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Posts Tagged ‘Empathy’

How have some of our business leaders responded to the challenges posed by the pandemic? Well they appear to be following the popular saying that when times get tough, the tough get going!

As per press reports, Sanjiv Mehta, Chairman and MD of Hindustan Unilever, has spoken of the kind of steps taken to boost the company’s prospects by focusing better on health, hygiene and sanitation products. As many as 50 new product and pack innovations are said to have been made. Agility and speed have helped.

Manu Jain, MD of Xiaomi India, has said that the pandemic has taught him the importance of empathy and patience during tough times. The ability to be able to put oneself in another person’s shoes stands out. Instant gratification is nowhere on the horizon; patience alone helps. So does slowing down and staying calm.

Ronojoy Dutta, CEO, IndiGo, has highlighted the importance of staying connected as well as being transparent with employees so as to retain their trust. According to him, irrespective of the situation, honesty and transparency win in the harshest of times. According to C P Gurnani, CEO and MD, Tech Mahindra, leaders need to give up their ‘command and control’ mindset and shift to a ‘mentor and inspire’ mindset.

Manish Sabharwal, Chairman, Teamlease Services, concludes that resilience matters as much as performance.

(*Source: The Economic Times Magazine, August 30-September 05, 2020, etc)

Leadership traits which help

Leaders who thrive in an era of heightened uncertainty and bloated entropy are better placed to steer their organizations more purposefully and effectively. The virus has highlighted the following qualities in someone who leads an organization in such stormy times: Prioritizing people. Creating clarity on what needs to be done; providing hope and refusing to let a mood of despondency creep in. Having an ear to the ground and being flexible in an evolving crisis; engaging with other stakeholders, including employees, to understand their concerns better.

The virus has brought into focus the dire need for such leaders. It has even indicated the kind of traits such leaders should have: empathy, compassion, higher resilience, an inner sense of peace and equanimity, brain stilling, actions which are rooted in basic human values and better concern for the environment.

It is already understood that leaders who believe in delegation, decentralization and quiet consensus building are able to handle crises better. The approach to problem solving needs to be non-muscular. A shock-and-awe tactics is best avoided.

Leader Mindsets and Human Values

Prof G P Rao, a behavioural scientist of repute and the founder of SPANDAN, a NGO which espouses the cause of human values in organizations, demonstrates that leaders have three kinds of mindsets: ‘I am Everything’, ‘I am Nothing’ and ‘I am Something’.

In a recent study, he has identified the following five topmost values perceived as being conducive to tackling the pandemic successfully:

  • Faith in basic goodness of human beings
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • A positive outlook: Happiness – contentment – self fulfillment
  • Respect to nature and mother earth, and,
  • Preparedness.

The empirical study covered a total of 100 professionals, of which 57 were drawn from the senior and middle management rungs of a software company and 43 belonged to a mixed group from different professions and organizations. The study was conducted during the months of July and August, 2020.

The basic premise is that ‘I am Something’ leader mindset needs to balance the needs and aspirations of others and that of the environment, choose suitable human values and facilitate others to do likewise.

Examples quoted above from the practical business world also testify to the proposition put forward by Prof Rao – that the aim of a leader should be to strike and acquire an optimal balance between and among the select human values so that there is synergy between ‘I am Something’ leadership and human values.

By reposing one’s faith in the basic goodness of human beings, by responding to fresh challenges in a creative and innovative manner, by adopting a sunnier disposition, by preparing for contingencies in advance and by reconfiguring operations with due respect to nature and mother earth – that is how the challenges posed by the pandemic are being met.

(Inputs from Prof G P Rao are gratefully acknowledged.)

(Part 2 of a series of articles on Corona virus and Leadership) 

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/09/05/corona-virus-and-an-early-onset-of-industrial-revolution-4-0

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/09/14/corona-virus-some-lessons-from-bhagavad-gita)

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ashokbhatia

Why do we hold leadership to be something which is fascinating? Perhaps we do so because of the inherent complexity it represents.

One, it is the outcome of a delicate chemistry between an individual and his/her environment. All individuals have personality traits. Some of these come to the fore under some special circumstances. Take away those circumstances, and the trait may continue to remain dormant for a long time.

It follows that there is as much probability at work here as, say, in the tossing of a coin or in a game of chance. In the realm of human resources, we see examples of dullards becoming heroes in a given situation. In case of brands and organizations, we come across several cases where some which were ‘nothing’, when assiduously worked upon and when the market conditions were right, evolved into ‘everything’ and started enjoying commendable market equity.

Two, experts have…

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Why do we hold leadership to be something which is fascinating? Perhaps we do so because of the inherent complexity it represents.

One, it is the outcome of a delicate chemistry between an individual and his/her environment. All individuals have personality traits. Some of these come to the fore under some special circumstances. Take away those circumstances, and the trait may continue to remain dormant for a long time.

It follows that there is as much probability at work here as, say, in the tossing of a coin or in a game of chance. In the realm of human resources, we see examples of dullards becoming heroes in a given situation. In case of brands and organizations, we come across several cases where some which were ‘nothing’, when assiduously worked upon and when the market conditions were right, evolved into ‘everything’ and started enjoying commendable market equity.

Two, experts have always been at pains to distinguish it from management. To the initiated, if management is all about people and processes which enable an organization to run smoothly, leadership is all about disruptive vision which could spur innovation and end up transforming the way the organization works and responds.

If one were to draw a parallel from the vast pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses, one could perhaps say that if management is represented by someone like Lord Vishnu, leadership could be held to be portrayed better by someone like Lord Shiva. One is said to be maintaining and running the universe, while the other is the disruptive force which creates things anew.

Three, the term leadership itself leads us to another pertinent question – that of people being led. Just who are these followers? What are their characteristics? What are their aspirations? It is regrettable that while much research has been done on leadership, the followers – who make a leader what he/she is – have got a short shrift. The traits of this multitude of humanity have never been directly addressed; these are merely covered elsewhere, under the guise of subjects like motivation, communication, delegation, and the like.

Be that as it may, the charisma which a leader is said to possess remains a subject of relentless enquiry. This is yet another reason as to why leadership is fascinating. The inherent difficulty in defining the aura of a leader perhaps makes the phenomenon called leadership an enigma. Anything which is not readily grasped by the human mind invites even more attention. Such are indeed its ways. However, if one were to speak to one’s heart, the mystery unfolds. Human values, compassion and empathy come into play. The cumulative effort of a leader to connect with his/her followers goes a long way in creating the larger-than-life charismatic image of a leader.

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The cultural ethos of an organization is essentially reflected in the way the top honchos conduct themselves. It also manifests in the manner in which the organization handles its relationships with diverse stakeholders.

Empathy is a critical component of the ethos of an organization. The trait of being able to put oneself in another person’s shoes and arriving at business goals and decisions by consensus helps the organization to be more efficient.

Understanding and empathizing with the perspective of the party of the other part also makes it easier to negotiate and successfully close tricky business deals. As an example, when one tries to finalize an order with a customer of Japanese origin, one discovers the value of empathy and mutual trust, because the latter is apt to ask for a detailed costing of the product on offer, a prospect often disliked by most businessmen hailing from a different culture.

Unfortunately, empathy and consensus do not always form a part of the arsenal of business owners and CEOs who are considered successful. Quite a few business leaders have brought to fore a leadership style which tolerates no dissent and abhors a natural impulse to seek consensus. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos are some who have demonstrated that a leadership style which celebrates conflict, disruption and dominance is not only a virtue but possibly also an enabler of sustained creativity, technological evolution and advancement.

Of humility, consensus and culture

However, it appears that CEOs with a Western mind and an Eastern heart are configured somewhat differently. Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, sounds passionate about leadership and transformation, but the route he chooses is based on ethos, empathy, empowerment and democratization. In his book Hit Refresh, he concludes that ‘the choice of leading through consensus versus fiat is a false one.’

He goes on to propose that the ‘C’ in the CEO represents culture, thereby implying that culture building forms the core of his leadership style. In his leadership paradigm, hubris gives way to humility and envy to empathy. A CEO is as much responsible to the investors as he is accountable to the citizens.

A transformation in the offing?

Brand Microsoft has never been about empathy. Rather, its operating style has always been that of crushing the competition. But then, why would it allow Linux applications to run on Windows as well? Perhaps, rapid progress in the realm of technology is making friends out of foes, leveling off the field and making diversity and inclusion the critical components of a business strategy.

How this transformation plays out in future would depend on many factors. The way the market environment shapes up. The degree of freedom truly enjoyed by a senior person at the helm of affairs. The collective consciousness and value system of the core team which supports the CEO in steering the business, possibly based not only on a commercial compass but also on a spiritual one.

The argument one often comes across is that when satisfactory business results are coming in, what is the need for management to deploy such soft practices as empathy, humility and consensus in their operations?

In his book entitled “Be Unreasonable”, Paul Lemberg argues that when a top honcho believes in being reasonable, the business only gets buried deeper in conventional wisdom. He goes on to demonstrate how unreasonable strategies can bring one unconventional success.

This does seem like a workable proposition, especially when one is working in a highly competitive and disruptive environment. However, such a materialistic approach is open to challenge in some ways. One, the long term sustainability of business itself could come under a cloud. The success can then be fuelled only by a perennial outpouring of disruptive innovations, a feat which many businesses may find difficult to achieve. Two, the human capital of the business is likely to remain underserved and underexploited. It is almost certain that team members working under such conditions would not be happy souls who put in their best performance.

A feminine touch

In yet another noteworthy piece of work entitled Shakti Leadership, authors Nilima Bhat and Raj Sisodia argue that too many people have bought into a notion of leadership that exclusively emphasizes traditionally ‘masculine’ qualities: hierarchical, militaristic, win-at-all-costs. They propose that this approach has led to corruption, environmental degradation, social breakdown, stress, depression and a host of serious problems.

They show us a more balanced way, a leadership that is generative, cooperative, creative, inclusive and empathetic. These are traditionally regarded as ‘feminine’ qualities, but are worthy of emulation. In the Indian yogic tradition, these are symbolized by Shakti, the source that powers all life.

Indian scriptures speak of the concept of Ardha Naareeshwara, a form which is an eclectic mix of masculine and feminine features. This is what could turn out to be a better recipe for sustained success in the decades to come. A leadership style which is based on both masculine as well as feminine traits.

The technology explosion

Much like capital, technology in itself is soulless. However, American author Tracy Kidder has held that ‘technology is nothing more than the collective soul of those who build it.’ One would therefore not be wrong in surmising that even in the face of the technological explosion that we experience in our times, human beings – and as a logical corollary, human values – shall always play a definitive role in shaping the society along more just and humane lines.

The power of social media to shape public discourse and reform political decision making is already on display. Yes, there is always the danger of people getting manipulated by an overt use of the same social media. But surely these are short-time blips on the dimension we label as time and cannot last too long.

The future holds hope

Empathy appears to be kicking in. So-called feminine traits like creation and inclusion are taking centre stage. Competition is giving way to collaboration.

A noteworthy feature of organizations which believe in the virtue of empathy is the intention to give back to society some part of what the business gains from it. What follows is a keenness to offer products and services for the overall good. That is the kind of approach that Microsoft and many other enlightened businesses take.

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/super-leaders-the-near-perfect-ceos)

 

 

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FEMALE POWEROften, you think of women as sex objects,

Disrobe them mentally while entertaining lascivious thoughts.

 

You believe they exist only to fulfil your bodily cravings,

Or to perform household tasks which are sheer drudgery.

 

You tease, torment and rape them, not caring what age they are,

But you are no match to their inner reservoirs of deep quiet strength.

 

You forget that many of them have made mighty kingdoms fall,

Scaled great heights in all fields of human endeavour.

 

You know she can open doors for herself,

Can kill cockroaches and lift gas cylinders.

 

She willingly takes up a roles which need empathy,

Keeping your home, hearth and family working in harmony.

 

She does not really need tips on driving,

Nor does she need your shoulder to cry upon.

 

Backed by her intuitive powers and higher EQ,

She can strike a better healthy work-life balance.

 

If there is a promotion to be had, she can get it on merit,

She can shatter glass ceilings all by herself.

 

If you stare at her, she can stare right back at you,

She can refuse to be intimated, bullied or silenced.

 

She can teach her sons to respect women,

And her daughters to respect themselves.

 

She is free to wear what she wants,

Work where she wants, shop where she wants.

 

You may overpower her in a moment of weakness,

But that fleeting pleasure could ruin your life forever.

 

She does not need you to empower her,

She is quite capable of empowering herself.

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