Circle of Life

A circle has no boundaries and all edges are embedded in itself. Our daily life is like a circle. We all have good and bad events embedded seamlessly in a single day. I got up with a great news of a new born child in my family circle. Then this was followed by the information of a terrorist attack in some part of Kashmir, where innocent citizens were killed. Then the news of a colleague winning an award in an international contest was recieved. The day ended with the news of a tragic accident of a professional colleague on the expressway.

Every day is a circle. We get news – good, bad and ugly. Our moods swings from one extreme to the other. While we rejoice on hearing a good news and by the time the joy settles, we are saddened by a sad news. Then we recover with some good news before we are immersed with some tragic news.  

How do we cope with this ? Is life also like a circle ? May be true. If we reflect on life, we realize that it is true. We have moments of joy in life and want those moments to last forever but very soon we are drowned in sorrow. Before we recover, we are again surprised by some joyous events in life. So, it is a cycle and we have to adapt to take the good and bad in our stride.

It may be easy to write about the circle of life rather than experience it. I am not sure if there are many ideas of how to deal with it rather than experience it yourself. One of the ways of dealing with this variance in life is to minimise our expectations from life and living. If we are content with what we have and what we get in life, may be it will help us to deal with what we don’t. It’s a question of managing expectations in life.

The ability to deal with our emotions will determine our success in life. Life is a full circle and we have to learn to celebrate it that way.  Our ability to be equanamous in dealing with all moments of life defines our happiness.

Let us learn to be in the middle of the circle and deal with life with poise all the time.

S Ramesh Shankar

My definition of “Leadership”

My definition of “Leadership”
 Learning leadership is a life long journey. As a child, your parents are your role models. Then your teachers gradually occupy that space and finally it’s your bosses at the workplace, when you start working in an organisation.

I have always wondered as to what are the three attributes of being a great leader. While there are many theories and many thought leaders on this subject, I have tried to distill my own experience and learning in life so far. Based on my observations, experiences and learning, I would say the following competencies are the most critical to be a successful leader in life:

A. Personal Credibility : It is an ability to say what you do and do what you say. Although, it looks quite simple, it is the most difficult thing to do. I believe people follow what you do rather than what you say. A great leader leads by example and not by words. We admire our parents because they say what they do. Our teachers have always been living examples of practising before preaching. If we move to the work place, lets recollect which are the types of leaders whom we admire. I have always admired leaders, who role modelled behaviour.

B. Trust : I would define trust as believing in someone blindly. Why would we believe in someone blindly. Let’s recall our childhood. We trusted our parents as if they could do no wrong. This is because they always kept our welfare ahead of all their needs and comforts. We would blindly follow our parents without asking any questions. Similarly, lets recall a friend or a teacher, whom we went to for any advice in life. We believed them without any basis. Similarly, lets recall a manager, whom we admired. It the manager whom we would follow without asking any questions or clarifications because their intent was always in our best interest. It’s trust, which is the common denominator amongst all of them.  

C. Values : The best of leaders always have a strong foundation of values. They will never compromise on their value system. They may give up on a project or fail in an assignment but they will never give up their values for anything in life. Many times people have asked me as to why it is important to live your values as long as you achieve your goals. Is is possible to win a match without practise ? Values in my view are like the blood in the body. It ensures all organs function smoothly and there is no clogging anywhere. If you live your values, you will always have a good night sleep. You will be fearless and can face any challenge in life. The means to end is as important as the end in itself said Mahatma Gandhi.

Another interesting dimension of these three attributes are that they are inter dependant. High personal credibility leads to trust and you trust someone based on the values practised by them. Similarly, a solid foundation of values leads to trust and you trust someone, whose personal credibility is high.

So, my definition of Leadership is Personal Credibility, Trust and Values. 

What is yours ?

S Ramesh Shankar

#leadership; #followership; #bloggingfundamentals


Our ability to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes is called empathy.  It is easier to define than practise.  While most of us sympathise with many situations, it may be much more difficult to empathise.  All of us go through difficult situations in life.  It is easier for us to advise others when we are far away from their realities.  It is like while  sitting in an air conditioned commentary box, it is easier for commentators and spectators to criticise the sportspersons.  It is much more difficult when you are faced with tough opponents in a sports field to face them.  The commentators, who have played the game know where the shoe pinches and hence their comments would be much more realistic than others.

Life is no different than any sport.  We have to play the game of life and be a winner.  It will pose difficult and easy situations for us to deal with.  While all incidents are not easy to deal with, we find it more difficult when we start getting unsolicited advise from people, who have never dealt with it before.  It is in such instances, we realise the value of empathy.  Anyone, who has been there and done that will never give you an impractical advise.  Such people are able to put themselves in your situation and hence their thoughts are more grounded to reality.

On the other hand, we get advise at home and work from many people around us, who have never experienced what we are facing in life.  It is not only difficult to digest such advise in life but more strenuous to listen to it.  We have to learn to be patient and listen to them although we may feel they are not useful.  It may be a good idea to listen to them, distil them and take only that, which is useful to you.

Empathy is critical both at home and at work.  As parents, siblings or children we gain more respect from other family members, when we are able to put ourselves in their situations before we advise them.  Similarly, as bosses, colleagues or team members, it may be worthwhile to advise from personal experience rather than theortical constructs.  If our team members believe that we have experienced such situations in our career before we give them advise, they value our advise more.

One of the Indian mythological theory called “Vidhurshastra” states that ” Never give an advise to an adult unless sought for”. It is possibly based on this premise of empathy.  It probably assumes that an adult will never seek advise from another person unless that person has gone through such an experience in life.  So, life is all about experiences.  If we are able to share our experience of how we failed or succeeded, it may get more valued.  On the other hand, if we give advise based on imagining a situation, it may have less credence.

Like a married couple can establish a happy relationship by empathising with each other as in the photo above.

Hence, it may be a good idea to put ourselves in the other person’s position, before we give advise.  What do you think ?

S Ramesh shankar

Role Reversal

As we grow up as kids, we all are in awe of our parents.  We adore them and think they are everything to us.  We respect them, serve them and even role model their behaviour in our everyday life.  They become the standard for most things we do in life.  We consult them and seek their advice in any dilemma or major decisions in life.  This continues till the day we stand on our own feet.  

As we become independent, we start believing that the world is in our control.  We may not disrespect them but tend to take decisions on our own.  Our parents are proud of our independent nature and they let go their control over us.  We gain confidence and lead our own lives in our own way.

We get married and our spouse enters our lives.  She/He contributes equally to our well being and participates in all our decision making processes.  Some of us continue to seek advice from our parents even at this stage as we respect their acumen.  Then we bear kids and many a time move away from our homes in view of career compulsions.  This not only makes us physically away from our parents but also tends to emotionally distance us.

Our parents continue to believe that we are connected with them emotionally and we will take care of them for the rest of their lives.  But suddenly, the pressures of work , family commitments and the demands of our careers takes us farther away from them.  They are left lonely at home and mostly to fend for themselves.  Many a time , as children, we do not have the time or the intent even to visit them leave alone take care of  all their needs.

Suddenly, our parents feel the vacuum in their lives.  They feel helpless and not taken care of.  They do not look upon us for our monetary support.  They are more interested in our emotional support.  We think we have done our duty by sending some money every month or by providing a lot of material support for their physical convenience.  We do not realize that at this stage of their life, they look for emotional well being rather than material comforts.

I have always wondered why this change as the roles reverse in our lives.  Why do we not realize that this is a cycle of life and one day we will be in their position too.  What happens to all their contributions to our success in life ? Why do we become less grateful to them ? Why does selfish interest make us forget to be grateful to our parents, who have made us what we are today ?

May be I do not have the answers but I do have many questions.  May be I can be different now and in the future.  What can make us realize that this is the core of the Indian culture.  How can we sustain and preserve it for our future generations ? Can I commit to be different and be a role model for my children and grand children to follow ?

Even today, there are many good people, who take care of their parents( like my aunt in the picture above taken care by her son and daughter in law) and I salute them.

S Ramesh Shankar

Patience Pays

Is patience necessary in life ?  I am not sure but I am willing to examine it.   I recall I was a short tempered guy when I grew up.  This made me impatient in life.  I was not happy at my own pace of doing things.  As I ventured out of home and got into work, I realised that my impatience turned into anger.  I lost my cool at silly things and wasted more of my energy than others.  This made me less productive in life.

If I then move to the work place, I observe that all of us are in a hurry all the time.  We are competitive and hence want to outdo our colleagues each and every time.  We take up more than we can chew at work.  We want to prove that we are smarter than others. We are impatient for results every day.

If we move to our families, the situation is not different.  We want our children to grow up fast as we cannot deal with the tantrums of kids.  As children, we want to grow up fast we want to stand on own feet.  As newly married couples today we are so impatient that we are not ready to wait for nine months to have a kid and are willing to adopt or go for alternate methods.

What does all this teach us in life ?  It tells us that we want the results without investing in the efforts.  We want to win the game without playing the game.  Imagine winning a football match without playing for ninety minutes. We want to be the CEO within days of our joining the organisation.  If we feel, there is less chance, we want to start a start up so that we can become the CEO from day one.

All this implies that today the end is more important than the means to the end.  While Gandhiji said that ” The means to the end is more important than the end itself”.  If someone quotes Gandhiji to us, we may get impatient.  We may even say that this guy is outdated.  He needs to take a break or retire from work. I do not blame anyone for this since each of us are to blame ourselves.

If I look back, I realize that “patience pays”.  I have no doubt that if you put in your best, you will get the best.  The Japanese have always taught us that “fix the process, not the problem”.  We need patience to perform.  We need patience to be the best.  We need patience to excel.  We need patience to evolve as a good human being.   Some may turn around and say that one may realize this after one goes through a life of impatience.  It may be true for some and not for others.  Life teaches us many lessons along the way as we go through many events.  It is up to us to learn and become patient. Alternately, learn it late and be patient till you learn.   The picture of the two birds patiently waiting to catch the fish in the lake explains why patience pays.

The choice is always ours.

S Ramesh Shankar

“I can” or ” I cannot”

IMG_1666Many years ago I met a senior consultant who taught me an important lesson in life.  He told me that everything in life can be answered with “I can” or “I cannot”.  Once you decide you can, you find all the ways and means to do it and once you decide you cannot, you find all the excuses not to do it.

It looked a bit simplistic to me.  But, I am happy I got this lesson, when I was just starting my career.  I believe it is true and it works for me.  I am a born optimist.  So, for me, if I believe I want something, it is always ” I can”.  I have very very rarely felt – ” I cannot”.  This is true for my personal as well as work life.

I can cite many examples from my life, which has established that this is true.  I will share a few of my personal ones .  Then, I will also share a few of my life experiences, where I have met people, who believe they always can and also met people, who believe they always  can’t.

My first example was when I wanted to plunge into the professional world to prove myself.  I started my career in a public sector undertaking as a management trainee and worked there for 14 years successfully.  Life was cosy, learning was good and my career progressed pretty well.  I got promoted every three years on an average and also got a job rotation every 3rd year.  But, when I got my last promotion in 1995 as a Senior Manager, I asked my manager what would be my new role.  When he replied that I will continue with my present role even after my promotion, I decided that I need to move on and prove my worth in the market place.  I took a plunge in the private sector without knowing what is in store for me in the world outside.  It was 1995 and the job market was not as rosy as it is today.  But, I felt “I can” and took the risk much against the advise of my manager and my organisation.  Today after 21 years, I have no regrets.  God has been kind to me and I have realised my potential in a competitive market place since I believed ” I can”.

The second example could be from my personal life.  I decided to go on a long road trip.  I had never done it before and had no experience of it.  But I believed “I can” and then I made it to cover 7000 kilometres on road with my family in a small car across India.  I planned for it, collected maps, prepared my family and took the risk.  It was about facing challenges but when my family members were supportive, there was no way I could not do it.

I have never really cooked in my life.  But, once when we were challenged to participate in a cooking contest.  I jumped in and our team won the first prize.  I believe it was partly because I thought I always could.

I have met people in life who will never say no to anything.  They can always find a way to do anything.  Sometimes, it may take more time or more effort but “No” is not in their dictionary.  On the other hand,  I have met people, who will say “Not possible” even before understanding what they need to do.  Such people will have excuses for everything.  I have met a few team members at work, who will shirk work even without understanding how it will benefit them.  They may even go to the extent of saying that it is not within their scope of duties.

I recall an incident way back in the nineties.  I had been for campus recruitment to an engineering college in Patiala. Whenever, I visit a place for the first time, I love to see the around  and buy some unique thing from there.  I met the placement officer and shared my interest.  He said, yes you can.  I told him that my selection process will start at 8 am and finish by 9 pm.  Then, how could I see the place ! He said no problem, you can.  I told him even if I cannot see the around the place since it would be late at night, will it be possible to buy some unique item as a memorabilia.  He confirmed again that I could. When I enquired how I could buy something after all the shops would shut by 9 pm .  He said he will ensure some shops are kept open for me.  Then I said, I may miss my train if I do shopping, for which he said I will arrange a cab to drop me back to Delhi.  He had options for every contigency since he believed “he can” always.

Life is full of possibilities and we can make things possible if we want to.  However, if we decide to give up in our own mind, then even the possible looks impossible.

Make your choice and convert the impossible to possible by saying – ” I can”

S Ramesh Shankar


Talk or Listen !

It is performance review time in some organisations.  Some employees have asked me the difference between a pre-appraisal dialogue between the employee and the manager and a post appraisal feedback session.

If I have to put it simply, in the pre-dialogue, the employee should talk and the manager listen.  In the feedback session, the manager should talk and the employee listen.  One of our biggest challenges as human beings is our ability to listen.  We have always been poor listeners and have enough feedback from family, friends and colleagues that we could improve on our listening skills.  But, as manager or employee, we continue to be poor listeners.

Let me try to simplify the role of the manger and the employee in a pre-dialogue session first :

– The employee talks and the manager listens ( most of the time and not the other way around)

– The employee should highlight his performance with facts and figures against the goals set for him for the previous year and his contributions/ impact.

– The Manager could ask for clarifications, if any

– The employee shares development needs and career aspirations

– The employee explains his strengths and improvement areas with behavioural examples

– The employee also seeks job rotation or other developmental opportunities.

Now, let’s understand what is the role of the manager and employee in the post appraisal feedback session :

– The manager talks and the employee listens ( most of the time and not the other way around)

– The manager explains her assessment both in terms of ‘what'(tasks) and ‘how'( behaviour) with examples observed

– The employee could ask for clarifications

– The manager should explain the strengths and improvement areas of the employee with examples

– The manager should explain the performance rating and the basis for the same with examples

– The manager should enable the employee to look forward to the next year and agree on targets and development plans

In real life situations, the roles generally tend to reverse.  Many managers tend to give feedback during the pre-dialogue process itself.  Further, they talk more than they listen.  They do not encourage employees to give their point of view.  They  find it difficult to create an environment, where the employee opens up and shares accomplishments, development needs and career aspirations.

Similarly, in the feedback process, it become more a monologue.  While, at this stage the manger is expected to talk and the employee listen, it becomes a one way communication.  Managers do talk but again do not encourage employees to listen and own the feedback.  At the end of the feedback session, the employee should feel motivated to look forward to the next year both in terms of challenges on the job and their own development and growth.

We have to make this dialogue ( not monologue) more inspirational than perspirational.  Many employees are nervous to get into a pre dialogue or a feedback session.  It is almost like the board exams at the secondary school level. How can we make it like a game to play together ?   Employees should look forward to it and play the game.  If they are inspired, they will build their skills and give their best. Managers should be like the coach encouraging her team members to play to win.

Let employees aspire and mangers inspire.

What do you think ?

S Ramesh Shankar


My concept of freedom

All of us are born free.  We have our own concept of freedom.  This concept evolves as we grow in life.  I am lucky to be born in the world’s largest democracy – India.  I am proud to be an Indian and have enjoyed this freedom throughout my lifetime. My concept of freedom is the ability to choose and do anything of my choice without any restrictions.  The Constitution of India bestows fundamental rights, which are absolute.  We do have reasonable restrictions, which possibly are required to ensure that we do not do anything against the interest of the state.

Let me try to illustrate what freedom means to me and how my beloved country has enabled it to flourish.  I have the freedom to be myself.  I can choose my education, my religion, my place of stay and my way of living.  I can move across the country without any restrictions and express my opinion on any subject without any fear.

In my view, we need to go much beyond this and practise freedom in our daily lives.  Let us start with our family.  Do we give equal opportunities for our children – daughter or son.  They should be able to choose what they want to study and what they want to do in life.  We should not preach freedom of expression around the world and restrict freedom within our own family precincts.

Let us move to the work place.  Do we empower our teams ?  Do my team members practise what their passion is ?  Can they independently give their views on any subject without fear of consequences.  Are they able to listen to their heart and decide independently what is in the best interest of the organisation.

The same is true for society.  All of us have the freedom to participate and express ourselves on any subject.  We can agree or disagree with the views of the government.  We can influence the way the governments decides through our elected representatives and media(including social media). The media is independent and can play a very important role in influencing public opinion. One important thing to remember is that we should never cross the line.  We have a duty along with the freedom, which we enjoy.  Sometimes as individuals and even as media we tend to misuse this freedom.  In my view as citizens we have a duty to ensure that neither individuals nor institutions misuse this freedom.  Just as we have the choice to elect or reject a elected representative to the state or the centre, we have the duty to ignore and castigate individuals or organisations, which work against the interest of the state.

Today I am proud to be an Indian.  I am grateful to this great nation for giving me this “Joy of freedom”.  India may not be the most developed nation in term of physical wealth but it is one of the most developed in terms of emotional and spiritual well being.  We need to respect it, preserve it and nurture it so that our future generations are gifted with a happier nation than we have inherited.

One of my German colleagues shared a quote, which said – “In everything in life, we need to start with enthuisiasm and end with discipline”.  There cannot be a better way to celebrate India’s freedom.  Let us create more enthuisiasm in everything we do but let us not forget the discipline, which has to go with enthuisiasm to make India the greatest and happiest nation in the world.

Jai Hind.

S Ramesh Shankar

“Pole Star”


A young aspiring professional recently approached me to seek some guidance at work.  He was a bit agitated because he had more questions than answers to what he saw and felt on happenings around him at his workplace.  I think this is quite a common phenomenon amongst the youth today.

When a young professional starts his career after completing his education from a good university, he or she gives their best to grow faster than others in the organisation they join. They are willing to work hard and also contribute beyond what is expected from them. Their attitude to work is ” work hard and party harder”. I envy them for this attitude since I believe this lays the foundation for them in their career. It also helps them to strike a good balance between work and personal life.

This young man told me that he was happy to work hard and extend his contributions much beyond what is expected of him. However, what irritates him is when he sees other colleagues at work, who in his perception or qualified less but get paid almost equal if not more than him. What irks him more is that these colleagues do not work hard nor do they contribute as much as he does. I think this is a fair issue to be concerned with.

After listening to the frustrations and anger of this young guy, I shared some axioms of organisations and how performance is measured in them. The first premise is that your pedigree is only useful at the time of joining an organisation. After you enter the precincts of an organisation, it does not matter where you have studied from. What matters is what you bring to the table. If a person brings more value to the table than you, then that person would be assessed as a better contributor irrespective of which university he or she has come from.

The second axiom in organisations is that you need to prove your worth without comparing yourself to others. Many a time individuals tend to compare themselves with other co workers and make a judgement for themselves. Instead, individuals should be encouraged to talk to their managers about their goals, their aspirations, their development,  their achievements and their rewards. The moment we are able to de link ourselves from the rest of the colleagues, the feeling of disproportionate contributions of others and their rewards will not affect us and our motivation.  It is our duty to focus on our performance and trust the judgement and fairness of our manager whose job it is to compare and contrast our performance with our peers.

The third and the most important axiom for a young aspiring professionals to follow is to excel in whatever they do. If you are the best in what you do, you can never be ignored by anyone in the organisation, least your boss. Sometimes, you may feel let down but patience and perseverance is the key to excel. It may even be a good idea to strive to better yourself with every passing day in your career. It is good to be competitive with yourself rather than others and be clear on what you want to achieve in your career. This focus and quest for excellence will enable you to have inspiring conversations with your boss and thereby will lead to self confidence and success.

We need to strive to be like the “Pole star” in the sky, which shines in darkness irrespective of millions of others stars which are present.  The mantra could be “How do I outshine myself every day and shine like a pole star amongst my peers?”

S Ramesh Shankar


To be with Nature ……..

Our life has become hectic today. Most of us live in cities not by choice but because of better opportunities and facilities. We are surrounded by concrete all around.

We begin our day by looking at other buildings and cars and trucks on the road. We are impacted by the pollution all around us. Many times, we are not able to even go for a walk or pursue any hobby of our choice.

We do not have the time to even admire the beauty of nature. However, I am lucky to live just opposite to the Arabian Sea in Mumbai. It has been a dream come true for me. The largeness of the ocean keeps me grounded. As I set to office, I am again in the midst of traffic and pollution. Even at work, it is just concrete all around and hardly any trees, flowers or birds to admire.

I sometimes wonder whether it is worth leaving our villages or towns to a distant land in search of a vocation. Although, it is true that most of us have moved to cities more by the call of duty rather than our preferred choice, it is sad that we miss nature all around us every day of our lives.

I had been spent three weeks recently in a village on the outskirts of Coimbatore in south India. It is surrounded by the western ghats. I woke up to the call of the rooster and then hear the melodious sounds of birds with the morning coffee. When I go for a stroll, I see peacocks, cattle, birds and other animals co-existing peacefully and harmoniously with the villagers around them. If I look around, we have green banana groves or rice fields ready for the next sowing season. I can hear the sound of the train gushing through the horizon on the hill side. The western ghats are daunting and beautiful in the backdrop. They make you realize that as human beings we are tiny tots in front of them.

The happy and contended people around makes you realize that it is not money and material facilities alone, which keeps you happy in life. You sync with nature and enjoy the smell of the earth and the song of the birds around you.

I also wonder how we have have forgotten to enjoy these small and beautiful things in life. We justify ourselves by stating that we are working hard and building the future for our families and so on.

I would recommend that each of us should spend at least one week every year in the hills or the plains in the villages and be with nature. We may not realize what we miss unless we experience it.

Let us be humble and enjoy the beautiful things Mother Nature provides us.

S Ramesh Shankar