem. Just keep your mind alive and open and think ....


The Three races

There was a young athletic boy,hungry for success, for whom winning was everything and success was measured by wins.

One day, the boy was preparing himself for a running competition in his small native village, himself and two other young boys to compete. A large crowd had congregated to witness the sporting spectacle and a wise old man, upon hearing of the little boy, had travelled far to bear witness .

The race commenced, looking like a level heat at the finishing line, but sure enough the boy dug deep and called on his determination, strength and power .. he took the winning line and was first. The crowd was ecstatic and cheered and waved at the boy. The wise man remained still and calm, expressing no sentiment. The little boy, however. felt proud and important.

A second race was called, and two new young, fit, challengers came forward, to run with the little boy. The race was started and sure enough the little boy came through and finished first once again. The crowd was ecstatic again and cheered and waved at the boy. The wise man remained still and calm, again expressing no sentiment. The little boy, however, felt proud and important.

"Another race, another race!" pleaded the little boy. The wise old man stepped forward and presented the little boy with two new challengers, an elderly frail lady and a blind man. "What is this?", quizzed the little boy. "This is no race" he exclaimed.

"Race!", said the wise man. The race was started and the boy was the only finisher, the other two challengers left standing at the starting line. The little boy was ecstatic, he raised his arms in delight. The crowd, however, was silent showing no sentiment toward the little boy.

"What has happened? Why not do the people join in my success?" he asked the wise old man. "Race again", replied the wise man, "...this time, finish together, all three of you, finish together" continued the wise man.  The little boy thought a little, stood in the middle of the blind man and the frail old lady, and then took the two challengers by the hand. The race began and the little boy walked slowly, ever so slowly, to the finishing line and crossed it. The crowd were ecstatic and cheered and waved at the boy. The wise man smiled, gently nodding his head. The little boy felt proud and important.

"Old man, I understand not! Who are the crowd cheering for? Which one of us three?", asked the little boy. The wise old man looked into the little boy's eyes, placing his hands on the boy's shoulders, and replied softly .. "Little boy, for this race you have won much more than in any race you have ever ran before, You have helped others win and with them , you too have won !"

Leaders help others to win and set them up for success !

Liked the stories ? Do leave a comment on what you think !

Monday, 22 July 2013

4 Situations Where You should use the Power of Silence

Many great men have spoken about the Power of silence

These a few of my favorite ones ......

“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause"  

“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” 

“You should try not to talk so much, friend. You'll sound far less stupid that way"

“Among my most prized possessions are words that I have never spoken” 

“We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out..”

"He who does not know how to be silent will not know how to speak"

“There is nothing harder, at moments, than talking to someone who has all the power of silence.” 

The following are some of my own experiments with Silence and you bet they have worked for me :

  • During Presentations : I plan for the appropriate place during my presentations , where I deliberately pause with somewhat long silence.  This is usually done when I have told the audience a story. I give a long pause, looking directly at them. I can sense their involvement by the pin drop silence  and then when I say something , it has a really big impact  ! 

  • During Negotiations :  Silence works during negotiations. There will be moments when both the parties become quiet and it seems as if the discussions have come to a stand still . These moments are really awkward. But a good negotiator is strong enough to endure the awkwardness of the silent minutes and remain silent and stoic  so that the other party re opens the conversation.  This sure is tough - at least to me - and it comes with practice.

  •  When you are Angry :  Whether it is a face to face conversation or a telephonic one or over email, if you are really angry or upset, do not respond. Remain silent for sometime. The rule of thumb for email is that do not respond or 24 hours. There have been several instances where I have seen things in a different light after I have regained my composure and I could respond in a more sensible manner. "I have often regretted my speech but never my silence". 

  • When you have to make a point :  Several times while giving feedback for improvement, I have experienced strong vocal arguments - explaining and defending themselves. It is a natural human tendency to react to negative feedback. If the manager has enough emotional intelligence, she will not react. Instead she will remain silent till the other person calms down and even beyond that. "Silence is one of the hardest arguments to refute"

Have you tried the Power of Silence ? 

Do let me know about your experiences with the unspoken words.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Will They Weep when you Leave ?

It was a very unusual sight.

In the cafeteria of a big corporate house, a group of people had joined tables and were sitting in a circle. All of them had a somber look on their faces. People had tears in their eyes and a nostalgic smile on their face. The person at the head of the table was looking at their faces and smiled brightly albeit with a few tears glistening in her eyes.  It was a informal farewell party of the Manager of the team. 

All of us know that people leave their bosses and not the organization. But the reverse is also true. People stay in organizations for their bosses. But these type of bosses are a rare phenomenon.  

So what do these leaders do that the team weeps when they leave ?  

  • They Teach :  One of my school friends, recently created a Facebook page of my Alma Mater and many of us uploaded photographs of our schooldays and our school teachers.  I was surprised to see that almost all of us remembered our favorite teachers who taught us not only text books , but something more... They taught us values which we be have carried with us ... The same goes for Managers/Leaders.  Ask yourself, are you only concerned with project delivery or with every interaction with you, your team is learning something more ?

  • They care  : In the corporate world,  sometimes we think that if you are caring and concerned about your team, they will take advantage.  The project manager/leader might be branded as a "soft" manager.  I somehow totally disagree with this. I think the managers who show emotional intelligence and care for their team , win them over for life.  A smile, a pat of appreciation soars the motivation of the team to the highest level.  Do you smile often ? Read my post [Should Leaders Smile]  Do you remember their birthdays ? Do you speak encouragingly when you feel they are trying hard to meet the deadline but are facing some problems ?

  • They share  : Being the Manager does not mean that you should not share your problems with the team. It is sure lonely at the top and if a leader shares some of the problems with her team, she will be surprised . I have experienced many situations when I told about the problem in the project, the team came up with innovative ideas. All the more, they will  stretch themselves hard. Sharing leads to de-stressing of the leader as well as build a rock solid team, with a shared goal. When the team sees that the leader is also as vulnerable as they are, they will extend their hand and become partners of success. Do you put down your guards and share both the good and the bad with your team ? 

         Share, Care and Teach . 

        And when you leave the organization and your team , see them weep !

       Can you give some more behavior traits of such leaders ?

Monday, 8 July 2013

Buffalo and Geese Leadership

Buffalo hunters had a trick to capture the herd.

They found out the leader of the herd and killed him. Once the leader was dead, the rest stood around waiting for instructions which never came and hunters could capture them easily. 

How do the Geese view the leader ?The Geese always fly together in a V formation. When the Leader is tired, another goose takes his position to lead. Each Goose is expected to take responsibility at some point in the flight.

While a leader is away, how does the team react ? Do they stand around waiting for instructions  like the herd of buffaloes or do they distribute the responsibility amongst themselves like the Geese ? More importantly, how does the leader react ? Is he too constantly on the phone, giving flurry of instructions and expecting things be done as per his wish even if he is not there physically ? These are the typical signs of distinguishing  organizations whether they have  Buffalo or Geese leadership. 

Organizations having Buffalo Leadership will not survive in today's global market.

The ultimate test of leadership is to check how well her team performs in the absence of the leader.  And this happens only when people are Empowered and adept at Self leadership.  Though these two words Empowerment and Self Leadership have been the buzzwords for some time, there are some barriers to implement them.  Knowledge is power. The managers control access to information as well as relationships to maintain power over their teams. The middle level managers should also be empowered and convinced that the better their teams perform it will add to their accomplishment too. Most Managers and Leaders feel that all the activities/work should be done only as per their way. 

"I am the boss " is the attitude and any disagreements or good suggestions are silenced immediately as it hurts their ego. 

Suppose, as a leader you feel that you have empowered your team . So how do you check whether  it has actually happened or not ? The following are some of the tests :

  • Does your team take initiative ? If the people are empowered, they will feel free to take initiatives and after proper discussions will see that action has been taken.
  • Do they think critically and find opportunities for improvement ?  Is your team fearless and identify weak areas which needs improvement ? If they are really empowered with a collective vision, they will look beyond immediate quick fixes and prevent future problems.
  • Does your team know what is expected of them and feels that they have the freedom to do their job well ?
  • Does your team feel that their manager/leader takes time to listen to their concerns and genuinely tries to take action  ? 
If  the answer to the above questions are "Yes " , then  you can be sure that the job will be done even if you are not around for sometime.  You can be proud of your empowered team !

So what do you think you have in your organization ? Buffalo Leaders  or Geese Leaders ?

Monday, 1 July 2013

My Three Interview Questions

One of my favourite question which I ask  the people during job interview is "What are your hobbies ? ".  I usually ask this question bang in between other technical and work related questions . Usually there is a pause of surprise and confusion not only on the interviewee's face but also on my co-interviewer's faces. 

There are different reactions to this question.  Some people fumble and do not know what to answer. This was not in their FAQ list.  Some give a blank look and rattle several things   - music, dance,  soccer... There is a third type who after the initial pause of surprise, suddenly seem excited. 

There is a spark in their eyes . Then they talk about their hobby .   

My next question is related to the previous one. If someone says their hobby is reading, I ask him about the last book which he read and why he liked it.   Or if their hobby is music, I ask a related question. My next question is "If you had the freedom to choose any role in the organization, what would you choose and why ?"

After these three questions, I carry on the rest of the interview. To be frank, even before the final lap of the interview, I know whether I will select the person or not.  I have been asked several times why I place so much importance to these two questions.  Well , I look for one thing .  Passion.

  • Passion keeps you going :  It is very important for everybody to be passionate about at least something in his/her life. When a person's eyes lights up while talking about the recent photography he has done, I know that the fire is inside him. If this fire can be lit up in his work , he will be a great fit in the organization.

  • Passion comes from within :  When I ask the third question about the role which he will choose and why, I get a clear picture about his work passion. Whether it is leading or technical problem solver, collaborating, or directing,the way the answer is articulated again guides me about what they really want to be .. what is it that will goad them to excel at work.  I usually spend a lot of time talking about this aspect.

  • Passion helps in innovation :  If you are passionate about  something, you will  find innovative ways to go around the problem.  Until the problem is solved, the passion inside you will goad you towards success. I have seen insurmountable tasks being done by passionate people. He kept on going when everybody else had given up. 

  • Work is sheer joy :  Though it is an ideal state, but when someone is lucky enough to work on something which he is passionate about, work is just not work. Long hours are not stressful. The satisfaction of  completing a well designed web page or composing a jingle or fixing a complex bug gives immense joy.  If you love what you do, you will never work a single day of your life.  

Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet , Marc Zuckerberg have all talked about finding passion in what you do. They have said "Never underestimate the power of passion "

And for organizations - "One person with passion is better that forty people merely interested "

What do you think ?  Is my style of interviewing controversial ? Need your thoughts !

Monday, 24 June 2013

The 3 C's

The 3 C’s of a Leader

  • Character :  People always look up to the person who has a strong and genuine character. If a leader does not have integrity or cannot instill trust and confidence  in the people,  s/he will never be able to rally them towards a common purpose. It is the personality and character which brings lasting success with people.

  • Charisma :  Charisma is an integral part of  great leadership. According to me, charisma is not external but very very internal.  How does one get charisma?  By putting others first. Charismatic leaders think about others and their concerns before his/her concerns.  Leaders exude charisma when they are more concerned about making his followers  feel good about themselves than making them feel good about the leader himself.

  • Communication : Developing superlative communication skill is absolutely essential for a leader. If the message cannot be communicated effectively and is not motivating for the team , then delivering the message does not even matter. Effective communication by a leader drives the team towards the goal , creates a sense of urgency and enthusiasm. Another important aspect is the “how” the communication is done. Depending on the “how”, the “what “ of the message gets a completely new meaning. Emotionally intelligent leaders effectively use “how” they talk to make the team feel that s/he cares for them.  The communication should be effective and motivating to seek action from the audience. 
Can you think of any more C's which a leader should possess ? Please add on ....

Monday, 10 June 2013

Leader, How do you make things happen ?

My first job was in a software firm, as a trainee programmer.  It was barely two months of my joining and I was stuck with a tricky logic for a code.  I had worked hard towards my deadline , burning midnight candle for several days in continuation, but somehow I was just not able to crack this small piece of logic for the code.   One night, after all the people had left,  I sat in from of the computer , a gloom of despondency on my face.   Suddenly, there was a pat on my shoulder and I looked up . The head of my unit was standing there with two cups of coffee in his hands. He offered me a cup and took me to his desk. 

"Tell me . What is the problem ?  Why are you looking as if it is the end of the world ? " His smile was so warm and reassuring.  Something stirred inside me and tears started flowing down my cheek.  He was silent and let me cry.  I told him my problem . I was surprised when he sat with me and looked at the logic. He gave some tips. Though , he as not accurate , but the  very fact that he sat with me, made me so comfortable and secure that I could solve my problem in the next one hour !

I have learnt so much from him and so many other great leaders with  whom I had the privilege to work.  When I look back,  I find that that these are the things which leaders possess to make things happen :

  • They know what they want : The clarity about their goal is fixed in front of their eyes . They are focussed on their goals and nothing can deter them from it. If sometimes they waver, they realign and quickly come back on track . When he sat with me to solve my problem, he knew that he wanted me to solve the problem - which I did !
  • They take risks :  Leaders make thing happen by taking conscious risks.  Big thing happen only when you have the capacity to take risks.  
  • They push themselves : The team always looks up to the leader.  When they see that their leader is pushing himself  to act,  they get inspired and things just happen ! The credibility of the leader increases and he earns trust.  
  • They make more mistakes : The more you take risks and the more you push yourself, mistakes are bound to happen. The more the leader makes mistake, the more he learns . Leaders are not afraid to admit their mistakes. It shows their honesty and the humane angle of their personality.  Leaders have " make mistakes, but can do and get done " attitude.  The grit and perseverance of the leader makes things happen. 
"Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand." - Colin Powell

Monday, 3 June 2013

Humor is Serious - 6 tips for Leaders

"If I were two faced, would I be wearing this one ? "

 This is a famous quote by Abraham Lincoln .  A simple one liner quote, but indeed a very powerful one . It shows his ability to laugh at himself . 

A recent study found that when employees are asked to describe the strengths and weaknesses of senior colleagues in their organizations, “sense of humor” and “work ethic” are mentioned twice as much as any other phrases. Research on Leadership show that people appreciate leaders who have fun and work hard to get the job done. Those who can combine a strong work ethic and sense of humor may have the leading edge in their organizations. 

If you lose a major project, or sometimes if you cannot meet a critical deadline however hard you might try due to some external reasons, guiding your team through the process without panicking is as challenging as it is important. It is better to motivate your team by laughing than by crying.  Such situations show the tenacity of the leader and the team gets the much needed relaxation to put their best foot forward and overcome the situation. A good sense of humor keeps the team motivated and charged.

True leaders should always be capable of laughing at themselves. This shows the confidence and the childlike nature of the leader and the team feels at ease and relaxed which boosts the productivity and it softens the blow of bad news.

But again, humor is a tricky thing . The following are some tips which will help the leader use humor appropriately :

  • A Leader is NOT a comedian.  Humor should be used for leadership and motivating and making the team relaxed and more productive
  • Humor should not be pointed at any one particular person, rather it should be collective.
  • Humor should never be discriminating. Never use humor to cloak racist, sexist or regional sentiments and tag them as "just joking" .
  • Laugh at yourself and the situation . Laugh WITH the team and not ON the team .
  • It is better to avoid practical jokes since we do not know how the other person will take it. It might happen that instead of being motivated or relaxed s/he feels awkward and singled out.
  • Last, but not at all the least... do NOT fake it ... ! It shows! And it will have a negative effect on the team's perception about you.

So go ahead and have a good laugh with your team  !