Dear life

Oh dear life, you are so full of surprises!
Just as I imagine things are in control, you spring a challenge, throwing everything upside down,
Just as I feel the looming dark clouds unbearable, you wave a magical wand opening vistas to a clear blue sky.
When my heart is brimming with joy, a tear trickles down,
The tear of happiness!
Through this one tear, dear life, you make me realize the thin line you have drawn between ups and downs, joys and sorrows, success and failures.
When going is tough, you gently nudge me, to go on and open the next chapter you have written for me…. a chapter full of blessings
Oh dear life, you are so full of paradoxes!
Bless me with courage to stay positive in difficult times and stay grounded in happier ones.
Oh dear life, grant me the resolve to live every moment you bring along and love you the way you are!!

Are the millennials really so different? Or is the difference exaggerated?

Gen Y or the millennials is probably the most studied generation both by consulting firms as well as academia. Several studies have been done on their work preferences; highlighting the significant difference from its previous generation, the Gen X. Most common findings from these studies highlight that millennials:

  1. Don’t work for paycheck instead, they work for a purpose
  2. Give high importance to work-life balance
  3. Aren’t just happy with a job, but are more focused on development
  4. Don’t just want annual performance discussion, but want continuous performance feedback
  5. Don’t want bosses, but look for coaches; they don’t like command and control, but want bosses who can develop them

Couple of questions bother me about these findings:

  • Are the studies over generalizing a large section of population? Can all the Gen Y’s be put in the same cluster?
  • Is the generation so significantly  different from Gen X?

I don’t have a study to back what I say, but my experience and sheer observation makes me believe otherwise.

Need for purpose over paycheck. If we look around in a country like India, there are thousands of young folks (millennials) working extremely long hours in repetitive work environment like retail, hospitality, manufacturing, logistics for precisely the reason that studies show otherwise – a paycheck. They might see a purpose in their jobs, but it’s the paycheck that matters more at the last mile. A mere hike of Rs. 1000 gets these employees to switch jobs. On the other hand, there are several well paid senior employees, the Gen X, who work more for purpose and desire to make a difference and not for the hefty pay check they take home. Thus, it’s the economic and social context that defines the balance between ‘purpose’ and ‘paycheck’ and probably not so much of generational difference. 

Need for ‘work-life balance’, as highlighted by studies is driving organizations to create flexible work arrangements, specifically to adapt to Gen Y needs. I would like to ask my Gen X readers, wouldn’t you want to have a flexible work arrangement? I would for sure love to go to work when I want to and work from where I want to. Just that many of the Gen X employees, in their formative years of work, never had opportunities like this. Not because they did not want it, but because the nature of work and the brick and mortar work environment made it unfeasible. So, they got used to working in a fixed regime. But, now that flexi work is possible, Gen X would love to have flexible work and a good work-life balance, as much as the Gen Ys. In fact, a recent employee engagement study data that I came across clearly indicated that flexible work is a common need across generations.

Need for development, not just a job. I would request my Gen X readers to reflect on the best job or role that they ever held. What was the distinguishing feature? I am confident that among other things, development will play an important role. I know of colleagues, who gave up high paying jobs, and took up roles at lower salary just because it gave them good learning opportunities. Agreed, some stuck to their jobs despite lack of development – that again might have been because of the overall economic circumstances or individual preferences. Today, we see so many job losses in start-ups and e-commerce – will the Gen Ys who recently got a pink slip not take up a job, even if there is lower development?  

Need for constant performance feedback, a boss who does not command and control, but is a coach. Again, I would request my Gen X readers to think of the best boss that they ever worked with. And their experience of working with a boss (hopefully not too many) who they hated to work with! Needless to say, we hate working with a boss who adopts a command and control approach and gives negative feedback end of the year when you can do nothing about your performance. No one – be it a Gen X or a Gen Y – would like to work with a boss who just bosses around!  

Thus, the so-called distinct preferences of Gen Y are probably not  dependent on generations, but are more likely to be based on the:

  1. Context in which they were brought up and educated
  2. Economic and social circumstances
  3. Individual preferences

What does it mean to organizations? Two things:

  • Instead of highlighting the differences between Gen X and Gen Y, trying to train and enable the Gen X managers to manage the Gen Y employees better, focus on helping the two generations understand each other better and see the commonalities.
  • Avoid over generalizing and treating all the millennials as same – I have personally worked with millennials who cared a darn for work-life balance, as long as they got to learn and grow. Whereas there were some who refused to take calls after 6 pm. We have all seen colleagues of both kinds, in both generations, it had more to do with their individual preferences and not their generation!

Growth mind-set – a pathway to success!

It happened almost two decades back, but I vividly remember the emotions as if it happened yesterday: sense of failure and melancholy. I was facilitating a session on Key Account Management for the first time, I had prepared for it for days. But, by lunch time, the participants were walking out of the room! They found the session extremely boring. My manager quickly stepped in and brought a co-facilitator; in reality changed the facilitator. I was merely standing on the side trying to hold back my tears with all the strength I could muster.

Another equally painful experience happened a year later, when I wrote a concept note for a project. The COO found it absolutely useless – with no structure, consistency, lack of clarity, etc. etc. He did not mince his words while throwing the paper back at me. I don’t blame him, it surely could have been written much better. Again, I fell hard. The project was given to someone else; a project that I was eagerly looking forward to lead.

I am sure many of us can recall incidents like this in our lives. Incidents that shook us up! The key to our success depends not on these incidents, but on how we react to them and the actions that we take afterwards. Our success depends on our ‘growth mind-set’, a concept defined by Carol Dweck. She defined two mind-sets: ‘Growth mind-set’ and ‘Fixed mind-set’.

A growth mind-set comes from the belief that one’s basic qualities can be cultivated through effort. People differ greatly – in aptitude, talents, interests, or temperaments – but everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

In contrast to this, a fixed mind-set comes from the belief that one’s qualities are carved in stone. Characteristics such as intelligence, personality, and creativity are fixed traits, rather than something that can be developed.

Needless to say, growth mind-set can act as a pathway to one’s success, both professional and personal. What actions can one take to develop the growth mind-set? Here are few actions that helped me:

  1. Be genuinely open to negative feedback – Some managers are good at giving negative feedback while some are outright bad. Either ways, it’s never easy. Let’s accept it, it hurts! But it’s important not to allow the emotions to reject the feedback, but let it to sink in without any bias.
  2. Have an honest self-reflection – after the initial wave of emotions subside. Reflect on what went wrong, why did it go wrong, what could have been done differently. It’s important not to blame others at this stage, but to analyse in a dispassionate manner.
  3. Ensure you have a confidant, be it your manager, colleague, friend, spouse – someone with whom you can have a heart-to-heart conversation. Someone who will truly guide you to chart out a path and stay on course. My husband has been my confidant over last 20 years. I have also been lucky to get few managers, colleagues and even team members at various stages who enabled me stay on course. Without their support, I simply couldn’t have navigated such difficult times
  4. Believe in yourself and just go for it – guess this is where the real ‘growth mind-set’ comes into play – Whenever I fail at something, I try to tell myself, “no one has been born doing this, if others can learn to do it, I too can”

My effort has been to outline few actions that have helped me personally. I am confident there are several approaches that have been adopted by others. Look forward to hearing your experiences – how you have lived and developed growth mind-set!  

Employee engagement is not enough

Organizations constantly strive to enhance employee engagement. What does an engaged employee look like? Let’s consider the example of Cyrus, an employee working with an organization for a decade. He is loyal, speaks highly about the company, is committed, comes to work every day, does not complain, works hard and puts in efforts to do a good job of the tasks assigned to him. What will his scores on a typical engagement survey look like – most likely high.

If most of the employees in an organization are like Cyrus, an employee engagement survey may throw up satisfactory results. Will an organization be satisfied if most of its employees are like Cyrus – loyal, hardworking, committed, talking highly about the organization? More importantly, can an organization today afford such a situation?

One of my ex-bosses would have called this a rhetorical question. I can imagine the sarcasm in his voice while he says, “Please don’t ask rhetorical questions”.

Of course organizations need engaged employees, but it’s not enough. The market dynamics are ever changing, we are operating in VUCA world. In order to succeed, organizations need employees who are energized, not just engaged.

There is a distinct difference between engaged and energized employees. Energized employees have high sense of urgency to get things done, they do not wait to be told on what needs to be done. They have a strong alignment to the purpose and feel that they have a significant impact on their jobs, bring their best thinking and ideas and strive to achieve break-through results through innovative thinking. Their energy is palpable and infectious.

Energy, while being an internal force emanating from within the employees – can be managed; it can be sustained, enhanced or depleted by the work environment. I am confident, most of us reading this statement can relate to it. There are environments where we have felt energized and otherwise; environments created by leaders and managers, albeit unwittingly. So, the question to ask is – are my employees energized? How is the work environment and culture, leaders and the managers enhancing their energy and not depleting it?

While there are many aspects that play a strong role in moving employees from engaged to energized, listed here are three key ones.  First, the ability of the leaders (and the managers alike) to spark others to deliver extraordinary performance. The key is about getting employees excited about the purpose and how they are truly making a difference. This has to be authentic, not superficial. Second, challenging them and truly empowering them to deliver the results that they are excited about. Thirdly, allowing employees to constantly learn. It has the potential to become a virtuous cycle; enhancing their belief in future growth, as a result passion and excitement.

Afraid of being a narcissist? Temper it with humility.

Being labeled a narcissist would rarely be considered a compliment. Narcissism is an inflated sense of self, extreme self-focus and self-importance. The word originates from Greek mythology where a young Narcissus fell in love with his own image.
Think of a leader with high sense of entitlement, constantly craving for admiration, considering himself the best or top professional in his domain, constantly talking about the great things he has done for the organization, society and others around him. He flaunts his success in your face, blows his trumpet, wants you to listen to his ideas, great work he has done and appreciate them without challenging.
We have all seen or worked with people like this at one point of time or other. I have known a narcissist leader close up. After few months, working with him became a torture – listening to the pompous stories and ideas – day in and day out. At times, his relentless self-focus and self- importance drove me crazy. The only consolation was the look of desperation in others eyes as well, the fact that I was not alone. Unwittingly, he also bred a pool of sycophants.
Life moves on, after couple of years, we parted ways. Some years later, I got to work closely with another leader, who undoubtedly had strong streaks of narcissism in him. But, I enjoyed working with him, and grabbed opportunities to work with him on different assignments. I was not an exception, despite his being a narcissist, he had an engaged team; several people even outside his team wanted to work with him.
I often wondered about the difference between these two leaders; while both were narcissists; they had completely different impact on others including their team members. What made them different? I could not pin-point the reason, till I read a research paper by Owens, Wallace and Waldman (2015) on how humility can have a counter-balancing effect on narcissism.

narcissist
Humility in leaders is manifested in several behaviors such as spotting strengths in others, inviting them to contribute, listening to their ideas with an open mind, accepting or building on other’s ideas if found better, acknowledging other’s contributions publicly, sharing spotlight and key assignments with others. In essence humility enables the leader to move the focus from self to others. Interestingly, this seems paradoxical – narcissism and humility are at two ends of a spectrum. But this leader made it possible, narcissism when tempered with the opposite trait of humility gave him the best of both! The unique blend of opposites made him a leader that he was and resulted in very positive outcomes.
So, what’s the learning? We all have streaks of narcissism in us, only extent varies. We run the risk of increasing narcissism with success, or even with unacknowledged failures. It’s possible to dilute its negative effects by moderating it with an opposite trait – humility.

Moonlight! – Precious moments captured from Mumbai nights

Deep in the night I woke up to a bright light shining on my face;
My sleepy brain questioned, Oh! What’s the light, where’s it coming from?
My eyes opened to a surreal vision! Can it be true?
A beautiful full moon shining in the sky, smiling at me, smiling at the world!
Spreading peace and happiness; Oh What a sight!
Under the moon rays, the blue of the sea had turned silver
The ships in a distance basked in its love,
Nothing remained untouched, the tough city transformed into a magical world, all quiet, engulfed by silvery brightness
Mesmerized I immersed myself in the rare beauty, and soaked in the moments of ultimate peace and bliss.
Reluctantly I allowed myself to drift back to sleep with a lingering question, will I ever experience this beauty again? One more time!

Ekla cholo re – “If no one responds to your call, then dare to tread the path alone”

lake_2015_march[1]These are opening words of a song composed by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Last couple of years, I saw this song come alive right in front of my eyes. Here’s the story.

There used to be more than 500 lakes in Hyderabad. Most are dead today, encroached by the ever-growing human population. I mutely witnessed the death of Durgam Cheruvu, a huge lake where I enjoyed quite a few boat rides a decade back. Today, the lake has practically vanished. Ironically, it still appears in the list of tourist spots in Hyderabad.

Coming to the point, my apartment complex is close to another lake, albeit smaller in size. It gradually started shrinking due to lack of care and encroachment. Like most of us, my husband too got concerned. But unlike many, he decided to act on it. Two years back he started seriously looking at the lake restoration. He first tried speaking to the government authorities. He sent a petition to the municipal corporation. No one listened. It seemed like he was banging against a stone wall. He tried few more times, before logging in a RTI. He got a response; over Rs. 2000000 were allocated for lake restoration, but no action was being taken. He continued his battle for lake restoration, he tried different options, without losing hope. After more than 1.5 years, he was able to get few like-minded people together. They created a website ‘Save Nallagandla lake’ (http://nallagandlalake.org/) and started the propaganda. He was constantly meeting people, trying to get support, but mostly fighting a lone battle.

Back at home, he would talk about saving Nallagandla Lake, share with me his frustrations or small victories along the way. Few times, I heard him with interest. But, many a times, I only listened half-heartedly or with skepticism. I wondered, what can one person really do? Why’s he wasting time?

How wrong I was! One person, with determination can indeed do a lot, of course not alone, but through the momentum created by his efforts. And the belief that others will join.

Few months back, he met few people from Art of Living (AOL) who were keen to contribute to this cause. In no time, a small case primarily fought by few individuals caught momentum and snow-balled into a large cause where people started contributing. Today, AOL has taken it up as a project, being personally monitored by Shri Shri Ravi Shankar. Now, I am confident that Nallagandla Lake will not see the fate of Durgam Cheruvu.

So, what’s the purpose of sharing this story? My own learning. Many a times, lack of support has pushed me back. I have worried walking alone on a path less traveled, full of disappointments and challenges, even though I believed it to be right. I held myself back when I realized that others’ don’t agree with me or don’t believe in it. At times, I doubted the might of one individual, who selflessly moves towards a noble cause. This incident helped me dispel all such doubts and fears!

Jodi tor daak shune keo na aashe tobe ekla cholo re,

ekla cholo, ekla cholo, ekla cholo re

  • Rabindranath Tagore