Politics at the workplace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S Ramesh Shankar

Travelling around


One of my passions in life is to travel.  I love visiting new places and meeting people.  I also love to understand the culture and crafts of that new place.  I have been lucky to visit different parts of the world and of my wonderful country as well. Every time I have travelled to a new place, it has been a new insight for me. The place, the people and the practices indeed teaches me many life lessons, which no education in the world can.

It does not matter which part of the world I am visiting or during which time of the year.  Every new place has a new meaning for me in life.  Every new location teaches me new things.  I wish I could have been a travel writer, visiting places around my country and the world and sharing my experiences with everyone.  Although, I have almost visited all the states of my country , I am yet to cover all the treasures of my native country.

I remember my first travel out of my country.  It was way back in 1989, when I visited UK for a three month training programme.  Apart from the learnings in the programme, which changed my perspectives on being a trainer, it was indeed great insights into a different country with varied cultures, norms and behaviours.  I still remember how I enjoyed the Big Ben to see the UK parliament or the Buckingham palace and these brought back vivid memories of my limited knowledge of history studied in school.

Another wonderful visit was my first visit to the state of Jammu & Kashmir, the northern most state of my country.  It was way back in 2004 and many of friends cautioned me against the travel since there was tension between ethnic groups and also the state was seized with terror attacks.  Both me and my wife felt that terror is a world wide phenonomenon today.  It can happen in your backyard where you are staying and hence we decided to go ahead.  This was one of the best decisions of my life.

This state gives you the best glimpses of nature.  Its warm and flat at Jammu, cold and chilly in the valley and solemn and snowy at Ladakh(as in the photo above).     As you land into Srinagar, you feel you have arrived in a fairy land.  You can see snow capped mountains around you and the warmth of the people you meet is unbelievable.  All the people you meet here are hospitable and are always keen to make you comfortable.  They call it “Kashmiriyat”.  It means the culture of secularism in simple terms. It is such lessons, no book in management or psychology can teach you.

One of the best states I have visited so far is Sikkim, one of the smallest states of India.  The capital Gangtok is again surrounded by snow capped Himalayas and the city is spotlessly clean.  You have foot paths all around the city and you can enjoy walking around without worrying about any road mishaps.  I sometimes wonder why all of us living in different parts of the country in other states cannot learn from this wonderful state.

Last but not the least, I would urge everyone to travel around whenever you can.  I would urge parents and elders to take your kids around the world and around India whenever you can.  A visit to a new place and meeting new people can never be substituted by books or the television.  My wife and kids have travelled around with me in my country and around the world wherever I could afford to go.  Each visit has brought in a new lesson for each of us.

Lets start our learning journey today.

S Ramesh Shankar

The sunset


The sunset has always been a source of joy for me.  Like Keats said, ” A thing of beauty is joy forever”.  Watching a sun set and taking photos has been a source of inspiration for me always.  If you ask me, I do not know why ?.  Scientists tell us that it is safer to watch a setting sun than a rising one because of the infra red and other harmful rays.  I watch the setting sun as it is a source of beauty and happiness for me.

As the sun sets in the horizon, we have the multicolour formation of the clouds.  No artist in the world can paint it.  No designer can visualise it.  It is the creation of nature and the gift of God. What amazes me more is that every day is a new design.  A new formation.  A new spread of colours.  The combination of colours is electrifying.  It soothes your mind and quenches your heart with emotions.

The setting sun signifies many things to me.  It declares the end of the day and the beginning of the night.  It means that life has both days and night.  While it may be easier to work in the day but much more difficult in the night.  The sun set prepares us for the difficulties of the night.  It cautions us to prepare for the more challenging phase of life.

I am lucky to travel to different parts of the world as part of my work.  Although I do not travel very often but every visit to a new place teaches me some thing.  The last time I was in Germany I was talking about sun sets with someone.  They told me how lucky we are that we have the sun for most part of the year in India.  As Indians we consider bright sun light as signifying higher temperatures and coupled with humidity, it definitely makes it a tougher day to bear.  But imagine life without much sun light.  If you live in countries, where the appearance of the sun is rare, you know what I mean.

The sun is not only a source of energy.  It brightens our life.  It balances nature. It helps us maintain our moods.  I recently experienced the absence of the sun for almost a week during the recent monsoon and I realised how much I missed it. I appreciate the reasons for depression and mood swings in the countries, where the appearance of the sun is a luxury.

The sunset may mark the end of the day.  But it also gives us hope that although we may have to spend a cold night but the rising sun the next day will give us hope and warmth back.  We miss something when we do not have enough of it.  In countries where the appearance of the sun is a phenomenon, its highly valued.  But in nations like India, where there is abundance of sunlight, we value it less till the day we miss it.

I am amazed by nature and everything around us. It is a great source of joy and happiness.  The sun, the moon, the earth, the tree, the sea, the mountains and so on.  If we sit back and reflect, we realise that we are privileged to learn so much from all of them.  Each of them is a mystery and a source of inspiration.  If at all we are willing to keep our eyes and ears open all the time, learning can never end.

The sun sets today to rise again tomorrow.  Let us also resolve to bounce back in life if at all we go through a bad patch in life like the sun does every day for us.

S Ramesh Shankar

Trees


Nature has always been a great source of inspiration for me in my life. Every part of nature fascinates me. “Trees” are one of the most fascinating parts of nature. For me, the tree is like our mother in life. It is always willing to give more than it takes from nature always.

Every part of the “Tree” is valuable and gives us important lessons in life. . The roots of the tree ensures that it can weather all the storms of nature. It allows the tree to grow without taking any credit for it. It remains below the ground but the tree will die, if the roots are damaged.

The roots teaches us to be grounded always in life. We have to learn to keep our feet on the ground at all times. We tend to float in the air with a little bit of success in life. If we learn from the roots, we will remain humble and achieve a lot of success in life.

Lets move to the trunk. It is the strongest part of the tree. It ensures that the tree is firmly held on the ground. It ensures that branches grow around it and let the tree blossom as it grows. It ensures the health of the tree and maintains its vitality.

The lesson from the trunk is to keep ourselves healthy at all times. If we maintain good health at all times and keep ourselves fit, it is possible to achieve all that we desire in life. The trunk of the tree could be like our backbone. If the backbone is straight and maintained well, the whole body shapes up well in life as we grow up.

Now, lets move to the branches. They grow from the trunk and branch out in different directions. They grow healthily without hampering each others growth. Similarly in life, we have to learn to grow with our siblings at home and our team members at work without coming in their way for our selfish reasons.

If we move to the leaves, they absorb carbon dioxide from the air and provide the vital ingredients for the growth of the tree from the sunlight and the air. Similarly, we have to use our abilities to learn from everyone around us at home and at work by utilising our full potential.

The flowers are the most beautiful part of the tree. They bloom and spread the fragrance around it. They allow the bees to feed on their nectar and ensures the balance of nature. God has given humans a beautiful smile like the flowers. We need to spread cheer around us using our beautiful smile to make people happy all around us all the time.

The fruits provide fodder to the birds and the animals. They also provide nutrition to human beings without expecting anything in return. We need to share our knowledge and skills with others who need them without expecting anything in return. The tree never asks for anything in return from the animals or humans who consume the fruits from them.

Last but the most important, the trees provide oxygen and ensure a clean environment for us to breathe. We need to learn to keep our environs clean and commit to protect trees at all times. This could be a fitting tribute to a selfless organism, which does so much for us in life.

It also provides shade to anyone below it and ensures other trees grow as the seeds from the fruit is strewn around by animals and birds. We need to pass on our knowledge and skills to our future generations to ensure the sustainability of mankind.

Do you agree with my learnings from the “Tree” ?. If yes, can we all commit to protect the trees and environment around us not only for own survival but as our promise to the generations that follow us.

S Ramesh Shankar

The Moon


The sight of the moon is romantic.  It is radiant and cool.  It is selfless to say the least.  It absorbs light from the sun and reflects it to the earth.  While the sun is bright and warm, the moon is artistic and cool.  Nature has its unique way of balancing itself for our benefit.  While we need the sun in the day to warm us up and provide us with all the vitamin D we require, the moon keeps the darkness away and still allows us to sleep peacefully at night. 

I have always wondered as to why the moon is considered romantic.  One, you can admire it with your naked eyes and enjoy its beauty.  Second it radiates the light from the sun but keeps the environment cool for us.  It allows the stars to sparkle around it unlike the sun, which brightens the sky so much that no other stars are visible during the day.

The sun remains the same to the human eye right through the year and from morning to evening in a day.  On the other hand, the moon transforms from new moon to full moon over a fortnight and expresses itself in various forms each day.  You can admire the moon all night without harming your eyes.  On the other hand, the sun can be admired during sun rise at dawn or sunset at twilight.  If you try to admire the sun during other parts of the day, it may impact your eyes badly.

As the moon rises in the sky, the stars sparkle and the reflection of the moon on the ocean or rivers is worth a million words.  Poets and authors have revelled writing on the moon and its myriad forms.  While the sun sparkles our life with its warmth, the moon cools us with its mysteries.  While the sun encourages us to work hard and toil in the day, the moon teaches us to relax and sleep well at night.

The sun, moon and the stars are nature’s gift to mankind.  Each of them have their own gifts to give us.  The sun is hot, the moon cool and the stars sparkle.  Each of them add colour to our lives.  They play a useful role in our daily life and inspire us to admire and learn from them.

The sun can teach us to be bright and bold.   The moon teaches us to be selfless and cool and the stars advise us to sparkle and enjoy life.  We can learn from all of them and add energy to our lives.  The sun can be a symbol of intensity, the moon can be a symbol of patience and the stars can infuse energy into our lives.  We need to learn from the beauty of all of them.

Lets keep our cool like the Moon.

S Ramesh Shankar

The sound of “Silence”


I love the sound of “Silence”.  When you are in the midst of a rain forest, the only sound you hear is that of the dew drops on the tree leaves or the song of the birds.  It makes you reflect in solitude.  The greenery around you makes you fresh like the morning dew.  It energises you and enables you to sync with nature.  The tweaking of the old branches in the cool breeze of the forest or the thumping paws of a wild animal on the morning wet pathway are the only sounds around you.

The farther you are away from the city, the more the forest haunts you.  It makes you realize how much mankind has killed nature in the name of development. The orange forest flame ignites your mind.   The butterflies kindle your imagination. The whistling sound of the wind calms you down and makes you sit up.  All this makes you realize that the pollution of the traffic and noise of the roads do not drain you any more.  It is the fragrance of the forest, which soothes your soul here.

I got up early in the morning, went for a short walk and then a therupatic ayurvedic massage rejuvenated my body.  The breakfast filled my stomach and then it was time to sit and reflect in this lap of nature. When you are drowned in the noise of the city, your thoughts get choked, your emotions drained and mind wanders in the quest for materiality of life.  You forget to live life to its full potential.

What does nature offer us ?  We have huge trees giving us oxygen, the leaves brightening our sight, the birds singing the melody and the smell of the forest calming our mind.  You realize that nature has so much to give us and we give nothing back in return.  On the contrary, we give back trash, pollution, noise and tonnes of plastic to ruin the earth.

I can be myself when I am in the lap of nature.  It brings out the best in me.  It can connect the mind, body and soul.  It brings you closer to God. It makes you realize the power of the super power.  The sunlight appears brighter, the air is cooler and the music of nature is melodious. The environment makes your reflective.  You are willing to be one with nature.

Why do we ruin nature inspite of all that she gives us every day ?  I have no answer except to believe that human beings are greedy. We always want more from nature than we give back.  We want life to be better every day and are willing to squeeze all the natural resources around us without worrying on how we could nurture nature for the future.

It is time to wake up.  It is time to commit that we will give back at least half of what we get from nature.  We can make simple commitments.  We will not pollute the environment around us.  We will live more organically.  We will reduce the use of plastic.  We minimise the use of cars, bikes and aeroplanes.  We will plant more trees and nurture nature in all possible ways.

We need to remember that our kids will get what we leave behind.  Our fore fathers gave us such a beautiful world.  We need to commit to leave behind a better world for our future generations.

S Ramesh Shankar

Learning from the Elephant


The elephant is one of the most fascinating animals in our life. It epitomises power and vitality.  It is tall and strong and one of the best friends of man.  It has multiple facets of its personality.  It disproves the myth that being a vegetarian, you cannot be strong and healthy.  It is useful in transportation in the forests and also helps human movement in difficult terrains.

Each part of the elephant teaches us something.  Its tall and strong personality emphasises the need to be like that in real life to face all of life challenges.  Its healthy body proves that vegetarianism is not a deterrent to good health.  Its tusks tells us to be ready in self defence in case of any enemy attack.  Its height teaches us how useful it is to deal with everyone around you.  Its calmness teaches you not to panic unless attacked.  Its wagging tail teaches you to be grateful in life to everyone.

In the temples, the elephant is used as the guardian of the Lord and also blesses everyone with its long trunk.  It is also used to take the God in processions around the town during festivals and fairs.  In the forest, the elephant by it sheer size can even scare a tiger.  So, in tiger resorts, elephants are used to spot the tiger and go near them to admire them.

In the villages, the elephant is also used in the agricultural fields to transport produce and goods.  It can also be useful to guard the villagers from wild animals and attack by dacoits and intruders.  It can help in pulling carts and also defending in any type of attacks.  History tells us that elephants were used in wars against enemies.  Their loyalty is unquestioned.  

What are the qualities one can learn from the elephant ?  You can learn to be loyal.  Loyalty of an elephant to her master is for their lifetime.  Their calmness in normal circumstances can teach us to be patient and unrfuffled in life.  They turn violent only when attacked and that too in self defence.  It may be worthwhile to know they can run at 40 km per hour despite being bulky and even swim non stop. The elephant is caring and one can learn to bestow motherly love from them. 

We have an opportunity to learn from all the animals and birds around us.  But we neither have the time to admire them nor the patience to learn from them.  I was in an elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka recently and this gave me an opportunity to learn from the elephant.  One of man’s best friend, an elephant can teach a lot to us, which other human beings may not be able to.   It is time to sit back and learn from them.

Long live the Elephant.

S Ramesh Shankar