If we are nice to people, they will be nice to us…

Today morning I was meeting a guest at work in a common meeting room. I had booked it from 830 to 0900 hrs only. My meeting spilled over and the receptionist at our office promptly and politely reminded me to vacate the room as the participants for the next meeting were waiting.

I realised that I had over stepped my time and apologised for the same and vacated the room as requested. As we came out and sat in the lobby to conclude our meeting, the receptionist told us that we can continue and conclude our meeting in the same room. When I enquired what happened to the other meeting, she told me that she had arranged an alternate discussion room for them.

I wondered why it happened . On reflection, I realised that every day when I pass through the reception I wish them and return back their gleaming smile. I try to be polite to them always. So, today I realised that if I am nice to people around me, they always try to be nice to me.

It may appear a simple thing in life but difficult to practise. All of us want to be good to others all the time but the circumstances make us vulnerable many a time. Imagine you have parked your car in a no parking zone and on your return you see a cop placing a fine on you. What do we do – we say we were not aware that it was a no parking zone. We go further and justify stating we had parked only for a few minutes. In the end when fined, we lose our patience. Was it our fault of parking in a banned zone or the cop’s mistake of rightly fining us.

At work, we behave no different. We keep rescheduling meetings as per our convenience and changing priorities. When someone does not attend a meeting on a rescheduled date and time, we express our displeasure. We forget that we had rescheduled, postponed and advanced the same meeting five times to suit our convenience without checking on the convenience of our team members. We were not nice to our team members’ convenience but we expect them to be nice and adjust to our convenience all the time.

We expect our bosses to adjust when we fall sick all of a sudden. But when a similar things happens to any of our team members we preach the importance of maintaining good health and the criticality of work on those days when our colleague is sick.

We are equally belligerent at home. We do not bother to wish the security guards in our homes when we pass by them every day. On the contrary, we expect them to salute us and wish us every single time we pass through the main gate of our campus. Is this fair ? If we do not have the courtesy to treat security guards and our maids as human beings, can we expect them to treat us humanly ?

One of the drivers at my workplace who is a diabetic told me that one day his lunch break was delayed and he requested his boss for a 15 minutes break so that he could quickly have a bite. His boss not only denied him the break but also made him feel small by asking how he could ask for a break when he was so busy at work that day. His boss was possibly not even aware that his driver was a diabetic.

My learning in life is that if we expect our family, friends or colleagues to be nice to us, we need to learn to be nice to them. If we treat our servants, drivers, security guards etc humanely, they will reciprocate humanness with equal measure.

As in the photo above, our security staff took care of us 24×7 even beyond their call of duty since we treated them with respect.

Lets learn to be nice, if we want others to be nice to us.

S Ramesh Shankar

5th September 2018

Everything cannot be valued in money terms…

Everything in life cannot be valued in money terms. I remember way back in 1987 I was buying a second hand car. My friends and well wishers cautioned me that it was not a good return on investment. It may be true in financial terms especially when interest rates were in double digits. But buying a car or a house is a quasi emotional and quasi logical decision.

Similarly in 2008 I was selling a flat in Gurgoan and my well wishers cautioned me that it was not the right time to sell. The markets were down and I could wait for some more time for getting a better yield. This also may be true. But my decision to buy or sell or a flat is also a quasi logical one.

In life, there are many decisions we take by emotion and then apply logic to justify it. I prefer to go that way. If you love something in life, one should go ahead and do it. If you are guided by return on investment or logic, life may be become worthless. I love photography and videography. I may have bought a dozen cameras in my life. This definitely cannot justify financial or logical reasoning. But the joy it gives me, no money can.

I remember in 2011, I ended up buying a car of my choice. It was an expensive one and many of my well wishers were not supportive of my decision. They may be right logically but my decision was quasi emotional. I love driving and wanted to enjoy life driving a car of my choice. Money saved in a bank or mutual fund can never give me this joy.

I am not for one recommending that we should end up squandering money on worthless things in life. I am only saying that sometimes we decide based on gut and this is fine. After all life is full of emotions. If something in life gives us joy, we should go for it without thinking too much about it.

The moment we try to apply logic and reasoning to everything in life, we may stop enjoying life. Imagine someone working out a return on investment before buying a pet dog. Can you value the love a dog bestows on you as a human being ? We have to remember that everything in life cannot be monetised.

I have lived my life in my own terms. One important learning of course has been to enjoy life without being indebted. We should not end up buying a luxury car or home if we cannot afford to buy it at a particular stage of life. It is better to wait for the right time and buy it rather than trying to enjoy life on borrowed money.

I remember there were many things I yearned to have but could not afford. So, I waited till the day I could afford to buy. One cannot justify buying things stating life is to enjoy if if it goes beyond your means at that point. Yes, we need to enjoy life within our means. We need not justify to anyone what we are buying as long as we can live within our means and love having it.

As in the photo above, the joy of having lemon juice in a road side shop and having a heart to heart chat with the vendor has to be experienced to be believed.

Let us learn to enjoy life our own way.

S Ramesh Shankar

9th September 2018

Self motivation versus Selfish motivation

We meet people of different hues in our lives. Some are adorable and a role model in every respect and some we feel like forgetting them as soon as we meet them and experience them the first time. One of my colleagues recently talked about the self motivated and the selfishly motivated people in the world.

I thought about the people I have met and worked in my life and wondered if I could distinguish between the self motivated and the selfishly motivated people in my life. What are their distinguishing characteristics , how do we differentiate them and how do we deal with them in our lives ?

Lets start with the self motivated category. These people are like live electric wires around us. It is easy to spot them. They inspire you with their actions and are always willing to work for your success. They never give up and never allow others around them to give up either. Their motivation comes from within and they are selfless. Their motivation against all odds is infectious and positively impacts others’ lives.

On the other hand, the selfishly motivated are self centred. They believe that they are born in this world to succeed at any cost. Their motivation comes from outside. They want to win at any cost. Others success or failure is of least concern to them. They may appear to be outwardly inspiring but are inwardly hollow. You can see through them as they do not have any depth in themselves. They may put down others to ensure their own success.

Now is the tough question, as to how to deal with these two categories. The first category of self motivated people are easy to deal with. The motivation touches you and hence the more we interact with them, the more they inspire us. They are born optimists and never give up under any circumstances. Even a cup of tea with such people helps you to energise yourself and hence we should not miss any opportunity to be with them. We should spot them in the family, work place or society and find ways and means to be with them.

On the other hand, the selfishly motivated category may be avoided to say the least. They set the wrong role models in society. They create a political work place and are always working at their goal accomplishment at the cost of everybody around them. While one may learn from their determination, one may be demotivated by their behaviour. It may be sometimes difficult to avoid them if they are members of your family, colleagues at work or even your boss. It is best to spend the least time with them and learn from their dogged determination to achieve their goals. One may consciously avoid to learn the selfishness from them.

As in the photo above, the self motivated will find a road for themselves and others while the selfishly motivated will find a road to escape from others.

The world is a mixture of selfless and selfish people. The former are self motivated and the latter are generally selfishly motivated. It may sometimes take time to distinguish the two. But our honesty will make it easy to know the difference. Once identified, we can do everything to be with the self motivated and avoid the selfishly motivated whenever possible.

Let us learn to be self motivated.

S Ramesh Shankar

5th August 2018

How to deal with a boss, who does not inspire you ?

All of us would have had multiple bosses in our career. Some good, some better and some best. Most of the bosses I worked have inspired me and provided me bundles of opportunities to learn. However, we do end up with one boss, who does not inspire us at all. On the contrary, it would be a nightmare to get up every morning and meet this boss. Further one’s motivation would be the least when you have to work with such a boss.

There are two people in life who we do not choose. On the contrary, they choose us. The first is our mother and the second is the boss. A mother along with her spouse decides to conceive us in her womb. Similarly, a boss recruits us and is willing to take the risk with us by giving us an offer of employment. So, we neither can choose our mother nor can we choose our boss at anytime in our life.

Now that we do not have a choice, what do we do. We have two primary choices. One is to quit and run away from this boss at the earliest possible opportunity. The other is to take this as a challenge and inspire your boss since your boss is not able to inspire you. How do we inspire our boss ? We excel in whatever we do and everyone in our team and outside admires our excellence. In this scenario, this boss will not have an alternative but to be inspired by us. There is a possibility that they may or may not impacted with our inspiration. But, we need to learn to live with this challenge.

I have had the experience of trying out both alternatives. In the first instance, I worked with a boss, who believed that nobody should be trusted unless proved otherwise. I believe in trusting everyone around me till they betray my trust. It was very difficult to work with this boss. I tried all tricks under my sleeve. I tried to excel in whatever I did and also kept myself in projects beyond my scope of work. After three years of sustained efforts I decided to quit. It is better to quit before you lose faith in your own capabilities. It may be just a mismatch between two individuals and their styles they it may be good to part ways rather make each other’s life miserable.

In the second instance, I got the opportunity to work with a boss, who did not inspire me. I believe that leadership is all about personal credibility, trust and values. This boss never walked the talk. Trust was one sided and values were relative. On the other hand, for me leading by example was the only way to lead your team. Trust was mutual and built through the robustness of your actions. Values were absolute and non negotiable. I decided that I will try my best to excel and inspire my boss through my actions. This worked and then the feedback from my team and my colleagues made my boss to realise my value.

It may be easier to write about this subject today then to experience it in your every day life. I can easily state that it is indeed a frustrating experience when you go through it. However the true leaders are willing to sacrifice the present for the future. One needs to learn to deal with the challenges of today for a better tomorrow. There is no gain in life or career without any loss. One has also to remember that a boss is an inevitable part of one’s career. It is better to learn to deal with one’s boss effectively rather than crying wolf all the time.

We may not get to meet , see or choose the boss as in the photo above. However, if we are willing to look at the mirror often, we can turn out to be a better boss than what our team members expect us to be.

The best lesson to learn is to look at the mirror. We need to remember that all of us are also bosses for someone in our team and hence if we can practise what we expect from our bosses, life would better , brighter and happier.

Time to start is today.

S Ramesh Shankar

22nd July 2018

I am responsible

We are in the midst of a worldwide crisis. It is a pandemic impacting every nook and corner of the world. It started about a year and a half ago and does not seem to be ending soon. We in India fought the first wave quite well but our ability to anticipate the more treacherous second wave was not good enough.

Today, we see people suffering in every nook and corner of the country. It looks like almost every other family is impacted by this deadly virus. While statistics may look different to different people, the real impact is on the family which is facing the brunt even if it is the only family in that town, city or community.

We have had a lot of criticism of the way it has been handled by everyone. We are blaming the central government, the state government and even the experts from the healthcare industry for this state of affairs. Whichever end of the political spectrum we belong to we are willing to blame the party in power without knowing how much everyone knew or could anticipate this second wave.

While it may be easy to write about it or criticise it, (having been an administrator for almost four decades I can say with confidence ) it may be more difficult to anticipate or manage it as an administrator. So, the next question is , what do we do about it. I would recommend the following steps to deal with this situation :

A. Let the governments at the centre and state do whatever best they can in the current circumstances. Let us support their efforts without being critical of every action since I am not sure if we could have done better even if we were in their seats of power.

B. Let us take responsibility for our actions – wearing masks, keeping distance and washing hands everywhere we go

C. Let us take charge of our family and friends whom we can directly influence.

D. If we are large hearted, let us take responsibility for the community we live in to ensure compliance to all the guidelines prescribed by the government.

E. Let us be more responsible in not posting anything negative or creating false panic by forwarding messages on social media etc.

I believe if we are willing to do the above, the crisis will be under control sooner than later.

As in the photo above, this child is taking responsibility for his behaviour even standing on a beach. If a child can do it, why not we.

The most important step is that I take responsibility for the conduct and compliance of myself, my family and my community. If each of are willing to do this, then we make the task for the governments easier.

Let us start now.

S Ramesh Shankar

26th April 2021

Discovering your dream job

One of my ex colleagues called me up today and stated that she wanted to change her job. When I enquired the reasons for the same, she said she was not happy with the team. I have heard some say they dont enjoy their job anymore. There could be many other reasons for not enjoying whatever you do in life.

One of the most complex questions in life is – “What do I enjoy doing in life ? . Each of us are trying to discover the ever elusive joy in whatever we do. The good news is that we are not different from others. While this may look simple, it is possibly the most difficult to answer to find oneself.

It is fine to live in a world of ambiguity and keep discovering and rediscovering ourselves till we reach a stage, where we feel we have arrived in life. This is true for life and also for career or vocation.

I remember reading an article in the Harvard Business Review long time back entitled -“Job- Sculpting”. Our sculpting a job or vocation is like a sculptor crafting a piece of art. Many a time the sculptor may start with something in mind and end up producing something else. It is no different in life.

Our ability to try many times, fail or succeed and redesign our path will possibly take us closer to our dream destination. It is almost like someone searching for happiness around the world till they realise that happiness lies in discovering it from within and not without.

Most of us in the past took a field of education not because we were excited about it but because our parents or elders or well wishers thought that it was the best for us. They may have been right or even wrong. We may discover this along the way. As we complete our education and move on to a career or business or vocation, we may realise that what we studied is not what we wanted to. It is important to realise that this is fine and we need to learn to move on with life.

Our career choices are no different. If we started our career in a particular function, we may have done so because we did not have a choice when we started or it paid us well or was near our home. While mid way in our career, one day we may realise that this is not what we enjoy.

We need to realise that most of us go through this dilemma and it is natural and nothing to be worried or ashamed of. However, what is important is to discover what you want to do and how to do it ? If we spend the rest of our lives trying to discover what we enjoy doing, then we may not get much time to do that very thing.

The earlier we ask ourselves searching questions, the better it is for us. It may help to have a life coach, who can help us ask the right questions and find answers ourselves. Once we know the questions, it may be easier to find the answers. It is like if we know where we want to go and our destination is clear, it is easier to decide the path we want to take.

Another important factor for those in a job is about not only enjoying what you do but also enjoying the company of your team along the way. We need to remember that the world is not ideal and nor are we. Just like we have our strengths and improvement areas, so do others. If we wait for the day to work in a dream team, where every member is ideal, it may remain a dream.

It is like the best players in a team will not look to play in a dream team. They will always look for how best they could contribute to make their team a great team. If we start looking at life as full of possibilities, then it turns out that way. On the other hand, if we think that there is a speed breaker in life at every corner, then may be it will be that way.

It may be easier to change oneself rather than attempting to change others. This is the simple truth of life. The best players in sports excel in whatever they do. They not only compete with others but try to compete with themselves to be the best version of themselves. In life, we need to believe that the world is looking at us rather than we looking at others to excel.

As in the photo above, a drive through the forest may kindle your love for nature and that could be the career break you are waiting for. You could become a naturalist or a forest service officer and spend your life in forests amidst nature.

Life is a journey of discovery every day. We need to enjoy the journey, the company and the destination. We need to believe in ourselves more than others and look at life as a string of possibilities always.

Let us discover ourselves everyday.

S Ramesh Shankar

9th April 2021

How little I know ?

I spent a weekend in the city of Pune. It’s a beautiful city just about 150 kms from Mumbai. It is popular for educational institutions, defence establishments and the enviable weather. I took a city tour to see the major tourist places around the city.

The first thing which struck my attention in Pune is the greenery. Pune is very green and has trees, which may be centuries old. Everywhere you travel, you feel as if you are driving through a lane of trees all around you. This could possibly be one of the secrets of the Pune weather.

The second thing which strikes you are the huge defence establishments. Every part of the city is blessed with military establishments and you feel proud of the prowess and the discipline of our soldiers. The cantonment areas are clean and well maintained. They provide a glamour to the city.

The third thing which struck me are the research institutions. The central institutes like the National Metallurgical Laboratory, Automative Research Association of India and so on. I saw an institute of tropical meteorology. This was fascinating as I was not even aware that a subject like that existed. It proved to me “how little I know ?”

Another impressive part of the city is the array of educational institutions. You have arts, science commerce, engineering, medical, management and every subject you can imagine in the world. You have public university and private universities. You also have autonomous institutions of repute.

After spending a day in the city and visiting some interesting sites like the Ambedkar museum and the Kelkar museum I realised the rich heritage of the city. But what really impacted me is the diversity of research institutions. I did not even realise that there are so many areas of research, which I have not even heard of.

I am aware that I do not even know enough on the subjects or areas I have been working for the last 38 years. Having come across different areas of research, which is happening in our country was a gentle reminder of “How little I know ?”This experience grounds me.

I salute every researcher through this blog and their dedication. I salute the government in the centre and states which sponsor and promote such institutions. I salute the corporate organisations which are also contributing to pure and applied research in various fields.

Let the research institutions flourish and bring innovations and prosperity to human kind. They can also inspire us to assimilate more knowledge during the rest of our lives.

It may be good to realise “How little you know in life ?

S Ramesh Shankar

11th October 2018

Anybody can fit into a frame …

I was passing through our domestic airport at Mumbai and was fascinated by people taking photographs in a frame. I realised that everyone – young or old, thin or fat could easily fit into this frame. I reflected and realised that life is no different. If we want to lead life happily, we can live life within our frames. On the other hand, if we are not content than we will not fit into any frame.

Life is a balancing act between need and greed. The day we convince ourselves that we can fulfill our needs but never are greed, we may be happier. The frame of life is drawn by us. It is not built by God and thrust upon us. Each of us have the liberty to draw our own boundaries in life.

Let me illustrate this through examples from my personal and work life. The first example I can share would be the people I have met in life, who live a simple life in spite of all the riches they have. They are symbols of humility difficult even to emulate. They can define the frame of life in which they want to live but on the contrary they fit into any frame they come across in life.

One such name that comes to my mind is that of JRD Tata. He could have bought almost anything in the world if he wanted but showed us outstanding examples of simplicity in everyday life. I was recently reading of how he used to buy chocolates for his gardener whenever he returned from his trips abroad. He used to take his secretary and her family for a treat on her birthdays. I have not come across many CEOs, who would show such gestures.

In my life, I have met people who will happily give credit to others for their successes. We see them in the field of sports every day. We see players, who play for the victory of the team rather than promoting their own personal glory. These persons create a space within their life frames for everyone in their life.

One such name that comes to my mind is that of MS Dhoni. Here was a leader who faded in the background of the team after India won the World Cup in cricket in 2011. He made Sachin Tendulkar lift the cup and lead the Indian contingent jog around the stadium. Such is their humility that if possible they may even disappear from the frame so as to let others get a place to be within it.

Even at the work place, you are privileged to work with leaders, who are willing to lead from behind. They are willing to lead the team in front and then follow the team. However, when there is a crisis they will be the first to be in the forefront. I recently visited Diu, where there is a memorial for our soldiers when an Indian ship was drowned by our enemies during a war in 1971. The captain of the ship decided to drown with his soldiers rather than save himself from the jaws of death. Such people create a frame large enough to fit everyone in their life.

Lets learn to live within our frames of life.

S Ramesh Shankar

4th August 2018

Night Owls…

I was playing badminton and one of my partners asked as to “Why most of the youngsters today are “Night Owls” ? Why do the youth today love to sleep very late and get up late. I thought it was worth pondering over.

I have personally never been an early morning person. During my school and college days I preferred to study late at night and get up a bit later in the morning. On the other hand some of my siblings practised the reverse. They used to study at dawn and sleep early at night.

I would say there is nothing wrong in being a “Night Owl” nor anything right in not being one. It is each person’s personal preference. I would imagine it becomes difficult for us to accept somebody else’s behavioural pattern when it does not match with our own. It may be time to challenge ourselves on it.

I have read of geniuses around the world who spend the whole night creating music or sculpting a piece of art. On the other hand, some others do prefer doing the same during the day. How does it make a difference to others ? This is the point to ponder.

My life is my life and I have the freedom to live it my way as long as it does not impact others. This is to be remembered. As long as I sleep late and do not deprive other people at home of their sleep, it should be fine. It may also be worthwhile to remember that my daily routine should not make life inconvenient to others.

If I get up late, I should have the courtesy to make my own coffee, cook my own breakfast and put things back in place in the kitchen and other rooms so that I don’t make life difficult for my own family members. As long as my actions and behaviours do not create inconvenience to others, it should be fine.

On the other hand, if I lead a life which is diametrically opposite to the others and are least bothered about the impact of my life on others, it is unfair. It is like i love music and play at midnight and disturb everyone around at home and my neighbourhood , it would be uncivilised. However, if I want to listen to music at night and put on my headphones and do the same, then it is perfectly fine.

We just need to remember that our lives are not independent. We live in a inter dependant world and it has always been like that. We cannot inconvenience our parents or siblings at home for our preferences. On the other hand, if we can manage our preferences in such a way that our life does not negatively impact others, it is fair and reasonable.

Our ability to accept a diametrically opposite lifestyle whether at home , work or in society will make all the difference. Life is different for each individual and so are our likes and preferences. So be it. Why should someone else live life the way we like it. Of course it is important to lead life in your own way as long as you do not make others pay for your life style.

When your day ends, their day may begins and that’s their life, not yours. They may even like to go for a drive at night to feel the chill in the air as in the photo above.

Lets learn to live and let live.

S Ramesh Shankar

20th September 2020

What it means to be a professional ?

Many people have asked me this question right through my career. The answer is simple but we make it complex. We think professionalism comes only from professional education or joining professional organisations. Professionalism is a way of life. It is the way we live, act and respond to everyone around us in life.

My five Commandments on how to evolve as a professional would be as follows :

A. Keep your time : The simplest, yet the most difficult thing to do in life is to keep your time. Yet most of us fail in this simple thing. Whether it is a time givento your kid or to your vendor, supplier or employee, it does not matter. It also does not matter if the person is higher in social status or lower. In my view, you are a true professional only when you keep your promised time with everyone around you with equal respect.

B. Respond : Another simple thing we fail to do every day is call back people, who called us when we were busy or away. It could a phone call, a message or a visitor. It is always a good idea to call back each and everyone who called you irrespective of whether known or unknown ( except toll free numbers and marketing calls). We do not consider it important to call back people.

C. Empathise : Every decision we take will be perceived fair and professional if we are able to put ourselves in the shoes of the persons, who are likely to be impacted by our decision. Any amount of data analytics cannot substitute empathy and its related emotions. Professionalism does not mean unemotional decisions.

D. Dress for the occasion : One has to be one step better than what the organisation promotes as a dress code. It may be worthwhile to find out and dress appropriately. A business suit does not necessarily make you a professional nor a casual wear makes you unprofessional. However, remember that you need to be better dressed than what they expect of you. You could do research and find out what is appropriate dress in an organisation or even a nation, when you go abroad.

E. Keep your commitment : If you promise someone, something , you have the liberty to think before you promise. But, you do not have the luxury to go back on your commitment. Again it does not matter whether you have made the promise to your family, friends, colleagues, suppliers or customers. A promise is a promise and one needs to do everything to live up to it. In case, there is a delay, one could always seek for extension of time rather than forgetting it and lowering one’s professional image.

One could argue that there are multiple dimensions of being professional. I agree but it is worthwhile to start from the basics. These are the basics and the simplest. The simplest things in life may not be easiest to follow. It is like our new year resolution of going for a jog every day. How many of us have been able to live up to a new year resolution even to ourselves.

It is worthwhile to remember that professionalism may not be taught in business schools or other professional institutions. It is a way of life and culture. We need to learn from the environment and people around us both at work and beyond.

S Ramesh Shankar

15th July 2019