Leadership lessons from Ms Sushma Swaraj

India lost a popular political leader yesterday. Ms Sushma Swaraj was India’s external affairs minister and an outstanding parliamentarian. I have been a silent admirer of this leader for many reasons. Today when the nation lost her due to a heart attack, I can share 3 key leadership lessons, which all of us can imbibe to be better human beings and leaders in our own spheres :

A. Humility – A lawyer by vocation, she was an excellent parliamentarian and a former state Chief Minister and cabinet minster in the union cabinet for more than a decade. In spite of all these credentials, she always had her feet on the ground and was working for the welfare of the common man at all times.

B. Communication skills : She was one of India’s best parliamentarians in its history so far. Her ability to put her points across using the most dignified choice of words are worth emulation. She was the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and I have seen her tearing apart the government on many occasions but even her worst critic could not find fault in her language or her dignity. She bought stature to all positions she held in public life.

C. Accessibility : As leaders grow higher in the hierarchy, they tend to lose their connect with the grassroots.. However, even as external affairs minister of the country, she was accessible to the common man from India and across the world. She used social media effectively and responded to every sos call to her at lightning speed. I have seen many senior leaders not even reply to emails from their own employees or return phone calls since they felt it was below their dignity to respond or call back their juniors. This is one of the best lessons which Sushma Swaraj gave to the common man and leaders of today

While all of the above may appear simple, they are the most difficult to adhere to. I have spent 38 years in corporate life and can share that I have not come across many leaders in my life who have been able to successfully imbibe all these three qualities with equal rigour.

I salute this great daughter of India and pray for her soul to rest in peace. I commit that I will try to imbibe all the above qualities in my life and be humble, dignified in my communication and accessible to the last person in the hierarchy I deal with. Although I have tried all of them but to say the least , I have a long way to go in all these aspects in my life as a leader.

It is time for each of us to reflect and learn ? RIP Sushma Swaraj.

S Ramesh Shankar

7th August 2019

Celebrating father’s day

I sometimes wonder if it is worthwhile to celebrate all these days in a year by sending flowers or gifts to our near and dear ones. I believe these days are created by the marketeers to sell more products for their brands.

In my personal view, it is not worth killing flowers by sending bouquets or sending gifts to our mothers, fathers, siblings or friends. It is more symbolic and does not serve any purpose. We may end up sending gifts which they don’t need or already have them.

What could be a better way to celebrate these days. I reflected on it since I realised that the third Sunday of June is considered Father’s Day. I lost my father when I was 25. It took me more than a year to recover from this shock. However, assuming he was alive today, I may not have sent him flowers or gifts. On the other hand, I would prefer to commit to myself to imbibe one great quality of his in myself.

When I started my career in 1981, I was a very impatient guy. I lost my temper the drop of a hat and was least bothered about the impact it would have had on the people around me. I was given feedback by my family members, friends and colleagues, which I ignored it at my own peril.

But over the years I had seen my father as an epitome of patience. I have seen him lose his cool only twice in my lifetime. I decided one day that I could learn and imbibe this quality from him. I have since then tempered myself and can happily confess that today I have a lot of patience at work and at home. My family and colleagues will vouch for it. I may lose my cool once or twice a year.

So, my recommendation is to pick one great quality from your father and imbibe it. It may not be easy and may take many years to inculcate. But, this would be a better gift to our fathers than gifts of bouquets, which may not mean much to them. Our transformation into a better human being will be valued by them much more than any gift can do on earth.

This step could be for Father’s Day or Mother’s Day or sisters day or brothers day. It does not matter whose day we are celebrating. After all we can learn goodness from all people around us – younger or older, relatives or friends.

It is time to challenge some of the rituals imposed by the marketeers of the world. It is time to be different and lead by example for our future generations. We should leave behind rituals for our future generations, which are inspirational and not those which are mechanical in spirit.

Time to start is today as it is Father’s Day.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th June 2019

Accepting defeat with grace…

We witnessed elections in the world’s largest democracy over the last two months. It was characterised by political debates, accusations, allegations and counter allegations as one can expect from such an event.

I admire the Election Commission of India for meticulously planning and organising a fair and largely peaceful election in a seamless manner. We were possibly the first country in the world to adopt electronic voting machines. We can be proud of this accomplishment, which many developed nations have not been able to adopt so far.

However, what we see as an aftermath of such a massive exercise is blame game. Political parities find faults with the election commission. They also blame the electronic voting machines for their losses. Today a political leader even went to the extent of blaming foreign forces for their defeat.

I am amazed at such reactions. One life lesson is to accept a “win” with humility and a “loss” with grace. After all the public at large comprises of citizens like you and me. We are well educated and make our judgement based on ground realities. We elect parties or leaders for their credence and not for any other reason.

We need to educate our political class to adapt to the technological changes impacting them. Today is it is electronic voting machines. Tomorrow it could be artificial intelligence or the blockchain, which may play a role in elections. What surprises me is that the so called educated politicians, who are professionally qualified like lawyers, management graduates, engineers, doctors etc are the first to criticise this way when they lose or their party faces defeat in the hustings.

My learning in life is to accept defeat with “grace” as much as treat victory with “humility”. This is what we can learn from all the best sportspersons in the world. A sportsperson glowing with arrogance after a victory fades into history. On the other hand, the humble sportsperson, who bows out with grace even in defeat is always the winner in our minds.

Politicians need to learn this lesson in life. We should not end up blaming our constitutional bodies and institutions for narrow political gains. After all, the citizens in modern India want better roads, clean drinking water, good health facilities and world class infrastructure. We want jobs for all who need it and health and happiness for the common man. We envision India as the best and the happiest country in the world.

It is time for political parities and politicians to rise above narrow archaic beliefs and work for the larger good of the nation. Let parliament work for 100% of the days, pass all needed legislations. Let the honest citizens be rewarded and the crooks in society be booked.

It is time for us to make India the best democracy in the world apart from being the largest. The government and the opposition needs to work hand in hand like the twin lilies in the photo above.

Let us learn to accept defeat with grace and victory with humility.

S Ramesh Shankar

26th May 2019

Learning “Motherhood” on Mothers’ day

I am not a great fan of “Mothers day”, “Father’s Day” etc, which are celebrated off late around the world. In my view, it is more a marketing gimmick for selling more products and promoting brands. Having said that, the second Sunday of every year is celebrated as “International Mothers’ day”. I would rather learn motherhood from the wonderful mothers around me rather than promote a marketing gimmick.

What can we learn from our mothers ? I would list five qualities, which I have learnt and admired from the mothers I have interacted in my life. There could be many more and these are my significant five. You could share your valuable five and this way we could learn from each other.

The first quality which a mother exudes is “Patience”. I have hardly seen a mother who does not put in extra efforts to display her patience. Right from feeding an infant or dealing with the antics of a child or bracing with the rebellion of an adolescent, a mother teaches us precious lessons on patience.

Perseverance is the second quality I have learnt from mothers. A mother never gives up. They don’t give up on anything. They are willing to convince anyone for getting their things done. They will follow up with anyone and everyone for the sake of their kids at school or otherwise.

The third quality one can adore in mothers is their “Selflessness”. In today’s world, most of us are so self centred that we forget many a time that there is a world around us. A mother on the other hand is serving others all the time and in this process,most of the time, forgets that she has her own world to live in. She lives for others all the time.

Loyalty is best learnt from mothers. They are loyal to their parents, their in laws, their children , sisters, brothers and their friends. While men may also be loyal, the unconditional loyalty of mothers’ is to experienced to be believed. It is to be believed to be learnt from our mothers.

The fifth quality I admire in mothers is their “unconditional love”. We all express our love and expect the same from others as human beings. However, mothers tend to love unconditionally. I cannot visualise a mother loving someone conditionally. This gives them the power of letting go when the love is not reciprocated in equal measure. This is when most of us find it difficult and feel hurt in our lives.

As I said earlier, a mother is an epitome of humanness. She is endowed with limitless qualities but I thought let me share my best five and request you to comment and share yours so that together we learn from one another.

As in the photo above, a mother appreciates her kid as much as she would do to other kids around her.

Our best tribute to mothers would be to imbibe at least one of these attributes from our mothers and live it every day of our life.

S Ramesh Shankar

12th May 2019

A visionary teacher

Today I heard of the sudden demise of our beloved Director of Madras School of Social Work – Prof KN George. He was a teacher with a difference. I learnt a lot of life lessons from this teacher who was a visionary par excellence. He always thought ahead of his times and set the direction for everyone to follow.

During my two years in college, he managed the college with a difference. I learnt the following lessons from his life :

A. Visionary : One needs to be a visionary in whatever field of work you are in. He was a man with a vision and a mission to accomplish it. I remember the transformation of the Madras School of Social work from an antique old two storied building to an excellent modern building with facilities ahead of its times.

B Stature : If one could learn one aspect of life from this teacher was the way he maintained his stature. Apart from being a well respected educationist, he could speak on par with highest civil servants, corporate CEOs or even the politicians. This was by his stature and personality and not by his position alone.

C Spotting of talent : Although he personally did not take many classes he knew every student in the college and could easily spot talent. He used to go out of the way to identify the talent and provide opportunities for realising the potential of the individual to the fullest. I have personally experienced it and seen it in many of my classmates.

D Dignity of office : He led by example and maintained the dignity of his office right through his tenure. This gave him the courage to deal with tough situations and he dealt with them respectfully.

E Eager to help : Although many students were scared of approaching him since he used to scold at first instance, I know of many of us, who have benefited from his unconditional help. He could help people get jobs with a phone call. He could facilitate students getting married if there were any obstacles on the way. He was always around to help.

F. Networking : He taught us through his actions the art of networking and getting things done. He had a connect in every field of life. He could talk to politicians, civil servants, film personalities or even corporate honchos with ease and always find a solution to a problem.

G. Social conscience : A man who always thought about the good of society. I have personally experienced on many occasions where he thought creatively to solve social problems. I was sent for field work to the Commissioner of Police office in Chennai in 1980 to set up a missing childrens’ bureau since it was an age of no computer or IT and tracing missing children was a big social issue.

Like all of us he had his own limitations. After all he was human like all of us. Today is a day to learn from all his virtues and live them for the rest of our lives. Let us resolve to learn at least one great quality from this passionate teacher of ours.

My salutations to Prof KN George – ex Director, Madras School of Social Work.

S Ramesh Shankar

Our five senses

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As human beings, we are born with five senses. They are sense of touch, hearing, smell, sight and taste. Today we are losing our sense of senses. I do not know the real reasons for the same but may be worth exploring. We need to revive our senses. They not only help us lead a more fulfilling life but will help us add joy to the life of others. The increasing lack of senses is making us live senseless, in society.

Let us start with the sense of touch. Can any of us forget the warmth of a mother’s hug on a day we are feeling low ? This touch is magical. It seems to cure us of everything. It helps us get over our sorrow. It re-energises us to bounce back in life. We get consoled without even a word being spoken. Today we hug each other in the social media and are shy to hug in real life. This is not only because we do not have time to meet each other in person but feel it is less socially respectful to hug someone. Lets give a hug to a person in distress and experience the magical effect on their well being.

If we move to the sense of hearing, it is equally magical. One would always long to be with family members or friends, who are active listeners. We generally tend to speak more than we listen. Let us listen to kids at home, colleagues at work as if our listening will change their world. We can experience that the richness in our relationship becomes qualitatively better to the quality of our listening. Here again, one need not go far away from home to learn. In most of our cases, our parents are good listeners and we have failed to learn from them.

Today we do not have the time to enjoy the fragrance of nature. If we go on a morning walk, the smell of the jasmine, plumeria or parijatam can transcend us to a different world. But, most of us either do not go for a morning walk or jog or cannot recognise and enjoy the smell of these beautiful flowers. This is partly due to our lack of time and supplemented by pollution and lack of flowering trees in our environs. We seem to be losing of ability to sense the smell of flowers around us. If our eyes are blind folded and we are asked to identify different flowers by their smell, many of us may fail to do so and may blame choked noses for the same.

We are also losing our sense of sight. Today, we see only what we want to see. We may not be colour blind by birth but are unable to sport all the colours in the beautiful world because of our lack of sight. Many of us may not have the time to enjoy the shades of the rainbow and explain the Indigo to our kids. We do not get up to the colourful hues of the sky during sun rise or have the time to do so at sunset. We do not have time for holidays to spot animals and birds of different colours and breeds.

Last but not the least is our sense of taste. We seem to have become bland in our taste. We have our breakfast , lunch and dinner in a hurry and also while watching TV or playing on our phone. We do not have time to sit back and enjoy our food. We cannot distinguish between different food varieties and enjoy the diversity of food of different states in our country. If we are blind folded and asked to identify the taste of different ice cream flavours, we may fail to do so.

Life has indeed become senseless – literally and figuratively. But, whom should we blame for this state of affairs. Can we blame our ancestors or our parents ? Can we blame the society or community around us ? It is time to realize that we need to blame ourselves and nobody around us. We are responsible for this pathetic state of our senses.

In a park ( like in the photo above), you can get in touch with all your senses.

It makes sense to revive our senses to day

S Ramesh Shankar

Art of Music


“A thing of beauty is joy forever” said Keats.  I experienced this while attending a music programme today.  The singer explained how art has different forms.  She said that when a sculptor carves something it is beauty of form.  When a painter draws something it is beauty of sight.  When a dancer displays her art, it is beauty of expression.  When a musician sings, it is beauty of sound.

This struck a chord with me.  I had always been a connoisseur of beauty in all its forms.  Nature has always inspired me and so has music.  Interestingly I have no knowledge of music but every time I listen to soothing music, I transcend to a different world.  I have always enjoyed all forms of music and especially instrumental music.  Today it was Carnatic music but the way the singer explained the notes and connected them to beauty and spirituality, it was wonderful.

Another interesting dimension of music is that it has no language, religion, region or country.  It transcends boundaries of nations and cultures.  It unites the world in all its forms and makes you spiritual.   Music has healing properties too.  When I am feeling low, I love to listen to music.  It soothes my soul and relieves me of all my stress and strain.  Music is therapeutic and it definitely relieves you of all your pain.

I love to listen to music when I travel and it cools my body and mind.  Music also triggers my creativity and many a time its crystallises the thoughts in my mind and then words flow like a stream through my blogs.  I love to listen to music to relax.  I wonder how music soothes our body and soul.  It is indeed an art form expressed in sound. The most interesting aspect of music is that you enjoy it even if you do not understand its meaning.

In the picture above,  the singer explained the art of music and how it is a form of beauty and expressed in sound.  She sang Carnatic songs and explained the origin of music from the Vedas.

In the Indian tradition, music is played from the time of birth till the last rites of a person.  It helps us celebrate festivals and enjoy occasions.  The temples, churches and monasteries reverberate with the music of the bell.  The soothing sounds takes you to a different world.  The early morning chirping of birds is another form of music, which revitalises you at dawn and dusk if you are in sync with nature.

Music has no description.  Just as beauty has no dimension.  It cannot be described in words nor documented in a book.  It has to be experienced to be believed.  It has to be felt to discover its beauty.

Let us enjoy the beauty of music in life.

S Ramesh Shankar