The “know all” managers…

I sometimes wonder how little I know about anything in life. I attended a Carnatic music recital and learnt how little I know about music. I have attended a nature camp and realised my limited knowledge about plants, animals or birds. But I sometimes wonder how some managers seem to know everything in life.

I would call them the “Know all managers”. They may belong to a functional area before they become the leader of a team or the head of a business. The moment they become a general manager they tend to think they know it all. They seem to sometimes think that they know more than the experts in their field.

I admire the managers who are versatile and know it all. But I sometimes wonder if that is a good trait or bad. I am not sure. I believe that even if we lead a team, we may not be the expert in all fields. The day I realise that as a leader my role is to get the best knowledge, expertise and support from my team, I may be more effective.

The know all leaders think that they know everything. Further, they think that there is no need to listen to everyone’s view. They make up their minds even before they listen to everybody’s views. They prefer to talk more than listen. They make up their mind and take decisions based on their own perceptions.

I may call this phenomenon the arrogance of the mind. The day I think I know it all, my learning ends and my decline begins. My mental faculties are closed. I do not listen to people around me. My eyes are blinded and I do not see the wisdom of others. The really knowledgable people are generally humble and introverted. As a leader they may need to be encouraged to share their knowledge.

As a know all leader, if I silence my team, I will be a loser not my team. Most managers of this type think that if they listen more they may not be effective. In my view, the opposite is true. A leader who listens to her or his team is more respected than others. A leader who listens to others gains more than loses in terms of knowledge, skill or attitude.

The know all leaders may appear effective in the short terms but lose out in the long term. First, they are not willing to get the best out of their teams. Second they do not get the best counsel from the experts in their team. By not listening to their colleagues and not allowing them to speak, they silence the wisdom in the group. They may appear to be decisive but this is because they like to listen only to their voice and their views. This may result in a fast decision but not necessarily the best.

One quality which is fading in leaders today is humility. In my learning, humility is the foundation for sustainable leadership. We need to realise that even life time experience cannot teach us everything in life. The best teachers and leaders I have met in life are always keen to learn from everyone around them. Their humility bowls you over. Their humility makes you realise your limited knowledge or skills. They inspire you to be a life long learner.

It is like some nurses after working for a few years start believing that they know more than the doctors just because they have experienced a variety of patients in their career.

This makes it imperative for all managers to realise that they have to be life long learners. A manager who learns from everyone around him evolves into an inspiring leader. In my view, the difference between a manager and leader is our ability to inspire others. Our inspiration is not by our superiority of knowledge or skills but our humility to learn from everyone.

Let us learn to be life long learners.

S Ramesh Shankar

7th November 2018

Surviving a crisis in life

There are some moments in life which drown you in a sea of grief. Losing a near and dear is irrevocable. It feels as if the sun has set in your life and will never rise again. You also feel as if the moon will not light the night sky. You feel lonely but want to be left alone. No words of comfort can console you. You have no tears to cry in your eyes

I have gone through such moments in my life. I lost my mother at 23 and my father at 25. It was in quick succession and I had just started my career at 22. Fortunately my sisters were married and settled and I had to only take care of my younger brother. But still the question, which haunts you at such moments is – “Why me “?

You have led an honest life. You have been good to everyone around you – family, friends and relatives. You loved your near and dear one the most and God has snatched him/her away from you. You not only wonder why but also wonder why only you. These are normal feelings and anyone facing this situation will go through. No words of consolation soothes you. You get no answers from God or anyone around you. It’s only time, which heals you and not the words, conversations or people around you at this time of grief.

Your world is lonely. The gush of the wind is not heard by you. The song of the birds do not lighten your somber mood. The sound of the waves in the sea reverberate your hurt feelings. You lose faith in yourself and in God. You may stop visiting temples, churches or mosques irrespective of whichever religion you follow.

It is only time, which may heal you. It is at this juncture, you need to believe in yourself. You need to be a supportive partner to your family. Together, you need to weather this storm. You need to take courage from poor people, who live in small hutments near the sea. They face the wrath of the rains every year. The thunderstorms blow away their houses, their belongings and sometimes even their near and dear ones. They may be fisherfolk and fishing is their only source of income. So , they come back to the sea to start their life afresh.

Our life may not be very different. We may face one crisis after another. We may lose faith in ourselves and in others. We may also lose belief in God. But as time heals our wounds, we need to limp back to stand up and live life all over again. We need to look for people around us, who may have lost much more than what we have. We need to seek blessings and express our gratitude to God – to bless us for all that we have and give us the courage to bounce back. During such crisis, we need to be thankful to the people around us, who stood like the boulders on the ocean front, which faces the wrath of the sea waves every year to protect us from damage and destruction.

We need to believe that the sun does rise next morning after every sunset. Even the moon resurfaces after a no moon day. We do get rewarded for our efforts. We have to be thankful that we did our best and sometimes a crisis in life is inevitable – may be not in our hands and it could be nature’s way of helping us keep our feet on the ground.

Our life ahead is an opportunity. We need to learn to bounce back. Let time heal your scars and I am sure you will find ways to bring joy to others. You may get an opportunity to take care of other people like your own. You could think of all the good memories with your near and dear one and all the joy he/she brought into your life. It is sweet memories of our lives, which keeps us going in good and bad times.

The clouds do settle down and the blue beautiful sky returns after some time. We need to wait patiently for the blue sky to return in our lives as in the photo above. There is nothing permanent in life.

Selfless service and gratitude to those who stood by your side during your crisis are useful ways to bounce back in life. Wish you all the best.

 

S Ramesh Shankar

4th Sep 2021

PS : Dedicated to everyone who has lost someone close to their heart in their lives.

 

 

 

  

Monday moods ?

I have been asked multiple times by managers as to how to know if their team members are fully engaged at the workplace. The answer is simple for me. Ask your employees if they are excited to come to work on a Monday morning. If the answer is yes, you have created an enviable work place. If the answer is no, you can ask them what they would like at the workplace so that they feel enthused and look forward to a Monday morning to come to work.

This may be true for kids as much it is for adults. I remember even twenty years back when my kids were in primary school, they were restless on Sundays since they were looking forward to go back to school on a Monday morning . When I asked them why, the answer was invariably that they enjoyed the company of their friends and the freedom and encouragement of their teachers.

I find it intriguing that managers find it difficult to unravel this simple truth. It could be because I have always been privileged to work with great teams and wonderful managers. I always eagerly looked forward to a Monday morning to get back to work. My work environment was always energising. It was not because of the physical comforts of the office. It was rather the emotional environment of the team with energy infused by my manager and other colleagues at the workplace.

I find most managers and leaders not even communicating with their team members. They find it difficult to walk around and have some fun with their colleagues. Even wishing back looks like a burden to them when their team members greet them in the morning. We do not lose any of our power or prestige by wishing people back when they greet us. Even the security guard at the office entrance is a human being and feels good when you politely wish him or her back in the morning.

Another interesting dimension is that managers are not able to understand that every individual in their team is unique. Some like public recognition while others may like it private. Some are more sensitive than others. We need to spend time with each of our team members to understand what energises them and accordingly mould our leadership style.

We also need to learn to break traditions. Why not have a party on a Monday morning at work rather than always on a weekend ? We need to spend time to create excitement at work for each member of our team. Every individual wants to excel and may do so if we provide the right impetus for them to do so. We cannot cut, copy and paste ways of dealing with people on everyone in our team. It is like every child at home is different, so it is at work. Everyone is a talent and may need to be harnessed to excel.

One of the simplest ways to communicate with your team is to share joy and sorrow. How often are we willing to share our lunch and spend time with them ? Are we at the hospital if a colleague falls sick ? Do we support a colleague to get over a crisis by being an emotional anchor ? These are small and simple ways of earning respect from our team members. It is neither too difficult to start nor to sustain.

Last but not the least is our fairness and authenticity with our colleagues at work. Do all our team members experience us as transparent and genuine leaders ? Authenticity has to be experienced through our actions every day. We cannot pretend to be so. It has to come naturally through our behaviour and actions.

Let us learn to lead by example.

S Ramesh Shankar

1st November 2018

Inhale the present & Exhale the past

I was attending a yoga camp for a week at Lonavala. I met a co participant wearing a t shirt which read ” Inhale the present & Exhale the past”. I was very touched by this quote. It was indeed insightful.

We spend almost our entire life time either worrying about our past or wondering about our future. In this process we forget to enjoy the present. I am not sure why we spend so much time thinking about the past.

The past is history and the future is a mystery. All of us know that but still we are keen to look back or gaze forward rather than enjoy today. I have always believed in living life in the present. This may be easier said than done. All of us including myself drift into the past or worry about our future.

However, if we consciously try to live in the present, life is indeed fun. Every day and every moment is a discovery of life. Every day you learn new things and meet new people. It is like the colours of the sky. Have we ever seen the same cloud formation of sky colours every day ?

Life is no different. Nature teaches us in many ways to live life in the present. Children around us teach us every day to live in the moment. But as we grow into adults we forget the lessons of our childhood. We think wondering about the past or gleaming into the future is our sign of maturity.

Even if we look at the animals around us we may learn good lessons. The birds sing different tunes every morning. They do not seem to be worrying about the past nor the future. They seem to be flying in the sky as if today is the best day of their lives. We do not know their mind but at least their external behaviour urges us to enjoy every moment as if tomorrow does not exist.

One more reason why we should live in the present is that life changes in moments. A terrorist attack, a cloud burst or an an accident may bring our life to a tragic end within moments. Why not enjoy every moment as if today is the last day in our lives. Life would be fun and enjoyable that way.

We need to realise that we can neither re write our past nor predict our future. What we can possibly enjoy is the present. So, it is better to focus all our energies in enjoying today rather than brooding over yesterday or reflecting over tomorrow.

Life is fun when live in the present. Every moment brings new energy and new thoughts to our minds. Every new person we meet brings new perspectives into our lives. Every new experience teaches us lessons every day. Every day is a discovery of life and it is enjoyable that way.

As the kids in the photo show us how to live in the present.

Let us resolve today that we will inhale the present and exhale the past. I would go one step further. Apart from inhaling the present and exhaling the past, we should also not breathe into the future. We need to live in the present always.

Let’s learn to live in the present in every way.

S Ramesh Shankar

18th October 2018

Learning from birds

Birds have always fascinated me. Apart from their melodious tweets, they impart a lot of important life lessons for us. I can spend a whole day admiring the birds in a garden or on the beach or a forest. The colours of the birds are spread across the spectrum of the rainbow. The singing of birds is always music to the ears.

Let me share my first lesson from the birds. They live the life like a gypsy. They neither have a permanent home nor they are bound to a particular place. They possibly live life in the best place which suits the weather and their bodies. They fly way to a new place when are not comfortable with their environs. They do not complain to anybody about their lives. They are ever willing to adapt themselves to the environment around them.

The second learning is that they are self dependant. They seem to do everything themselves. They fetch their own food, build their own nest and sing their own songs. They neither depend on others for anything in life nor blame others for their miseries in life. They seem to live life as if there is no tomorrow and what better lesson in building our attitude to life.

The next habit I admire in birds is their ability to plan their day and organise themselves. They get up at dawn with their songs, spend the day fetching their food and building their nests and end the day by getting back to their nest and sleeping before being told to do so. They are lucky that the ubiquitous mobile phones have not yet invaded their lives. They seem to be at peace with themselves at all times.

The art of communication is to be learnt from the birds. They sing their own melodies. They effectively communicate to their peers and family members without making any excess noise like we humans do. They do not disturb other birds while they are communicating to each other. Their language seems simple and effective.

I am also a fan of the cleanliness of birds. While they may pick up things from all around them, they put things in their place. If you visit their nest, you realise how painstakingly they have been designed. If you touch their nests, they do not like it and never return to that place for fear of being attacked by humans. They may not be trained in 5S or other Japanese techniques of housekeeping but teach us life lessons that everything has a place in life.

When they fly high in the sky, they seem to carry all other peers along. It is always fascinating to see a flock of birds flying in the sky. They carry everyone along and cooperate rather than compete with each other to reach their destination. The leader ensures that others are following them and they have a pattern of flying to ensure that they are not attacked and they are guarded from all sides.

I wonder why we do not spend enough time to learn our life lessons from the birds, animals and plants around us every day. Today I am lucky that I decided to reflect on the life lessons from the birds. This has made me think and introspect on life. It may help us to think of one animal, bird or plant around us every week and wonder what we could learn from them. This may be easier since we find it difficult to learn from other human beings around us.

Nature teaches us every day in every way.

S Ramesh Shankar

7th November 2018

Outside is green and inside serene…

If you are surrounded by green all round you and it is serene inside, then what can you complain about in life ? I was enjoying the greenery of the environs around my home and serenity inside. Nature has its unique ways of cooling your senses and I felt it that way today.

This led me to think and reflect more on life and living. I realised that if we live a life of being “green” in every aspect of our lives and being “content” with what we have, will it not be wonderful. I realised it would be but wondered why is it so difficult.

If we have to lead a green life, we need to be sustainable in every action of ours. We should give back to environment a little more than what we take from nature. This would seem a tough challenge. Imagine the paper, water, fuel, power and other valuable resources we waste every day. We kill trees, ensuring drying up of rivers, power cuts and degradation of nature by use of fossil fuels in every way.

Imagine a life where we could have our own well for water needs, generate our own power using the sun, recycle and reuse resources thus creating no waste, how would life be. There would be no pollution. There would be no climate change and no shortage of water, power or any other resources needed by human kind. We will leave behind more for our future generations than we have inherited from our fore fathers.

Similarly I was wondering how life would be if all of us were content with what we have. Contentment is a state of mind more than a balance between wants and needs. When want exceeds needs, it becomes greed. This is possibly again easier said than practised.

Why do we get greedy even when most of our needs to live a happy life is fulfilled ? This may be because we live a life of comparisons. We accumulate wealth more for establishing or proving our status in society as compared to others than what we need to be happy. The day we live for our own happiness, we may live a life of contentment.

I may appear philosophical in my hypothesis. But, to be honest this is what most of us spend our life doing. We want to buy a second bigger car because our neighbour has one. We want to buy a second house since that’s a style statement we may want to make in social circles. We use more than one phone because we want to be seen with latest phone in the market as that it determines our social worth.

None of the above are impacting our daily needs in life. We can live only in one house. We can drive only one car at a time. We cannot improve our communication with others by having more than one mobile phone. By the time we realise that we are chasing an illusion, our health is impacted and we do not have the time to enjoy life anymore. So, the cycle continues.

One can experience both the green and the serene in the photo above.

It is time to pause and reflect. It is time to sit back and take stock. It is time to fulfil our needs and not our greed. It is time to live a sustainable life. Let us learn to contribute to the greenery around us by giving back to life more than we take from it. It is time to change our attitude to life and living.

Time to change is now.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th September 2018

Darkness to light …

 

 

Every festival teaches us some life lessons. I was wondering what the Festival of Lights can teach us. First we need to understand that it is celebrated across India by the name “Deepavali” but it has different folk lores. In the south of India and parts of west and east of India it is celebrated for the killing of demons called Narkasur & Mahisasur by the Gods. On the other hand in most of north India, it is celebrated as the return of Lord Rama from the forest after serving a 14 year deportation term.

Either way it is celebrated with the bursting of crackers , creative expression of design forms on the entrance of homes called rangoli and lighting of lamps to decorate homes. In the south of India it is celebrated at dawn and in the north it is celebrated at dusk. Either way the decorative lamps and the bursting of fire crackers transforms the environment from darkness to light.

Diwali or Deepavali as it is called is the Festival of Lights, colourful rangolis and bursting of crackers. It signifies the victory of good over evil and the return of a popular king to his people. While most of the traditions of the past continue with festive fervour, the lessons of this wonderful festival is forgotten in some way.

In my view one of the best learnings one can carry from the Festival of Lights is cleaning your home and your mind. Every household spends a lot of time in cleaning their home, painting them and decorating them much before the festival arrives. It may also be a good time to clean our minds of the unwanted memories stored in them. While we may be superficially cleaning our homes today, it is a great opportunity to make our environs more hygienic and our minds clearer and more peaceful.

Another important lesson one can learn from this festival is to enlighten ourselves and bring light into the life of others. This is an opportunity to transform ourselves. We can sit back and reflect on our own lives. We can bring fresh thinking into our minds and let our inner selves to get more illuminated. This festival also gives us an opportunity to bring light into the lives of other human beings by being of some help to them. In a way, we can illuminate the life of others through our deeds.

The third and the most important significance of this festival is to drive away evil thoughts from our mind. The bursting of crackers today may be polluting the environment due to the chemicals used in them. But, the spirit of this practise was more to drive away the demons and welcome the good in us. While we have fervently continued to burst crackers, we have forgotten the purpose of it and the spirit of this ritual.

We tend to remember the physical part of the rituals and practise them. We conveniently forget the spirit and purpose of these rituals. It may be time to reawaken ourselves. It may be the right time to kindle our spirits. We need to enlighten ourselves by living the rituals in letter and spirit.

It is time to clean our environment as much as our minds. It is time to think afresh and forget all the bad memories of the past. It is an opportunity to forgive the people who have hurt us and befriend them again. The joy of forgiveness is to be experienced to be believed. This way we can enlighten ourselves as much as bring light into the life of others around us.

Time to enlighten ourselves is today.

S Ramesh Shankar

7th November 2018

The generational shift…

All of us grow up hoping to study well, settle down and fulfil our life goals. Then we want to get married, have kids and be happy in life. This a natural human phenomenon. The relationship between parents and children is special. It is fun to spend time with your kids and play with them and see them grow up.

The real test for us as parents are when they grow up as adolescents. They turn rebellious and challenge us in our role as parents. We feel threatened because they question our role and even the support we provide them as parents. The feeling is like someone removing the umbrella from your head during a heavy downpour. We find it difficult to cope with this transition and try to manage the situation to the best of our abilities.

Some of us tend to look back at our own lives and recalling our teen age behaviourand accept this as the cycle of life. We believe that we did the same with our parents and now it is our turn. Others find it difficult, when challenged by their own children. Our values are threatened and questioned. Their habits, behaviour and social company becomes almost unacceptable to us. Our teenage children believe we are living in the past and are not willing to accept the present.

If you talk to psychologists or counsellors, they guide you to be friends with your kids. This is easier said than done. It is like a fire fighting drill. As long as it is a drill, all of us enjoy it and have fun. But, if a fire really breaks into our homes, we may not find it easy to handle. We feel as if the counsellors and psychologists are making us believe that dealing with adolescent or young adults at home as kids is like a fire fighting mock drill. Fun as a drill but difficult to practise in reality.

Life is different. The realities of this transition in your child’s behaviour is to be experienced to be believed. It is almost like a consultant giving advice on how to deal with a crisis in a class room. When the real crisis hits us neither the consultant is around nor we remember the strategy he taught us in the class. It is like all organisations have crisis management manuals prepared and certified by quality auditors. But when the real crisis hits us, neither the manual is readily available nor do we have the time to read and act as prescribed.

Then how do we prepare for this crucial stage of our life. Some of the tricks, which we have tried and tested are as follows. As parents, one of us can get closer to the child, evolving as a friend over a period of time. It may or may not work but it is worth a try. It is also useful to find out who in the inner circle of relatives and family friends is closest to our kids. We need to find the person whom the child trusts blindly and will be willing to confide in. This may help us enable the kid to share their concerns openly with them and thus minimise tension and perceived misbehaviour at home.

This phase of life teaches you that there is a generational shift. You suddenly realise that you have grown up and have children, who are from a different generation. It may also be useful to be in touch with the realities of today. The needs, wants, behaviours and motivation drivers for our kids is different today. We may or may not appreciate them but we need to accept them as our current reality.

As in the photo above, the generational shift is visible even in the organisational setting.

The earlier we face this reality, the faster we are likely to adapt and change. If we live in the past, the future may hit us harder. The future will become the present sooner than we realise. So, it is better to co create the future along with our kids by adapting to this changed phase of life rather than be a victim of the change.

Together , let us create the future.

S Ramesh Shankar

12th September 2018

Talent, aspirations & opportunities

Today there seems to be a mismatch between the talent in the market, their aspirations and the opportunities. The millennials of today are not keen on a 9 to 5 job. They want to pursue their passion cutting across organisational boundaries. While organisations may offer routine jobs, their aspirations may never be met.

What do we do in such a divergent environment ? While opportunities in the environment may change as per demands of the industry and the market, the aspirations of the next generation needs to be understood to be met.

Permanent employees may be a thing of the past in industry. We are moving towards a gig economy. This means jobs may be split and people may be available part time to share their knowledge and skills on a contractual basis. There will be neither permanent jobs nor permanent people in organisations.

Everything will be in a state of flux and change. While jobs will appear and disappear at frequent intervals, people may also keep changing their jobs and organisations as per their current aspirational needs. Thus aspirations will also keep changing with time. Nobody is going to stick to a particular organisation or profession for life.

A friend of mine was sharing with me that post his retirement after a long and illustrious career he was pursuing painting as his hobby. A few months later he informed me that painting was passé and now he was writing a novel. The aspirations of the millennials of tomorrow will be somewhat similar. It may change many times a year rather than even once in a few years.

Organisations have to redefine jobs to match these transcending aspirations. There has to be a market place for opportunities and aspirations to match. The cycle time for change will be frequent. This has to be managed through automation and artificial intelligence. It looks like there will be nothing permanent in life.

Even the personal lives of the future talent will be different. Family and marriage as institutions may fade away. The boundaries of a nuclear family may give way to living in partnerships as per mutual convenience. Marriage may no longer be a social pre requisite to have children and hence may disappear.

Organisations have to spend a lot of time and money to understand the aspirations of this generation. Sociologists and Anthropologists may play an active role in redefining roles and matching aspirations of the future talent. Thus organisational boundaries may fade away. Talent may work in multiple organisations as per their interests and time availability.

The talents today are like the balloons in the photo above.  Multi varied and with different and needs.  We need to create an environment where every talent blooms.

A new era where there will seem a dynamic relationship between opportunities, aspirations and availability of talent. Organisations which are flexible enough to match these changing trends will be successful in the market place. Organisations which continue with rigid job definitions may fade sooner than realise.

Flexibility may be the key to success.

S Ramesh Shankar

9th September 2018

Tiffin carriers

The tiffin carrier has been a symbol of many things over time. The basic purpose of a tiffin carrier may have been only to carry food for consumption when you are hungry during any time of the day as you prefer.

However, over a period of time the same tiffin carrier has symbolised different things to different people. The oldest known utilisation of the tiffin carrier was the media of communication between two people. It could have been an innocuous message from a mother to her child or a wife to her hubby.

It later transformed as a messenger service in the pre-digital age. Romantic lovers used the tiffin carrier as an innovative medium of communication, which was indirect and at the same time kept the novelty and inquisitiveness alive at all times. They were used to sending slips inserted in tiffin boxes to their beloved partner.This helped many young couples bond relationships while may have also split a few of them due to mis-communication in the process.

Nowadays tiffin carriers have become popular again and used extensively by food carrier apps and also food delivery services in metro cities for dual career couples. The purpose could be ensuring timely delivery of food apart from saving a lot of valuable time for the working couples, students and single men and women.

What amuses me most is the use of the tiffin carrier to carry food for your family members after you attend a marriage or ceremony in a friend or relative’s home. People nowadays tend to carry food for people back home after they have had a sumptuous meal in a ceremony they have been invited to.

I have nothing against having a grand meal. But it may be unfair to carry a tiffin carrier and carry food back home. This will unnecessarily add costs and inconvenience to the host. While it may still be fine to carry food for the elderly or differently abled back home, it may be better to do the same from a restaurant rather than from a party you are invited to.

Tiffin carriers are also used to send messages of errands. Parents request their children to buy some food, groceries or medicines for them. It could a be reminder to pay phone or utility bills. Thus the tiffin carrier may have been used for multiple purposes over time.

The most interesting story of tiffin carriers is that related to the “Dabbawallahs” ( tiffin carrying men) of Mumbai. This may have started many decades ago when hygienic food was not available in or near offices and factories. So, employees got tiffin from their homes and thus Dabbawallahs evolved this service.

In this service, Dabbawallahs carry tiffin from each home in a bag and code them using a color and keep them in trolleys. They are then hailed in bicycles to the nearest suburban station. It travels by trains to the nearest station of the office. Then gets re-distributed and again hailed in bicycles to the workplace of the employee. The return journey of the tiffin is similar.

These Dabbawallahs have provided a six sigma quality of service to their customers over decades. Their process is simple and there are practically no wrong deliveries. They could provide a living example to organisations of today and beat the artificial intelligence and robotics of tomorrow.

Long live the Tiffin Carrier.

S Ramesh Shankar

12th September 2018