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Posts Tagged ‘Detachment’

Much like a proficient swimmer participating in a competition, a smart CEO needs to operate in two  diametrically opposite styles at the same time – one of attachment and another of detachment. She needs to be an enthusiastic participant in the operations and swim along with the current. Often, she also needs to sit back on the banks of the river, keenly observe the direction in which she is headed and make a detached and objective assessment of the situation. There is thus an inherent duality embedded in her role. Her role as a passionate participant must always embrace that of the intellectual spectator. The “who” and “why” of her concerns should constantly enfold the “what” and “how” of our methods.

With maturity, a person gains the ability to detach from passionate participation in the operations and do a pitiless analysis of the overall shape and working of the system. Successful CEOs know that after all the analysis is done, they still have to throw themselves back into the mix. One may call this art a hybrid style of functioning.

Detachment in Action

A sense of detachment, as brought out by Bhagavad Gita, is not about one losing the sight of the objective sought to be achieved. Nor does it recommend a defeatist attitude in one’s life and career. Rather, it is about handling successes and failures in a balanced manner. Smart leaders, who have achieved a spectacular success, do not become complacent. They remain humble. They determine the critical success factors and store these at the back of their minds, ready to be recalled when necessary. When faced with dire failures, they shoulder the blame, get requisite feedback and take steps to ensure the failure gets avoided the next time round. If they lose interest for some time, they bounce back with renewed enthusiasm and work towards delivering results. In other words, detachment helps one to be more objective.

Peter Drucker, when he dished out advice to CEOs, invariably acted as a dispassionate observer. He was critical but fair, assisting some of the best brains in the American corporate world in their crucial jobs of scaling up huge businesses so that their vastness became an asset rather than a liability. He refrained from developing a sense of attachment towards any of the CEOs he interacted with and maintained a critical detachment. He studied and commented upon the latest key issues without selling universal truths to his clients, followers and managers everywhere. This was one of his key qualities which added to the greatness of his thoughts.

If one were to go through the history of the Apollo series of missions launched by the National Aeronautical Space Agency of USA during the 1960s and 1970s, one would be struck by the kind of tenacity and equipoise demonstrated by the participating astronauts. Despite losing several of their colleagues in accidents, they remained committed to the overall goal, delivering some spectacular results for our scientists and technocrats to work upon. The same trend continues till date. Airspace disasters notwithstanding, we keep sending missions to Mars and to Sun. The quest of humanity to explore our universe continues unabated.

Inner Resilience and Equanimity

Attaining a state of detachment gets facilitated if a professional were to improve upon her levels of Inner Resilience and practice Equanimity. This is what Bhagavad Gita says in this context.

योगस्थ: कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गं त्यक्त्वा धनञ्जय |
सिद्ध्यसिद्ध्यो: समो भूत्वा समत्वं योग उच्यते || 2.48||

Be steadfast in the performance of your duty, O Arjun, abandoning attachment to success and failure. Such equanimity is called Yoga.

Professionals need to know not only what is to be done, but also how it has to be done. Lord Krishna does not fail them. He recommends an ‘evenness of mind’, the tranquility of inner composure in handling all the pairs of opposites in their careers and lives – success and failure, praise and reprimand, hiring and firing, sprees of expansion and down-sizing, products and services which are at opposite ends of their life cycles, mergers and demergers, favourable and unfavourable circumstances, and the like. This, indeed, is held to be the real ‘Yoga’.

In the process, we need to give up our false expectations, wrong imaginations, daydreams about the fruits of our actions, anxieties for results, resistance to change, and fears about future events which are still in the womb of the universal force called Time.

The traits of a Super Leader

Hers is a balanced personality, free of unreasonable desires which pose the danger of her losing sight of her sense of righteousness. She does not have a binding attachment with her emotions. Nor does she have a jealous preference for her pet ideas or for her pet people. She scoffs at any signs of nepotism. She encourages her team members to be nay-sayers, so voices of dissent could be heard and judiciously dealt with. She radiates positivity all around her. She is committed to the organization’s goals and looks after her team members much like a lioness would protect her cubs.

Such a person of steady wisdom is described in Bhagavad Gita as a Stitha-Prajna. Consider the following:

दु:खेष्वनुद्विग्नमना: सुखेषु विगतस्पृह: |
वीतरागभयक्रोध: स्थितधीर्मुनिरुच्यते || 2.56||

One whose mind remains undisturbed amidst misery, who does not crave for pleasure, and who is free from attachment, fear, and anger, is called a sage of steady wisdom.

Two concerns may arise here. One, could there really be persons who could be held to have all these qualities? Two, is it really possible for one to be free of one’s basket of desires and one’s ego?

In his book ‘Beyond the Last Blue Mountain’, R M Lala quotes the case of Jamsetji Tata, the founder of the Tata group of companies. It was he who gave the group a unique position in India. In his later years, he did not ask ‘What enterprise is the most profitable?’ but, ‘What does the nation need?’ Since the answer in his times was steel, hydro-electric power or an institute of science, he made his best efforts to fulfill that need.

He is reported to have once said something very basic:

We do not claim to be more unselfish, more generous or more philanthropic than other people. But we think we started on sound and straightforward business principles, considering the interests of the shareholders our own, and the health and welfare of the employees the sure foundation of our prosperity.’

Alfred Sloan is reported to have once remarked, ‘What is good for General Motors is good for America.’ J R D Tata always thought the other way round. ‘What is good for India is good for Tatas.’

Theirs is only one example of a business house which is clear in its goals and in its priorities. Several others could be quoted in the current context, like N R Narayana Murthy, the founder of Infosys.

Getting rid of desires and ego is no cakewalk. A CEO may introspect and fine tune her desires so the same are aligned with the values of the organization she works for. In the process, her personal desires take a back seat. Likewise, getting rid of one’s ego completely has a flip side. One could end up becoming a doormat and getting taken advantage of by all and sundry. Arguably, her wisdom and intuition can help her to retain her individuality even while letting go of the ego. Ask any CEO who has ever worked in a single-owner driven company, and she would attest to the basic principle of leaving the ego at the office gate itself!

Professionals who remain undistracted by transient entrapments have the ability to be rational and calm. They are steadfast in reaching their goals and go on to make successful business leaders.

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When owners and founders of businesses hire CEOs, they hope for an attitude of quiet and respectful deference towards themselves, sans dissidence of any kind. Often, their attachment to the business surpasses all other considerations. Thus, fissures between the two power centers soon start popping up. If some of the actions of a CEO are leading to a compromise on the basic values of the business, like in the case of Tatas and Cyrus Mistry, or like in the case of Infosys and Vishal Sikka, it is understandable. But if the gaps have arisen due to the manner in which operations are getting handled, it just shows that the owner or founder is not willing to let go.

In family owned businesses, the younger generation is often raring to go. Many a scion keep twiddling their thumbs trying to figure out as to when the elder owner would hang his corporate boots or sandals, so they could have a free hand to nudge the enterprise towards newer markets, adopting the latest technologies sprouting in the era of Industrial Revolution 4.0. But for most of the elderly owners, it is a tough challenge to give up controls. Like the proverbial man who keeps clinging to a tree but blames the tree for not allowing him to let go, they refuse to fade away gracefully into the sunset. During the period of transition, chaos and confusion reigns. Hapless employees continue to suffer silently, caught as they are between the divergent thought processes of the two generations.

The war depicted in the epic Mahabharata, of which Bhagavad Gita is an integral part, came about only because King Dhritarashtra could not overcome his attachment to either the throne or his son, Duryodhana. The outcome was the death of all his hundred sons, loss of prestige and kingdom and, of course, social and economic misery of the multitudes who had earlier thrived during his reign.

Different Hues of Attachment

Attachment is an intoxicant which, when taken in excessive doses, leads to perilous outcomes. When consumed without a moderating dose of detachment, it could prove to be a disastrous tissue restorative, a concoction which is surely injurious to the efficiency and effectiveness of a manager.

Attachment with a Lion King could leave a sheep ending up as its prey. If the Lion King himself feels attached to a wily Finance-Fox and ends up promoting him as a CEO, the organization may soon start running only on Standard Operating Procedures, neglecting customer service and employee relationships. A Production-Bovine who is attached to the technology in use on the shop floor would take a jaundiced view of a more efficient technology being planned to be introduced by the management. A Human-Resources-Canine may start hiring people only from his own ethnic background, resulting into lack of diversity in the organization. Separations with non-performing employees do not get handled well, impacting down-sizing initiatives of the management. A sprightly Operations-Reindeer might start believing that the whole organization would collapse if he were to proceed on leave.

Often, attachment to a person leads to complications. Those who do not deserve a raise might even end up getting a promotion, impacting employee morale adversely. Those who are competent could get sidelined, increasing the chances of their seeking greener pastures. Ultimately, the organization suffers. Undue attachment to a senior could gradually transform one into a seasoned Yes-person. If ever the senior’s career graph takes a hit, the one hanging onto his coat tails would also suffer.

Likewise, when one gets attached to an experience, whether positive or negative, one’s Guardian Angels go into a state of hibernation and disaster lurks around the corner. A promotion could go to one’s head, leading to aberrant behaviour, with negative results quick to follow. Spectacular success in a project could lead to complacency. On the flip side, a sharp public rebuke from someone senior could make one withdraw into an emotional shell, thereby impacting one’s performance. One could decide to play the victim card for some time and continue to seek solace from those who are in no way capable of helping. It does not bring about desired results.

Attachment and Resistance to Change

In other words, attachment often leads to resistance to change. One’s sense of objectivity gets compromised. A tendency to remain in one’s comfort zone rules the roost. Innovation takes a back seat. Procrastination kicks in. Delegation gets dumped. Distortions start popping up. Conflicts and dilemmas do not get resolved in an unbiased manner. Relationships with key stakeholders turn sour. Signals of an imminent shift in customer tastes and preferences start getting neglected. Market share starts shrinking. Advances in technology do not get absorbed in the organizational processes. Business takes a hit. Brand equity nosedives. Existence of a business itself may come under a cloud.

Elsewhere, we have already touched upon the manner in which such market leaders as Kodak and Nokia have suffered in the past. Likewise, organizations which resist absorbing the newer technologies coming up in Industrial Revolution 4.0 could face a serious threat of either scaling down or getting completely wiped off in the times to come.

The Approach of Detached Attachment

All this is not to say that attachment is something which can be completely avoided. The concept of attachment is central to organizational life. Attachment is essentially an enduring emotional bond between people, events and belief systems. Experts have studied the nature, development, maintenance, and dissolution of this emotional bond through the lens of Attachment Theory, providing an insightful perspective in the understanding of human relationships. Dynamics of leadership is surely impacted by it. So is the concept of trust, mentoring and employer-employee relationships. Employees get motivated and become proactive when under the spell of attachment. It impacts ethical behaviour in a significant manner.

If the Western models of Attachment touch upon its gravitational pull and inevitability, Lord Krishna presents an Eastern template of Detachment, which could be held to be a spaceship which enables one to foray into interstellar space and enjoy the captivating beauty of a fraction of the universe.

Can a target be cracked unless the team working on it is truly attached to it? But the sense of attachment need not cloud the team’s judgement and even make it blind to other options which might result in the target being achieved more effectively and efficiently. Similarly, a leader has to give up his likes and dislikes for individual team members and handle all in an impartial manner, thereby highlighting the need to remain detached.

What is desirable is a healthy combination of Attachment and Detachment. Some may allude to it as a Detached Attachment!

Detachment: The Art of Living in the Present

Bhagavad Gita elaborates on the basic concept of detachment. It exhorts a CEO not to worry over and get herself preoccupied with the anxieties for the rewards of her actions, thereby avoiding a tendency to live in the future. Nor does it make sense for her to keep analyzing as to what transpired in the past and get overly worked up about it. The advice here is not to waste the present moment in inane memories and in concerns about the future. Rather, she can do her very best in the present moment, keep relevant stakeholders in the loop, and perform her duties, as dictated by a sense of virtuous righteousness. This way, she is released from all of her mental preoccupations. Work alone makes her live in the joy and ecstasy of inspired self-forgetfulness. The work itself becomes the reward.

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन |
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि || 2.47 ||

You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.

 

Cultivating a sense of detachment is easier said than done. CEOs need to make frequent inward journeys a habit. What helps is a practice to mentally walk away from a given situation and view it not as a participant but as a neutral witness or observer. As a neutral person, the CEO does not interfere with things. Nor does she expect or impose anything. She may still experience thoughts, but does not judge them or fight with them. There may still be chaos all around, but the witness is disinterested, and does not react to these inputs. To the witness, they are like the clouds that merely pass us by.

Who is this witness? It is not the mind. The mind is incapable of witnessing. Lord Krishna says that one’s soul is the Witness. If the CEO assumes a witness-like stance – witnessing her own thoughts, likes, dislikes actions and intentions – she is in resonance with her inner self. This has the potential to bring about a harmony between her thoughts, her words and her actions, thereby making her an inwardly happier and an outwardly successful professional.

 

(Published in the April 2019 issue of New Race journal of SACAR, Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research)

 

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ashokbhatia

When it comes to writing, we are not too bad. Words help us to keep ourselves connected with the Blogging illustrationworld around us. Our inner joys, sorrows, trials, triumphs take the shape of blogs which we keep posting at regular intervals. We can’t help ourselves but write. In other words, we are a bunch of declared Blogaholics. We have no intentions of getting rid of this addiction. And we do not wish to remain anonymous!

Writing is like an internal cleaning process for us. Some of us use it to unburden the soul; some others for spreading cheer. Some of us are here to promote our books, whether present, upcoming or still in the realm of our pious intentions. Some of us are here to make money. Quite a few of us are here simply to educate, entertain and amuse.

We have good days and we have bad days. Often, we…

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The relationship between Efforts and Results

One would have often wondered as to the nature of the relationship between efforts and results. A project on which much energy and time has been spent may get shot down by one of the seniors and never come to fruition. Another one, which has received only a fraction of the attention that was paid to the former one might take off and become a roaring success. Other than the effort, the timing plays a role in the success or failure of a project. Market conditions, government regulations, interpersonal relationships, employee engagement and several other factors also play a role.

A sense of detachment, as brought out by Bhagavad Gita, is not about one losing the sight of the objective sought to be achieved. Nor does it recommend a defeatist attitude in one’s life and career. Rather, it is about handling successes and failures in a balanced manner. Smart leaders, who have achieved a spectacular success, do not become complacent. They remain humble. They determine the critical success factors and store these at the back of their minds, ready to be recalled when necessary. When faced with dire failures, they shoulder the blame, get requisite feedback and take steps to ensure the failure gets avoided the next time round. If they lose interest for some time, they bounce back with renewed enthusiasm and work towards delivering results.

If one were to go through the history of the Apollo series of missions launched by the National Aeronautical Space Agency of USA during the 1960s and 1970s, one would be struck by the kind of tenacity and equipoise demonstrated by the participating astronauts. Despite losing several of their colleagues in accidents, they remained committed to the overall goal, delivering some spectacular results for our scientists and technocrats to work upon. The same trend continues till date. Airspace disasters notwithstanding, we keep sending missions to Mars and to Sun. The quest of humanity to explore our universe continues unabated.

Inner Resilience and Equanimity

A related feature is the need for professionals to improve upon their levels of Inner Resilience and practice Equanimity. This is what Bhagavad Gita says in this context.

योगस्थ: कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गं त्यक्त्वा धनञ्जय |
सिद्ध्यसिद्ध्यो: समो भूत्वा समत्वं योग उच्यते || 2.48||

Be steadfast in the performance of your duty, O Arjun, abandoning attachment to success and failure. Such equanimity is called Yoga.

Professionals need to know not only what is to be done, but also how it has to be done. Lord Krishna does not fail them. He recommends an ‘evenness of mind’, the tranquility of inner composure in handling all the pairs of opposites in their careers and lives – success and failure, praise and reprimand, hiring and firing, sprees of expansion and down-sizing, products and services which are at opposite ends of their life cycles, mergers and demergers, favourable and unfavourable circumstances, and the like. This, indeed, is held to be the real ‘Yoga’.

In the process, we need to give up our false expectations, wrong imaginations, daydreams about the fruits of our actions, anxieties for results, resistance to change, and fears about future events which are still in the womb of the universal force called Time.

The traits of a Super Leader

Hers is a balanced personality, free of unreasonable desires which pose the danger of her losing sight of her sense of righteousness. She does not have a binding attachment with her emotions. Nor does she have a jealous preference for her pet ideas or for her pet people. She scoffs at any signs of nepotism. She encourages her team members to be nay-sayers, so voices of dissent could be heard and judiciously dealt with. She radiates positivity all around her. She is committed to the organization’s goals and looks after her team members much like a lioness would protect her cubs.

Such a person of steady wisdom is described in Bhagavad Gita as a Stitha-Prajna. Consider the following:

दु:खेष्वनुद्विग्नमना: सुखेषु विगतस्पृह: |
वीतरागभयक्रोध: स्थितधीर्मुनिरुच्यते || 2.56||

One whose mind remains undisturbed amidst misery, who does not crave for pleasure, and who is free from attachment, fear, and anger, is called a sage of steady wisdom.

Two concerns may arise here. One, could there really be persons who could be held to have all these qualities? Two, is it really possible for one to be free of one’s basket of desires and one’s ego?

In his book ‘Beyond the Last Blue Mountain‘, R M Lala quotes the case of Jamsetji Tata, the founder of the Tata group of companies. It was he who gave the group a unique position in India. In his later years, he did not ask ‘What enterprise is the most profitable?’ but, ‘What does the nation need?’ Since the answer in his times was steel, hydro-electric power or an institute of science, he made his best efforts to fulfil that need.

He is reported to have once said something very basic:

We do not claim to be more unselfish, more generous or more philanthropic than other people. But we think we started on sound and straightforward business principles, considering the interests of the shareholders our own, and the health and welfare of the employees the sure foundation of our prosperity.’

Alfred Sloan is reported to have once remarked, ‘What is good for General Motors is good for America.’ J R D Tata always thought the other way round. ‘What is good for India is good for Tatas.’

Theirs is only one example of a business house which is clear in its goals and in its priorities. Several others could be quoted in the current context, like N R Narayana Murthy, the founder of Infosys.

Getting rid of desires and ego is no cakewalk. A CEO may introspect and fine tune her desires so the same are aligned with the values of the organization she works for. In the process, her personal desires take a back seat. Likewise, getting rid of one’s ego completely has a flip side. One could end up becoming a doormat and getting taken advantage of by all and sundry. Her wisdom and intuition can help her to retain her individuality even while letting go of the ego. Ask any CEO who has ever worked in a single-owner driven company, and she would attest to the basic principle of leaving the ego at the office gate itself!

Professionals who remain undistracted by transient entrapments have the ability to be rational and calm. They are steadfast in reaching their goals and go on to make successful business leaders.

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On a lighter note, one needs to be wary of managements which exhort one to follow this much misunderstood principle of detachment expounded in the Bhagavad Gita. They would have one believe that one should continue to slog all year long but would do well not to expect that elusive overdue promotion. One can then either lump it and trudge along, or take prompt action through proper channels to get oneself detached from the company at the earliest possible opportunity!

An inspired self-forgetfulness

What is the secret behind mighty achievements? What is the state of mind in which an artist like Vincent van Gogh would have created his unique gifts to humanity? Could he have done so while being worried if his latest masterpiece would turn out to be better than the one he had made earlier? Could Michelangelo have sculpted Pieta with the sole purpose of receiving a reward or recognition for creating the same?

Was Newton worried about either his past or his future when the apple fell? Had that been so, is there not a chance that he might have missed out on discovering the forces of gravity? What are the conditions under which a product developer based in Silicon Valley comes up with her next bright idea? Which is the state of mind which is conducive to creative work?

Scratch beneath the surface of any work of inspiration and one is apt to discover the ultimate secret of great accomplishments. Living every moment of the present is one of the factors which help one to live an inspired life and also enjoy it to the hilt. The creative process is akin to meditation of sorts, where the creative person, the universe and the surroundings – all end up in a single harmonious state.

This is precisely what Bhagavad Gita means by detachment. It exhorts a CEO not to worry over and get herself preoccupied with the anxieties for the rewards of her actions, thereby avoiding a tendency to live in the future. Nor does it make sense for her to keep analyzing as to what transpired in the past and get overly worked up about it. The advice here is not to waste the present moment in inane memories and in concerns about the future. Rather, she can do her very best in the present moment, keep relevant stakeholders in the loop, and perform her duties, as dictated by a sense of virtuous righteousness. This way, she is released from all of her mental preoccupations. Work alone makes her live in the joy and ecstasy of inspired self-forgetfulness. The work itself becomes the reward.

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन |
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि || 2.47 ||

karmay-evādhikāras te mā phalehu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te sa
go ’stvakarmai

You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.

Management by loftier objectives and Resistance to Change

Is it really possible for one to be detached with the fruits of one’s actions? In a business scenario, when a manager is part of an organization, she is expected to deliver results. Efforts put in by her do not count; results alone do. If so, one might well wonder as to how one can remain detached with the outcome. Would it not be going against the philosophy of Management by Objectives?

What one is being advised here is not to take actions which are at divergence with what is sought to be achieved. The objectives are not under question; the means are. The underlying assumptions, prejudices and attitudes are. Management is the art of the possible. Of doing one’s best under the given constraints. A manager who works to the best of her ability, irrespective of how favourable or unfavourable the situation is, happens to be practising detachment. She is not one who would get swayed by petty short-term considerations. She is not someone who would allow her personal prejudices to shape her actions. Nor would she wallow in self-pity and misery, when faced with an adverse outcome. In other words, detachment helps professionals to not to lose sight of the overall good of the organization.

When an organization takes a decision to down-size, the onus of working out a detailed plan for affected employees falls onto the CEO and her team, especially on the person heading the Human Resources function. Typically, employees who are projected to be competent in the changed business scenario would get transferred to diverse locations. Those whose services in the past have been satisfactory but would not be relevant in future get assisted and out-placed. For the remaining employees, a transparent severance package gets worked upon and executed. In the entire process, a sense of detachment, devoid of personal emotions and prejudices, is essential. By handling separations well, the organization improves upon its brand equity and ends up creating brand ambassadors for itself.

Likewise, when a Chief Marketing Officer decides to either launch a new brand, or change a link in the company’s distribution network, a sense of balance and detachment helps. A Chief Finance Officer, when recommending a change in the external audit firm, has to leave her comfort zone, use a sense of detachment, and initiate a change which would bring better results for the company. A Production Manager, when asked to absorb a new technology or equipment on the shop floor, has to forsake a sense of attachment to the earlier methods of working and embrace change.

Consider the case of a team leader who is yet to learn the art of delegation. She retains a tendency to nano-manage operations and is not able to get work done based on a sense of detachment. The team members find it rather difficult to deliver exemplary results under such a leader, thereby harming the organization in the long run. The art of true delegation is also based on a deeper sense of detachment.

It follows that a sense of detachment helps professionals in many ways – to remain objective, to retain a sense of balance, to embrace change with lesser resistance, to handle adverse situations better, and to remain committed to the overall good of the organization.

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Interested in the intricate connection between driving and the sense of detachment? Read on…!

The Playground

Image Courtesy of William Creswell

Want to be an amateur car chauffeur? Or maybe you want to know how to become a limo driver? If you want the latter, then you’ll probably want to be an amateur car chauffeur first, to gain the experience you need to become the limo driver of your dreams.

For the Amateur Car Chauffeur:

First off, an amateur car chauffeur needs a car to drive. But it can’t just be any car. If you own the car you’re driving, then you’ve already failed in your role as chauffeur. Chauffeurs never drive their own vehicles, so you’ll need to find another person’s car. The easiest, fastest, cheapest way to get someone else’s car is to steal it.

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