If I do it, it’s right, if others do it, it’s not

I find life interesting in many of its dimensions. One of the most fascinating things for me is to observe and study human behaviour. If I do behave in a particular way, it is fine, if others do the same things it is not acceptable. Let me illustrate with some examples. If I get up late from bed, it is ok since I came back home late from a flight and I can justify it. However, if my kids get up late, I will scold them without even asking the reasons for it. Rather, I will term it as indiscipline.

This behaviour is manifest in the family, community, organisations and even in society. If I disrespect someone in the family through use of inappropriate words, it is ok as I am the head of the family. However, the same behaviour by my spouse or my siblings or kids is not acceptable and I blame them for lack of family values.

We can see a group of village elders pulling up the youth for smoking in the village square but when the elders smoke, they are disrespectful of the community norms. I can get away by having long hair or by growing a beard and justify it by some family ritual. When the same is practised by my kids, it is considered indecent.

Organisations are no different. The boss can get away using foul language with his team members. However, when one of the team members uses the same language, it is admonished. Similarly, the manager can come late to office and she has valid reasons for the same. However, when one of her team members is late, she loses her cool and reminds the team member of office etiquette and discipline.

Today, it is reflected in the behaviour of nations across the world. We see one super power bullying everyone if those countries do not toe their line. This super power can invade any country and kill anyone in the name of protecting humanity. However, when the same actions are initiated by another country in some part of the world, then this super power considers it violation of human rights, freedom and liberty.

If I go in knee deep water near a waterfall it is fine but if my kids want to do the same, I may say it may not be safe as in the photo above.

Although, I find this behaviour by individuals, communities, organisations and nations amusing, I have not been able to get to the root cause. I cannot understand as to why I tend to justify my ill behaviour by reasons beyond my imagination and find the same behaviour reprehensible when displayed by others. It is like an obese doctor advising his patient to control his diet and maintain his body mass index. It is visible but not comprehensible.

Life is a mystery and we need to discover it every day of our lives.

 

S Ramesh Shankar

 

29th January 2020

Be happy with nothing…

I have sometimes wondered as to “What is the definition of happiness ? ” in life. It could mean different things for different people. Some may be happy with wealth while others may be happy with good health. Some may be joyful with friends and family while others may enjoy loneliness.

Each of us can evolve our own definition of happiness. This could change from country to country, region to region and individual to individual and nothing wrong with that. After all every human being is different and has the ability to define happiness for herself or himself.

One of my favourite theories is that “Health & Happiness money cannot    buy “. We have to find ways and means to be healthy and happy at all times. Let us explore how we could be happy today. Happiness is a state of mind and attitude to life. It is not a commodity which money can buy.

I have seen people with all the wealth in the world and still unhappy. On the other hand, I have seen people who find it difficult to have two square meals a day but still are very happy. This may be possible because these people learn to be happy with nothing in life.

The art of being happy is contentment. If we learn to be happy with what we have, we may be happy with what we get in life. If we keep complaining with what we have, we will never attain happiness in life. So, the secret to happiness is to be happy with nothing more than what we have already.

One of the ways to attain contentment could be to compare ourselves with the have nots. There may be millions of people around the world and in our own country who do not have half as much as we do. But, we still remain unhappy because we tend to compare ourselves with people who have more than us.

There is nothing wrong to be ambitious in life. We all aspire to work hard, make more money and get more wealth. As long as we do that in the ethical way, it is fine. But, the day we realise that wealth may not be the source of all happiness, we may have arrived.

This realisation may come later than we think. It is easier to follow the rat race. All of us have done it or are doing it. It is difficult to be content. Contentment is a state of mind. It is our ability to be satisfied with ourselves and our belongings in absolute terms. Any relative comparison leads us to discontentment resulting in unhappiness.

Ambition can lead us to compete with ourselves. It can stretch our imagination of excellence as a journey and not as a destination. However, accumulation of wealth may not lead to happiness. It could lead to material satisfaction but not necessarily mental well being. So the secret of happiness may lie in striking the balance between wants and needs.

As in the photo above, this bird seems to be happy with nothing.

Happiness may be the art of ensuring that we work on fulfilling our needs and not our greed. As long as our want and needs are fulfilled, we may be inclined to be happy. The moment greed surpasses needs in us, it may lead to unhappiness.

Let us learn to be happy with nothing.

S Ramesh Shankar

20th December 2018

How to love and enjoy your work ?

One of the oft repeated questions to me by employees is – “ How do you still enjoy your work after working for so many years ? . Most employees are complaining about work, their bosses, the organisation or the environment around and wonder how can one enjoy work in such a scenario.

Some times employees change roles and have new bosses and new environments. At other times, they even change their organisation and move to another location but still the crib continues. So, I was wondering if it is worth reflecting on this subject – “How to love and enjoy your work ?

The first realisation in this journey of work is that we are the only one who can change our attitude to work. If we decide that we have the best job on earth, nobody else can stake that claim. On the other hand, if we are to find reasons why we are not loving what we do or enjoying our work, we need nobody else to give us the reasons. The day we realise and internalise this basic truth, it may be easier to answer this question to oneself.

The next step is to ask – “ What is preventing us from loving our job or enjoying our work ? Let us look at the possible answers and try to dive deep inside us to find the answers for ourselves. First challenge could be a demotivating boss. Now, the question to ask is whether we have the option or authority to change our boss. If the answer is no, which is the case in almost every situation, we need to find how do we enjoy work irrespective of our boss.

If we look within and ask ourselves – “What do we enjoy doing at work ? , we may be able to find the answer. Then, the next question to ask is “What is preventing us to do that ?. We may suddenly realise that our boss is nowhere in the picture. It is either our own lack of initiative or efforts, which may be coming in the way.

Another reason which people say is they do not have great colleagues at work to learn and grow. The day we realise that we are also colleagues for someone else and they may be thinking the same about us, this feeling will disappear. We need to lead by example and influence others to change in a positive way to make the environment vibrant around us.

Yet another reason which people say is that – “We do not have enough freedom at work ? The day one realises that empowerment is not given but taken, this may also change. Nobody on earth can prevent us from innovating, trying out new things and if we succeed taking credit for it and if we fail owning up responsibility to learn and move on.

Another common reason is the organisation culture. Culture is not building, computers or physical infrastructure. It is the people, values and the way we treat each other. If we feel the culture is not conducive , we also have a responsibility to influence and change the culture. History teaches us that a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King single handedly could influence a nation – then why cannot we influence the culture within our own organisation if we want to. To make it simple, we can start with our own team.

If you do what you love, then you will love what you do as in the photo above.

The lessons I learnt in my long corporate career is that if I want to love and enjoy my work, nobody can prevent me to do so, except myself. I need to take charge, empower myself, try out new things and create a fun work place, where everyone enjoys along with me and thrives to experiment and learn every day. Have we all not seen one team member who is always having fun in any team with any boss and in any organisation. It is time to become that team member today.

Let us start today.

S Ramesh Shankar

10th June 2021

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