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

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

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

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