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Archive for February, 2013

When I say I admire Europe, I am not referring to the natural beauty it has on offer, right from the fjords in Norway to the Alps straddling Switzerland. Nor am I talking about the excellent civic infrastructure it has built up, backed by a deeply ingrained civic sense amongst a vast majority of its inhabitants.EU Flag image

I believe that Europe happens to be a great crucible of experimentation in the area of global governance, already practicing models which are likely to shape up the way humanity would control its global affairs in the times to come. Also, over the past few centuries, it has played a crucial role in a renaissance of sorts in the field of science and technology. It has done so by assimilating, enriching and disseminating major breakthroughs in science, making it accessible to the whole of humanity.

The European Union

The EU is an interesting organization. Of its 27 members, 22 have abolished passport controls under the Schengen pact. Only 17 share a common currency. They have a common market and work towards free movement of goods, services, capital and people and a common security policy. People cross over to Germany, splurge on goods there, claim a refund of excess VAT paid and drive back into Switzerland.  There are a plethora of bureaucratic bodies which govern various aspects of a citizen’s life, while maintaining a distinct regional identity of their own. The continent also has nation-states like Luxemburg and Vatican City.

Recently, EU won the Nobel Peace Prize, indicating the potential an association of diverse nations has. Asia is already taking some baby steps towards aggregation, and one hopes a similar arrangement would pave the way for cessation of hostilities and for disabling the man-made borders in not so distant a future.

A Living Laboratory of the World

The future is the model of transnational cooperation that EU represents. Globalization is a process that enhances interdependence across the world. For such interdependence to produce in welfare but not chaos and frustration, the world needs governance structures that mediate this interdependence. As to how, guidance comes from EU’s myriad bureaucracies, apart from accepted transnational bodies such as the UN, the IMF and the WTO. Then we have the WEF, contributing to the thought processes aimed at improving governance globally.

Enriching Knowledge

In fact, scientists and thinkers in Europe borrowed key concepts from other civilizations of yore, built upon the same, and refined the way we look at the universe today.

The mathematical foundation of Western science is a gift from the Indians, Chinese, Arabs, Babylonians and the Mayans. Planetary astronomy also began with the Indians, developed further by the Chinese. Arabs built the first observatories. Five thousand years ago, the Sumerians said the earth was circular. In the sixth century, a Hindu astronomer established the reasons for the rising and setting of the sun.

Chinese alchemists realized that most physical substances were merely combinations of other substances, which could be mixed in different proportions. Islamic scholars are legendary for translating scientific texts of many languages into Arabic. Iron suspension bridges came from Kashmir, paper making from China, Tibet, India and Baghdad and printing from India, the Quechan Indians of Peru were the first to vulcanize rubber; Andean farmers were the first to freeze-dry potatoes.

European explorers depended heavily on Indian and Filipino shipbuilders, and collected sea-charts from Javanese and Arab merchants. The Mayans invented zero about the same time as the Indians, and practised a math and astronomy far beyond that of medieval Europe. Native Americans built pyramids and other structures which were larger than anything then in Europe.

Preserving and Propagating Knowledge

Europe has had a successful brush with Renaissance, which also covered the entire gamut of art and culture. State of art centers of learning came up, accompanied by libraries and research outfits. CERN is the latest feather in its cap. Above all, a patent regime got introduced. As someone who has dealt with intellectual property registrations the world over, in Europe I invariably dealt with a robust system of trademark laws. Most other countries have designed their own patent regimes based on the European system. This made our technical and scientific advances publically available, thereby ensuring that knowledge was not lost to humanity for posterity, like it happened in India where it got confined to limited circles.

Mighty Challenges Ahead

It would be naïve to believe that all is hunky-dory on the European front. Protectionism appears to be on the upswing. Whether it is immigration, transnational trade or environment, contentious issues are getting addressed only with restrictive policies. In quite a few countries – like in Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Austria and Denmark – right-wing sentiments appear to be on the rise. There is a clear tendency to discourage immigration, thereby accusing ‘outsiders’ of pinching jobs and being a ‘drain’ on the resources. UK is already at loggerheads with Romania and Bulgaria, and the issue may well land up at the doorstep of the European Commission.

The Euro’s roller coaster ride is another area of concern. Experts point out that for its long-term survival, a fiscal and banking union would be essential. However, without a more effective political union, this would not be possible. There could be two scenarios resulting into a heightened state of political engagement in the continent – either a visionary leadership with a statesman-like approach to problem solving, or a super-ordinate threat of some kind. As a well-wisher, one would like only the former possibility to fructify!

Real globalization lies in an interdependence which leads to a fundamental shift in our attitude towards fellow inhabitants of Mother Earth, recognizing each other’s equitable rights to the limited resources available to aggregate humanity. An equitable distribution also makes eminent economic sense, and that is what gives one hope of a truly globalized world order coming about sometime in the future.

In the immediate future, Scotland could soon be negotiating subsidiarity directly with the EU. So could Sindh and Chittagong in a South Asian confederation. By living out the pains of experimenting with transnational coordination, the EU leads the humanity’s quest for an effective governance of globalization.

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We appear to be living in an age of profanities and vulgarity. Be it our advertisements or movies, the content is becoming increasingly bold. If self-restraint does not get exercised soon, we could end up becoming a society of the most frustrated youth, forever on the lookout for an easy outlet for its innate urges and profane tendencies. The world-wide-web already has us in a thrall, leading to an exponential increase in the influence of these forms of entertainment.

Titillation and Commercial Success 

Cinematic content these days makes one rather immune to all the dare-and-bare acts. After an overdose of cleavages and thunder thighs, one only carries a feeling of contempt and disgust. Show of skin has become a necessary evil, the language has become expletive-laden and the lyrics somewhat soul-less. Titillation leading to commercial success is surely the name of the game today; social mores and cultural values appear to have taken a back seat.

From the days of delicate handling of romantic overtures (like Mughal-e-Azam, Guide and several others), we now have petite heroines mouthing profanities in movies like Who Killed Jessica, Ishqia et al.the-dirty-picture-02-s

In The Dirty Picture, in a particularly offensive shot, the heroine’s tummy is demonstrated to be effective in converting a raw egg into a half-fried version! Our hapless housewives who in the recent past were chasing a higher quota of subsidized cooking gas would surely approve of this environment friendly way of discharging their cooking responsibilities.

Lure, Offend and Succeed!

The advertising has become crude and offensive. In the 1980’s, Doordarshan used to beam the serial Ramayan into our drawing rooms. During breaks, it would also show a simple ad of Mala-D, a contraceptive pill for women. Once my daughter, all of four years then, was prompted to openly wonder if Sita-ji used Mala-D tablets to ensure that she conceived Luv and Kush only after a gap of more than fourteen years!

These days, we have enticing and naughty ads of condoms being promoted on some channels, depicting PYTs with hour-glass figures seductively disrobing themselves while sashaying down into a bedroom. One really pities today’s poor parents who have to answer a barrage of searching questions from curious children while keeping a straight face.

In the 1990’s, a Cadbury advertisement showed a comely nymph rushing into a cricket field and breaking into an impromptu jig, while another one promoting Liril soap was depicted dancing her way into our hearts under a waterfall. Now, we have a young Nokia user scaring an ‘aunty’ by displaying rash driving skills on his phone, while a Pepsi campaign keeps aside any pretensions of decorum and mocks the Indian cricket team!

Internet-ional Advertising

Entry of internet is proving to be a game changer. Marketing plans are increasingly being tweaked to use this platform, so as to reach the target segments more effectively. Despite the restricted availability of broadband in India, young and old alike are getting addicted to internet at a faster pace.

Increasingly, brands are getting wired to digital space. The creative juices of our advertising honchos now appear to be targeting social media platforms, and TV appears to be grudgingly yielding precious space and revenue to the web. Eventually, the two are getting together, offering a seamless experience to today’s highly connected generation.

According to YouTube sources, more than 70% of its viewers in India are less than 35 years of age. Also, 30% of its views in India are through mobile phones. This indicates the potential of penetration internet has in the marketing and advertising space.

Several prominent brands have faced the music over indecent content in their promos on the web. Smart ones have been quick to apologize and withdraw such content. Goes on to show that there is a limit to which sex and violence can help in selling products and services. The belief that higher ‘shock value’ results into higher sales in the long run is a doubtful proposition.

Is Audience Really The King?

Speak to either a movie maker or an advertising honcho, and the argument invariably is that they have a need to ‘connect’ with the younger audiences these days. But, can one really blame it all on the audience? For every “Rowdy Rathore”, a “Ferrari Ki Savaari” also hits the screens. There are several advertisements one can easily enjoy with the entire family.

According to Internet and Mobile Association of India (IMAI), only around 121 million of 1.2 billion Indians are logged on to the web. Of these, only 2% 0r 2.2 million in rural India have access to the same. We are therefore talking of urban, young and tech-savvy audience which is said to be at the helm of defining what is popular in culture and content. One would rather admire today’s youth who have the courage of conviction to stand up for probity and justice for many of our social ills, much unlike their earlier generation.

In their relentless pursuit of higher visibility and better margins, most makers of movies and advertisements go for higher ‘shock value’ in their products. Our cultural values and a basic sense of decency appear to have gone into oblivion. Those who create content appear to be placing a higher premium on salaciousness and commerce rather than on civility and social mores.

Twenty Years Hence!

Twenty years down the road, when the babies brought up in present obscenity-ridden times become discerning adults, and when the youth of today assume the status of ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’, the trend may well reverse itself. The need for our dream merchants and creative minds then would be to ‘connect’ with a different profile of target audience, possibly brining in products which are more sober and decent in their content. One does hope for the same!

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By nature, laws tend to be rather complicated. Try navigating through any law that interests you, and there are good chances that you would give up trying to make some sense of it within the first five pages.

The reason laws tend to be holistic and hence appear to be difficult is not only because they have to address issues which are themselves complex. They also need to take care of human ingenuity which knows no bounds. Make a law and you will notice how those impacted by it try to avoid as well as evade it, either taking advantage of some loophole or by a creative interpretation of some innocuous provision in the law. Governments all over the world grapple with this menace by trying to make laws stricter, thereby getting into a vicious cycle of sorts.   Cartoon Lawyer

Admittedly, our laws are drawn up by brainy birds who apparently consume quite a lot of fish in their lifetime. They have the mental stamina to keep churning out reams and reams of sections, sub-sections and sub-sub-sections. One is truly in awe of lawyers who possess an elephantine memory and quote various provisions of law verbatim at an appropriate time in any given context. Quite a few of the laws, even though designed to address a specific problem faced by society at a given point in time, fade from public memory; then there are some which are never seriously enforced.

But all laws need not always be serious. There are several laws all over the world which could appear to be amusing to a globe-trotter as long as he/she does not get caught on the wrong side of the same. To the local inhabitants, though, most have become a part of everyday life. Here is a random sample which could possibly be of interest to you.

  • In Victoria, Australia, you would need a licensed electrician to change a bulb. Technically qualified people from developing countries can perhaps increase their earnings manifold by migrating to Down Under.
  • In Singapore, you may be allowed to chew your gum, but are not expected to leave behind the gooey remains in a public place. To avoid getting penalized, you are expected to stick the remains to a trash can.
  • In Thailand, you are not allowed to leave your home without wearing your underwear. All the manufacturers of inner wear surely have sound marketing strategies for that territory, tapping its innate potential to the hilt.  Cartoon Traffic cop
  • In South Korea, traffic police are required by law to report all bribes that they receive from motorists. One can never be sure about the authenticity of reports getting filed there, but this should make the traffic police in some other countries sit up and take notice.
  • In India, under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, only males can be sent to jail for adultery. The females may continue with whatever liberties they wish to take. All feminists in India who are crying hoarse and seeking stricter laws to protect the gentler sex – whether at home or outside – would do well to also demand an equal treatment in this regard.
  • In South Africa, young people wearing bathing suits are prohibited from sitting less than 12 inches apart. If you are planning a honeymoon trip to South Africa, better watch out.Cartoon Teeth Brushing
  • Kids living in Russia are apparently much happier than their counterparts elsewhere on this planet. It is illegal there to brush one’s teeth more than two times a day. Surely, this dims the business prospects of MNCs dealing in global toothpaste brands and wishing to diversify into Russian markets.
  • If you happen to be in Sweden, and have amorous tendencies, do not think of availing the services of a prostitute; unless, of course, you wish to experience the environment in a Swedish prison.
  • In Germany, it is illegal to stop – as well as to run out of gas – on an autobahn. Filling up enough gas before hitting an autobahn is highly recommended.
  • Same restrictions apply in Switzerland as well. In addition, it is a country where you can truly relish your Sundays, lazing about in front of the TV. On Sundays, you can neither wash your car nor dispose off your garbage. Much to the discomfiture of spouses, you can neither mow a lawn nor vacuum the household! Also, if you decide to have a leisurely bath or happen to flush your toilet after 10 PM, you run the risk of being visited by the police.
  • In Portugal, it is illegal to pee in the ocean. On the contrary, in India, one may respond to nature’s call virtually anywhere without causing any eyebrows to be raised. May be that partially explains why the Portuguese decided to capture Goa in India in 1510 AD – perhaps to enjoy unbridled freedom from this law!Cartoon Hillary Clinton
  • France sprung a pleasant surprise this year by withdrawing a ban on women wearing trousers. It was a ban which came into force after the French Revolution to prevent women from masquerading as men. It is understood that it was partially rolled back in 1892 and also in 1909, allowing women to wear trousers when riding a bicycle or a horse. Of late, the fact that the former French First Lady Carla Bruni, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had displayed their unmistakable preference for wearing pantsuits might have prompted the policy makers in France to rethink on the issue, resulting into the ban being revoked.
  • If you are in the noble profession of teaching in Arkansas in USA and are a descendent of Eve, you better keep your hair long and plaited, so as to get an annual raise in your package. If you commit the blunder of going in for bobbed hair, local law ordains that you shall not get a raise.
  • In Idaho, USA, it is illegal to give your sweetheart a box of candy weighing smaller than 50 lbs. How all the sweethearts there manage to keep their body weight under control is an area which should concern all food and nutrition researchers.Cartoon beggingimages
  • If you happen to be a beggar by profession, you would do well to relocate to Washington DC in USA. Begging is recognized as a fundamental right out there, protected by the Constitution. So you do not risk facing the wrath of any law enforcing agencies.
  • In Mexico, any kind of nude artistic display is illegal. This would be music to the ears of the puritans who hounded M F Husain out of India, leaving the much acclaimed artist rooting for a dignified return to his homeland till the time he died in 2011.
  • We understand that you cannot plan your death. However, if you think you are anywhere close to kicking the bucket, make sure that you are not in the Houses of Parliament in England, where it is illegal to die. Some of the other places where the same rule applies are:Cartoon Grave
    • Biritiba-Mirim in Brazil,
    • Le Lavandou, Cugnaux and Sarpourenx in France,
    • Longyearbyen, the largest settlement in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbad in Norway, and
    • Lanjaron ìn Spain.

And in the following places, you may neither die nor deliver a baby:

    • Island of Delos in Greece,
    • Island of Itsukushima in Japan!

There is great merit in any country keeping a few ridiculous laws. For the common man, flouting them is an easy way to gain a celebrity status while not committing a heinous crime. In turn, this leaves the much burdened police force to take care of more serious matters. Also, such laws keep the collective sense of humour of a country alive, thereby improving public health in no uncertain terms!

Legal Disclaimers

1. The list of laws mentioned in the article is merely indicative.

2. The illustrations used in the article are drawn from diverse sources and are not owned by the author.

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We appear to be headed for two new challenges to our mental equipoise in this century – Nomophobia and Noconnphobia! The fear of being out of mobile contact, that is, NoMobile-Phobia, is already well-recognized. The significance of the other, NoConnectivity-Phobia, is perhaps yet to dawn on most of us!

Our addiction to mobile phones and internet knows no bounds. Six years back, I was working with a company in a very senior position. A night before I was to be wheeled into an operation theatre for a cardiac surgery, I was furiously making calls to my team members to ensure that things were handled right when I was away from work for some time. My distressed daughter ended up confiscating the mobile phone, leading me to a feeling of utter loneliness and helplessness. It was as if my world had collapsed!

While recovering over the next four weeks, the ring tone of the mobile phone kept ringing in my ears, even though the equipment was nowhere around. My family ensured I could not lay my hands on it; otherwise, they felt, and rightly so, that I shall again get hooked on to it!

Surrounded by Gizmos!

Mobile phones are now everywhere. We go to a restaurant, and find that the friends who have met only to have a decent time together are instead glued to their individual mobile phones, chatting away merrily with those who are not physically present. On the roads, we find young and old alike walking absent-mindedly, talking on their mobile phone, quite oblivious to the traffic whizzing past and around them. Two-wheeler riders continue driving with an eye on the road while talking to someone far away, with a mobile phone wedged between their hunched up shoulder and an ear. With the arrival of blue tooth, the hunched shoulder has disappeared, but not the ingrained habit of using this all-pervasive gadget while driving.

Travel in a train and chances are that all the passengers are calling up their near and dear ones at the same time, prompting us to avoid the cacophony by taking a stroll down the crowded aisle. Visit a family and just as we start relishing a cup of tea with them, a shrill ring tone distracts one of the host’s party and we start wondering when the conversation in the drawing-room shall resume. Attend a management talk by an eminent expert, only to be interrupted by someone’s mobile ringing loud and clear, leaving the hapless expert clueless and the audience twiddling its thumbs. Even group meditation sessions are not free from this scourge.

When we call up a person on his mobile, we seldom bother if it is an appropriate time for him to have a conversation. If he does not pick up the phone in four or five rings, we conclude that he is being rude and arrogant; the poor guy might just be having a quiet candle-light Valentine Day dinner with his fiancée!

Internet is Fast Catching Up

Same is the case with internet accessibility. It appears to have assumed the same significance in our lives as oxygen which is vital to our survival. Withdraw it and the person withers away like a plant which has not been watered for quite some time. Ask any bleary-eyed child why he is looking tired and sleepy and the reason could well be that the only book he was working on the previous night was Facebook!  The realization that there is a real world out there – which is not the same as the virtual world – is difficult to come by.

According to a 2008 study in the UK, 53% of cell users there suffer from Nomophobia. It is not too different when compared to the stress we feel when we visit a dentist, start a new job or get jitters on our wedding day!

The day is not far off when some of us would be so lost in our technical gizmos that we may end up having to ‘Google’ ourselves to find who and where we are! With the convergence of voice and data services, we may soon end up getting mini-sim-cards planted in our skulls, much like the character of Neo played by Keanu Reeves in the ‘Matrix’ series of movies a decade back.

Just like the advent of the internal combustion engine changed our lifestyles forever, easy availability of connectivity is contributing towards making our civilization even more sedentary. The onslaught of lifestyle related diseases like diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular complications is getting further speeded up with our addiction to internet. Our transition time – from being a couch potato at home to becoming a patient in a psychiatrist’s couch – is possibly getting shorter.

Enjoying Freedom with Responsibility

It is not my case that newer technologies are bad. Thanks to social networking, distances have shrunk – physically as well as mentally. A virtual democracy of information has led to grouping of like-minded individuals. Regimes world over are waking up to the potential as well as the power of internet, as we have seen in the case of the ‘Arab Spring’ and also in the recent case of a brutal gang rape case in Delhi.

We have enviable options today to remain connected with the world, but there is an overload of information. We need a higher level of maturity and wisdom to be able to moderate its usage in our day-to-day lives. We need a higher degree of inner strength to be able to sift between what is relevant and truly beneficial for us, and whom we associate and network with. It is up to us to enjoy this new-found freedom with responsibility.

We have to take a conscious call whether we wish to use the technology to our advantage, or to become slaves to it, 24 x 7! Yes, it is not easy to switch off our smart phones, I-pads, tablets and laptops. But there is no other way but to do so at select times during the day. Let us give our gadgets some well deserved rest.  Overcoming Nomophobia and Noconnphobia is not as hard as it sounds!

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Quite a few of the managers I run into are frustrated because they could never make it to the top slot. The corner office with plush seating and an exclusive wash room has somehow always managed to elude them. I admit that the power and pelf a Number One slot bestows upon a manager is alluring as well as intoxicating. But I believe that being a Number Two is also not too bad a proposition; in fact, it could be more rewarding, instructive and exciting!PROMOTIONS

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating a drive against perfection or excellence in whatever you do. I am only trying to say that there is divine contentment in being a Number Two as well – relish it!

The Perils of Being a Number One

Being a Number One is rewarding as well as challenging. Take it from someone like me who has been at the top of a pyramid several times in his career. There are obvious drawbacks to reaching the top, and let me sum these up.

  1. When one does get to occupy the corner office, one gets no one to talk to freely. One may be lucky to have a few unsuspecting souls whom he can use as a sounding board for his ideas. But there is no denying that such team members who listen to the top boss respectfully could very well be those who believe in merely being ‘Yes Men’.
  2. Even if one gets a nay-sayer, there is no guarantee that he does not suffer from a tendency towards premature ejaculation, spilling the beans to a group of his own confidantes, thereby nipping all well thought out plans in the bud. In other words, one may be commanding fake respect, but not necessarily genuine loyalty.
  3. The sheer pressure of being a part of the rat race is rather high. Ensuring that one remains unchallenged in one’s top position brings along a level of stress that many may not be able to handle for long. If they do so, it could be at the cost of either health or quality time with their near and dear ones.
  4. One has to constantly watch over oneself to ensure that the ego does not balloon into something unmanageable. If humility does not come to one naturally, the stress builds up faster.

Being Number One does not necessarily imply that one is happy and satisfied. If so, one may be making good money but not having fun. Could it be really worth it?

The Perks of Being a Number Two

You Are Responsible, Not Accountable

The boss decides the overall paradigm and the goal to be achieved. Like the captain of a ship who has a better and wider perspective on things, he decides the course to be taken. Your own task becomes simpler to that extent. Sure enough, you add value by providing operational feedback which could alter the course quite effectively. In other words, you may be responsible, but it is he who is accountable!

Extra Time on Your Hands

The poor guy also takes the rap for all the failures. So, that leaves you with enough time to catch up with other pleasures at the work place – like, hob-nobbing with the HR guys to keep an ear to the ground, sweetening up the Accounting devils to ensure that all your claims get settled fast, chatting up with the legal eagles to ensure that your operations are free of any blemishes, and to network with other departmental heads so as to derive synergistic benefits for your own area of work.

Managing Insecurity of Your Boss

You know how insecure some of the top bosses are. Of course, this is internal to them and is never meant to be displayed publically. At times, you might have felt that your salary is getting paid only to ensure that his mental balance is always under control – a unique privilege, to say the least. Many a times, a boss gets so worked up about an insignificant issue that you need to intervene without delay – either taking the responsibility of resolving the problem yourself, or by simply diverting his mind to another pressing problem.

Some Role Models

Being a King Maker (and not a King) has its unique advantages. When you offer yourself as a sounding board, you can give sane advice as and when asked for. In our scriptures, you might have admired the sage counsel of people like Vidura (of Mahabharat fame) and Chanakya (advisor to Chandra Gupta Maurya).

In literature, if you have been introduced to the chronicles of Bertie Wooster, you would have admired the feudal spirit of Jeeves who invariably comes to the aid of the young master in his hour of peril.

These people could perhaps be the role model for those of us who are relegated to a Number Two slot in our careers.

Continue Honing Your Technical Skills

There are professions in which an elevation means getting away from honing one’s technical expertise further and instead getting bogged down with administrative hassles. Ask a doctor who has become a Medical Superintendent or a teacher who has risen to the level of a Principal; in all likelihood, they would readily attest to having experienced this syndrome.

You Always Try Harder

The best advantage you drive from being a Number Two is that of immense learning and untiring efforts towards improving your own performance. You cannot afford the luxury of being complacent. You always try to work better, because somewhere deep within you, you cannot get rid of the desire to attain the top slot some day!

I believe this logic applies to companies as well. Decades back, Nirma gave sleepless nights to HUL. Samsung is now beating Nokia at its own game. There are several David-Goliath type cases in the industry which justify this belief.

Being Number Two means that you always have a high testosterone level in your blood stream, thereby making you more aggressive and a highly focussed achiever.  The fire in the belly remains unabated.

The Flip Side

On the flip side, by being Number Two, you run the risk of becoming a scape goat at times. Too long a sojourn in this slot could either mean that the company has stopped growing, or that you have overstayed your welcome. If so, seeking greener pastures could be a solution.

A Disclaimer!

My arguments in favour of being a Number Two might have made you jump to a conclusion that I am a lazy bum, devoid of burning ambition and a fire in the belly! Or, I am a manager who believes only in abdication and not in delegation. Or, even worse, that I am rudderless drifter!

With all emphasis at my command, I deny all such insinuations! Rather, allow me to urge upon you not to lose sleep if you have just missed that coveted elevation to a Number One slot recently!

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The recent economic meltdown has impacted not only the bottom lines of the companies but also the lives of a vast majority of senior managers and CEOs. Over-burdened, stressed, sleep-deprived and burnt out, they try to cope with Hurricane Stress that has hit them hard in the past few years.

How is it that they are coping with such a scenario? I spoke to twenty professionals who are in senior leadership roles in industries as diverse as IT, leather, chemicals, engineering and R&D to understand the contours of the arsenal these leaders use to combat stress. The sizes of the companies varied from 50 to 1,500, and the annual turnover ranged from USD 2 million to USD 5 billion.

I found the exercise to be pretty instructive. It led me to explore the practices adopted by CEOs and senior managers to minimize the adverse impact of stress in their lives and careers. It also gave me an insight into the kind of steps the managements are taking to address the issue effectively.

This is What They Do Differently

Using Stress For Positive Outcomes

The people who I found to be less stressed out were the ones who had perfected the art of time management. They had learnt to pace themselves. They had realized their own limitations and configured their working accordingly.

For example, the head of a regional manufacturing hub called upon to spearhead the company’s endeavours to influence government policy realized that he was out of his depth in handling such affairs. For quite some time, he was stressed out on this account. Gradually, he roped in another manager who had a flair for such activities. In two years’ time, he was not only handling the whole affair himself, but was also called upon by the company to handle similar challenges at the national level.He now loves what he used to detest earlier and has overcome his stress on this account. In the process, he has developed yet another USP for himself!

The Art of Creative Dissatisfaction

Almost two-thirds of the leaders/managers I spoke to had, subconsciously or otherwise, developed a keen sense of creative dissatisfaction. Rather than aiming for and insisting upon perfection, they went about guiding their teams towards achieving targets in a practical manner. Each time a target was met, there would be an informal session where, besides much back-slapping, an introspective discussion led everyone to discover what they could have done better. Most of the times thereafter, the team ended up achieving the target in a smarter way!

Loosening Up

Having someone to share their troubles with – whether at office or at home – was a need almost three-fourths of them mentioned. the difference lay in the severity with which the need was expressed by each one of them.

Digging deeper, I found that their need for unburdening themselves was somehow linked to their managerial styles. Those who were participatory in their decision-making approach had a lesser need, perhaps because they enjoyed a higher degree of warmth in their relationships at work. In fact, a vast majority of them were spending a lot of their time on resolving some or the other personal problems of their team members. On the other hand, those who were rather dictatorial in their approach were living in a self-created vacuum. Their sense of loneliness was acute, and so was their need to speak out aloud about their frustrations. In almost all the cases, they sought it in their families, or amongst friends who were not related to their work place.

A Dash of Humour

A positive attitude and a strong tendency to laugh off things was another common trait. At least one-third of the leaders/managers I spoke to had even cultivated the habit of remembering and narrating jokes, poems or couplets to their team members even in formal meetings. This resulted in much merriment around, but a point was made with a dash of humour. Two of them even had the capacity to laugh at themselves, prompting other team members to be very open in sharing their failures and seeking feedback and inputs from others.

Spin-offs of Meditation

The most quoted antidotes to stress were hobbies, better work-life balance, exercise and having fun! At least five of them stressed upon the importance of meditation to overcome their work-related blues.

One of them spoke enthusiastically of Mr Matthieu Ricard (66), a molecular geneticist and confidant of the Dalai Lama. According to studies done at University of Wisconsin, scans showed that when he was meditating on compassion, Mr Ricard’s brain produces a level of gamma waves never reported before in neuroscience literature. The scans also showed a very high capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity.

Two others said that meditation brings many benefits. It refreshes them, makes them look at their surroundings and events in a detached manner, makes them wiser and gentler, and improves their ability to cope in a world which overloads them with information and communication. In other words, they felt a good improvement in their own productivity levels, linked to their meditative forays.

Diagnosing Stress

I believe that even though stress is a result of external circumstances beyond one’s control, the actual impact felt by a leader/manager also depends upon his/her own inner resilience. If it is directly proportional to the external circumstances, it is inversely related to one’s inner resilience and work attitudes. It also depends on the personality type that we are. The perennially anxious ‘A’ types end up experiencing higher levels of stress than the often composed ‘B’ types.

When an aggressive boss misbehaves, no two team members would be affected the same way. One may take it too seriously, and feel despondent for days together; another may just brush it off and be cheerful the very next day; whereas, yet another one may look upon the incident as a feedback, view it as constructive criticism and start working on a definite plan to avoid a recurrence of the event.

Role of Management

I am happy to share that as many as half of the CEOs and senior managers I spoke to had already introduced remedial measures at the work place. The steps quoted by them included piped music, group yoga for ten minutes at the beginning of each day, a dedicated resource in the HR Department to take care of family and personal needs of employees and sensitization of all HoDs to be vigilant of signs of burn-outs amongst their team members. One CEO had even organized spiritual classes for his employees.

There are several studies to show that stress impacts productivity at the work place. The faster the employers and the employees learn to handle ‘Hurricane Stress’, the better would be the bottom line of the organization!

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