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On the first anniversary of the strict lockdown imposed in India on this day, a year back!

ashokbhatia

The 24th of March, 2020 dawned upon us as any other normal day. Denizens of India were going about their daily chores with as much zombiness as they could muster. Flowers were in bloom. Birds and bees were going about doing whatever they normally do. Trees were swaying in the gentle breeze coming in from the Bay of Bengal. In other words, God was in heaven and all was well with the world.

However, by 2030 hours in the evening, our world had turned upside down. The Indian government imposed a comprehensive lockdown across a country comprising 1.3 billion persons. The Prime Minister himself appeared on our TV screens and announced this decision. By the time he finished, a mere three and a half hours were remaining for the decision to take effect.

This sudden whammy left all of us twiddling our thumbs trying to figure out as to…

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(Non-statutory warning: Reading the article below could be injurious to readers’ mental health and leave them a wee bit depressed. Caution is advised.

The author is reasonably certain that this article is not an outcome of the kind of wholesome pessimism which is believed to envelope one in advancing age.)

There is a mood of despondency which descends upon my frail grey cells once in a while. Dark clouds which have gathered upon me are accompanied by sinister rumblings. Lightning streaks of a menacing kind keep lighting up the sky, duly followed by thunderous howls which pierce my ears. One peers into the future and one shudders to think of the kind of world one would leave behind for our progeny to live in. Tectonic plates of our society appear to be shifting, causing major upheavals.

No, one does not allude to the pandemic stalking us these days. Nor does one refer to such universal problems like global warming, economic disparities, widespread poverty and illiteracy etc. Instead, one refers here to tectonic plates of a different kind – the ones which impact our value systems, human values, social harmony, honesty, fairness and justice, norms of democracy, absence of truthful and factual information, materialistic progress, and the like.

Consider what is happening around us these days.

Some Ground Realities

The Lack of a Conscious Approach to Business Goals

Businesses continue to be driven by greed and avarice alone. Hapless CEOs have no other option but to keep delivering results from one quarter to the next.

There are no guarantees that Volkswagen will not soon come up with yet another technical trick to befool the regulators and its customers. Boeing may yet again secure approvals for launching a model which might put air passengers’ lives at risk. Financial scams will keep tumbling out of corporate closets at a standard frequency which might put an atomic clock to shame.

Think of rising inequalities. Consider a report presented by Oxfam at the January 2021 World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda, titled ‘The Inequality Virus’. It says that the 1,000 richest people on the planet recouped their Covid-19 losses within just nine months of 2020, whereas the world’s poorest could take up to a decade to recover from the pandemic induced setback. I am certain that philanthropic initiatives of the richest have not suddenly seen a proportionately higher uptick.

So, every crisis that humanity faces turns out to be an opportunity for the well endowed to amass greater wealth. Is this the kind of Materialistic and Unconscious Business model that we wish to continue following? Our answer would of course depend based on whether we are from the ‘haves’ side or the ‘have-nots’ side of the society.

The Monkey Business Called Politics

Probity and decency in the public life of our leaders is long since buried. Gone are the days when vibrant democracies needed a strong opposition to thrive. These days, even the President of a country can himself turn against the hallowed portals of democracy and send rampaging mobs braying for the blood of those out to declare him defeated in an election. In other words, it is one of those promotional offers – you vote in a President and get another one for free!

The aforesaid top boss’ term has revealed enormous gaps between the ideals of American democracy and the reality. Even before he exhorted his followers to attack the Capitol and the legislative branch of government, he ignored watchdog rulings and constitutional safeguards, pressed to overturn the outcome of an election, and pardoned those who covered for him, all the while funneling taxpayer dollars to his family business.

In yet another country, the main adversary runs the risk of not only being poisoned but also getting imprisoned on some ground or the other, while those in power brutally suppress dissent marked by men’s underwear and gold-painted toilet cleaning brushes.

World over, there is no dearth of leaders who have dictatorial ambitions but mask these well with democratic credentials. Speak of transparent political funding and all one gets is the silence of a tomb.

In yet another country, lies, obfuscation of facts and clever data management seem to have become a norm. Photo-ops, positive optics and feel-good media feed by devout followers keep the entire nation in thrall. Attempts to stifle dissent and to paint anyone not toeing the rulers’ line as unpatriotic continue unchecked. Getting offended by comments made by those living thousands of miles away appears to have become a national pastime. When a stand-up comedian speaks up, our clairvoyant nature allows us to guess what offending remark he is yet to make. Prompt legal action gets taken, nipping the intended mischief in the bud.

Building physical infrastructure is simply great. So is the drive to embrace technology to make life of a common man simpler. But when this comes at the cost of demolishing social harmony and making a democratic country free of any kind of opposition worth its while, the long term price of a ‘progress’ of this kind is rather high. I am not an economist, but I wonder if an economy can grow while the society itself is getting fragmented.

World over, quite a few governments have even used the pandemic as a cover to suppress dissent and cut short processes to introduce laws of an unpopular kind. In the process, their soft power is bound to dive down.

The Rudderless Social (and Anti-Social) Media

During 2020, in India, when our northern neighbour had encroached upon our land, and when the media should have been doling out useful health tips for people to stay safe in the midst of a pandemic, the only ‘breaking news’ was the suspected suicide of a Bollywood actor and the activities of his girl friend.

Social media, duly backed by smart algorithms, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, keeps shaping our thought processes, our choices, our preferences, our perceptions and our beliefs. We are already living in a fish bowl where the law makers as well as the private players are hands in glove to sell detailed information about us to the highest bidder. Privacy concerns and personal liberties be damned. Pretty soon, it may happen that government support is available only to those who have a pro-government presence on various media platforms.

The whole idea is perhaps to help a lay person evolve into a dumb chum of the first order, unable to use his own judgement in matters of public importance; essentially, to numb the person’s grey cells. In other words, we all become zombies (or jack asses, if you prefer) of the first order.

Little do we realize that there are no free lunches in life. Any service available to us free of cost over the world-wide-web we have spun around ourselves only means that ‘We, the People’ are the product on sale!

If our social media czars do not come up with a realistic code of conduct for themselves soon enough, governments, to salvage their public image, may soon have to start dishing out harsher laws.

Perhaps, one of the czars will soon set up an academy to groom many of our whizz kids into becoming ethical hackers and algorithm developers.

Neglecting Half of the Homo Sapiens

If they stay at home, their contribution to society is never even acknowledged. Rather, it is taken for granted. If they venture out of their home and hearth, lustful gazes disrobe them mentally. If they get violated, they only have to take the rap. In war zones, they are the instruments used to inflict deep wounds on the psyche of the other.

Yes, I refer to the tribe of the so-called delicately nurtured. They are the ones upon whom Mother Nature has conferred the unique capacity of keeping our civilization alive and ticking. They may be as tough as nails and proving themselves to be better than the so-called sterner sex in all fields of human endeavour. A fact which was reinforced yet again when a deadly pandemic arrived at our doorsteps. In public, they may get put on a pedestal and revered. But in private, they often get treated like a doormat, treated as mere objects, only to be used and abused.

Doting lover boys, upon metamorphosing into husbands, often shed their chivalrous masks and start behaving like dictators. If a family breaks up owing to mistreatment, ridicule, abuse and violence at the hands of their husbands, it is the lady of the house alone who gets the entire blame – for being obstinate and uncompromising. The general view is that she is a gold digger of sorts.

Such a patriarchal mindset is not an exclusive prerogative of the poor alone. Nor does it respect geographical boundaries. Education levels also do not make much of a difference. Take couples across different countries, economic status and education level and one is apt to find this to be a universal phenomenon. The Chivalry Quotient may vary across all these parameters, but a singular shortage of preux chevaliers is felt all over our planet. Religious beliefs and even some spiritual tenets reinforce such derogatory views.

In respect of the legal framework, our experience in India has been a mixed one. The females have learnt the art of terrorizing their husbands and their families by foisting cases of imagined harassment, with the sole aim of securing better settlements while seeking divorce. Surely, the training in chivalry truly begins at home – either in the kitchen or at the dining table. Laws can play only a limited role.

The tectonic shift taking place here is that of divorce rates going up and couples preferring to remain friends with perks. Upwardly mobile wives who can stand on their own feet detest drawing husbands who refuse to wear skirts and help out with domestic chores. Once the family structure crumbles, there is a higher probability of the value system of the next generation going for a toss.

The Silence of the Lambs

In many of the issues brought out above, are we ourselves not responsible for the mess that we are in? The silence of our intellectuals, the self-centredness and public apathy of the middle class which more or less upholds values in society and the mute surrender of the common man – are these not some of the factors which have enabled this situation to have come about?

Many years back, I vaguely recall having read a satirical story in Hindi, written by a well known humourist in the language, Hari Shankar Parsai. A herd of lambs is made to believe that few wily foxes alone can solve all their problems. Pretty soon, foxes get voted in. One fine day, a ruling comes that to save the ruling foxes, some sheep should voluntarily surrender to be sacrificed each day so the patriotic fervour is kept alive and the nation is run effectively!

I am not a political science buff. Thus, I am not qualified to say if democracy as a model of governance is failing us. But one of its enabling factors is the presence of conscious leaders who are not shameless and still have traces of humility, empathy, decency and a concern for genuine overall good.

With No Malice towards Anyone  

Educated youth who have no means of earning a living, will they not have a raw anger simmering within them? Will the poorer lot not take a jaundiced view of grand government schemes the benefits of which do not reach them?

Perhaps there is a feeling of helplessness within them. Perhaps they have dollops of patience.  May be they realize that they are too small to bring about any change and feel it is better to accept things as they are and continue wallowing in misery and self-pity, blaming God for all their troubles.

But is a meek acceptance of murkier developments in the world around us a better approach? Can we not dissipate the seething anger within by at least saying what we find to be reproachable? Can we not break our silence of the lambs and speak up?

With Whom Does the Buck Stop?!

Are we ourselves not a part of the problem? Why have we, reasonably educated and rather wise people, decided to outsource our thinking processes and have instead opted to become zombies?!

Do we not keep patronizing companies even we know they have been cheating in the past? Are we not the ones who get swayed by propaganda and cast a vote for a particular party or a particular leader? Do we ever boycott a media outlet which acts as a mouth piece of those in power?

If we are addicted to, say, WhatsApp or Facebook, can we really blame their inventors for the issues that we face? Don’t we find it convenient to remain in touch with our friends and family members through these platforms?

When we notice a female being harassed, are we not likely to look the other way? Is the onus of ‘adjusting’ not always put on the female? Can we take a pause before we make a victim the facilitator of a crime?

Overall, by remaining a mute spectator and witness to acts of corruption, misinformation, lies and half-truths, do we not become accomplices to such misdeeds?

It is not wise to altogether point a finger at others only. A knife kind of a tool is given to us. Let us use it to prepare a juicy dish and not to hurt someone. The choice of usage is with us.

Our endeavour therefore should be to stand up, be courageous and outspoken. This alone can get us counted. Even if there is one sane voice amongst all the noise and din, it would resonate with other like-minded individuals out there.

Our salute needs to reach out not only to those who are already raising their voices but also to the decision makers who might eventually get around to listening to us.

Some Silver Linings

All this is not to say that there are no silver linings in the dark clouds hovering above us. As P G Wodehouse puts it, even when the air is pregnant with V or W-shaped depressions, there are always silver linings on the clouds. We shall do well never to repine, never to despair, but to work upon our own selves and on others in our sphere of influence. It is good to remember that, no matter how dark the skies may be, the sun is shining somewhere and will eventually come smiling through.

There are business houses which keep following good values and ethics in their day to day operations. There are leaders who respond well to challenges like social disharmony and stalking pandemics with a dash of human values. They treat dissent as a valuable input for their decision making processes. We also have very few social media and gig economy barons who are being forced by their own employees to either shape up or ship out.

Lawmakers and pressure groups in USA are already reported to be thinking of ways to bring in a wide-ranging overhaul of ethics, laws, the likes of which have not been seen since the post-Watergate era.

Perhaps, eminent legal eagles in India can also take a leaf out of the USA experience. As a country, we had experienced suppression of dissent even during the 1970s, when an emergency was declared. Can some more constitutional safeguards be brought in so that a popular mandate does not give the executive the right to ride rough shod over other arms of the government, thereby increasing the probability of the country being taken in a direction which is not the same as what our founding fathers had envisioned?

Above all, it is the man on the street, busy keeping his body and soul together, eking out a living for his family and even helping others in distress. When the scales from his eyes fall and he wakes up to a life threatening situation at hand, he reacts. The farmers in India are already showing their resolve following the strategy of peaceful protests and civic disobedience used by Mahatma Gandhi many decades ago.

Then we have lone wolf professional bodies. World Without Corruption in Belgium gives businesses a voice in fighting corrupt practices. The Conscious Enterprises Network in UK speaks of conscious leaders leading their enterprises in a holistic value-based manner in all spheres of human enterprise. The Center for Business Ethics & Compliance in Russia is focused on best practices in the realm of ethics and compliance.

Likewise, in India, Spandan Foundation is passionate about human values in organizations and even plans to set up a centre dedicated to the cause. Shakti Leadership highlights the importance of using feminine traits like empathy and compassion in decision making and assists individuals and organizations in their quest for conscious evolution. The Association for Democratic Reforms keeps relevant political issues alive and kicking in public eye.

I am sure there are many others scattered over other continents. Their attempt is to bring like-minded people together and keep the embers of a pious fire aglow, focused on values and ethics.

The Mighty Churning

The society is always in a flux. These days, it appears to be undergoing a mightier churning which reminds one of the episode of Samudra Manthan (The Churning of the Sea) in Indian scriptures. The churning throws up poison as well as the nectar which grants immortality. Those who believe in following the path of righteousness end up securing the latter.

It is easy to see that we have a leadership crisis on our hands. Since a situation also produces a leader, one hopes that more and more conscious leaders keep emerging, nudging us in the right direction.

Admittedly, the silver linings appear to be like a pale parabola of joy, to borrow an expression from P G Wodehouse. This will remain so till the time a bevy of conscious leaders – whether in business or in politics – do not appear on the scene and convert this into a shimmering parabola of bliss.

The solution is not to keep sweeping issues like hunger, poverty, economic non-inclusion and prejudicial animosity under the carpet. Nor is it to raise the existing walls, whether political, commercial, attitudinal or religious. It lies instead in a truly global view based on the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbukam: The World is One Family.

Being a born optimist who believes in having a chin-up attitude, I do hope that some of these tectonic shifts can at least get retarded, if not altogether reversed, in the years to come.

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/06/17/why-the-wren-is-a-patriot-and-not-a-nationalist-guest-post-by-prof-badri-raina

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/11/23/jeeves-and-the-social-media-challenge

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/bertie-jeeves-and-the-internet-of-things

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/bertie-social-media-and-blogging-blues

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/01/10/jeeves-seeks-a-placement)

 

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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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The 24th of March, 2020 dawned upon us as any other normal day. Denizens of India were going about their daily chores with as much zombiness as they could muster. Flowers were in bloom. Birds and bees were going about doing whatever they normally do. Trees were swaying in the gentle breeze coming in from the Bay of Bengal. In other words, God was in heaven and all was well with the world.

However, by 2030 hours in the evening, our world had turned upside down. The Indian government imposed a comprehensive lockdown across a country comprising 1.3 billion persons. The Prime Minister himself appeared on our TV screens and announced this decision. By the time he finished, a mere three and a half hours were remaining for the decision to take effect.

This sudden whammy left all of us twiddling our thumbs trying to figure out as to how to survive the depressing phase staring us in the face. This was one of the harsher slings and arrows of fate which had hit us. Initially, a sense of shock and awe prevailed. Gradually, reason started reoccupying its throne. Travel plans had to be junked. Medical issues came to the forefront. For the digitally illiterate, banking transactions went for a toss. Gadgets at home needing urgent repairs were left in a limbo. Some missed their daily dose of morning newspapers. Our hearts might have bled realizing the plight of migrants, but we took a jaundiced view of the humble house maid coming in to earn a living. Many other challenges tested our grey matter no end.

Even today, the virus continues to offer a unique experience to most of us, whether by way of making us fearful of its ferocity or by snatching away many of the degrees of freedom we have always taken for granted.

 

The Guardian Angels

It is not that yours truly has been very brave or wise in handling the depressing effect of virus-induced extended lockdowns so far. Much like the V-shaped and W-shaped depressions which plague many of our economies – developed or otherwise – these days, the dark forces of depressing thoughts have been frequently snapping at my heels.

As a loner whose cooking abilities are limited to boiling milk and eggs, and whose procurement related negotiation skills are outdated, life only got tougher in the post-lockdown phase. The horizon of mundane challenges expanded to include sourcing of fruits, vegetables, groceries and medicines. For someone like me who is battered by multiple health risks and is rather shy and diffident, especially in the presence of the members of the fairer sex, the challenge is even mightier.

Luckily, my Guardian Angels who, I am told, go around these days with their fancy i-Pads keeping a track of their favoured ones, noticed my name flashing in a deep red colour on their screens and decided to pitch in. Gradually, a host of characters straight out of the many narratives of P G Wodehouse started popping up around me, making me smile – even laugh occasionally – assisting me in keeping my body and soul together, besides keeping me emotionally afloat and cheerful. Thanks to the virus, a transient family came into existence, with the tantalizing possibility of lingering bonds of friendship which may survive the vagaries of time.

 

Some Supporting Characters

Here are some of the honourable mentions in this context:

Aunt Dahlia and Uncle Tom, my next door neighbours, who keep offering delicious lunches in a routine manner. Their large house is surely not a patch on Brinkley Court. Nor do they have Anatole around. The lavish spreads are an outcome of the culinary skills of Aunt Dahlia, who only calls me a blot on the landscape if she finds me not tucking in enough of the lavish spreads she whips up.

Uncle Tom, besides worrying about taxation blues, could share a great deal of spiritual knowledge. One of his tips to invite a state of happiness is to sing one of his favourite songs at least three times a day without worrying about the reaction of either the humans or the asses around.

At their doorstep, one is apt to find Augustus catching up on its beauty sleep. If awake, his supercilious body language does not encourage one to endeavour to tickle it behind the ears.

Piggy and Maudie, who take care of my pangs of hunger at dinner time, ensure that their dinner spreads are full of nutrients and soluble vitamins, a sentiment that would meet a hearty approval of Laura Pyke.

Piggy happens to share my passion for poetry, books, movies and general affairs, and a personal meeting with him never fails to uplift my spirits. Likewise, a brief session with Maudie on spiritual matters is invariably enriching.

When it comes to being woolly headed, I could offer competition to Lord Emsworth. But I have neither a big castle nor a large estate to take care of. Nor do I have the need to hire a bevy of supporting staff to take care of my affairs. However, someone cast in the mould of Beach the butler, my Man Friday, takes care of mundane upkeep of my modest abode. On this angel falls the burden of ferrying my dinner from Piggy and Maudie’s home every night. How he dodges the ‘oh’s and ‘ho’s of cops enroute in these locked up days and manages to bring home the bacon, so to say, is praiseworthy.

Emerald Stoker, a long time friend and a tough cookie on some days, is otherwise one of those soothing and sympathetic ladies you can take your troubles to, confident of having your hand held and your head patted. She keeps calling me up frequently, not only to check if I am still alive and kicking but also if I happen to be under the grip of any depressive thoughts and need to see Sir Roderick Glossop. I have reason to believe that she keeps a distant track on my emotional peaks and troughs, often directing Guardian Angels in my immediate vicinity to ensure that I remain in a cheerful state of mind.

An architect by profession, she also happens to be a passionate cook. On several occasions, she has shared with me the exotic vegan stuff whipped up by her for the day. All this support from her comes even as she battles severe problems in her personal life.

Jeeves in my life during this phase happens to be a movie maker. He also wears many other hats. His driving and networking skills are exemplary. A globe trotter, he, like all others on this list, suffers from an abundance of the Milk of Human Kindness.

He has the knack of ferreting out sensible movies from the many online streaming options which are in vogue these days. When he shimmers in with a cup of his spiced tea or lays out a lavish breakfast spread, one would need to have a ready supply of tissue papers handy so as to keep one’s drooling under control. Whenever the Guardian Angels are in a celebratory mood, he ensures a ready supply of tissue restoratives.

Angela and Tuppy Glossop

At the start of the lockdown, Jeeves introduced me to Angela, a sprightly spinster who popped up in Pondicherry to soak in its unique ambience, but got stuck due to severe mobility restrictions imposed then. The same fate befell Tuppy Glossop, a friend of hers and a space scientist to boot. My house was blessed by their presence.

Besides a sense of decency and an ample supply of the Milk of Human Kindness coursing through their veins, their sincere efforts at dishing out something which I would find to be palatable endeared my heart. They took over the procurement as well as the household management functions rapidly, the result being that one never had to miss one’s vitamins.

As someone who relishes the pleasures of the table and also aspires to be a sous-chef, Tuppy, in one of his finer culinary experiments, even succeeded in making a ‘perfect circle’ puffed-up chapatti.  Angela was quick on the uptake and sharpened her skills at cooking delicious lentils and kheer (a kind of pudding popular in India).

Both have been going out for beach walks together but I am not aware if any dispute concerning Angela having spotted a shark in the waters ever arose between them. Perhaps the credit goes to the sharks which avoid being in shallow sea waters around Pondicherry.

Pauline Stoker, a fashion designer, a marketer and a fitness enthusiast, keeps popping up with her home-cooked stuff on several days, brightening up the evenings with her effervescence and charm. Often accompanied by her well-mannered Kid Clementina who is sorely missing opportunities to put sherbet in ink pots these days and is invariably struggling to complete her home work online.

Captain Biggar and Galahad happen to be neighbours who pitch in occasionally to spice up the proceedings. One ensures a ready supply of several works of P G Wodehouse borrowed by him from a library nearby. Another offers a fresh perspective on current affairs over a steaming hot cup of tea. He has even ensured home delivery of farm fresh milk, duly sourced from contented cows.

All this is not to say that my immediate family, stationed about 8,000 kms away, does not bring in emotional succour by ardent enquiries made almost every other day. Each interaction with them is akin to a tiny drop of the elixir of inner bliss. Then there are relatives, friends and cousins who are keeping in touch, sharing their experiences during the lockdowns.

 

Meditation and Spiritual Upliftment

Twice a week, the group gathers for a spot of meditation at my place, thereby retaining the members’ sanity and equipoise.

The positive spin-offs of the virus are many. Lesser noise pollution. Minimal traffic. Greener environment. Virtual meetings. A unique time to relook at ourselves and our priorities in life closely. Better sharing and caring between neighbours. A hastening of the onset of Industrial Revolution 4.0.

On the flip side, at least three friends have so far handed in their dinner pails during the 90-day period under reference. For yours truly, some fresh challenges have popped up on the health front. I shall be deceiving the public if I were to say that such incidents do not dampen my spirits. However, help is at hand to pull me out of a deep emotional pit whenever necessary.

The eventual result is a kind of spiritual upliftment, perhaps of the kind that vicars experience when someone like Thos happens to be around.

An Abundance of the Milk of Human Kindness

To sum up, the Guardian Angels are keeping loneliness, depression and negativity at bay. An openness in making new friends, a tendency to help others nearby in whatever way one can and a positive frame of mind facilitate a healthy dose of laughter, mirth and joy. All efforts are being made to keep the body and soul together, so there is no shortage of feel-good hormones in one’s system.

As we gear ourselves to getting used to a long term presence of the virus, or its subsequent off-shoots which it plans to unleash upon us in the days to come, we would do well not to forget that it is here to teach us a rich lesson: that true happiness lies not in material comforts but in sharing a part of what we have with others who, at that point in time, may be in dire need of. Of being able to put ourselves into others’ shoes, anticipating their needs and trying to address the same. Adjusting to what is and not repenting what is not; accepting that life is never perfect. Cultivating a sense of gratitude.

To put it simply, keeping human values on the top of our dealings with those who deserve the same; being humane. As one of my professors would put it, by adopting the Spandan (heartbeat) approach to life.

(Allusions to characters from the works of Wodehouse are purely imaginary; depending upon some personality traits of the real persons alluded to here. No offence is meant to either of the two categories.)

(Illustrations courtesy Mr Sanjay Mohan and the world wide web)

 

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“Little did I imagine that someday Professor Rao will do an empirical study and bring out a book on this subject. The book brings out leadership mindsets so clearly and analyses these based on research and experiential wisdom. The thing that struck me most was the linkage of these styles with the three gunas in Hindu scriptures: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. The book does not prescribe any style but makes the reader think through what his style is and what he would like it to be. Then, it provides the reader with a pair of new glasses and suddenly one starts seeing things in a different perspective.”

Satish Sekhri

Formerly Managing Director

Bosch Chassis Systems Ltd,

Pune, India

(An excerpt from the Foreword to the book)

“I think the leader mindset proposed in the book is “Indian tinted”. As someone from the “West”, I am pleased to enrich my understanding with “your views”. You make a good contribution to enlarge our perspectives on how you see the leader mindset.

Very few of us are internally STRONG to accept negativity; also, the contexts that most of us live with is toxic. So, “I Am Something” approach can be extremely healthy.

When you try to explore the role of human values in the face of Industrial Revolution 4.0 (AI, Robotics, etc), you may consider the fact that the drivers of technology ARE weak in terms of human values.

I think that we are headed towards a phase of self-inflicted extermination, possibly leading to the emergence of a new species. Before the end of this century, we will have ourselves and the others species. We will be creating living beings among us and, little by little, we (little and fragile creatures) will fade away, hopefully graciously. We do not wish to change ourselves. We also do not have the collective will power to change the context in which we operate. So, the next evolutionary step of our civilization may get taken much earlier than most of us may think.”

Marco Paulo Abrunhosa Cardoso 

Serving in boards in different jurisdictions

Finland

“The writing is excellent. As the editor of a journal, I rarely see papers with no errors. Your book is thus a rarity. I initially wondered why some words like “Student” and “Maternalistic” are capitalized. I now realize that there is a meaningful reason behind it.

I see that the style is half-way between a discourse and a scholarly
paper. If you are positioning it as a scholarly paper (like a journal
article or academic book), it certainly needs more references. The book has some quotations which too need references.

This book is obviously positioned as to not tap into management
literature on leadership a lot (at least in part 1). Rather, it offers another way to look at leadership.”

Ram Mohan Pisharodi 

Marketing Professor/Chief Editor, Alliance Journal of Business Research at Oakland University

Greater Detroit Area, USA

“From an Australian’s point of view, I found that the thesis of the book provides a fresh perspective on the issue of leadership – a very sub-continental perspective and interpretation.

It appears that the intent of the book is to provide aspiring (or current) leaders with a way for them to become a happier and more contented person. Greater contentment would lead to a warmer and more positive individual. The thesis is supported by research and empirical observation.

My conclusions include the following issues:

  1. As relevant as is the thesis and its accompanying discussion, the esoteric nature of the discussion, notwithstanding the empirical support provided, will struggle to resonate with Western audiences who are both unfamiliar with some of the philosophers and others cited.
  2. The “I am Something”, in my view, rests on the concept of profound empathy. One of the principles of Spandan is the “belief in innate divinity.” Implied in this is that someone who does not possess “a belief in an innate divinity”, can’t be empathic and therefore can’t develop superior leadership. If that is not so, then why must one have “a belief in an innate divinity” if one can be empathic without it?
  3. That of course highlights a view of leadership through a “religious” lens, which will be problematic for many people who separate organizational leadership from religion, spirituality or personal belief. There are effective and humanist leaders in every spiritual dimension, including atheism.
  4. It depends what the leader is leading. Altruism, another axiomatic dimension of Spandan, implies that to be a “good” leader, you need to be altruistic. One can be driven by one’s own well-being and still have empathy and still be a good and effective leader – it’s just that the person knows what the objective is and what will help them achieve it. Is that wrong? A leader of a commercial enterprise may pursue a financial reward for shareholders (or self) and treat staff and other stakeholders empathically and responsibly.
  5. Individuals, as noted in the book, find it hard to change themselves – because they’re human and self-change is difficult.
  6. Leaders within organizations are not only at the head of the organization; they are also found throughout the organization. People who have even one person for whom they are responsible are leaders. Therefore, the lower in the organization a leader is located, the harder it will be to make the systematic and operational changes suggested in the book, even if they want to. Even if the leaders can effectively change themselves, the organization may not be willing to cooperate.
  7. Some people can’t achieve an empathic capability because of the way they are; they may have an authoritarian approach to the business. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they will fail, but it might lower the chances of “effective and humane success.”
  8. A leader is not necessarily a leader in every aspect of their existence, nor is a follower, a follower in everything. Every individual is both a leader and follower in a diversity of contexts throughout their lives.
  9. In relation to “Maternalism” I have found that men can also act, behave and care maternalistically in organizations (and elsewhere). They inevitably possess strong empathic skills, values and attributes. The stories abound of strong leaders who were loved by their staff for their capable, caring and empathic attitudes.
  10. The nature of empathy may be uniform, but the level of empathy needed to make a noticeable difference will vary. Where an organizational culture is strongly empathic and positive, a leader who “ups” their level of empathy may not even be noticed by those who are affected. That same level of additional empathy will act as a massive change stimulus if occurring in a brutal and savage culture.
  11. I Am Something’ believes that I am neither above you, nor below you. I am neither in front of you, nor behind you.” The issue here is that if someone possesses empathy, they don’t need to “pull their rank” to get things done. But to say that leaders believe they are neither above nor below is unrealistic. The effective, empathic leader knows they have the authority but don’t need to exercise it.
  12. For any meaningful change to take place, leaders themselves have to take the initiative.” For most people, such a change is a serious threat to their self-image. They may need the change, but it’s not as easy as just stating it.
  13. Facilitating others remake themselves along similar lines.” Philosophically, it sound nice, but it may not be necessary. It is not true that everyone in every organization needs to be empathic and “nice” for the leader to achieve. Everyone benefits if they are, but it’s not a truism that they must be transformed for the leader to be effective and for the organization to achieve its KPOs. Sad but true.
  14. The research undertaken appears to have a fairly small sample size to be statistically significant.
  15. On the topic of A.I., robotics and similar, I am of the view that “leadership” and “followship” will still be with us for many years to come. I am also of the view that the nature of leadership and followship will inevitably evolve. Notwithstanding predications of A.I. being able to eventually emulate Man in some areas, I believe that such advances are inevitable, but Man will still call the shots. And the importance of effective human interaction will be as vital and important as ever. And it may be that the attributes (“I am Something) of the book will be more important then, than they are now. In other words, the quality of the human interaction and the leadership that directs it, will be elevated to a higher level because much of the “low-level” stuff will be provided by machines.
  16. In my line of work, I reckon I’ve pretty much seen it all – brilliant leaders through to outright destructive maniacs, and everything in between. Over 35 years of being and working with and talking to leaders has generated mixed emotions: from being inspired and in awe, to turning around and running as fast as I could. What I see in this community of the ‘number 1 citizens’ of their organizations, are mistakes that are repeated over and over again. Things that corporate rhetoric and intellectualization would speedily deny, but things that I see and hear from those affected and things that I see with my own eyes.
  17. I can’t recall any relationship I have had with a leader, where their motivation wasn’t ‘to do the best for their organization,’ and therefore for themselves by so doing. Unfortunately, though, subjectivity and self-interest get in the way. This article is not intended to explore this point, since I’ve done it before, but rather to identify the categories of behaviours that trap many leaders and subvert effective leadership.
  18. Some leaders just aren’t ethical and condone (or even initiate) unethical behaviour. These days, it’s enough to merely say ‘Volkswagen” to prove this point. And if you think that they are the only ones, then you’re kidding yourself. I personally know of companies where the leader fired staff to capture their share entitlements; where a major multi-national milked the balance sheet to avoid showing an operating loss; leaders who condone deceptive advertising; and so on and on and on. These are not nice people.
  19. The corporate rhetoric is about delivering for shareholders (in a for-profit organization) or for members (in an NFP organization). The reality is that executives define what shareholders will get (or should I say ‘what the executives are prepared to give them’) and then define their own benefit by the KPIs set against the criteria they have set for themselves – screwing shareholders in the process. See the research in my book Corporate Crap. Not one single listed corporation in 2015 asks all its shareholders what they want from their investment – they merely (and incorrectly) assume an outcome or use institutional shareholders as a proxy for all shareholders.
  20. Almost all leaders miscalculate (i.e. underestimate) the complexity of change.
  21. Many leaders communicate by issuing edicts and believe that just because they have said or written something, that is what is heard, understood and accepted or adopted. What they don’t understand is that every communication requires both a sender and a receiver. What is said does not necessarily get interpreted the way the sender intended – the receiver absorbs the communication through their own filters, perceptions, subjectivities and contexts – always. And then leaders wonder why instructions, visions and intentions aren’t complied with.
  22. Too many leaders rely solely on their own interpretation or judgment. Many leaders can’t talk with people down the organization because issues or plans once discussed will generate thoughts and actions in those who were party to the discussion. Sometimes, those issues get resolved and plans don’t get adopted, yet people still have feelings, fears and need for security. These feelings ignite the moment the matters are discussed. Sometimes they lead to more severe reaction in the organization – an IR backlash or even organizational sabotage. Conversely, the leader can’t take every issue to the board as the leader was employed to have most answers. Therefore, leaders rely on their own judgment. What they should be doing is networking with independent and non-competitive peers with whom they can bounce ideas and gain the benefit of others’ experience.
  23. Many leaders suffer from the Devil Ego: not the Good Ego that ignites their passion and drives them to excel, but the negative one that poisons relationships and destroys self-confidence in others.
  24. Leaders must have a keen radar for identifying individuals worthy of their trust. When you don’t trust anyone, then no one will trust you – and you will not be a very nice person to be around. To be able to trust others, you must have mature emotional intelligence, a strong sense of self-worth and therefore self-confidence (but not arrogance), and an ego that is not in a permanent ‘self-defense’ position. If you are unable to trust, then you’re unable to delegate effectively, and if you can’t delegate effectively, then you can’t lead a large organization.
  25. I constantly see leaders who are unable to straddle the right and left-brain hemispheres of leadership – they must be able to envision an effective and fulfilling future for their corporation/organization, yet simultaneously watch over their shoulder how the organization is performing to deliver that vision. Being able to envision without managing performance is as fruitless as watching performance but not knowing where you’re going.
  26. Many leaders don’t walk their talk. And when they do, “many walk funny and talk crap” as quoted by a well-known commentator on leaders and leadership.
  27. It is tragic to encounter leaders who believe that the only people in the organization who can come up with good ideas is the leader themselves or their ‘C’ suite executive team. Not only is this detrimental to the organization, but one hell of an insult to its people – particularly when people within the business who are ‘down the organization’ often understand the mechanics and detail of their operational responsibility better than the managers at the top.
  28. Too many leaders look for someone to blame. Instead they should seek the learning from the issue to grow. Leaders who blame will find that mistakes are hidden, truth is guided by self-interest and evolution is subservient to revolution. Poor leaders ‘put down’ a peer or subordinate in front of others or even in private. Instead they should identify the issue, identify the better path, and give the ‘culprit’ a chance to redeem themselves (within reason). The blame culture is toxic.
  29. Poor leaders often think simplistically – and they are lousy at managing nuance – and after all, that’s what management is all about. As an example, it is easier to believe that everyone is motivated by money, than it is to acknowledge that different people are driven by different motivations and that to build a culture that works with that knowledge is difficult – yet worth doing (or at least worth trying.)
  30. Poor leaders talk a lot and really listen infrequently.
  31. Poor leaders never show gratitude to those who provide extra effort, extra performance, extra consideration, extra support to others, and who share their knowledge and experience. That’s because the leader interprets gratitude as a sign of their own failure to do that which they should be grateful for.
  32. Lousy managers pursue the status quo because they are afraid of the unknown, of the future, and of their ability to deal with it.”

Dr Jack Jacoby

Executive Chairman

Jacoby Consulting Group, Australia

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The Spandan (Heartbeat) perspective

   

  • Innate divinity, intrinsic altruism and basic goodness of human beings are determinants of human existence and growth.
  • Spandan (Heartbeat, vibration, pulsation, echo) is the binding element of the entire universe and its living organisms.
  • A Maternalistic style of Management: The Mother as a symbol of – among others – (a)  Nurturing – caring, sharing and compassionate; (b) Faith in basic goodness of others; and (c) Empathy of the highest order.
  • Spandan approach, with emphasis on a high degree of sensitivity towards others’ needs (like a mother) as the quality of a leader.
  • Spandan Spectrum of Human Values 2013.
  • Spandan 3D Process of Diagnosis, Discovery and Development; Inculcation of Human Values in Organisations for sustained success.
  • Functionally Humane Leadership (FHL).
  • Functionally Humane Organisation (FHO).

 

‘I Am Something’ leader mindset

  • Leaders operate in three kinds of mindsets: ‘I Am Everything’; ‘I Am Nothing’; ‘I Am Something’.
  • ‘I Am Something’ believes that I am neither above you, nor below you. I am neither in front of you, nor behind you. I am neither away from you, nor near to you. I am along with you. I am however different and distinct. So are you.
  • Self is the pivot: For any meaningful change to take place, leaders themselves have to take the initiative.
  • The process of transformation involves three steps:  Remaking the Self to adopt the ‘I Am Something’ mindset; Facilitating others remake themselves along similar lines; Initiating a mindset change across an organisation.
  • An empirical study done by the author found that as many as 75.55% of those who participated were operating as per the ‘I Am Something’ mindset.
  • A practical roll out of the ‘I Am Something’ mindset is already underway at a company in India.
  • Globally, several businesses show a tendency to veer around the ‘I Am Something’ mindset. Some of the existing theories of leadership match the concept of this mindset.
  • Teachings of Gautama Buddha and Ramana Maharishi relate to the ‘I Am Something’ mindset.
  • With the onset of such technologies as AI, Robotics, Machine Learning, and the like, the importance of human values and ethics in management is bound to go up in the times to come. ‘I Am Something’ is a mindset concept of which the time has already arrived. Leaders of tomorrow need to hone their skills and attitudes in tandem with the impending changes.

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You are a leader in any realm of human endeavour, whether managerial, social, political or cultural. You could be an entrepreneur, an institution builder, a Chief Executive Officer, a policy maker or a related functionary, either in the private sector, or in the public sector. You could be serving as a senior officer in a government department. You could even be heading the operations at a non-governmental organization.

You are perceived to be a successful leader. However, somewhere deep within, you carry within you a sense of creative dissatisfaction; a yearning to discover a practical way to transport yourself, your team and your organization into a happier and contented frame of mind. You are keen on going beyond your own professional and personal interests and in getting involved in humanizing your organization.

If so, this book could prove to be a game changer in more ways than one. It makes you see the world around you in a new light, without the filters of your preconceived notions. By making you aware of the kind of mindsets which affect your decision making, it offers a new lens with which you can view the phenomenon we call leadership.  The book then goes on to capture the results of an empirical study done by the author, thereby demonstrating the practical wisdom of what it proposes. Eventually, it offers you a practical guide as to how to go about implementing the changes you wish to make, so as to become a happier and a contented leader.

This book is not about a new leadership theory which might leave you fuming after discovering that it merely offers the proverbial old wine in a new bottle. It provides a fresh perspective on leadership. The perspective it presents has already been tried and tested in real time. Much along the lines of the famous Hawthorne studies of the 1920s, the approach to leadership is being rolled out in a corporate entity in India even as you go through the book in your hands.

The book also presents divergent perspectives on the subject of leadership from different subject experts, touching upon globalization and a bird’s eye view of different theories of leadership through the recent history of management thought. There is an attempt to understand leadership through the basic tenets of Buddhism. It also endeavours to connect the key teachings of Raman Maharishi to the realm of leadership.

The Soul of the Book and Some Crystal Gazing

The soul of the book, however, lies in its unique approach of SPANDAN, or human vibrations. Around the nucleus of this concept, it builds a mighty edifice of propositions which offer the potential of making you a more effective leader.

In the times to come, just how serious would be the threat to human supremacy from machines? In our age of Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Machine Learning, Algorithm Analytics and Internet of Things, just how relevant would this new approach to leadership be?

The book proposes that in the impending man–machine conflict, human beings are not likely to suffer the same fate as that of the non-avian dinosaurs which went extinct some sixty-five million years ago. But the writing on the wall is clear. They need to roll up their sleeves and get down to the task of sharpening their soft skills. A humane approach to handling team members needs to be consciously developed.

Transforming Yourself and Others

To sum up, the book, through theoretical propositions and empirical evidence, presents a new way to look at the kind of a leader you could aspire to be, and the potential you have to grow further, making you a happier and contented person, exuding warmth and positivity to those whom you happen to lead.

It provides a fresh perspective which is not likely to lose its relevance in a future replete with technological advancements, environmental challenges and more potent uncertainties which leaders in any field of human endeavour would face in the decades to come.

Chapter-end Tasks on Introspection, Interaction and Initiation (3 Is)

To facilitate your learning process, the author has selected some themes and some quotes from mentors of repute. These are designed to enable you to Introspect at the individual level and also to Interact with others at a small group level. These could also motivate you to Initiate suitable steps at the collective/large group level, so members of your organisation could empower themselves and become more productive and responsible citizens over a period of time.

You will come across these suggestions at the end of some of the chapters. You can develop these themes further and convey the same to key individuals, small groups and large groups, in any form of communication – written, verbal, a group presentation and even a panel discussion. A final report based on collective feedback could assist you in measuring the effectiveness of this approach.

 

 

 

 

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The importance of human values in our lives – whether personal or professional – can never be overestimated. In a book about to hit the market, the author, Professor G P Rao, builds upon his considered belief that managements which choose to ignore this crucial aspect in their decision-making do so at their own risk and peril. Their market valuations take a hit. Their brand image gets dented. They fail to take a long-term view of things. Instead, they end up window dressing the key performance parameters till the time the proverbial bubble bursts. They simply live from one quarter to the next, focusing on immediate deliverables.

In the upcoming book, the author not only proposes a theoretical construct of Leader Mindsets but also takes you through the steps involved in practising the same. Whether by way of an empirical study or by the means of a practical roll-out of the Spandan approach in an organization, results have been gratifying, establishing the value of the ‘I Am Something’ mindset towards the goals of organizations.

As humanity cruises along and takes off on the path of an exponential growth in technology, the need for a Spandan kind of approach would come into a sharper focus. Human values alone have the potential of acting as a rudder, keeping the trajectory of our evolutionary path on the right track. Leaders of tomorrow would find better satisfaction and happiness by adopting the ‘I Am Something’ mindset. So would their team members, were the leader to decide to facilitate their developing along similar lines. A spread across organizations and then across societies would be a logical corollary.

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(The following is an abridged and modified excerpt from the book ‘I Am Something: Developing a New Leader Mindset’, authored by Prof G P Rao, founder of SPANDAN, yours truly and others.)

Advances in technology inevitably lead to more efficiencies, better products and improved lifestyles for people. But each leap of faith into the domain of a newer technology brings with it a set of newer challenges for mankind. As machines increasingly take over the drudgery of repetitive tasks and become more intelligent, human beings invariably need to re-skill themselves. This applies to business leaders as well as their followers.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution in the offing now builds on the Digital Revolution, representing new ways in which technology becomes embedded within societies and even the human body.

Skill-sets of the future

As per a World Economic Forum document titled ‘Future of Jobs Report’, employers are said to anticipate a significant shift in the division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms for the tasks of today.

The aforesaid report states that of the total task hours across the industries covered, on an average, 71% are currently performed by humans, whereas 29% are performed by machines or algorithms. By 2022, this average is expected to have shifted to 58% task hours performed by humans, and 42% by machines or algorithms. It can be readily appreciated that this signifies a very rapid pace of change, something for which leaders need to be better prepared.

The report goes on to project that skills related to analytical thinking, active learning, technology design and technology competency would grow in prominence. It also proposes that such ‘human’ skills as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion and negotiation will either retain or increase their value, as will attention to detail, resilience, flexibility and complex problem-solving.

It follows that in the impending man-machine conflict, human beings are not likely to suffer the same fate as that of the non-avian dinosaurs which went extinct some sixty-five million years ago. But the writing on the wall is clear. They need to roll up their sleeves and get down to the task of sharpening their soft skills. A humane approach to handling team members needs to be consciously developed, especially when operating in a business environment characterized by a shortage of skilled workers. In turn, this would pre-suppose a higher Emotional Quotient and better service orientation. Even as the reliance on artificial intelligence grows for the analytical part of decision making, the role of intuition would become even more crucial.

A focus on the bottom line

Most employers would go in for innovating through technology if it makes business sense. It follows that technology would continue to remain a tool in the arsenal of the corporate world to squeeze more profits out of their operations, thereby making careers more fragile and impacting labour incomes adversely. With 24×7 connectivity, people are already working longer and enjoying lesser leisure time.

In a scenario of this kind, there is a grave risk that leaders would end up losing a connection with themselves even more than at present and hence end up de-humanizing the work place.

However, values remain indestructible. As an example, honesty and truthfulness in relationships is something which is bound to withstand the onslaught of newer technologies in the centuries to come. Same is the case with empathy, compassion, resilience and a flexible approach in problem solving.

Perhaps there is a need for governments the world over to anticipate newer moral and ethical dilemmas in a proactive manner and influence technological developments suitably, so human dignity and freedom is not compromised.

The perks and the perils

One may also surmise as to how the imminent advances in technology could throw up positive as well as negative factors which are likely to impact the man-machine equation in the times to come.

According to a 2014 report entitled ‘AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs’, published by Pew Research Centre, researchers Aaron Smith and Janna Anderson went to the extent of seeking feedback from as many as 1,896 experts. They found that when it came to the impact of advances in technology upon economic opportunity and employment, the opinion was deeply divided.

The optimists opined that technology would free us from day-to-day drudgery and end up redefining our relationship with ‘work’ in a more positive and socially beneficial manner. They felt that we shall adapt to these changes by inventing entirely new types of work and control our own destiny through the choices we make.

The pessimists amongst those who participated in the aforesaid study were of the opinion that the coming wave of innovation would mostly impact those involved in white-collar work. Whereas highly skilled workers will do better, many more might get pushed into lower paying jobs, and might even face permanent unemployment. They also felt that our educational, political and economic institutions are poorly equipped to handle the challenges which are likely to come up.

The aforesaid piece of research throws up instructive insights into how the future might shape up. Leaders and managers really need to think up some innovative ways in which they would handle a highly polarized workforce, comprising a disgruntled lot at one end and a highly skilled one at the other.

The challenge of creating happier workplaces

Unlike the earlier industrial revolutions, which first created and then changed the skill sets required by our blue collar workforce, the Fourth one promises to change the work profile of our white collar workers.

In his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, describes how this fourth revolution is fundamentally different from the previous three, which were characterized mainly by advances in technology. According to him, these technologies have great potential to continue to connect billions of more people to the web, drastically improve the efficiency of business and organizations and help regenerate the natural environment through better asset management.

As we grapple to understand the future direction of monumental changes in our socio-economic fabric owing to the next phase of technological evolution, few things stand clear.

One, that our educational institutions are nowhere near the task of training a workforce which would not learn analytical skills by rote but would grasp the importance of creativity, resilience and improve upon their Emotional Quotient.

Two, most of our governments are yet to devise ways and means of regulating issues of protecting individual privacy, executive burnouts arising out of a 24×7 connectivity and heightened civic strife due to growing inequalities. The next phase is bound to create a newer class of elite – those who are adept at newer technologies, leaving far behind those who are not.

Those in the first category could end up believing that they are all too powerful. Those who remain blissfully ignorant and continue to be disconnected to those who are reaping the benefits of newer technologies are likely to gravitate towards a belief that they have no place in the knowledge universe. With poor resources of material as well legal kind at their command, these new ‘have-nots’ of the society may be doomed to languish for a long time, till the governments of the day intervene, willfully or otherwise, and ensure implementation of economic policies which are more inclusive in nature.

The third kind, comprising those left in the middle of the normal distribution curve of technology dispersal, could end up having a balanced approach to issues. In fact, with advances in technology, this kind could well face a higher risk of extinction, paving the way for those who believe themselves to be all too powerful to rule the roost.

The same pattern may become apparent in the realm of management as well. Leaders and executives would need to increase their engagement not only with the society at large, but also with the governments of the day. A massive effort at re-skilling personnel would become a necessity.

A matter of trust and privacy

Infosys co-founder N R Narayana Murthy happens to be of the view that technology is a great leveller. He thinks that technology has improved transparency, conquered distance and class barriers. Also, that it has the potential to create a fair society and enhance the accountability of the rich, the powerful and the elite to the poor and disenfranchised in all societies.

One cannot dispute this. However, concerns regarding an increasing trust deficit remain. Denizens of many countries are feeling increasingly jittery over instances of data privacy. Moral policing, electoral pitching, rumour mongering – all these are fuelling this trust deficit.

One case in point is that of Facebook which is already armed with tools to dig deep into our lives, with the singular aim of moulding our thoughts and opinions about diverse aspects of our lives.

Employees in most organizations already resent living in a virtual fish bowl, where all their communications are suspected to be getting monitored. No one likes to be micro-managed, especially those who are capable and self-confident. Business enterprises have already started deploying tools to monitor employee productivity by collecting and analyzing their activity and inactivity levels.

In the long run, a work environment of this nature would end up impacting productivity, commitment and motivation levels adversely.

(Since 2020, the coronavirus has brought into focus the perils of techno-capitalism, dividing the society into those who can readily access technology and those who cannot. In an emerging economy like that of India, many school students have been left out of the formal learning loop because of their not having been able to access online classes. Rather than technology proving to be a leveller, it has instead proved itself to be a disruptor. Work-from-home has brought in behavioural changes amongst the knowledge workers, whereas migrant labourers have suffered from the trauma of displacement and loss of earnings.) 

The ever-increasing rate of change

One thing is certain. Change is not only a constant. With each passing year, the rate of change is also increasing. Much like Alice in Wonderland, Homo sapiens are discovering that they need to keep running faster and faster, with nary a respite in sight. Mankind is bound to evolve further much earlier than what was believed in the past. Alvin Toffler would perhaps heartily approve of this proposition.

Unlike thought so far, the man machine relationship shall become more integrated with each other in the near future. As a result, the combined force of processing of billions of data points for efficient decision making by machines, and contextual, emotional and intuitive aspects of decision making by human beings, would be, to that extent, higher and greater in their respective impacts – for good or bad.

What can be done to meet the challenge

– Employees, whether present or potential, can go beyond the formal education system and aggressively look for avenues to hone their skills, so as to remain employable. As Stephen R Covey has said, we need to keep our saws sharpened.

– Same applies to our business leaders, who would do well to improve upon their Emotional Quotient.

– The agenda for educationists and politicians is clear: To keep taking steps to facilitate the change already upon us; to anticipate the challenges of privacy and rumour mongering and to intervene to have appropriate safeguards embedded in upcoming technologies.

(References:
https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs-report-2018
“Future of Jobs.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (December 11, 2014);
http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/08/06/future-of-jobs)

(Illustrations courtesy www)

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Preamble

Hassled CEOs have no other option but to keep issuing guidelines from one quarter to the next without fail. Much in tandem, every quarter, a new corporate scam hits the headlines. The precise regularity with which skeletons keep tumbling out of corporate closets at frequent intervals would put the atomic clocks on our planet to shame.

When it comes to perpetrating a fraud on unsuspecting stakeholders, human ingenuity has never been found wanting. If America had Enron and Lehman Brothers, UK had Barclays. If Norway had Nortel, Portugal had Banco Espirito Santo. If Switzerland had UBS, Germany had Volkswagen. India has had Satyam and Punjab National Bank. She has also earned the dubious distinction of improving upon its Ease of Emigration rank for defaulting high net worth individuals in the recent past.

No industry could lay a specific claim on such man-made disasters. Be it banking, insurance, mining, automobiles, liquor, energy, commodities, IT or real estate, all have set examples of devious plans to deceive their stakeholders, whether of the gullible kind or the colluding kind.

Human greed and avarice are obviously the root cause. The sheer pleasure derived by a minority in making some extra gains at the cost of a silent majority apparently has a sense of gratification which surpasses all else.

A business environment of this nature needs leaders and managers who have nerves of chilled steel and a disposition backed by a high degree of inner resilience. A deep commitment to values and ethics in business. A premium on fairness and transparency in all kinds of deals. A long-term view of sustainable success, as opposed to a fly-by-night approach to decision-making. A constant connection with one’s inner self. In short, they need to have a high Spiritual Quotient.

A two-day workshop at Pondicherry University

The Department of Management Studies of Pondicherry University, in collaboration with Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research (SACAR), recently conducted a two-day workshop, highlighting the manner in which aspiring managers can work on an inner transformation and achieve unparalleled satisfaction and growth in their careers, whether as professionals or as individuals.

In his keynote address, Dr Ananda Reddy, Director, SACAR, highlighted the challenge the leaders and managers of today face: that of following values and ethics in business, of imbibing the principles of corporate governance in their decision-making, and the need for being aware of the potential of spiritual consciousness as a solution to the problems they face.

Organizations are made up of human beings. Thus, the mantle of transforming corporates falls squarely on the young and strong shoulders of individual leaders and managers. This alone can lead to a meaningful evolution in the manner in which organizations function. By being an important part of society at large, such organizations set high standards and spearhead social evolution.

The need of the day is to view the management process through a new lens – that of the Four Pillars of Harmony, Strength, Perfection and Wisdom. This new paradigm of Management goes beyond the self-centred ‘I and Me’ approach of Western models. Rather, it focuses on the overall good, espousing a ‘We and Us’ approach, which is more holistic in nature. This new paradigm is based on ancient Indian wisdom and can help leaders and managers to deal with corporate affairs more effectively and efficiently.

The new paradigm of Integral Management

Yours truly provided to the participants an overview of the Four Pillars of Integral Management, backed by real life examples from the business world.

The challenges of maintaining Harmony were brought up, as also the need for a higher Spiritual Quotient. Use of planned disharmony in the market place, as evidenced by the disruptive entry of Reliance Jio in the telecom sector and that of Patanjali in the FMCG sector, was mentioned.

The need to deploy Strength for the overall good was substantiated by the case of Tata Trusts. The abuse of corporate muscle power was brought out by quoting the case of Erin Brockovich, who spearheaded the campaign to secure substantial relief for those who suffered at the hands of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California in 1993.

The development of hybrid cars and several product recalls were cited as examples of dynamic Wisdom in company’s policies. The need to build brand equity was discussed, so was the role of intuition in decision-making. The story of how the Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore came up based on the singular initiative of Sir Jamsetji Tata (1839-1904) was narrated.

Participants were exhorted to give up the culture of mediocrity and strive for Perfection in all their actions. Example of Apple products and Rolls Royce cars were cited.

Harmony and Collaboration

Professor Kisholoy Gupta, an accomplished international trainer in Management Sciences, based in Bangalore, invited the participants to play some games to demonstrate the role and importance of Harmony and to experience a freedom of expression, so one could feel free and happy, and therefore, work more productively.

Ms Padma Asokan, who manages Omeon Solutions, a global software company in Chennai, explained the need and mechanics of achieving Harmony in organizations.

The core of any organization being love and harmony, managers can improve their contribution by achieving a balance between their inner and outer selves.

Managements need to enable harmony at different levels. At the infrastructure level, care needs to be taken of tools, office layouts, work station design, and rest and recuperation facilities. The top person is the DNA of the company’s culture and thereby enables organizational harmony. Operational harmony is achieved through teams which aim to achieve success in whatever they choose to do. Smooth communication, whether vertical or horizontal, ensures better harmony across an organization. Treating employees with respect and dignity and innovative HR policies ensure a high degree of motivation at all levels.

Order and cleanliness attract all stakeholders to a business. Waste reduction, productivity improvement and minimal friction are the key benefits one derives.

The highest form of harmony results from conflict resolution of values across individuals, departments and profit centers. Managements keen to achieve a state of sustainable corporate harmony counsel their employees to cleanse their minds of such negative emotions as anger, hatred, passion, lust, delusion and pride.

The Strength of Self-belief

Professor Kisholoy Gupta conducted some practical exercises to make the participants aware of the importance of the Strength of being impartial and objective and “stepping-back” before taking any decision.

Mr Ganesh Babu, a strategic thinker and a coach extraordinaire based at Pondicherry, touched upon the importance of self perception, self-control and a belief in one’s own abilities. By quoting examples of several spiritual stalwarts in the fields of business as well as in spirituality, he demonstrated that it was their belief in themselves and their unique capabilities that led them to scale great heights and become the leading lights of humanity, inspiring one and all.

An individual manager’s values and beliefs shape his attitude. These, in turn, determine his feelings and behaviour, making him what he is. The power that he exercises is often derived from his beliefs. By reviewing one’s belief systems, one can enjoy greater power over one’s actions and circumstances, thereby enhancing one’s efficiency and effectiveness.

A manager can increase his Strength manifold by:

-Basing his decisions on empathy and respect towards others;

-Refusing to accept anything below standard, treating all tasks as Divine work and, thus, striving for perfection;

-Dealing with Materialistic Resources in a firm and polite manner.

Perfection in Management

Professor Kisholoy Gupta conducted a series of practical exercises of making quality products, thereby driving home the relevance of Perfection in management.

Dr Sridarshan Kaundinya, having had cross-functional experience in such companies as GE, Indus and TCS, and presently based in Bangalore, explained the manner in which Perfection gets practiced in the industry. The need to go for quality levels far beyond Six Sigma, like in aircraft engines where a failure could directly lead to loss of precious human lives, was touched upon.

Perfection is not only about having an intuitive power to accuracy but also about an unfailing attitude of fulfilling commitment, of being unscrupulous, unsleeping, indefatigable, and touching every detail, and of organizational execution and achieving an unfailing exactitude of result.

The Power of Wisdom in Values

By way of a warm-up exercise on Wisdom, participants were invited to describe the lines along which the city of Pondicherry should develop in another decade or so. Brighter minds at the workshop came up with some lofty and pragmatic goals for the city planners and administrators.

Dr Narendra Joshi, an eminent educationist from Mumbai, who has also worked on the interface between Artificial Intelligence and Spirituality, described Wisdom as comprising vision, wideness of understanding, and as a result, an endless compassion and patience for the time needed to effectuate and implement the intention of the Supreme in the manifestation.

He stated that it is not uncertainty alone that has paralyzed CEOs today. Many find it difficult to reinvent their corporations rapidly enough to cope with new technologies, demographic shifts, and consumption trends. They’re unable to develop truly global organizations that can operate effortlessly across borders. Above all, leaders find it tough to ensure that their people adhere to values and ethics.

The prevailing principles in business make employees ask, “What’s in it for me?” Missing are those that would make them think, “What’s good, right, and just for everyone?”

Practical wisdom, according to several studies, is experiential knowledge that enables people to make ethically sound judgements. It is similar to the Japanese concept of Toku—a virtue that leads a person to pursue the common good and moral excellence as a way of life. It is also akin to the Indian concept of Yukta, which connotes “just right” or “appropriate.”

One way of describing Wisdom is to have the ability to see the trees and the forest at the same time. With meditation and an inner connection with oneself, this can be cultivated.

Going beyond CSR

Mr. N Harihara Subramanian, a passionate Social Worker involving and supporting many Projects and a founder and promoter of the Indian Institute of Governance (IIG), Chennai, delivered the Valedictory Address.

He exhorted the participants to propel their organisations beyond traditional norms of Corporate Social Responsibility, and work for the overall benefit of the communities surrounding them.

Proceedings summarized

Dr Ananda Reddy, Director, SACAR, summed up the proceedings of the workshop. He reiterated the need to train young managers not only based on the Western models of management, but also to draw deeply from the wisdom contained in Indian scriptures. This alone could lead to businesses which work for the overall good of the society.

Workshop Design, Execution and Coordination

The workshop was designed to develop the inner capabilities of students as future managers in terms of the aforesaid Four Pillars of Harmony, Strength, Wisdom and Perfection.

The event was chaired by Dr. G. Anjaneyaswamy, Professor and Dean, School of Management, Pondicherry University. In his concluding remarks, he appreciated the unique contents of the workshop and expressed a hope that the Department of Management Studies may like to have the same incorporated into the formal syllabus of a regular MBA course at Pondicherry University.

The Inaugural Session was chaired by Professor K C S Rao, Head, Department of Banking Technology, School of Management, Pondicherry University.

The Convener of the workshop was Dr. R. Chitra Sivasubramanian, Professor & Head, Department of Management Studies (DMS), Pondicherry University.

The entire event was coordinated by Dr. B. Rajeswari, Assistant Professor, and Dr. R. Venkatesakumar, Assiociate Professor, DMS, School of Management, Pondicherry University. Dr Shruti Bidwaikar was the main coordinator from Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research (SACAR), Pondicherry.

The Road Ahead

Businesses with a futuristic vision need managers who are not only tech-savvy but also situation-savvy, adept at handling stressful challenges with ease and aplomb.

SACAR is open to the prospect of conducting similar workshops in commercial organizations as also at management institutes of repute, whether for the students or for the faculty.

For institutes interested in incorporating the content in their regular management courses, a draft syllabus has also been prepared under the guidance of Professor G P Rao, who, after retiring from Madurai Kamaraj University in 1997, has devoted himself to the mission of spreading human values in organizations, through his NGO, SPANDAN.

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/spirituality-in-management

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/10/06/managerial-perfection-notes-from-a-seminar-at-pondicherry-india

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/03/26/harmony-in-management-a-seminar-at-pondicherry-india

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/power-in-management-a-seminar-at-puducherry-india

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/04/04/the-element-of-wisdom-in-management-a-seminar-at-pondicherry)

 

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