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Posts Tagged ‘Responsibility’

On a recent visit to Vrindaban, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the innate intelligence of our evolutionary predecessorsMarch 2013 471 residing there. A monkey decided to swoop down on our auto rickshaw and snatch away the spectacles of my wife. Not to despair, said the helpful driver. A currency note was offered to the monkey, and back came the glasses without much ado. We were told that it was standard practice for the monkeys to earn money in this manner, only to be exchanged with bananas and peanuts with a trader later! Sure enough, they have figured out how to survive and do well in life!

This led me to think of several other monkeys who have perfected the art of survival in the lives of ordinary Indians. The monkeys of ignorance, superstition, poverty, illiteracy, absence of clean drinking water, inadequate and ineffective delivery of public services and a marked absence of manners, civic sense and politeness in our public spaces. Unlike the Vrindaban monkey who left us in peace, these ones keep returning to haunt us. Each time, they leave us clueless as to how to make them go away permanently.

The Art of Apathy, Callousness and Greed

There is no point in blaming it all on our government. Do we ourselves care about the domestic waste that we generate – eventually, where does it land up and what happens to it? If we pass by an accident site, do we stop to check if anyone needs urgent medical help? While traveling by a bus or car, do we think before spitting or throwing a plastic bag out of the window? In public spaces, do we try to show restraint, respect and courtesy to those who are seniors in age? Do we not enjoy displaying our bravery by breaking a queue, whether at a railway station or while getting into a bus?

Blatant traffic violations are the order of the day. Our drivers routinely use high beams even during city limits, both during day as well as night-time. Overtaking from the left is a norm, and so is merciless honking, despite knowing that the vehicle in front has no way of giving us any overtaking space. When facing a traffic jam, we believe it is smart to go into the opposite lane, so as to make matters worse. Our respect for an authority figure is intact, though. Remove a traffic cop from a busy intersection and we are sure to jump the red light.

We have more mobile phones than toilets – which speaks volumes about the skewed priorities we have in life. Even if there are public conveniences, these are rendered useless by sheer neglect and apathy. In trains, there is no consideration for the following passengers who would like the place to be left in a reasonably clean condition. Men relieving themselves in public and fertilizing our soil across all roads is a common sight to behold.

Many of our corporates indulge in malpractices, perhaps believing that tax evasion is the same as tax avoidance! The fact that four major audit firms are now planning to hire forensic experts to check corporate frauds once again highlights the need for our moral compass to be set right. Our disdain for laws and courts is exemplary. We appear to thrive in informal systems, where rules are meant to be bent.

Blame it on Maasai Mara!

Why are we the way we are? Perhaps our ancestors and genes are to blame? Our ancestors had perhaps migrated all the way from 220px-Elephants_in_masai_maraAfrica. May be their nomadic lifestyles have shaped our genes, making us thrive only in a high degree of chaos. Then we had the invaders who kept plundering us time and again, making us love disorder and aggressive behavior. Or, has our own selfishness and individual greed grown to such an extent that we have turned highly myopic, with the greater good completely invisible to us?

The outlook of a majority of our workforce is still agrarian, giving rise to what one could label as a ‘Rabi-Kharif’ syndrome. What cannot be done today can easily be put off for another six months. No doubt, the attitudes we bring in to our work places (relative to our western colleagues) reflect this reality. As does our habit of making compromises in matters of quality – the thinking that ‘sab chalta hai’ (everything goes).

Ask any business executive and he would complain about long working hours and absence of quality time with family and loved ones. But is the quantity of time spent at the work place commensurate with the quality of the output? Having put in two hours’ honest work, don’t we get tempted to indulge in a long gossip session with a colleague, relaxing unduly long over a cup of tea or coffee?

Rights and Responsibilities

Come to think of it, are we not imitating the three monkeys loved by Gandhi-ji? Like one of those, we refuse to see the filth and squalor220px-Three_wise_monkeys_figure all around us. In fact, we go around spreading it all the more. Like another, we do not hear any voices emanating from our leaders, having given up on them quite some time back. And, of course, like the third one, we do not speak out when we see a serious issue plaguing a majority of our population. We remain safely cocooned in our comfort zone.

It is not my case that all is wrong with us Indians. The world can learn a lot from us – organizing mega events like the Kumbh Mela, managing coalition governments, yoga and spirituality, to name only a few. Our family bonds and values are still intact.  We have several systems that do work.

We also have a vibrant democracy to boast of. However, individually as well as collectively, we appear to be more keen on securing our rights rather than discharging our responsibilities. A touch of decency, concern, compassion, courtesy and humility is surely the need of the hour!

(Images of Elephants and Three Monkeys Courtesy Wikipedia)

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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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