Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

The short half-life of all things material

If Marie Curie had decided to become a human resources professional at some point of time in her sterling career, she would surely have had something to say about the half-life of so many things:  Interpersonal Relationships, Joys and Sorrows, Promotions, Increments, Awards and other recognition which come one’s way all the time. Even insults, abuses and rebukes hurled at managers by their bosses, whether in private or in public, would have invited a comment or two.

Consider this. When one is about to join a company, a sage looking junior executive responsible for handling one at the selection stage would invariably paint a rosy picture about the state of affairs. One would be shown the kind of awards won by the company while discharging its Corporate Social Responsibility mandate.

If selected and upon joining, the demo version would continue right into one’s induction period. A honeymoon phase would invariably follow. All would be hunky and dory. Till the day, of course, when the boss would call one in, look her in the eye, and suggest that she start preparing for a bigger challenge – something like camping on the Mars and peddling the company’s goods and services out there. The scales would then start falling from one’s eyes. The warts would start becoming visible.

Likewise, when a special promotion or increment comes one’s way, a short span of happiness and exhilaration is bound to lift one’s morale. However, with the passage of time, the recognition would start losing its sheen. Challenges in the new position would weigh one down. Ask a canteen boy who is suddenly promoted as a canteen manager. Ask a production supervisor upon whom fate has smiled and who has suddenly found himself promoted to the level of a production manager. Ask a sales representative who finds himself elevated to the rank of a sales manager. There is a good chance that most of such promotees, having found their level of incompetence, would start ruing the day they got promoted. To their utter horror, they would discover that doing a job with their own hands was far easier than getting others to do the same job. Bosses who had originally pushed for the promotion of these souls would be looking sheepish and diffident in such group meetings where the performance, or the lack of it, of the promotees would be on full public display. The management may eventually come to regret the decision to confer a promotion on such souls.

Or, take the case of a bloomer having been made and the resultant rebuke delivered by a senior. If the same is delivered in private, it could lead to some soul-searching and perhaps some improvement in the future handling of similar assignments. Once the basic feedback is ingrained within, the incident may tend to get relegated back into one’s consciousness. However, if the same feedback is delivered in public, the impact would be much higher. A feeling of guilt, shame and remorse may come about, leading to poorer performance on the job. One could then be caught in a downward vicious cycle. A feeling of revolt and revenge may also pop up. Depending upon one’s sensitivity levels, the incident may remain in one’s active memory for a long time to come, leading to a drop in self-esteem and self-confidence.

The common thread in all these occurrences is that nothing is of a permanent nature. Life keeps throwing bouquets and brickbats one’s way. The impression created on one remains a function of time. That is how, wise men say that ‘Time is a great healer.’

Of reversal of polarities

Yet another feature of mortal things is what experts in the science of magnetism would thoroughly approve of. This one pertains to reversal of polarities. A person, an object or even a relationship which happens to be positive at one point in time could easily become negative at another point in time.

A boss who happens to be a role model could one day metamorphose into a villain in one’s career. Over a period of time, unstinted support from her could vanish and assume the sinister shades of vehement opposition to whatever brainy scheme one comes up with. The underlying reasons could be many. An inner sense of insecurity in her. A mere suspicion that you are in cahoots with a senior of hers she takes a jaundiced view of. A personal issue which has made her lose a sunnier outlook about life.

Likewise, a much coveted transfer or promotion could eventually prove to be an albatross around one’s neck. Unforeseen dimensions could open up when handling the situation on the ground. When wisdom dawns, one might realize exactly what the boss meant when she looked one in the eye with a steely eye and surmised that the only person who she thought could gleefully take up a challenge of that nature would have been one alone! The glamour which appeared to have been associated with the event gives way to a sense of entrapment. A sense of despondency overtakes one.

This is what the Gita has to say on the nature of material things:

मात्रास्पर्शास्तु कौन्तेय शीतोष्णसुखदु: खदा: |
आगमापायिनोऽनित्यास्तांस्तितिक्षस्व भारत || 14||

mātrā-sparśhās tu kaunteya śhītoha-sukha-dukha-dā
āgamāpāyino ’nityās tans-titik
hasva bhārata

“O son of Kunti, the contact between the senses and the sense objects gives rise to fleeting perceptions of happiness and distress. These are non-permanent, and come and go like the winter and summer seasons. O descendent of Bharat, one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.”

Why sweat over the small stuff

The fact remains that life rarely unfolds the way one wants it to. Others do not necessarily behave as one would like them to. There are always those who would disagree with one. Things are not handled the way one would expect them to be handled. Some things work out with little effort. Others do not, even with much greater effort. So, if one chooses to fight against this strong undercurrent of life, one would spend much of one’s time in life fighting battles of an insignificant import. Instead, much like Arjuna, one could eventually choose to fight in a war which is based on the principles of righteousness.

One needs to realize that things are of a transient nature, whether people, objects or incidents. Also, what emanates positive vibes and gives pleasure today could well turn out to be a source of torment tomorrow.

If so, there is no reason for one to sweat over such transient things. One might instead focus one’s energy, time and resources on things which are have a much longer shelf life.

A hapless CEO lives from one financial quarter to the next. A gentle nudge to her Chief Financial Officer brings about some improvement in the quarterly guidance values. However, there are limits to which receivables can be stretched, inventories can be buoyed up and expenses deferred to the next quarter. Sweating over the same stuff every quarter takes its own toll on the team’s stress levels. A myopic vision gets developed. A long-term value-based view runs the risk of getting relegated to the background.

Of things which have a much longer shelf life – Values, Character

Which are the things which have a longer shelf life, one may well ask. One’s value system. One’s character. One’s attitude towards life in general. One’s own brand equity. One’s capacity to be able to handle the rough and tumble of a management career. One’s ability to take decisions based not only on big data analytics but also on intuition.

These are the kind of things which are made of sterner stuff, so to say. Vagaries of time find it difficult to chip away at these innate qualities of one. Once this core is managed well, external things fall in place most of the times. One’s responses to people and circumstances become more nuanced, thereby improving one’s managerial effectiveness.

Putting a realisation to practice

It is one thing to know about the impermanence of things in one’s life. But it is quite another to learn to ignore the small stuff and not get swayed by the immediate circumstances. Nerves of chilled steel need to be developed. A state of inner calm needs to be cultivated. A habit of calm endurance, both in pleasure and in pain, needs to be formed. Inner Resilience needs to be imbibed.

Bhagavad Gita exhorts one to do precisely this. It goes on to propose that a person who has attained this state of mental equipoise attains immortality. The principle of reincarnation comes in here.

यं हि न व्यथयन्त्येते पुरुषं पुरुषर्षभ |
समदु:खसुखं धीरं सोऽमृतत्वाय कल्पते || 15||

ya hi na vyathayantyete puruha puruharhabha
kha-sukha dhīra so ’mitatvāya kalpate

“O Arjun, noblest amongst men, that person who is not affected by happiness and distress, and remains steady in both, becomes eligible for liberation.”

Leading a vibrant life

Lord Krishna is not exhorting one to lead a monastic life which would be somewhat monochromatic in nature. He is merely saying not to get swayed by the ups and downs of life. In one’s journey towards attaining perfection, one can make the conscious choice of enduring meekly the little joys and pinpricks of life.

Here, He does not allude to a hapless endurance of the setbacks experienced in one’s career. That would indicate an attitude which has its origins in the dark recesses of the mind, harbouring such tendencies as procrastination. Instead, the reference here is to the sunlit valleys of life through which flow the rivulets of wisdom and understanding.

Consider the case of a manager who has been given a pep talk by his boss. He is now aware of the bigger picture and is fired with a missionary zeal to achieve his target. He is prepared to make many sacrifices on the way, because he has found a deeper purpose behind the task he is entrusted with. If a bouquet is received in the interim, he feels happy but does not slacken his efforts. If some brickbats get flung at him, he takes the feedback in his stride, sifts the wheat from the chaff, and chugs along till the target is achieved.



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Members of the tribe of managers who believe in the ‘I and Me’ approach have swollen minds and shallow hearts. They live in a virtual reality of their own, surfing atop the turbulent waves of life in a belief that they remain in total control of things. They think that they punch all the right buttons in their careers. Successes get attributed to their own actions and initiatives. Failures get attributed to external circumstances, to other people, or to the business environment in general.

In terms of an upgraded Blake-Mouton Grid, they have a propensity to evolve into a leader for whom results alone count. Concern for People gets relegated to the background. Concern for Ethics gets swept under the carpet and conveniently forgotten. In other words, they become CEOs who end up becoming road rollers.

Take the case of a young engineer from India who goes on to pursue his higher studies in one of the advanced countries of the world. He builds a career for himself, gets married, buys his own house, raises a family and even acquires the citizenship of the country where he has settled down. He starts believing that he is an all-powerful and accomplished person, and has the freedom to do what he wants. He prides himself on the fact that his spouse, an independent professional in her own right, is in that country owing to him alone. By implication, she has to be beholden and subservient to him. What he does not realize is the role destiny also has played in his career and life. A hard blow could well make him see the folly of ascribing all his achievements to his capabilities alone.

Free Will, Destiny and a dash of humility

One of the things such persons badly need is a dash of humility, professionally as well as personally. They could do with some introspection in all cases of successes and failures. A pitiless analysis of any success would invariably reveal key factors which not only assisted but also enabled them to achieve it. Likewise, a root cause analysis of a failure might reveal to them what they could have done better in the given situation. It might even show where they personally contributed to their own downfall.

A realization that one is not destined to exercise one’s so-called free will indiscriminately can help one to progress on the path of humility. In any case, the view that human beings are free to exercise their free will has always been a debatable one. Often, hapless Homo sapiens feel as if they are mere puppets going through motions in life according to a grand plan, ostensibly pre-determined by a superior power.

Take the case of an aspiring manager who has just finished her education from an Ivy League institution. She does not entirely control the kind of company she ends up starting her career with. Nor does she control the kind of boss, peers or subordinates she might end up working with. She could very well analyze the business environment the organization operates in. But she has little control over the same.

Going with the flow

Generally speaking, in life, one does not control one’s own birth or death. Nor does one control the kind of parents, extended family and friends one may merit. One merely goes with the flow, so to say.

Omar Khayyam thought one is no better than water, flowing willy-nilly, ‘where Destiny with men for Pieces plays’. He proposed that one merely follows an unalterable script in one’s life, as dished out by our Guardian Angels.

Contrast this with the traditional view of Judgment Day of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This view is based on the conviction that each person is wholly responsible for her conduct in life. The Hindu view of karma also supposes choice for individual human beings.

To participate in, and to submit to, the collective rhythm of creation is to attain bhakti, Narada Sutra says. This marks progress towards humility.

‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings’, says the poet (Julius Ceaser, Act 1, Scene 2).

The ‘We and Us’ Approach to decision-making

Life is much like river rafting, where one may make choices while negotiating the rapids. But the scope of the individual will is rather limited. In one’s career, the scope of the individual will is to choose between making decisions entirely based on one’s individual ego, thereby becoming an ‘I and Me’ manager. Alternately, one may choose to surrender to a higher power, and perform one’s action without attachment to the results thereof. This choice would lead one to a ‘We and Us’ approach to decision-making.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna exhorts us to do precisely this: Practice detachment.

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन |
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि || 47 ||

karmaṇy-evādhikāras te mā phaleṣhu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te saṅ
go ’stvakarmaṇi

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.

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/04/13/heartfulness-management-and-leadership)

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Those exposed to the vicissitudes of a manager’s life often get unduly perturbed about the people around them, or the circumstances and formidable challenges they face in their careers.

But think of it. A manager would strongly protest if another one is made to occupy the office space assigned to her. Why, even a parking space allocation could disturb office harmony! The boss, spending a lot of time with a favourite manager of hers, could create a sense of envy amongst other managers; it could even initiate a chain of rumours and lead to animated discussions at the coffee machine.

Envy, jealousy, hatred, unbridled ambition – all of these happen to be strong undercurrents which could be detected within an outwardly quiet and serene looking manager. Given a chance, managers, like politicians and other professionals, would never cede even a square inch of their turf to someone else.

But if so, one may well ask as to how managers end up permitting others to enter their mental space and cause internal turbulence, often losing a well-earned peaceful sleep at night. They suffer at the hands of a boss or a colleague whom they have come to trust. They get swayed by external circumstances and people, losing their mental equipoise and balance in the process. This obfuscates their vision and disturbs their thinking processes. At times, such negative occurrences even chip off a part of their own self-confidence as well.

Tough bosses routinely rebuke their team members but end up affecting different people differently. Those with a lower self-esteem and a lower Inner Resilience might even contemplate taking a drastic step under external provocation, in some cases leading even to homicidal thoughts. But those who are wired differently might just take such occurrences in their stride, just shrugging off, noticing the underlying lessons and going ahead with the task at hand in a more effective manner.

Higher Inner Resilience is a stress buster

This shows the importance for a manager to have a high degree of Inner Resilience within her mental makeup. This way, she retains her sense of self-esteem. Her perception of reality remains balanced and objective. She is able to punch the right buttons and take better decisions. She owns her actions and takes responsibility for what she does. She does not gloat in a success, attributing it only to her own efforts and initiatives. Nor does she get unduly depressed when faced with failure. The tendency to blame other people or circumstances for her failures does not appeal to her. Instead, a pitiless analysis of the situation at hand gets done. A bout of introspection is attempted.

Her anxiety and stress levels are low. She is more likely to remain in the pink of health. This enables her to live her life to the hilt. An inner bliss is often experienced.

Much like a person who enters the sea for a swim, she is aware that it involves handling mighty waves. Also, that the water is not sweet. So, she is better prepared. Likewise, a manager who possesses a high degree of Inner Resilience is better prepared to handle challenges in her career, whether mighty or otherwise.

In other words, she is smarter than those around herself, better equipped to break the glass ceiling and make it to the higher echelons of an organization.

The risk of Sensitivity

Managers who are sensitive to others’ needs do not necessarily make better bosses. Emotions could cloud their judgement, thereby lowering their level of Inner Resilience. An excess of the Milk of Human Kindness sloshing about in the veins could make them lose their effectiveness as a manager. Moderation is what the doctor would recommend.

However, when Sensitivity gets deployed in tandem with Rational Thought, as drawn from the company’s objectives and policies, they end up being realistically empathic.

Another way of conveying this delicate balance is by the means of a Blake Mouton Grid, which is built upon two dimensions – Concern for People and Concern for Production. Add to this the third dimension – that of Concern for Ethics – and one gets somewhat closer to the quality which the Bhagavad Gita refers to as equipoise.

Learning from Bhagavad Gita

Lord Krishna explains this beautifully to Arjuna. In verse 38 of Chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita, He says:

सुखदु:खे समे कृत्वा लाभालाभौ जयाजयौ |
ततो युद्धाय युज्यस्व नैवं पापमवाप्स्यसि || 38||

sukha-dukhe same kitvā lābhālābhau jayājayau
tato yuddhāya yujyasva naiva
pāpam avāpsyasi

‘Having made pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat the same, engage in battle for the sake of battle; thus, you shall not incur sin.’

When it comes to understanding the happenings around us, this inner equilibrium is the key facilitator. By attaining this state, a manager can shore up her Spiritual Quotient, of which Inner Resilience is a critical component.

Building up Inner Resilience

Meditative practices help. So does a realization that one is acting as per one’s own conscience and what one believes to be right. In other words, one is following one’s ‘swa-dharma’.

The ability and openness to appreciate a deemed adversary’s view point also helps.

Ignoring people with a negative persona and consciously choosing to remain in the company of some positive thinkers assists.

An attitude of ‘This too shall pass’ helps.

Above all, the wisdom gained from the harsh slings and arrows of Life supports in this endeavour. It follows that introspection helps.







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Of Swollen Minds and Shallow Hearts

A vast majority of managers fall in this category. With money power ruling their lives, they cannot be blamed for behaving like robots, relentlessly chasing materialistic goals. With the heart playing a subservient role to that of the mind, analytical skills rule supreme. Intuition, feelings and emotions take a back seat, leading to rapid burnouts and build up of stress. We run into managers who are driven entirely by results, a prospect tolerated with much glee by top managements. Often, they lose the trust and confidence of their team members, resulting into a human relations crisis. External titillations offered by life provide transient moments of gratification. The inner glow of happiness eludes them.

This tribe, which puts a premium on the ‘I and Me’ approach to decision-making, experiences a hollowness within. Minds are whirling with ideas, indicating the dire need to practice brain-stilling, as opposed to brain-storming. Hearts are shallow, resulting into lack of empathy and concern for others. They need the maximum amount of the kind of meditation practice one would refer to as Heartfulness.

Of Balanced Hearts and Minds

Managers in this category are indeed the luckier ones, because they are able to deliver results on a more sustainable basis. Their heads are screwed on right. Their hearts have a modicum of the milk of human kindness flowing through its chambers. By balancing the output of their active brains with the emotional vibes generated by their empathic hearts, they lead happier and more contented lives.

This tribe takes the ‘We and Us’ approach to decision-making. Loved by their team members, they make better business leaders. Since the emphasis placed on results is balanced by the importance given to their people, they command a high level of trust from their loyal team members. If one were to look back at the kind of bosses one still keeps in touch with, even if the formal association had occurred quite some time back, one is apt to find them having achieved this delicate balancing act between the mind and the heart while handling matters.

Of Larger Hearts and Sharper Minds

These are the ones who care about humanity in general. They end up assuming leadership roles while handling challenges facing a particular business group or the society at large. Their thinking is strategic. Their vision is lofty and innovative, at times even disruptive. They take a holistic view of matters at hand. In the process, they extend their sphere of influence to all stakeholders of business. Corporate Social Responsibility is not a mere public relations exercise for them, but an agenda which has to be pursued as vigorously as any other business goal. The inner glow of happiness and contentment does not elude them.

This is a rare breed indeed. It believes in, and follows, a ‘They’ approach to decision-making. Fame comes easily to them. Humility is one of their key personality traits. They become role models, not only for those who observe them at close quarters, but also for people at large. Their minds are vibrant, firing on all twelve cylinders. Their hearts are already overgrown, encompassing a much wider segment of humanity. They are living examples of the potential Heartfulness has, and what it can offer to humanity.

The opportunity of a transformation  

A manager has it within herself to bring about an inner transformation from the ‘I and Me’ attitude to the ‘We and Us’ mindset. Introspection can lead to it. A benevolent senior could propel her on this path of an inner journey of evolution. Even a major setback in life could lead to it.

The germ of this inner desire nestles within her, silently planted there in an embryonic form by their upbringing. The trick lies in discovering and nurturing it, so an opportunity of transforming oneself is not lost. Her core personality and attitudes help. The catalyst of this process of transformation happens to be the value system inherited by her from her elders.

Managers who ignore the need for a transformation of this kind run the risk of being poor team players, stunting their own growth.

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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 management issues R K Laxman touches upon in his witty cartoons are wide-ranging. The messages are hard-hitting. For any manager who is trying to beat the blues, here is an effective anti-dote.

Driving the Boss Nuts

Cartoon Admitting Mistakes

The perils of over-committing oneself

Cartoon Flexibility in Jobs


Cartoon Punctuality

Caught reading naughty magazines in office?

Cartoon Taking Work Home

Simplifying systems and procedures

Cartoon Simplifying Procedures

A manager’s life never has a dull moment. His/her career is like driving a crazy car which is always going either too fast or too slow. From the time a manager enters the n-dimensional space of his/her career space, till the time the boots/sandals are hung right and proper, a roller-coaster ride with uncertain twists and turns is the only certainty.

To maintain one’s sanity, it helps to revisit the works of literary geniuses who have created an eternal world full of blooming flowers bathed in the soft glow of  humor. For those amongst us who are…

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Often, your truly is asked about the contents of the book entitled ‘Surviving in the Corporate Jungle’.

The video clip here covers in brief some of the 110+ topics covered in the book.

Enjoy, and be a smarter and happier manager!

(Related Post:


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