Maturity versus Immaturity


One of my young colleagues asked me where does maturity end and immaturity begin ?  It is difficult to answer.  He was shocked at his interactions with one of his key stakeholders.  While it started off very maturely and informally, it ended with a bad taste in the mouth and a sense of immaturity. So, the question is ” where does immaturity begin and maturity end or vice versa ?” 

When you interact with someone senior, you assume that the person will be more mature than you.  Maturity is relative.  It has to be experienced to be believed.  Age and experience does not necessarily guarantee maturity in anyone.  I have met a lot of young students and aspiring professionals, who have displayed exceptional maturity.  On the other hand, I have met senior professionals, who are yet to mature.

So, how does one deal with immaturity ?  In my view, maturity is a state of mind.  It has to evolve for a person.  Some of us gain maturity early while others take more time.  It is our ability to adapt to different kinds of persons and their relative level of maturity that makes us successful.  We may sometimes take light hearted humour as informal.  Then it may lead to informal interactions and then when one fine day informality is misunderstood by the other person, it hurts us and is termed as immaturity.

Does it mean that we should avoid informal interactions ?  I would not say so.  I always believe in creating a work environment, where informality prevails.  We should not only be physically accessible to our team members and colleagues but also mentally and emotionally at all times.  However, we need to learn where to draw the line.  It is easier said than done.  One needs to learn by experience where informality ends and formality begins.  It is a very thin line and we are bound to err many a time.

So this colleague asked me –  “How to deal with the immaturity of his key stakeholder?”. One needs to gauge the behaviour of others and learn to draw the line.  The line is not dependant on age, experience or seniority.  It is based on relative maturity.  One learns to draw the line by experience and most times by facing the consequences.  It is painful at times but one learns by facing it in real life.

I have seen this phenomenon at work and even in personal life.  It happens in the family and society as well.  We find unpredictable and irrational behaviour by very senior people.  It is difficult for youngsters to deal with them.  On the other hand, we find very mature and competent young people who wear maturity on their shoulders even before they gain enough experience.

I had a lot of questions from these young colleagues (as in the photo above) during a recent team building workshop on a boat in Bangladesh.

My learning in life is to moderate yourself than attempt to moderate the other person.  It is not easy for us to mould the behaviour of others.  It is easier to adapt our behaviour to suit the style of the other person.  As I said earlier, failure may be the stepping stone to success in many situations but there is nothing wrong with that too.  After all every sportsperson wins after losing many games.  Further, no sportsperson gives up after losing, even though the road to victory may be long and ardous.

Lets us begin the change today.

S Ramesh Shankar

Whom should I blame ?

The monsoon is here and it is pouring cats and dogs. The roads are choked. The traffic is crawling. Trains have been interrupted and there is water logging everywhere. Everyone is badly impacted. Whom do I blame ? We want to blame the state government in power ? We want to blame the city local body ? We want to blame the central government and so on.

The local body, state and central government have to take responsibility for the state of roads and monsoon preparedness in general. There is no doubt about it in my mind. But, how about blaming myself for this state of affairs, at least partially ?

While it is fashionable for everyone especially the elite to blame the state and everyone else, we refuse to look within us. I was reflecting on this question today morning and thought about the following :

Why does my milkman, who is 75 years old not complain of rain and deliver milk without fail at 530 am every day ?

Why does my newspaper boy deliver my newspaper at 7 am every day even in this heavy rain ?

Why do my maid and driver not bunk their work and report regularly every day ?

All the above people come from the lower strata of society but do not shirk their responsibility by blaming the environment or the state while discharging their duties. Why do I want to blame everyone around me except myself ? What can I contribute to prevent this in the future. I have ten ideas to share and I commit I will personally try to follow the same.

A. Prevent the use of plastic and disposal of waste over drains in office and at home near my neighbourhood

B. Segregate waste into organic and inorganic and ensure safe disposal.

C. Ensure rain water harvesting is done sincerely in my community

D. Ensure storm water drains are clear and cleaned before the monsoon in my community and at my workplace

E. Report manholes and water logging to the municipal authorities in time

F. Ensure that everyone around us uses dustbins in public places

G. Carry cotton bags for all types of shopping

H. Recycle everything possible at home and at work

I. Dispose of e waste appropriately in designated places

J. Take responsibility for my community and my workplace for all of the above.

If you agree, like my post and say yes. Your ideas can add to mine too and will useful to all of us.

Enjoy the rains and let us inculcate a habit of “I can” contribute to changing the environment rather than blaming and cribbing at all times.

S Ramesh Shankar

10th July 2018

Humility versus Arrogance

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Life is full of choices. One of the choice we need to make is between “Humility” & “Arrogance”. It is not that the choice is between black and white. It is most of the time grey. While most of us like to be humble and modest in our day to day behaviour, its the effectiveness of arrogant people around us, which tempts us to review our choice. We sometimes feel that humble people are ignored and walked over. On the other hand, the arrogant ones are noticed and people do listen to them.

Many of my colleagues at work at all stages of my career have always expressed this dilemma in their life. Is it a good idea to be humble and ignored sometimes or be arrogant and get noticed always. I do not have a ready made recipe. But can share my learnings from life and its consequences. One can get away with arrogance as long as you are seated in a position of power in family, work or society. The day you give up your position, you are neither respected nor remembered.

If someone was to ask you to recall your favourite teacher in school, you would always remember the one who was kind to you and grounded. We never remember people who were pompous and arrogant in their behaviour. Life is no different. While it is true that sometimes arrogant behaviour may appear more effective in getting things done in the short term, nobody will every cherish your company in the long term.

Let us examine this phenomenon from various angles. The first angle is that of history. We adore people who were humble and generous in their thought and actions. We do not like to study about the arrogant and pompous types. This is not because we know either of them from the past. It is more because we would like to have role models who are modest and not abrasive in their behaviour.

If we look back at our work life, we will always cherish to work with people who are simple, modest and willing to learn and share with others. We may sometimes feel that they are not assertive enough but their humility bowls us over. If you are humble does not mean that you cannot be assertive. It means that you know where your feet are and are always willing to learn from your own mistakes. Pride is like anger. It can only destroy you today and tomorrow. On the other other humility is like honey, it will always make you a sweet person to adore.

If we look at our family and friends, we always like to be in the company of those whom we respect. We respect those who are our role models. Our role models are people who are grounded and kind. People who are humble will always be good listeners and effective coaches. Their actions teach others. Even if they do not actively coach anyone, others learn even in their company every day.

On the other hand the arrogant people spread venom. They may appear very aggressive and effective in the short term. But they spoil all their relationships in the long term. Their day to day behaviour repels people around them. Everyone tries to avoid such leaders. If given a choice, team members would prefer to join other teams rather than suffer in the hands of an arrogant leader.

The best thing to learn from kids is that they do not have to make a choice. They are natural in their disposition as in the photo above.

It is true that sometimes it may appear that humble leaders may look less effective. However such leaders are always better in the long term. Their leadership is sustainable and focussed on the future. They would never cut corners or look at short term benefits. On the hand, they may sometimes be willing to sacrifice short term gains to create long term sustainability of their people and organisations.

What would you prefer ?

S Ramesh Shankar

Patience Unlimited

I have always been in awe of my father for his unlimited patience.  I have wondered as to how did he have so much of limitless patience.  In my entire life time, I have seen him losing his cool only twice and here I am who loses his cool atleast twice a year.  I also need to give some credit to myself as I have graduated from losing patience twice a day to twice a month and nowadays it is only twice a year.

It has been a journey of life long learning.  In this blog, I would like to reflect on how I learnt patience from my father.  The first thing I have observed in my father is his ability to mind his own business at all times.  I have never seen him interfere in the life of others and this may have enabled him to keep his cool under all circumstances.  We tend to lose our patience when we get involved.  Impatience is in a way reacting to a situation, which we cannot accept.  There is no need to react if you do not get impacted by others’ incidents.  In all our family matters, I have never seen him talk about others or interfere in others’ matters.

The second learning has been that he was very self disciplined.  He was a government employee and served in the telecommunications wing of the central government for more than three and a half decades.  He was a self made man and worked very hard day in and night out.  He was always on time to work and never made anyone wait at home or at work.  This was possible only due to his self discipline and his ability to be organised.  Thus there is little scope to lose his cool for things which were not in place as he wanted them to be.

The third attribute which made him patient was his ability to be an active listener.  I have hardly seen him speak.  He was a man of few words but always a good listener.  It is easier to keep talking than to listen.  If you are a good listener, you have the time to assimilate and not react as the way we do most of the time.  This means less impatience and more maturity in our interactions.  Thus listening helped him to be patient at all times.

The fourth quality I learnt from my father was his ability to be self dependant.  I have never seen him depend on others for anything.  Even after his retirement from service and after my mother’s death, he did not depend on anyone for his living.  He cooked his own food, did his own shopping and maintained the house and the garden with his own hands.  This self reliance enabled him not to depend on others and thereby lose his cool when others do not deliver.

The fifth characteristic of my father which stuck to me was his ability to share happiness with others and keep sorrow to himself.  I have never seen him in my life time cribbing about anything.  He has never shared his distress with others but was always willing to share his joy.  This made him an endearing person to all.  I am yet to meet anyone in my family or friends circle who was not in awe of my father and his patience.

My father’s patience is like the endless water of the sea and me like a bird flying across to feel it.

All these qualities of my father left lasting impressions on my mind.  I was short tempered as I began my career.  But, as I grew up, I realised the value of patience and have tried my best to learn from the interactions with my father and live life the way he did.  I may have only achieved 10% of patience he had but still consider it worth an effort as it has helped me immensely in my career and life.

It is never too late to start.

S Ramesh Shankar

Politics at the workplace

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“Politics” could be defined as the art of weaving your way in the organisational context.  Does politics exist in organizations ?  The answer is a resounding “yes”.  Do you need to indulge in politics to be successful in your career ?  My answer would be a resounding “no” from my life experiences.  While behavioural scientists may say that “politics” is not a dirty word and they may be right.  According to them, politics is the art of using the ogranization’s human networks to your advantage.  

I am not against “networking” and using your networks to get your things done as suggested by the social scientists.  What I am against is to indulge in “political behaviour” in your day to day work.  This means simply that you are indulging in “behind the back” gossip.  This results in lack of trust in your team members and saps away the energy of the team.  A lot of organisational energy is used in resolving conflicts and misunderstandings rather than building bonds.

How can one avoid politics as a leader ?  This is a question many people leaders have asked me during the course of my career.   My answer is simple.  As a leader, one needs to clarify the “Dos & Don’ts” of behaviour expected in your team.  Further, one needs to lead by example what you expect from others.  For eg. I clearly encourage my team to raise any issue with anyone and sort it out face to face rather than talk behind the back.  Gossip or talking behind one’s back may be the fountain head of organisational politics.  This needs to be actively discouraged and even punished, if necessary.

On the other hand, if someone wants to build relationships so as to get things done, it is not politics in my definition.  After all organizations are nothing but a network of relationships between people working in different functions.  It is essential to build networks and relationships to get things done effectively.  We need to do everything to enable our team members to network across the organisation and build these relationships.

It is only when a team member ends up misusing a relationship or a network to gossip, politics sets in.  Politics in my view is like a wild fire in a dry summer forest. If not nipped in the bud, it can spread across the organisation and will be very difficult to put off.  I have been asked many a time as to how one can avoid these webs of organisational politics.  It is up to us.  If we want to stay clear of it, we can clearly and unambiguously communicate the same to our team members and colleagues and it works.

I have also been asked if one can be successful in one’s career without being political.  I believe so and have practised it all through my career.  Being a HR professional, I have seen most successful people do not indulge in politics, as I have defined it.  Further, this also ensures that your energy is chanelized to do more creative work in your domain.  Teams work with high energy and enjoy their work without any fear or barriers.

In my view, “politics” in the organisational context is counter productive if not channelised to build networks and relationships.  As a leader, it is up to us to define the rules of the game for our team and ensure nobody crosses the line.  If many of our team members play foul, we not only lose the game but also create poor team spirit and negative energy within the team.

Let us define the rules of our game today and lead by example to ensure others follow it.

S Ramesh Shankar

Simplicity

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I have always been impressed by the simplicity of the villagers.  I recently had the opportunity to visit a village on the outskirts of Dhaka and the experience was the same.  We were on a boat with our team on a team building exercise.  The organisers informed us that there was a village on our route along the shores of the river and if we were interested we could stop by.

This was a village of potters.  We stopped by and some of us ventured into the village.  As we landed, we were welcomed by a group of old villagers sitting on the bank.  They were clothed in simple muslin and were just relaxing on the shores.  They welcomed us with warm smiles and made us feel special even as we landed.  Then we went to the first hutment.  They were a group of artisans who were making a idol for worship for a religious festival in the ensuing months.  They not explained how they go about it but also were willing to share their idols for photographs.

Then we met a group of goldsmiths.  They were hand crafting silver and gold jewels.  They were happy to share their products and explain the process to us.  There was absolutely no attempt to hard sell anything to us.  They did not take undue advantage of a group of tourists to sell their produce taking advantage of our visit.  They were not at all disappointed when we did not end up buying anything from them.

The third hutment was a potter making pots for making yoghurt.  He explained how it was made and then fired in the kiln.  He further explained how it is marketed in the city. He also did not try to sell his pots to us but was more keen to explain the process of pot making.  This is unlike the city folk, who do not lose an opportunity to sell their produce even when we do not need them.

The last hutment was that of a lady potter who was actually making pots from mud through a manual process(as in the photo above).  When asked if a motorised process would have been more helpful and productive to her, she replied that she could not afford it and she was happy to do it the manual way.  She happily displayed how effortlessly she converted raw wet mud into a beautiful pot .  She then explained how it is dried and then heated in a kiln before is it cooled in sand and then goes for sale.

The best part of the trip was when this lady had kept some mango fruit dried up in a open mud plate.  When some of us enquired as to what was this used for ? , she explained the process of making dried mango papad.  She further added that it was taken by the villagers as a side dish and also helped in neutralising the summer heat.  She requested us to wait and offered us a sample of this tasty mango papad.  She did not accept any money from us as she said that it was just a small sample for us to taste it.

Such is the simplicity displayed by the villagers.  I am not sure if we get corrupted by materialism in life.  As we live in cities with all comforts of life, we forget the basic human values of life.  We are not interested in welcoming our guests.  We are not keen to share our knowledge or skills.  We guard our physical territories as if someone is always looking to invade us and attack us.  We are commercial in all our dealings and look for economic again in all human transactions.

It is time to wake up and go back to our roots.

It is time to learn “simplicity” from our village folks ?

S Ramesh Shankar

Facing an”Interview”


One of life’s toughest examination is facing a job interview.  Of course, our life is submerged in a competitive landscape and we have to qualify at each stage of our life.  Today the competition begins even when a child enters a school for the first time.  More than the child the parents face the challenges of admission.  Imagine parents being interviewed for admitting a child in first standard of a school.  It is no longer a joke but the reality of today.

This journey continues through school and college.  In the Indian context, getting admission to your preferred school is only the first step.  Then it is middle school, high school and finally the hurdle of a college admission.  Many parents decide what their child should be studying and this makes the admission process more complex.  Apart from admission tests and capitation fees, which are indeed a nightmare, the interview process is itself a life time test.

Now, if we believe that the hurdles are over and life is going to be a smooth sail thereafter, we are in for a shock.  Graduating from an educational institute is only a pre-qualifier.  Now, you have to plunge into the world of the job market.  If you have managed to secure admission in a prestigious educational institution, you may be lucky as employers may queue in to offer you a job based on your merit.  But the majority of students pass out from colleges, where there are many more students than job opportunities.

You may have to go through a series of written tests followed by psychometric examinations and then finally may be lucky to be short listed for a face to face or video job interview.  Many students find it easier to clear the written tests and psychometric ones but find it challenging to face an interview.  Hence, I thought it may be worthwhile to write about it.  This may be helpful to calm your nerves.  My five commandments for a impactful interview would be :

A. Be authentic :  All of us have gone through ups and downs in our academic career.  It is best to be truthful and share your crests and troughs without camoflaging it. You can highlight your areas of interest and your passions in academics, sports or culture.  You should be thorough in whatever you want to share and in depth. Be honest in all your answers and do not try to impress anyone.  Kindly remember the interviewers are smarter than you.

B. Be passionate :  It may be a good idea to share your passions.  You could talk about how deeply you got into a particular subject and got great insights much beyond your syllabus.  You could talk about a sport you are passionate about and life lessons you learnt from it.  It is worthwhile to remember that you cannot fake your passion.

C. Share your experiences :  It is important to share your knowledge, skills or attitude through actual experiences you have had in your life.  If asked about your leadership, it is not expected to be hypothetical but relate it to your personal leadership experience in sports or cultural festival you have actually led.  What went right and how you could have done better ?  Competencies are best assessed by displayed behaviour and not theoretical constructs.

D. Lead the interview process :  While the interview is generally opened by the interviewer, you could take the first opportunity to lead the course of the interview.  This could be best done by sharing your story in an authentic and convincing way and leading the interview process to your strengths.

E. Live your values :  It is very important to display your core values right through the interview process.  This could be fundamental values like truthfulness, listening, ethics, respect and so on. You need to display your values in your behaviour in whatever you strongly believe in.  E.g. If you do not know an answer, it is best to accept it rather than mislead the interviewers. This will be living your value of “truthfulness”.

The nervousness of an interviewee may be symptomatically seen from the empty seats in front of the interviewer as in the photo above.

In my view, if you are well prepared, passionate and honest, you could relax and face the interview with determination.  I am sure you will come out with flying colours.

Wishing you all the best,

S Ramesh Shankar