Women Leadership : New age imperatives

The International Women’s day celebrated on 8th March every year reminds us of the role of women in society.  It is true that in India and around the world, women have played a stellar role in leadership in family, organisations and society.  History teaches us of brave women who have transformed societies with their selfless leadership.  We in India have the privilege of women playing a pivotal role in all walks of life.  We have had freedom fighters, politicians, a noble laureate, historians, academics and very recently space scientists, who have made our country proud by their outstanding accomplishments.

In my book, leadership is gender agnostic. We need to lead by example and be a role model for our followers.  Leaders inspire change.  How does it matter whether you are a male or a female leader ?  It does not.  I have worked with women and men leaders and have found them equally inspiring to lead.  So, gender does not matter to determine your quality of leadership.  What matters is our ability to understand the needs of a multigenerational workforce and how to keep them engaged and motivated.

What are the new age imperatives, which the women leaders of today are challenged with ?  The first and the foremost challenge for women leaders would be the unconscious bias of others.  Although, I strongly believe that women are equal to men as leaders, there is a unconscious bias especially in the Indian society that women cannot lead in particular circumstances like a battlefield, flying fighter planes or even working in the shop floor of a manufacturing unit.  In my view, the bias is more in our mind than in reality.

Today India can be proud to have women fighter pilots, space scientists, manufacturing managers and even captains in the defence forces.  Thus all the so called male bastions have been shattered by sheer merit and performance.  It is time for the biased Indian male to wake up and realise that women today are not only equal to men but could be even better in many fields purely based on their talent.

The second challenge which women leaders may face in the new age would be the willingness of men and women under them to accept them as leaders.  As I said earlier that having worked under women leaders, I do not find any change between men and women as leaders.  But the feudal mindset of men and women may make them uncomfortable to accept a woman as a leader. This may be experienced by many women leaders and they get over it by their sheer performance and inspiration.

The third imperative could be the balance of work and life.  It is very difficult for women leaders to balance family needs and work needs unless they have an excellent family support.  In the absense of this support mechanism, it could result in strained family relationship or sometimes giving up a challenging career at your peak.  Most women leaders work double of their male counterparts since they have to balance home and work and this is a big ask of them.

As in the photo above, women leaders have equalled men in all aspects of leadership.

Having said that, I would like to restate that in my books, women leaders are as smart as male leaders if not smarter.

It is time to reflect and support them to succeed.

S Ramesh Shankar

Power of Listening

We are all born with two ears and one mouth.  But we generally end up talking more than listening.  Why is this so ?  May be it starts with the family, then the academic institutions and finally organisations and society.  We are always encouraged by our family, friends and society at large to communicate well and make an impression, wherever we are.  We have always been guided to outsmart everyone around us.  There is nothing wrong with this teaching.  However, it is important to realize that God may have given two ears and one mouth to all of us with a purpose, as illustrated by this kid in the photo above.

We possibly need to realize that effective communication in life means listening more and talking less.  Let us examine this from own life experiences.  Who in the family we like to spend our time most.  In all probability, it would be our mother.  This is because she would be the best listener in your family.  She listened to our non stop blabbering and the unending questions without losing her patience or cool ever.

If we move to the school or college, who was our favourite teacher ?  Its always the teacher with whom you can share all your stories – good or bad.  The teacher always created space for us.  She was ever willing to listen to us and our views .  She made us comfortable and let us experiment and fail in any situation.  On the other hand, imagine the teacher who advised you on everything in life even before you asked.  What would be your reaction ?

If we move to organisations, employees love peers or managers who lend their ears under all circumstances.  Such managers and peers attract you like a magnet.  You can laugh with them or cry with them and you can be your self.  They are non judgemental and always have the time and space for you.  On the other extreme, you meet managers who are instructing you all the time even on issues where you do not need any advice.  None of us like to work with such managers.

I have sometimes wondered as to why listening is more powerful than talking ?  I recall an incident, where I was conducting an interview of a candidate for the head of manufacturing position.  The interview lasted for an hour.  The candidate spoke for 50 minutes and I may have spoken for ten minutes.  At the end of the interview, I asked the candidate if he had observed anything in his behaviour during the interview.  He was puzzled.  When I explained to him that most of the time he was speaking and I was listening, he realised the power of listening.  I could listen to him and make my decision without speaking much.

Life is no different.  If we look at our kids.  Most of the time if we are willing to listen to their questions and chatter, they are happy.  They are more than happy even if you do not answer all their questions.  They appreciate your patience and listening skills more than your talking.  Listening is more effective in communication than speaking.

I can share another incident in my life.  My father was a government servant.  He was a very patient person.  He hardly spoke and never lost his cool.  But still his staff  adored him.  I was very curious.  I asked his staff one day as to what did they observe in him.  He responded by saying that he admired him for his calmness and patience.  This proves listening is much more impactful than speaking. 

Let us resolve to listen more and talk less from today.  It is worth a try.

S Ramesh Shankar

Flying birds

I have always been fascinated at the way birds fly high in the sky. I used to envy them and think how lucky they are.  One day I was wondering what the birds would be thinking of us as human beings on earth.  While I envied the birds for flying fearlessly, they may be envying us for enjoying ourselves walking around on the ground.  We believe the birds have all the freedom in the world and they do not need to stay at a permanent place.

On the other hand, the birds may wonder how lucky human beings are that have a permanent place to stay.  Birds have to keep flying endlessly till they are tired and have to find a place every day to rest at night.  They have to earn their food by flying around trees or other places and may be lucky some day and not on other days. We are so lucky we have a home to stay and get food served on our plates every day.

This phenomenon teaches us an important lesson in life.  We tend to compare ourselves with others and feel jealous.  Further, we think others do not suffer as much as we do.  We feel we are always face the most difficult situations while other rejoice.  We never realise that others may be in similar situations like us or may be even worse than us.  It is like me envying the birds in the sky till I wondered one day what the birds would think of me.

Life is a journey and has its ups and downs.  All of us have days of joy and moments of sorrow.  It may be worthwhile to admire others and learn from their goodness.  It may not be worth the while to envy others and die out of comparison.  If we need to compare anyone, it could be ourselves.  We can always be grateful to God for all the joyous moments he gave us when we face some miseries.

It is the attitude of self reflections and learning, which may make us better human beings.  Each living being is created by God and have their own pluses and minuses.  It is up to us to look at the positive of others and learn from them.  Jealousy can only make us move backward in life.  It is worthwhile to fly high in the sky like the birds and dream big.  It may be useful to leave the bad moments of one’s life behind like the birds leave their nest behind when they migrate.

It is up to us to be free and enjoy life like the flying birds.  If we learn from them, we benefit.  If we compare ourselves with them and feel bad, we lose.  Let us learn to learn not only from other human beings around us but from birds and animals, which have enough to teach us.

Today can be a new beginning.

S Ramesh Shankar

Every employee is a brand ambassador

Someone nicely said that ” if you take take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers”. This is true in letter and spirit. We launched an organization development intervention two years back to bring “customer centricity” in our organisation.  We were keen to keep the customer at the centre of everything we do.  While we had many key aspects of this intervention, evolving a “Customer first culture”was one of our major priorities.

It may be easy to measure customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction.  However, we were wondering as to how do we define ” Customer first culture”.  We did workshops across the organization and invited employees who were customer facing and also those who were customer supporting.  This helped us define what “Customer first culture” could mean for any organization.  

Interestingly, employees told us that “Attitude, Empathy & Commitment” were the three key cornerstones of creating a customer first culture.  Then we decided that we need to train our employees to understand what customers felt about us, inculcate the right attitude , build empathy and instill commitment in whatever their role is in the organization.

We trained most of our employees – direct, indirect and even third party employees and contract employees working with us.  At this stage, we realised that the real success of creating a customer first culture would be to make every employee a brand ambassador of the company.  Every action of every employee every day can either promote the culture of customer first or become a impediment in evolving this culture.

Interestingly employees gave us a lot of ideas to evolve this culture.  We realised that we need to share success stories and learn from the mistakes our employees did every day.  We shared all the success stories and evolved rewards and recognition for great customer orientation displayed by employees in different parts of the organization.  This propelled this movement and helped us promote the right envirorment for evolving the desirable culture.

So, almost every employee in the organization was trained. Customer facing employees, customer supporting employees, employees in support functions, our workmen in the shop floor and also the security staff, pantry staff, receptionist et all.  This ensured that every employee kept the customer at the centre of everything she or he did in the organization.  Every employee realised that every action every day was critical for evolving this culture.

This gradually became a way of life.  Our security staff were courteous to every visitor coming to our organization.  Our pantry staff were caring and conscious of our guests.  Our workmen were prompt in responding to customer complaints on the shop floor.  Our support function staff were responsive and proactive.  Our sales and service personnel realised the benefit of having a positive attitude, being empathetic and keeping their commitments to customers every day.

This has not only resulted in more than doubling our customer satisfaction index but has helped the organization grow multi fold in business and profits.

We learnt by making every employee our brand ambassador.

S Ramesh Shankar

Dreams Unlimited

Is it a good idea to dream ?

I think so.  After all, life is full of possiblities.  It is up to us to dream, dedicate our efforts and be disciplined to realize those dreams in our life time.  One interesting facet of life is that anyone can dream.  You need not be rich or poor, educated or uneducated, man or woman, living in a developed world or a developing world.  The only condition has to be the ability to dream and dream big in life.

I also realize that the journey from dreams to reality are similar for all.  The best thing I have experienced in life is the ability of a poor person to dream big and then zealously work towards fulfilling the dream.  One of my colleagues was working with a group of young girls in an orphanage.  She was helping these girls to plan for their career.  She  was inspired by the dreams narrated by these young kids in their school.  One of them wanted to be a pilot while the other a police commissioner.  What this teaches us is that dreams can be unlimited and unhindered.  However, the journey to convert dreams to reality is arduous and tough.

I have seen young school children from the lowest strata of society dream big and accomplish their dreams through hard work and discipline in their life time.  I have also seen rich kids ruin their life with no dreams or desires and burning their inherited wealth till they reach a point of no return.  It is up to us to dream big and then work towards it.

This is equally true in our work life.  Many of us start our career at a lower level in the organisation and with meagre salaries.  We bury our dreams like the ostrich in the sand.  The world moves on and we are left behind.  On the other hand, you hear great inspiring stories of how employees joining as a workmen in a manufacturing organisation end up becoming the CEO of the same organisation by sheer dedication, discipline and dogged pursuit of their dreams.

If we reflect in our personal life, the story is not very different.  We all start our career or business and have limited earnings.  We dream big and want to be wealthy and wise.  Some of us may work towards our dreams and make them a reality.  While others may continue to dream without any focused efforts.  Thus dreaming in life is the first step.  It is like setting a vision and mission for an organisation.  The next step is to work towards making that dream a reality.  It could mean adding qualifications, skills and expertise.  It could mean moving around the country or the world.  It could mean taking risks in life.  It could mean thinking of the impossible and working towards making it possible.

So, life is like a dream and it is up to us to make it a reality. The picture of marine drive above in Mumbai at night is like a dream come true.

What do you think ?

S Ramesh Shankar

I believe in myself

In anything I do, the first step is to believe in myself.  A colleague commented on my previous blog and stated that while others may believe in you, you have first to believe in yourself.  He further shared an interesting quote – After failing to climb Mount Everest, the reply of a great man – “I will come again and conquer you because as a mountain you cannot grow, but as a human I can.”

In my view that is the spirit of a positive human being.  I fully agree with my colleague that belief in oneself is the first step to success in life.  I can share many life memories, where my self belief has indeed been the first step to success.  I passed out of college in 1981 and my father had  retired from service.  Being the eldest son in the family I had to start my career to support my family as by then my two elder sisters had got married and left our home.  In the eighties in India, getting a job was not that easy.  There were hardly any placements in college or campus recruitment. 

I was pursuing my post graduation in personnel management.  I had completed two stints of internships at two different industries.  I had done my best at both the companies but was not sure if I would get a job offer.  I was worried since being without a job at home was not a choice.  I had a responsibility to support my parents.  I had the self confidence that I will get an offer from somewhere.  I always tried my best and believed in myself at all times.  As soon as I finished my second internship, this company offered me a job within a week of my passing out of college.  

At another instance, I was working in a fast moving consumer goods company.  We had gone for a outbound along with the sales team.  There was an exercise wherein we were asked to climb a tree which was 50 feet high and jump to the ground, where a safety net was laid.  We had been given safety belts and there were expert trainers to take care of our safety.  Most of the team members refused to jump down except two of us.  Interestingly the two of us were the oldest members of the team.  We were 50 plus in age.  We believed in ourselves and also in our trainer and hence took the plunge and succeeded.  The other team members possibly did not trust themselves nor the coach and hence did not. 

In life, we may have many tough situations.  We may fail multiple times but the self belief should never get eroded.  The best examples are from the field of sports.  We see sports women and men lose multiple times but they never give up till they win.   I recently met a colleague from my company in a global conference.  She is an Olympic silver medalist in swimming.  She was narrating her own story.  She had lost a medal in the previous world championship and then practised for four years and won the silver in the next Olympics. She shared that she always believed that she could make it to the Olympic medal podium and hence never looked back.

Success in life is based on the foundation of self belief.  If we believe in ourselves, we will believe in others and we will never give up.  We may have crests  and troughs in life but our goal is clear and our self confidence is energising.  As in the photo above this young guy seems to brimming in self confidence.

Let the journey of a thousand miles begin with a small step and in my view the small step is to believe in yourself.

S Ramesh Shankar

“I believe in you”

” I believe in you” seems a very simple statement but a very powerful one.  I was recently in an internal global hr workshop when some of my colleagues gave me this idea.  We were discussing of trust and then someone said that I should write on this subject – ” I believe in you”.  I was touched by the power of the statement and hence readily agreed to reflect on it and write about it.

Let us start to examine as to why this simple statement is so powerful ?  When was the first experience of this statement for most of us ?  I would first start with our family.  In most cases, our mothers more than our fathers would have expressed this to us as a kid in both verbal and non verbal behaviour.  Most mothers believe that their kids can do the impossible.  This belief in itself empowers the kid and creates a sense of self belief.  They encourage their kids not only to study but play every possible sport and also try their luck in co curricular activities.  Like in the photo above, a mother will always give a thumbs up to a child in all his actions and always believe he will succeed.  The eyes of the mother speak and encourages her child.

If we move to the school,  the best teachers repose their trust in their students and make them believe that they can excel in anything.  As a student I recall a very interesting incident in my childhood days.  I was interested in debating but had never done one.  One day my English teacher made me participate in a school debate and made me believe that I could do it.  I was very nervous since I had never debated before.  But the confidence of the teacher in me made me go ahead and not only participate but win a prize in the very first competition I participated.  The invisible pat of the teacher may motivate the student.

If we move to the workplace, many of us will recall that the best managers and leaders infuse confidence in us by their actions more than their words.  They are always willing to take the risk and allow us to experiment and fail.  They may or may not say to us that they believe in us always.  This encourages us to take the plunge in areas, which we never would have even dreamt of.  The words and actions of the manager should inspire the team member.

If we examine the behaviour of our mother, teacher or manager who believed in us, there are  some attributes common in all of them.  They give more than they take from others.  They are unconditional in praise and stingy in criticism.  They are always positive in their attitude and optimistic in their beliefs.  They encourage us to experiment and are willing to support us if we fail.  They will always come forward to take the blame on our behalf if something goes wrong.

If this is so simple, why do many of us fail to practise such a simple thing in life as parents, teachers, managers or leaders.  I believe the simple things in life are the most difficult to practise.  It is like telling the truth.  I am yet to meet anyone in life who does not want to be truthful all the time.  But most of us falter at some stage of life or their and learn from our mistakes.  Some times we may say it verbally but still it does not have any impact.  I believe this may be because there is no congruence between our words and our actions on the ground.  Our actions do not reflect our beliefs and hence our words do not mean anything to anybody.

I think  I learnt a simple lesson in life today.  I promise that I will infuse this spirit of ” I believe in you ” in myself as a leader from today and will always try to display it in my verbal and non verbal behaviour with my family, friends and colleagues.

It is indeed a good insight !.  What do you think ?

S Ramesh Shankar