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

Life is like a “Marathon”


Our life is like a marathon.  We start to lay our foundation in our childhood, work hard during youth and then pick up steam as an adult to achieve our life goals.  All that we achieve in our life depends on the hard work we put in.  It is like to run a marathon, we start practising almost a year before the event.  It is not only our physical fitness but our emotional quotient, which makes us a winner.

One need not be the fastest sprinter to win but needs to be high on patience and perseverance.  After we have set your eyes in participating in a marathon, it is meticulous planning, sweating it out every day for more than a year and good dietary discipline, which makes us ready for the marathon.  Life is no different.  As a kid, we have many dreams in our lives.  We want to realize all of them and at the shortest possible time.  If one is able to set a clear goal and work towards achieving it, nothing is impossible in life.

I am aware of many people who plan to participate in a marathon.  While they set their goal clearly, they do not plan for it well.  Their daily practise does not happen regularly. Their eating habits are not in place.  So, when they participate in their first marathon and end up with cramps after just 5 kms of running, they get disappointed and many even give up their goal.  

Life is no different.  We need to set our life goals- personal, career or otherwise.  We need to plan in detail and be self disciplined.  The moment we lose focus and fail to raise our own standards, we get into pitfalls in life.  This disappoints us and we tend to give up on some of our goals even before we have put in adequate efforts to achieve them.

In a marathon, one could possibly start with a dream run of 6 or 10 kms, then move to run the half marathon, full marathon and may be even attempt the ultra marathon.  This will help them take one step at a time.  It prepares the body and mind.  They increase the intensity of their participation every year and success at each step reinforces their belief in themselves.

The same is true in life.  We could set small milestones, work hard and achieve them.  This gives us the confidence to take on tougher goals and work towards achieving them.  Each time we succeed in attaining our goals, it builds on our ability to aim higher.  This is the secret of success in life.  Many of us give up even before we try our best.

Life is a journey and we have to take one step at a time.  The icons of success in all walks of life have proved that if you set your vision, plan your action and execute with discipline, everything is possible in life.  This may help us believe in ourselves and set impossible goals. Our efforts get rewarded even before we realize it.  This enthuses us to achieve more in life.

Let us start our dream run today.

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

It’s never too late to begin…

All of us make new year resolutions only to break within months or even days after we have begun. It is normal to postpone an issue and justifying that the right time has not come for it. In my learning it is never too late to begin. I have known people who have acquired educational qualifications much after their retirement. So, we need to believe that it is up to us to decide when to start.

The first inspiring example I have is that of my father in law( the photo above). He is 85 years old today. He always had a dream of being a post-graduate in life. He was proud that his children and grandchildren had studied well and some of them have completed their post graduation. He always had this dream of being a post graduate himself. So, at the young age of 75, he decided to pursue his post graduation in Gandhian thought as he was passionate about that subject. He gave his exams and was delighted that realised his dream sooner than later.

Me and my wife have learnt yoga at least 5 times at various stages of our life. Every time we practised the same for a few months and then it wriggled out of our routine. We could never make it a way of life. Just two years back we went to a yoga school in Lonavala and teacher was so inspiring that she not only ensured that we learnt it the right way but motivated us to make it a way of our life. Since then, we have been practising it religiously for the last two years.

I have always had a passion for writing. I used to write for my school and college magazine. Even after I started my career, I contributed to our company in house magazines. However, it was last year when I really started writing seriously and began to pen a blog every week. Within a year I managed to publish a book and today it is an integral part of my routine.

Most of us tend to postpone a decision on some pretext or the other. It is sometimes due to lethargy and at other times due to lack of will. I have realised through all my mistakes in life that it is me to blame for any procrastination and not anyone else. Hence, it is time to realise that the will power lies within us and not outside. If we decide to do something in life, it is up to us to start.

In life, we will always have multiple jobs. It is up to us to prioritise what is important and then pursue it with zeal. Whether it is at the workplace or our personal life, we need to decide what is important in our life and then make a beginning. We need to remember that today is always better than tomorrow to make a mark. Today is in our hands and tomorrow may never come.

All these examples have taught me that age, work or life is not a barrier for us to do something. It is more of our own mindset and attitude to life. We need to be positive and determined on what our passions are and then doggedly pursue the same. If we postpone something, it is our drawback and we cannot externalise it by blaming the environment for the same.

Let us begin today.

S Ramesh Shankar

PS: Dedicated to my father in law, who left for his heavenly abode today.

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

Guru

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“Guru” is the Sanskrit term for teacher.  All of us have great respect for teachers and have multiple experiences where teachers have displayed their selfless behaviour in abundance.  I met a teacher cum principal about two decades back and she transformed the image of teachers in my mind.  I was working at Indore in a private organisation and was transferred to Delhi.  As all parents do, I went from one school to another seeking admission for my kids after I arrived in Delhi.

The Delhi school conducted an admission test for my kids and after a series of interviews admitted both my children.  In this process, I was interviewed along with my wife as parents before the admission process was finalised.  However, the real virtues of a teacher was experienced by me when my child turned truant. One day I was called by the principal stating that my child was regularly bunking classes and getting into the swimming pool or to the playground during school hours.

I reached the school along with my wife.  I was told about the misconducts of my child.  I immediately apologised to the principal on behalf of my child and told her to take appropriate action as deemed fit.  I told her that I was fine even if my child was suspended for a few day, as he had defaulted multiple times even after being counselled by his teachers.  The principal’s reply was my biggest lesson in life.

She told me that she need not seek my permission to suspend my child.  That was the easiest decision for her and I was not summoned to take that decision.  She told us, that as parents we had a duty to partner with the teacher to reform our child.  She did not want to suspend but counsel the child in our presence and we ( teachers and parents) work together to help the child correct his behaviour.

There was another occasion when I was transferred from Delhi to Chennai.  My daughter was in the final year of school.  I was worried because when my father was transferred in my final year of school, years ago, my academic performance was impacted due to this transfer.  I did not want the same thing to happen to my daughter.  When I went to the school to enquire about this issue and seek the advise of the same principal, she immediately advised me to leave my daughter in her custody to complete her school education.

I had not known the principal and was stunned by this response.  She calmly said that she had two kids and was staying within the school premises.  It was easy for my daughter to stay with her and complete her final year of schooling.  This advise was not only selfless but unbelievable from someone whom you did not even know well .  The rest is history.  My daughter indeed stayed with her and did well in her academics and today is a successful carreerist in a public sector undertaking.

Subsequently, I have met a few other teachers and each time I have been impressed by their nobleness.  They always think in the best interests of the child.  They are unbiased and highly patient.  They want parents as partners to the progress of the child.  They treat every child as if they were their own. They are always willing to give to each and every child equal space and love. They never expect anything in return.

As in the photo above, this principal( in the white saree) is not only a life long family friend today but also a role model for all teachers in society. I salute her.

My salutations to all teachers today on the occasion of Guru Purnima.

S Ramesh Shankar

Language is not a barrier for kids


Language bridges people from across the world. It helps us to communicate with each other.  We can share ideas, solve problems and help each other succeed because of language.  But sometimes we believe language becomes a barrier between people and even communities and states.  Why does this happen ?  There is no logic to explain this nor reasons to justify it.

Let us look at children.  Have you ever seen children not mingling with each other because they cannot speak a common language.  I have never seen that.  On the contrary, I have even recently experienced my grandson and my nephew’s son play with each although they do not speak any language in common.  Children have a way to communicate with each other without any language.  Language is never a barrier for kids to share and enjoy together.  Why should it be for the elders ?

We have an opportunity to learn from children.  As elders, we make language a barrier between us. We feel it breaks down communication and will easily blame communication as a barrier.  How do children overcome this barrier ?  How do they communicate even without knowing the language of each other ?  I am reminded of a story, which happened in India a few decades back.  A french anthropoligist was visiting India to study in some part of rural India.  He neither knew english nor Hindi.  He was also not familiar with the local regional languages of that part of India.  When asked how he would do his research without knowing the local language, he responded that he would visit the villages and behave like children and then the villagers would respond.  This will help him study their behaviour.

Thus we need to realise that language can be an enabler for better communication.  It should not be a barrier to deal with each other.  It is also interesting to note that more than 70% of our communication is done non verbally.  Hence, how can we blame language as a barrier, which in any case only accounts to that balance 30% of communication between human beings.

It is fascinating to see children talk to each other without knowing each others’ language.  They are not only able to communicate with each other but even able to coordinate with each other seamlessly.  If you see them play a game together, you will see this in action.  What prevents the elders to not do the same? As we grow older in life, our ego becomes the barrrier between human beings and not the language.

We tend in live in own world and refuse to adapt ourselves to others as the situation demands.  Children are adaptive by nature.  They are always willing to give more than they take from others.  They listen more attentively.  This makes them communicate with each other bettter without blaming language or other factors as barriers.

It is time to reflect, un learn and re-learn this adaptive nature from kids.  Their ability to adapt is admirable.

It is time for change.  What do you say ?

S Ramesh Shankar

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