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 !

    Friday, 30 September 2016

    Teeny Weeny : I am fine ....

    "Please come to the terrace for the dinner ... " the host called out to the invitees.

    The shehnai was playing the typical wedding tune.

    As he climbed up the stairs, he saw her coming down.  She wore a red sari ... her favourite colour ... 

    Suddenly she looked up and their eyes locked.

    Her eyes widened with sudden recognition. Did he see dark circles under her eyes ? Was she unhappy? 

    "How are you ? " he tried to smile. 

    "I am fine ...." she somehow managed to answer and then walked down the stairs quickly without looking back...

    "I am fine ....  " these three words echoed in his ears... 

    How could she be fine ?  Was she really fine without him ? He ran down the stairs to catch a glimpse of her  getting inside  car , her eyes down ... her sari around her shoulders ... beside her husband ...

    Did you tell the truth ?? Are you fine Deepa ?  But I am not fine ... tell me you are not fine Deepa .... 

    I know you cannot be fine without me ....

    Or are you really ..... ?


    Teeny-Weenies will spice up the monotony of the leadership posts . Hope you like them.     
    Looking forward to your comments.

    Tuesday, 20 September 2016

    How to Manage your Boss effectively

    My daughter has recently started working. One day I was giving her some "parental" as well as "professional" advise on how to manage your subordinates and peers. She surprised me by saying "Hmm... but you also need to manage your boss ! " 
    Coming from a "brand new" professional, I was impressed. 
    I told her the following story of Birbal to explain to her.  
    Note : There was a Mogul Emperor in India, Akbar The Great (1542-1605).He himself was illiterate, but he invited several learned people in his court. Among these people, nine were very famous and were called Nav Ratna (nine jewels of the Mogul Crown) of his court. Among these nine jewels, five people were more famous - Tansen, Todarmal, Abul Fazal, Maan Singh and Birbal. Birbal's duties in Akbar's court were mostly administrative and military but he was a very close friend of Akbar too, because Akbar loved his wisdom, wit and subtle humor.
    So folks, here goes ....
    One day, Akbar was stumbled on a rock in his garden while taking a stroll. He was already in a foul mood that day and this accident made him so angry that he ordered for the gardener's arrest and execution.
    The next day, at the time of execution, the gardener was asked what his last wish was before he was hanged, he requested an audience with the emperor.  His wish was granted and he was brought in the royal court.
    He greeted the Emperor and then walked towards his throne, saying that he wanted to just have one last close look at the Emperor. When he came near the Emperor, he loudly cleared his throat and spat at the feet of the Emperor.
    The Emperor’s anger knew no bounds and he demanded to know why the lowly gardener did such an outrageous thing. The gardener had done this on Birbal's advice. He stepped forward in the gardener's defense and politely said, "I do not know of a person that is as loyal to you as this unfortunate gardener. Fearing that tomorrow people may criticize you for taking his life for a small reason, he went out of his way to give you a genuine reason for ordering him to be hanged. He has done his final duty for you. Now he can leave for his heavenly abode peacefully."
    The Emperor realized his mistake and set the gardener free.

    "So... ? " I asked her. "What did you learn about managing your boss ?"

    "Well , Thus looks like Help me Help You stuff " She said . "Also, the Emperor finally realized his mistake . So Birbal helped him bringing solutions to the impending problem or embarassment "

    "Good ! What else ?" I prodded

    "It is also about communication. You have to understand the pulse of your boss and communicate likewise. Here Birbal did it very creatively , without hurting Akbar's sentiments..." She said 
    "And again, you have to have a good idea of the big picture when you talk to your boss",  I helped her.  "Just like Birbal had understood the situation and helped his boss by taking things off his plate and took the extra responsibility of talking to the gardener and making him act as he did .  Again, he showed initiative and enthusiasm when he stepped forward in the gardener's defense ".
    "Yes " She smiled . 
    And I smiled back. 
    Mutual admiration club... Ahem ... !

    Sunday, 11 September 2016

    Perils of Power

    I don’t know what happened  “ my brother was visibly worried , “My boss was not like this earlier … He has become so rude and inconsiderate …  Tell me , is it possible for a person to change so drastically  ?

    Changed .. is that what you said ? “ I asked him.

    Yeah !  Changed ! “ He reiterated. “He was so kind and understanding earlier !"

    Hmm .. Tell me … was he promoted recently or have there been any other changes in his role  ?

    Yes. He was promoted about a year back and  about three months back he has become the Project  Manager of  a very strategic assignment in our organization. I too am a part of that project. Initially I was so happy and excited to be under him as I had worked with him earlier. I had also told my peers about my boss and his demeanor , but …. I don’t know what happened to him … seems to be a different person


    Well .. it happens ! “ I told him coolly “It can happen to you too …. Once you assume a position of power and you are not mindful  about it !

    Actually, this is quite a common phenomenon.

    Power tends to corrupt and people lose the very qualities which actually made them  great leaders and rise to that position.  

    Qualities like openness, empathy, collaboration, fairness fade away and they engage in absolutely the opposite qualities like rudeness, favouritism  and sometimes in unethical behavior.

    There have been several researches on this. I read in one Harvard Business review article about an interesting experiment.  Groups of 5 people – 4 team members and one supervisor, were invited for a training.  A plate of cookies was kept in front of them during the session. It had one cookie for each and one extra. 

    It was found out that  95% of the times, it was the supervisor who ate the extra cookie, depriving the rest !

    Most of the time, the organizational culture induces this effect.  

    For example, you might have noticed that during any party or event, the seniors are offered food first. My husband works for the Railways and there the culture is even more pronounced.  The junior officers have to sweat it out in rooms which has basic facilities and the Senior officers have 4 ACs fitted in their huge offices !  

    I have advocated to many CEO’s that during events, the leaders should eat the last . 

    It helps in building a strong culture in the organization – at no cost !

    So , I told my brother “ Yes,  It happens ! But remember that this might sound the death knell for his career and sometime or the other he might lose the power which he has now … So dear bro, it can happen to you too when you get power. So be careful !  “

    So how can we avoid this ?

    • Be mindful  : Whenever you are feeling heady or very excited, take a deep breath and repeat in your mind that you have power and you should respect it .  Know your emotions and try to control it.

    • Practice empathetic body language : Whenever someone comes to talk to you, lean forward and smile.  Listen. Yes, I know you have lots of emails to respond to, your to do list is huge, but remember that to  the person who has come to you , this  moment is very important for him. Give your full attention, make notes.

    •  Small gestures :  Give your personal touch – both literally and figuratively.  A clap, a high five, a huge smile at the appropriate moment will bring out the best for you who are in power in the eyes of your subordinates.  A small  handwritten note of appreciation,  a token gift,  a thank you email  will make you look a big person with a big heart !

    • Self Checks : Do some self introspection and try to look for patterns to take corrective actions. For example, are you checking your whatsapp or messages on phone when someone is talking to you ? Are you ridiculing anyone publicly ? Are you spending too much money which you did not do earlier? Is your desk messy and you expect  the peon to clean it up for you?  Have you recently tried some daring adventure contrary to earlier times ?  These are some simple questions whose answer will help you in  evaluating yourself whether power is making you a mean person or not.  These are simply some indications .   So check yourself and mend ways before it is too late.

    On the same note , I read a very  heartening news last week in the newspaper. The newly appointed Governor of Haryana was perturbed to find that there were long queues of cars on the road because a part of the road had been blocked for his security. The next day , he made it clear that there should be minimal arrangements for his security and that under no circumstances the public should be inconvenienced for his movement.  

    That showed his humility, confidence, empathy and definitely his upbringing as a scion of an erstwhile Royal family.

    So dear leaders, be aware that power can corrupt you. 

    Be as you were before and empower others more !