Leadership – From Good to Great

As a leader,

Have you started feeling lonely at the top?

Feel like talking to someone about it?

Hey, that would be great. Let’s connect for 10 min. over a cup of coffee.

Are you someone who enjoys the ‘spotlight’?

Have you started feeling ‘lonely’ at the top?

Are you still feeling ‘a lack’, despite achieving a lot of success?

Then, it’s time to take a long hard look at what you have to offer to ‘life’.  It is time to start looking inwards and reconcile the dissonance that is embedded deeply in you.

Leadership Qualities – From ‘Good’ to ‘Great’

Leaders are susceptible to an overblown sense of their own importance.  They are so full of themselves that they are unable to fulfill their purpose.

Humility: Being grounded

In success, the spotlight is always on the leader.  They will be surrounded by cheerleaders who may sing praises in their honor that could potentially feed into their ‘ego’.  Leaders may start to think that it is all about them, especially so when their team or organization is winning.

The greater the accomplishment, the greater the need to check their egos. That’s why it’s so important that they remain grounded. The most important quality of a leader is humility.  Unlike leaders who hog all the credit for the success of their team and organization, true leaders are those who are honest about their own vulnerability and are able to acknowledge the contribution of others to their success.

Leaders who are humble have a great level of self-awareness and are comfortable in their own skin.  They never feel the need to draw attention to themselves.  They rejoice in the success of others and empower others to succeed and shine.  They are people who have the right perspective.

The story of Prof. Vikram Sarabhai, the father of India’s space program and his leadership is legendary and has often been quoted by Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, former President and father of India’s missile program.  He said, and I quote “When the first rocket was successfully fired from the Thumba Space Station, the whole nation celebrated and congratulatory messages started pouring in from all quarters.  It was during the press meeting that Prof. Sarabhai gave the entire credit to the team and acknowledged the contribution of young scientists like me.  It was so motivating.  He could have so easily hogged all the limelight but chose to push us to the front.  That really was not just a lesson in leadership and humility but set the foundation for the success of all space programs in India.” 

A humble leader is willing to remain in the background, willing to take risks, and comfortable in giving up power and losing a degree of autonomy.  That’s something to be.  Not many leaders are capable of being that.  That is what separates the ‘Great’ from the ‘Good’.

Authentic leadership

Authenticity

Leaders who are successful are often put on a high pedestal by the people.  In order to remain grounded, the leaders need to get off that pedestal and be part of the crowd or team they lead.

It is possible by being honest and authentic.  Authentic leaders are comfortable in their own skin.  Their goal is always to lift up the people they lead and not have the people lift them up.

They are careful not to allow others to put them on a pedestal.  This can potentially create a gap – a distance between them and those who are less successful.  Those who are inauthentic enjoy this gap, and do all they can to protect that image, always trying to stay above the crowd.  This does nothing more than make the gap even bigger and larger.

Authentic leaders work hard to bridge that gap. They are open about their failures and shortcomings. They have a good laugh at themselves. When they are asked to speak, they keep introductions very short and simple.  They rather prefer to talk about the work their team does and the contributions of others.   They walk among the people and connect with them before and after their time on the stage. They do all they can to be who they are without pretense.

Higher calling: born to do

Another quality of great leaders is that they don’t just work towards a purpose but have a ‘calling’ that wakes them up every day and charges their batteries.  That ‘higher-calling’ is what makes them tireless in the pursuit of their dreams.  It is their ‘calling’ that not just drives them but ‘compels’ them to do what they do.  It is something they feel they were ‘born to do’.  It is who they are, what they know, and what they love to do.

When you work to your higher calling you are not really looking at your benefit but the benefit of others.  They are the people who lead a life that they are not trying to ‘escape’ from.

There is no greater joy than doing what you were ‘Created’ for.

You would never want to become a leader so full of yourself that you are unable to fulfill your purpose. Leaders who are not grounded become unstable.

You must always check to make sure that you remain grounded. If you maintain humility, display authenticity, and remain true to your calling, the chances are good that you’ll be able to keep your feet on the ground and move from ‘good’ to ‘great’.

Leaders – Are You A Sucker For “Suck-ups”?

I have been reviewing leadership profiles as part of custom designing leadership development programs in over 60 major corporations.  I see that most organizations describe the behavioral indicators for leadership that is so obvious. They include behaviors like “communicates a clear vision,” “helps people to develop to their maximum potential,” “strives to see the value of differing opinions,” and “avoids playing favorites.”

Leadership respect

Not one has ever included the desired behavior that read “effectively sucks up to senior management and to the board”.

Given the overwhelming data that goes to show how often such behavior is rewarded in organizations, I thought “sucking up” should probably make it to the list and as the number one indicator for you to succeed.

While almost every company I’ve worked with says it wants people to “challenge the system” and to “be empowered to express your opinion” and “say what you really think,”; I come across a lot of performers who are stuck as they are not so much into sucking up.

It’s not just that companies claim to dislike and discourage such behaviors, even leaders say so in no uncertain terms.

Almost all the leaders say that they would never encourage such a thing in their teams and organizations. I am at no point doubting their sincerity in this regard.  I am sure you get disgusted easily by those so-called “a**e li***rs. 

That raises an important question: If leaders say they discourage sucking up, why does such behavior dominate the workplace? I must argue that these leaders are generally very adept at sizing up people and calibrating their responses based on continual interactions.  Yet, most seem to fall prey to people who are highly skilled at suck-ups. They still end up playing favorites.

The problem possibly could be that they are not able to see in themselves, what they so clearly see in others.  They might not realize that all along they might be sending subtle signals that encourage their team members to be mute on their criticisms and be high on their praise for the powers that be.

I worked under one such manager who used to get the jitters when I used to challenge my top management on issues that demanded their attention.  He always used to pull me aside and advise that I shouldn’t be raising these issues and that the management is already aware of the matter.  I used to see him always singing praises of his bosses even when some of their ideas sucked.

It surprises me how some leaders and managers cannot see it in themselves. Now you may think “this doesn’t apply to me.” Maybe you’re right. But how can you be so sure you’re not in denial?

Let me take an example.  Ask anyone who has ever owned a dog or heard stories from those who own one as to “who gets their maximum attention and affection at home?”.  Almost unanimously they say it’s their dog.  Ask them why?  They reply in unison that they do because they get unconditional love, the dogs never talk back at them, they never argue and accept whatever is given to them.  What they don’t realize is that the dogs suck up to them.  Most people unabashedly claim that they like those who can accept them for who they are.  What in effect they are trying to tell you is that no matter my idiosyncrasies, please suck up to me.

If we aren’t careful, we can end up treating people at work like dogs. Rewarding those who heap unthinking, unconditional admiration upon us. What behavior do we get in return? A virulent case of promoting the suck-ups. The net result is obvious. You end up encouraging behavior that serves you, but not necessarily the best interests of your organization.

As a leader, you can change all that and do the best for your team by first acknowledging that you have a tendency to favor those who favor you, even if you don’t mean to.

ARE YOU A SUCKER FOR SUCK-UPS?

A quick analysis by answering the following questions will provide you with a measure.

“In your meetings with your team, do you often get more people agreeing to your line or keeping quiet when compared to those who oppose or provide contrarian views?” 

“Do you like people who openly challenge some of the decisions or proposals you make?

If you have fewer challenges and like people who toe your line, then that’s the indicator that you are playing favorites and growing suck-ups in your company.  I know it will be hard to accept but being honest with yourself will be the beginning of taking your leadership to the level of authenticity that it demands.  A quick analysis like this is not sufficient and deeper analysis will be required by seeking feedback.

INTERESTED to KNOW IF YOU HAVE BEEN BUILDING A SUCK-UP CULTURE IN YOUR COMPANY?

ASK for your LEADERSHIP ASSESSMENT 👇🏼

How does isolation chip away at one’s health and mental wellness?

I was all 24 yrs. when I started my journey as an entrepreneur, and I felt so alone in facing the challenges in making my dreams become a reality.  I felt I had nowhere to go to share my struggles of which there were plenty.  No one to exchange ideas and to learn from those who had taken that path before I did and committed mistakes. 

I had no support from family or friends as they thought I was crazy to leave a well-paying job and risking everything to pursue something of which there were no guarantees. Well, I guess, that’s the case with anything in life, isn’t it?

With every misstep, self-doubt started to creep in and ate away at my confidence, my dreams, vision and eventually taking a toll on my health.

Well, they say entrepreneurship is a lonely profession and it felt like that to me at that time!

It was during one of my travels that I met a fellow traveler who had like me taken the leap of faith about 10 years ago.  He could relate to what I was going through and gave me a few tips on how he overcame the challenges which I was experiencing at the start.  I must confess they were pearls of wisdom that put me right back on track.  One suggestion he gave me was to be part of some peer group of like-minded entrepreneurs, which could be an effective antidote to my loneliness.

He quoted from the book “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill, “No mind is complete by itself. It needs contact and association with other minds to grow and expand.”

He told me, “Sree don’t try to be like Atlas, carrying the burden of the whole world on your shoulders”, why don’t you find people who could share some of it and also support you in the process?  He referred me to a group he was part of, and that changed me completely.  It helped me readjust to my struggles and took a lot of weight off my shoulders.

I quickly realized that on my own, I could only have a limited amount of experience, education, and training. Being part of a Peer Advisory Group, I could tap into the experience, training, skills, knowledge, and resources of like-minded peers and mentors which could fast track my learning curve and provide me with the much-needed energy to pursue my goals.

I realized quickly and in the very first meeting that one could not separate personal and professional life in silos and how one’s personal life had a deep impact on our business decisions and how our decisions at work impacted our personal lives.

It’s now 26 years since I started this journey, and I can say with absolute confidence that being part of a Peer Advisory Group was the best thing that happened to me.  It helped me transcend the barriers of self-doubt, low confidence, anxiety, and poor health to being a more self-confident person.

Some benefits from a long list are worth a mention here;

  1. Helped improve mental wellness the peer group connect helped me to cope with the challenges of feeling isolated and lonely.
    1. Helped me leverage from the insights and experiences of people from diverse backgrounds.
    2. Learn critical skills of negotiating tough deals, having difficult conversations, managing finances and dealing with investors
    3. Broaden my knowledge to include aspects of entrepreneurship which you normally come to learn long after committing mistakes
    4. Diverse perspectives as I listened to the problems others shared and put my own challenges in context.
    5. Referral business as I always had someone who knew somebody else who could be my potential customer.  I must say, referrals to this date have kept my business engine growing by leaps and bounds.

Peer Advisory Groups enable not just learning about ourselves but is a good reminder of how far we have reached, what we overcame, and of our accomplishments.

So whether you are dreaming of starting something on your own, a startup entrepreneur, an aspiring ‘C’ Suite executive, being part of a Peer Advisory Group can definitely fast track you towards achieving your goals.  Not to forget contribute positively to your physical and mental wellness.

You don’t want to waste your precious time “Re-inventing the wheel” do you?

JOIN a Leadership Peer Advisory Group near you!  

10 compelling reasons to join a Peer Advisory Group

Being a business owner comes with so many wonderful things. However, it comes with its own set of challenges as well, such as a feeling that you cannot possibly share the challenges you are encountering with your friends, family, or team members lest you may come across as someone who is not up to the task of entrepreneurship.

You don’t want to be seen as someone who made the bad choice of starting your own business. You don’t want to be seen as vulnerable. It does at times become so lonely at the top.

It doesn’t have to be that way if you choose to join a peer advisory group which might be the perfect remedy for all the challenges that come with business ownership.

I want to list 10 compelling reasons for you to consider taking this most important leap.

  1. You deserve unique insights and support. As much as you as an individual is unique, so is your business. As a business owner the challenges and pressures you face may be unique as well. Having a well-established group of your peers to discuss problems with during a peer advisory group enabler meeting can truly be a game-changer for you and your business. The diversity of the group will provide you with a safe space for you to fully open up to possibilities. You can get unbiased advice from non-competing business owners, who would wish only the best for you.
  2. It offers more than just business value. While you may join a peer advisory group to bring more value to your company you get more than chasing just your business dreams. Like minded business owners can offer much needed support which then could have a positive rub-off on you personally, your family and bring with it a better work-life balance. It will be surely more than what you signed up for.
  3. The opportunity to share and care. Being part of a Peer Advisory Group is not just about getting advice, you will find opportunities to help other business owners in areas where you excel. It is reciprocal and goes a long way in building your personal brand and reputation as well.
  4. It helps you build your leadership capability. Learning and developing key business leadership skills is crucial for business owners. Your peer advisory group led by an experienced facilitator and your peers will push you to develop your leadership skills through peer-to-peer coaching and mentorship. It will act as a great resource pool of lived experiences, teaching leadership lessons which no training program can provide and is worth its weight in gold.
  5. Helps you avoid mistakes. As a business owner, learning by committing mistakes and failures may not always be ideal and can be demotivating as well. It could deplete you of energies which are much needed for you to focus on growing your business than learning costly lessons. Being part of a peer advisory group, you could well save yourself from the huge cost of such mistakes by learning from each other’s mistakes.
  6. Saves you the huge costs of hiring a personal group of advisors. Having your own personal board of advisors for business may cost you a lot and at times can be constraining giving you limited flexibility. Having joined a peer advisory group you not only save the costs of retainer fees but benefit from a diverse board which can help you upskill faster.
  7. Helps you harness the power of collective. The fact that you have other business owners and leaders, you already will have an existing resource pool, structure and tools to help you keep moving forward in your journey. The power of the collective helps you to be more proactive.
  8. You will overcome the tunnel vision effect. As business owners, unconsciously we surround ourselves with people who tend to agree with us more. Those who are willing to toe the line of our thoughts and ideas. It happens a lot with business owners.  Most small business owners will find teams who seem to show their agreement just so that they are in your good books. That however is not always productive. There is a need for us be open to alternative ideas, embrace different perspectives, be challenged, disagreed with and pushed to think outside our own little box. A peer advisory group can help with that as all in the group are there to learn and grow and have no other agenda. 
  9. Brings greater accountability. Peer pressure brings with it greater accountability. The fact that we will have to face up to our peer group regularly adds a positive peer pressure, pushing you into moving forward with your goals. It builds great ownership.
  10. Provides you with great opportunities and friendship. Being vulnerable and helping each other grow the business, peer advisory groups not just open up great opportunities for your business, but it also builds strong bonds with your peer group, who you can continue to rely upon in the long term. It builds friendship.

Peer Advisory Groups enable you to push yourself outside your comfort zones.  That’s where breakthroughs happen and you grow your business, take it to the next level.

Joining a Leadership Peer Advisory Group will be the smartest thing you did!

Paradox – Leadership mistakes!

Take initiative, be creative!

So, the boss told.

It took time and thought,

Before I could be bold.

What stops you from taking initiative?

So, the boss asked.

So, I did sir!

Here it is and I refer.

You should have checked with me before?

Did you have the permission for?

I was about to sir!

The lines were a little blur.

I thought of it so long,

That I could start strong.

There you go “thought”!

Would you be kind to leave me that thinking.

I had a feeling that it would bring a dime,

But didn’t want it to eat into your time.

“feelings”, why don’t you leave your emotions home?

You are at work and not home!

All this your sensitivity,

Emotional proclivity.

Bugs me to the core,

Always when they come to the fore.

From now, do as you are told,

As the demands of business behold.

Yes sir, I told,

I will do as your ideas hold.

I am not bemused,

It’s just that the monkey is confused!

Thought….

Leaders commit so many mistakes and most relate to their communication style. Often there is a paradox.

You find that leaders expect people to take initiatives, and at the first instance, reprimand them for not seeking their permissions before doing so. They talk about mutual-respect and rarely do they of their employees. They talk of integrity and each action goes to contradict their talk. They talk about innovation and are seen to play the conservative game all of the time. They say they are people centric but in all their communication they say, people may come and go but the organization remains and results matter.

Are you a business leader committing these mistakes?

by the way openness and the comfort of being vulnerable is touted as one of the great ‘Leadership traits’

So don’t be afraid to confront your reality!

Talk to me if you are looking for 1:1 Coaching or An assessment of your Leadership.

Just send me this contact form 👇 and I will get in touch with you.

You Will Be Glad You Did!

Mullah Naseeruddin And The King – A Lesson on Leadership

At that time, Mullah Naseeruddin was appointed as the king’s procurator. 

Mullah Naseeruddin And The King – Leadership lesson THE CRITICAL DIALOGUE – LIFE AT WORK

His job as a treasurer was to judiciously use the money to procure various commodities and properties that were required for the state.  He had to be an expert in valuation of things he wished to procure.

He would buy Horses, Elephants, Weaponry, Gold, Silver, Clothing, Grains and so on for the kingdom and pay the merchants who brought them.

Mullah Naseeruddin was a very capable procurator as he ensured that the kingdom always had abundance of what it required for sustenance and security.  He would ensure that whatever he bought was of the highest quality and at the best valuation.  This in turn ensured that while the kingdom always had what they wanted, their coffers would also not run empty.

He always thought of saving for a rainy day and apportioned a part of the kingdom’s wealth for meeting any eventuality in the future.

Mullah Nasseruddin was also a very good administrator making sure that the economy was in good shape with a continual flow of necessities and trade.  He was also very fair-minded in his dealings with all the merchants who came from far and wide and always was prompt in his payments.  This kept the merchants happy and they would always bring commodities of the highest quality for the Mullah to purchase. 

Thanks to Mullah Nasseruddin the name of the kingdom and the king spread far and wide as a place to do trade with.

The King however did not see the value of the Mullah to the kingdom.  He was a miser and felt that the Mullah was depleting his coffers by expending a lot of money.  At this rate I would soon be bankrupt he thought.

“It’s time I replace the Mullah with someone who is as miserly as me, as thoughtful as me in spending money, and who could buy things at a very cheap price” he thought.

He found a very easy way to find such a person.  He looked out of the window and found some of his attendants standing and chatting away doing nothing.  He called out to one of his attendants and asked him to appear in his courtroom immediately.

The attendant went as ordered by his king, fearful of the possible consequences from this sudden call from his majesty.

As the attendant stood, frightened, the King announced in the courtroom “From today, you shall be my procurator in place of Mullah Nasseruddin”

The courtroom fell silent by this order, but no one, not even Mullah wanted to defy the King’s order.  As the Mullah bowed to his King, and walked out of the courtroom, he had a faint smile on his face.

The king had come up with this plan as he thought that an ordinary attendant without any rank or status would buy nothing without haggling and would be more economical in his purchases.  But, this man was quite a fool which the king was soon to find out.

The new procurator could not distinguish between a donkey and a horse, but was as the king thought an expert in offering astoundingly low value for anything he had to buy.

The merchants who came from far off places, started to feel the pinch of low value being offered for their high quality goods.  They couldn’t argue with the procurator as he was specially chosen by the king and anyone who went against his will would have to face his wrath.

In his enthusiasm to buy cheap, the procurator went ahead and purchased anything and everything which could come at a very low price, no matter the quality and the quantity.  He didn’t have the sense to understand what was required for the efficient running of the kingdom.

Within no time, the storehouse was filled with a whole lot of rubbish which had no value or use to the kingdom.  The merchants started to make heavy losses and to compensate, started to bring inferior quality products to the kingdom.

The storehouse was turning into a junkyard of unwanted goods.

The kingdom’s reputation started to get tarnished as the merchants carried the message far and wide.

One day, the King came to know of a merchant who had arrived with about 500 horses of the finest quality.  He ordered his procurator to purchase all of them.

The new procurator found this as an excellent opportunity to impress his King.

He ordered the merchant to supply all of the horses to the King’s stable and in return offered a measure of rice.  “Be happy that the King even considered to buy your horses.  You are lucky to be of service to our great King” he proclaimed.

The merchant was dejected as a measure of rice was not even worth the price of one horse and here was this man who was offering that for 500 horses.

As he went back to his stable to get the horses, he found Mullah Nasseruddin on the way.  “Why are you looking sad and dejected?” asked the Mullah.

The merchant narrated the whole incident and then asked Mullah to come to his aid as he didn’t’ want to make so much loss in this trade.  It was a matter of his survival.

Mullah Nasseruddin pondered over the problem and then said “When you go to the courtroom tomorrow to receive the payment for your horses, ask the procurator in front of the King and all the witnesses in the courtroom, as to how much he is willing to pay for the horses.  And when the procurator says – a measure of rice, please ask him what is the value of a measure of rice?” 

Let’s see what happens next.  Don’t worry, I will be present in the courtroom as well.

Next day in the courtroom in front of all the witnesses and the King, the merchant asked the procurator “Sir, I bring the finest horses to you, no one in this entire world has bred such horses.  What value do you have to offer for these finest of the fine breed?”

“A measure of rice ofcourse, as I had already told you yesterday” the procurator said and turned to his King for receiving the acknowledgement for getting such a low price.

“And Sir, may I ask you before these witnesses, how much value is a measure of rice?” the merchant asked as advised by the Mullah.

The boastful procurator wanted to show that a measure of rice from the king was invaluable replied “As anyone in this courtroom will tell you, a measure of rice is equal to the value of this entire kingdom and all the territories under its rule” bragged the procurator.

He was obviously wanting to show as any good bargainer that what he was willing to pay was much more in value than the commodity he was buying. 

Listening to this, all the courtiers burst out laughing at the foolishness of the procurator.  Some even made jokes as to how they could gobble up an entire kingdom with one meal.  How all of them could procure many kingdoms with the amount of rice they had stored in their houses.

Some of them even chided the procurator to buy them a kingdom with one measure of rice, as they continued to laugh at the stupidity of the man.

The only people in the court who did not laugh at this enjoy the joke were the foolish procurator and the King who had employed him without much thought.  The king bowed his head in shame for appointing such a fool who had made himself and the King a laughing stock in front of his courtiers.

Mullah Naseeruddin saw the predicament of the King and wanted to put a stop at all the jokes and banter which were going around.  “Do not mock a man for his ignorance.  When a man entrusted with a job for which he is not qualified he is bound to make a laughing stock of himself sooner or later.  It is not the poor fellows fault that he was appointed as a procurator”

Hearing this the King, raised his head and said “It was my fault O Mullah Nasseruddin.  I have learnt my lesson.  I understand, no one can do wrong except the King”

The king at once removed the procurator from the post and appointed the Mullah back to the job he had so astutely performed.

Reflections:

  1. Are you able to relate to the characters in this story? Namely the King, Mullah Naseeruddin, New Procurator, Merchants, the Horse trader, the Courtiers?
  2. What did you learn from each character?
  3. Do you find similarities in your life at work and at home?
  4. What leadership lesson is there for you in this story?

Post COVID-19 Recovery – A Challenge for Leadership and Corporations

With the relaxation of restrictions by the governments to stimulate economic growth; businesses slowly crawling back to normalcy and recovery. While business activity seems to be gathering speed, there is little sense of relief amongst the corporate leadership as the scars left by the pandemic will take a long time to heal.  Post covid-19 scenario is posing some serious challenges for the business leaders to manage not just business recovery but also emotional recovery of their employees. 

I do believe that the business story will go to script, the people side of the story can have a lot going on below the surface.  All might not be hunky-dory after all.  Let’s look at some of the possible challenges which leaders might face while navigating the post covid-19 scenario.

Mental / emotional wellness

This fact cannot be denied that the lockdown, work-from-home, recalibration of work relationships, fear of losing jobs, lowered income, uncertainty, loss of someone dear and fear of continuous monitoring and scrutiny not just of work but in personal life has taken a toll on the mental and emotional well-being of employees. Though it could possibly be a stretch to imagine that people may exhibit signs similar to PTSD, it could be closer to that.  Its like the soldiers or the doctors who find the normal life to be so inconsequential compared to the combat like situations they have seen on the field.  Many would have encountered life changing moments which would have made them significantly redraw and recalibrate the way they would like to lead their life going forward.  Now, with normalcy returning the fear that things would go back to old ways and drudgery, will be weighing heavily in the minds of the employees.

Social wellness

One of the positive fallouts of the pandemic was that the social wellness quotient seems to have significantly improved.  The upheaval had caused the society at large to collaborate and support each other to face the challenges posed by covid-19.  People demonstrated more empathy and care for others as they handled the crisis as a team.  They reconnected all those relationships which they had long forgotten.  Discussions moved away from just work and productivity to the well-being of self and others.  Increased use of digital platforms and social media networks during the pandemic helped increase the level and frequency of communication.  Keeping people connected 24X7.  There was a level of honesty and transparency and people felt comfortable being vulnerable with each other as they knew that all of humanity was going through this emotional upheaval.

So, what then is the challenge for leaders?  Employees are wary that they will no longer be able to spend that much time in self-care once they get back to the routine working patterns of the past.  They are wary that they would not have enough time with their family and relations and the balance they were able to achieve working from home will be lost.  More like an opportunity cost.  There is a danger of people now getting back to their competitive ways and away from looking at the larger good.  In the light of renewing face-to-face contact, people would again start drawing up their defensive walls in order to protect themselves.  Fear of being vulnerable at workplace will reappear in the minds of employees.  That would mean that leaders may find that people are suddenly withdrawn and cagy.

Team wellness

Informal networks, quick decision making, effective and efficient meetings, clear and concise communication and high level of collaborative work, absence of subjective judgments, were some significant outcomes, thanks to the pandemic.  Getting back to work team members would fear all that would vanish and the conflicts which were rested or forgotten because of the crisis would resurface once they join regular work. Team members during the pandemic could act independently and were given the freedom to decide and act on their own as long as they delivered results.  With the return to work the fear is of the hovering boss, the competitive colleague and limited freedom to operate.  The team and its members will be anxious about their future.  Businesses would possibly try to cut down expenses or would have planned for recalibrating teams that could impact negatively.  The uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity would add to the woes of the team members and negatively impact the overall mental wellness of the team.

Leadership wellness

The leaders themselves would have gone through great emotional upheaval due to the pandemic.  They would have seen several senior leadership positions being done away with already in order to cut costs.  Some positions were also made redundant thanks to the digital driven monitoring and control of performance.  Leaders themselves would be highly anxious about their jobs and their future.  This could significantly impact the way they would receive their teams when they return to work.  Leaders would also be susceptible to significant trust deficit with their team members as they would have unfortunately been tasked with relieving a lot of people from their jobs.  Team members would be tentative in all their interactions with such leaders.  Leaders would also have in their own anxiety been possibly insensitive while dealing with team members during the covid-19 period.  They would have become intrusive and overbearing towards their team members, thereby negatively impacting the relationship. Rebuilding trust will be a significant challenge for leadership while navigating the post covid-19 recovery.

How can a leader navigate the post covid-19 recovery phase?

Leadership needs to realize that it is not going to be as easy as it looks – getting back to work and start doing what they were doing before.  They may have to take a long hard look at the old habits of leading businesses and teams.  They have to re-prioritize, re-plan, adjust and redirect their resources for managing the recovery process. Leaders need to focus once again on the four key dimensions of high-performance teams – the S.T.A.R™

Stimulating Communication

In order for leaders to address the emotional and mental wellness of their employees, there will be a need to stimulate a communication climate which will be based on feedback, listening and more importantly sensitivity.  Teams would have to again go through with the forming, storming, norming and performing stages of development which comes with its unique set of challenges post covid-19.  They will be tasked with the need to hold ‘the critical dialogue’ or difficult conversation with their team members which would involve communicating new roles and responsibilities, work processes, performance goals and metrics.

There should be regular and extensive use of feedback in order to create the much-needed buy-in for the renewed work process.  The social distancing norms of a physical workspace would mean that people might not be as comfortable in each other’s company as they continue to grapple with the anxiety of the “what if”.  During the pandemic because of the remote working environment, there was a forced need for regular feedback, as that was the only way you could keep up to speed with what your colleague was doing.  The interdependencies were visible and clear.  That will get blurred as when leaders return to work, they may withdraw to old ways of working where ‘feedback’ would have often been minimal. Seeking feedback from ‘Employee Mental Wellness’ surveys will be an important step to take before getting the wheels of office work in motion. 

Leaders must encourage employees to speak up as often and as frequently as was the case while working remotely.  They must ‘actively listen’ to their concerns and seek to address them before they snowball into another crisis, this time driven by employee anxiety and emotional wellness issues.  They will have to put in the extra effort to have their eyes and ears to the ground and pick up even the slightest sign of distress amongst co-workers and deal with them immediately.  Remote working had helped employees to put their thoughts in digital form without any fear as they didn’t have to come face to face in meeting rooms with their leadership.  The small group side-conversations to discuss each other’s problems online was what helped many deal with their emotional issues in the safety of their home.  Leaders must provide the space and time for people to engage in similar conversations in the office to reduce stress.

Back to physical workspace would demand a high level of sensitivity from the leadership in dealing with employee emotions and understanding their mental state.  People would have redrawn their family roles and responsibilities and were just about getting into the comfort zone of collaborating on chores on a daily basis.  Help was ready any time any family member wanted; right from helping with the dishes, children’s study, tidying up the rooms – all pitched in. Leaders must understand that when you call the employees back to work, they not only have to deal with the renewed work process but also with the emotional pain of redrawing their familial responsibilities.  People cannot simply switch on and off from work and family as you would tend to expect.  Heightened level of sensitivity will be the key.  There is a need to not just communicate, but overcommunicate at this point.

Trust

The pandemic also brought about in employees the trauma of losing jobs, reduced incomes, blurred lines of roles and responsibilities.  As businesses were trying to cut losses by reducing their physical office infrastructure, the casualty was also jobs.  Though it was the demand of the situation and a hard decision for many businesses, they had no choice but to relieve many of their jobs.  The problem was that those leaders who were tasked to communicate this difficult message have to face the remainder of employees.  They would always be suspicious about their leader’s intention and every conversation, each move, will be closely scrutinized.  The leadership themselves may be going through the anxiety as they must once again prove that they have and will manage the transition.  The stress of exposure and increased vulnerability impacts ‘trust’ greatly.

What can leaders do to rebuild the potential loss of ‘trust’ in teams? 

‘Openness and transparency’ in all transactions will be the key. Leaders must keep the employees engaged through dialogue.  They must enhance the level of transparency in decision making and keep the employees informed and involved.  Any closed-door meeting will be viewed with suspicion and should not be overlooked.  Agendas need to be shared and spelt out to team members and feedback must be sought regularly to increase the level of openness.

‘Integrity’ of leadership will be put to test.  Leaders need to walk-the-talk.  All the promises and commitments made in the last one year just to keep the team in good spirits need to now be followed through with visible action.  As the teams would have digital records of such conversations. 

This would bring in the dimension of ‘data privacy and security’.  Increased activity online during covid-19 pandemic also raised the concerns regarding cyber security.  As people moved completely to the digital world, they exposed themselves to potential cyber-attacks on their personal data.  As they heard how cyber criminals were taking advantage of the increase in online activity, now employees would carry forward such fears about privacy of official conversations as well.  Employees will be concerned that the ‘spoken words’ which could during pre-covid times be denied are possibly recorded on online communication mediums.  For example, a conversation regarding the boss in a chat room would now be vulnerable to exposure by any vested party.  Leaders must take any negative conversation / gossip emerging from such sources with a pinch of salt and put to rest the fears that employees would have regarding misuse of their personal data.

Leaders must ease their teams into post covid-19 routines by continuing the informal networks, collaborative digital spaces, social media use and other informal activities they would got onto during the lockdown.  An example could be celebrating the birthday or anniversary of a family member of the employee.  During the pandemic, lot of companies found that team members were able to participate in social events of co-workers, getting to know them more personally, which contributed to increased bonding.  The same in some form must continue once the teams return to physical workspaces.  There will be increased pressure on leaders to enhance the level of ‘Trust’ in teams and openness, transparency, collaboration and integrity will be the key to achieve that at workplace.

Accountability

When teams are faced with a crisis, the boundaries of work get blurred as everyone gets involved to ensure team success.  People may take up additional responsibilities and roles which otherwise they would be reluctant to do or may not be tasked to do.  This could also mean that they would have got a hands-on experience of working in a fluidic way.  Decisions were made without much fuss, agreements arrived at quickly, meetings became very efficient and effective and there was a visible increase in ‘commitment’ of employees towards the larger goal.  Discussions were no longer about “who will do what?” but “what can we do?” and “how to we get this done?”

With gradual return to physical workspaces, leaders will have to now relook and rewire the roles and responsibilities keeping in mind that they do not disturb the fallout benefits derived from the pandemic.  They shouldn’t suddenly start drawing boundaries around roles such that people get back to their silos.  The competency frameworks which existed pre-covid must be relooked at and employees must be coached to take on revised set of competencies which will help them in their way forward.  Independence and delegation with not just responsibility but authority should be the way forward.  Following through with employees on a regular basis must continue.  Leaders must get out and ‘manage by walking and talking about’.  Employees must be involved while redefining and redrawing roles and responsibilities. This will ensure ‘team wellness’ and increased level of accountability, leading to higher and sustained level of performance.

Results

Surveys done with business leaders indicated that there was an increase in productivity of employees during the lockdown and remotely working from home.  Employees were committed to deliver what was asked of them and did that by willingly stretching the working hours.  As long as the work was getting done, people unlike in the past, were not complaining about not getting back home in time to be with family.  The fact that they were with their family all of the time helped them to achieve the much needed ‘work-life balance’ or at least they could get a sense of the same.

In order for leaders to sustain the productivity levels of employees, they must be focused on providing the same level of balance to their people and create an environment where the focus is more on deliverables than on how many working hours is the employee putting in.  Organizations who were otherwise giving flexible working hours only to the few privileged senior employees must rethink and see how they can integrate the same for all employees.  Flexibility was one of the key factors contributing to employee productivity and that cannot and should not be taken away from them when they return to physical workspaces.  Processes need to be put in place which will ensure that employees don’t feel the pressure of close monitoring and have the fear of the ‘hovering boss’ once again.  Employees must be involved in re-defining goals and objectives to enhance “ownership”.

The Poison Of Knowledge!

The value of ‘experience’ cannot be understated. In this day and age of instant information sharing using digital media, more and more people are being driven purely by knowledge and are living their life based on the information they receive in plenty on a daily basis.  There is no validation whatsoever of the information being downloaded and people seem to be simply trusting whatever is coming their way.  Especially so in the case of ‘health’ related information.  People seem to be taking most of the information on health which comes to them on face value and becoming victims of misinformation.

Even ‘education’ has become more of theory than practice.  In the quest for churning out ‘literacy’ rates, it’s become more an assembly line production of degree holders who have  no idea whatsoever of the practicality of some of the

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knowledge which they have gained.  This is amply evident even in the highly ‘knowledge’ and ‘analytic’ driven equity markets.  The so called high profile executive fresh out of college, armed with degrees have fallen flat in the highly volatile world of the stock markets.  Even today, you find that the good old traders with hands-on experience make a lot of money.

In hiring new managers (today’s fad phrase – leaders), companies were enthusiastic to get bright minds (educationally) laterally into the system and made them to lead teams of highly experienced professionals – who had been there; done that.  The result – a complete lack of ‘credibility’ and ‘authenticity’ in their leadership.  They find it hard to gain the respect of people who they lead.

The reason is plain and simple – ‘Experience’.

Chanakya in his ‘Arthashastra’ clearly states that there is no use of knowledge if it is not backed with experience.  It turns into poison.

It is time that we gave importance and respect to experience in all fields.  Because ‘experience’ it is that brings high level of ‘credibility’ and ‘authenticity’ in who you are.

It’s lonely at the top!

S1:E7 – Promote Yourself – The new normal for success THE CRITICAL DIALOGUE – LIFE AT WORK

It is an often quoted and familiar phrase in leadership circles.  Is it true?  I would say ‘yes’ and ‘no’

Some would say that the real problem facing people who are at the top echelons of their field is not so much of loneliness but rather isolation.  But these are just semantics.

The two words i.e., loneliness and isolation point towards issues which people at the top have to deal with and address.  There could be common grounds and differences as well.

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Social Isolation

Despite the acceptance of the phrase, and despite findings that people at the top report feelings of loneliness, that as a subject in behavioral science has a precise meaning.  Leading researchers have described it as “perception that one is socially on the edge”.  It is a sense of feeling left out.

Celebrities who are in the glare of public and media scrutiny all the time and grapple with the dilemma of remaining connected yet distant, face this issue regularly and are acutely afflicted by it.  It is a workplace hazard which is masked beautifully by the razzle-dazzle of their immediate environment.

The bigger challenge celebrities face is that they work in an industry which is highly unpredictable and does not provide them with a sense of ‘control’ – which is so essential in dealing with such isolation.

People who feel lonely not only feel disconnected from those around them, but also from the industry they work for.

What might be the reason for this isolation?

Lack of trust may be one of the reasons for isolating oneself from people around us.  You can also call this insulating oneself.  When people do not find someone whom they can talk to without being judged, someone who could just listen to them without being advisory or plainly just be a sounding board, they tend to close communication.  When they also are in an environment both social and professional where most interactions are perceivably with agendas, they get threatened and suspicious of others.  This leads people to insulate themselves so much that they end up in a anxious and depressive state.

It is true that people dealing with depression and isolation can reach out for help since there are charities and helplines. But more importantly, it is up to the loved ones to take the initiative.  Someone who they can trust.

Social conditioning is another big contributor for people to isolate themselves.  We have been conditioned to put up a brave front and mask our problems, so much so that ‘not feeling good’ or ‘not ok’ is almost a taboo.  That’s probably the reason why we have a stock reply when someone asks us about our well being we immediately respond with “I am fine” and “I am great” although not feeling great.  How many people have you heard saying things like “Hey I am not feeling all that good”, “I need help”, “I think I have a problem”?  Even if you heard such responses it would be at a stage when all hope is lost or people have already reached a point of no return.  Why does this happen, I wonder?  I think here again, people have been conditioned to believe that those who state problems or seek help are ‘weak’ and are not able.  This somehow hurts their ego and therefore they shy away from seeking help.

Ego is a factor as well, especially for those who have achieved a lot in their life and career and reigning at the top.  They start to believe that they are invincible and cannot be defeated or experience failure at all.  They have achieved so much after all.  They tend to forget that without the social support it wouldn’t have been possible all alone.  They start to go about their business as if they can do all on their own.  They believe that any attempt at seeking help will undermine their position of power and control and therefore they avoid seeking help and interacting with people when they are in trouble.  They isolate themselves to fight the battle on their own.  This only proves to be counter productive as it takes them on a downward spiral of complete social isolation and depression.

One of the reasons probably why some well-known celebrities who have achieved so much in their profession have died alone from depression.  This is not just the movie stars but musicians, sportsmen, industry leaders and all those who have reached the top at a rapid pace.

Social acceptance  is to my mind one more possible cause.  Those who have reached the top in an industry or profession with their hard work and perseverance find it difficult at times to be accepted as part of the social group they are in.  They might not be getting due credit or always be feeling that they have to prove themselves every day to be accepted in the society.  This relentless pursuit to prove their worth can take a toll on their mental and physical health as well.  When this happens for prolonged periods, they may end up isolating themselves and get into depressive states.

Need for being in ‘Control’ all of the time is another contributor according to me which slowly gets people to isolate themselves.  We all know that we cannot control all of the things – all of the times, yet we want to and we strive to.  When we get into situations which gets out of our control, we give a fight initially and then when it still doesn’t help, choose the option of flight.  In this case it happens to be avoiding and isolating oneself from such situations in the future.  Over a period of time you will find yourself insulating yourself from more and more situations, eventually finding yourself not just being alone but afflicted by loneliness and depression.

Surrounding oneself with wrong people and they are those who are not willing to giving you timely and critical feedback when necessary.  If you have people who are constantly praising you and always telling you what a lovely person you are, then you must be wary of such people.  They have their own agendas in play and might abandon you when their needs are met.  When you eventually find out that you have been used for their selfish needs, you tend to throw the baby and the bath tub out.  When you have not been mindful of the type of people you are associating with and surround yourself with those who are ‘yes’ everything you do, you create what I call as an ‘echo chamber’ and develop blind spots.  You start mistrusting every one in your circle and start to avoid social contact.  People who have been taken advantage of and have been passive victims tend to choose self-isolation as an escape mechanism leading to increased anxiety and depression.

To avoid becoming insular, you have to go out of your way to solicit different points of view. Otherwise, you will find yourself living in a bubble, an echo chamber which will eventually take a toll on your mental health and life.

Loneliness is not just a problem with society at large but also at workplace. Business leaders may also be afflicted if they are not mindful of their mental or emotional health. If you have noticed any one of the six factors which I mentioned above which makes you isolate then its time to seek some help.

Loneliness, Isolation, Anxiety and Depression is Real! Do Not Ignore the tell-tale signs!

Disclaimer thecriticaldialogue only seeks to trigger some thoughts on topics which could impact our lives deeply.  The views expressed through #thecriticaldialogue blogpost are purely reflections of the author and in no way should be substituted for and taken as medical advice.  If you find yourselves depressed, anxious and feeling lost, it’s important to consult a qualified professional immediately.

Work-From-Home – A Test Of Trust!

The past couple of months caught everyone by surprise; businesses and employees alike. While most large businesses had their ‘business contingency plans’ in place: no one would have ever imagined that the shift to remote work from home will be so sudden and swift.

Our firm, Equinox Consultants, an Indian human resource consulting and training service provider with more than 25 years of experience in agile ways of working like everyone else, had to transform our business into a remote-only operation, virtually overnight.

The transition to a work-from-home context was a breeze, as we have been operating that way for over a decade. The only challenge we had to and continue to work on is to transition all our contact training modules to a remote delivery model. When I say all, I intended to say that most of our services were already prepped for remote delivery.

In over two decades what we’ve noticed is that there are cultural traits to our self-managing organization that lends itself particularly well to remote working. It boils down to what I see as the essential building block of all teamworking and collaboration – ‘Trust’. The need for trust-building is even more amplified when you have co-workers working remotely.

I would like to share our own experience of successful remote working which will help your teams and business organization build and maintain trust.

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What’s worked for us:

Communication – Speed, Clarity and Frequency

The biggest pain area for people who work remotely is when they do not get quick, clear and continual communication from the stakeholders with whom they work closely. The fact that digital communication makes one feel that ‘Once I have sent a message, it is assumed that the receiver has read and understood it’. The onus then quickly shifts to the receiver to respond quickly to the messages he/she receives. Any delay can lead to ‘negative’ and ‘suspicious’ thoughts in the minds of the sender who may be prone to ‘imagine’ and attribute agendas.

So the ‘speed of response’ is of paramount importance to build and and sustain trust. The other important factor is to provide clarity – not just once but on a continual basis. Therefore my take is communicate, communicate, communicate. Share important information (even if it’s incomplete) right away once you have it. This will especially hold true in matters of financial, strategic decisions, of policy, priorities, accountability and daily goals.

If you keep people in the dark during uncertain times it leads to needless anxiety and worry. People work better when they are less stressed. Sharing clear and timely information across functions, and giving everyone an effective overview, means people can take action to steer the business in the right direction.

Frequency of your communication matters too. The lag should be minimal. Your quarterly should turn to monthly; monthly to weekly and weekly to daily.  That’s the paradigm you need to shift towards.  The longer the gap the higher the chances of disruption and break in trust levels.

Decision making will move towards becoming an ‘in-the-moment’ process where you just cannot afford to call for virtual or physical meetings all the time to discuss and take important decisions. When everyone understands what’s going on they will be able to make smarter decisions. Do whatever it takes to get the message out there.  Encourage people to speak up and openly share problems and challenges and provide continual updates on workloads.

Leadership will be put to test in remote working setups. There will be an increasing load on the leaders to communicate fast, frequently and with clarity. The importance of communication ability of your leaders couldn’t have been more than in remote working situations.

Openness and transparency

There is chance that Managers feel an increasing need to micromanage. They may fear that employees working from home might be less productive and doing personal stuff than real work. This will be accentuated by a lot of social media posts which showcase non-work skills of employees.  Such anxiety can lead to excessive control measures which might lead to a lot of stress and feeling of dissatisfaction.

The way to deal with such anxiety starts with building openness and transparency in your transactions.

You must keep all your employees informed all the time and shouldn’t keep them in the dark. With team members working from home it’s easy to forget to relay important information regarding specific roles, expectations and task deadlines. Providing enough context and ensuring your team have access to all necessary information is a must. Communicating rules of engagement, setting boundaries, the rationale behind decisions, seeking and giving continual feedback can go a long way in building openness and transparency. When your employees see visible actions of your trust in them they will reciprocate the same in your leadership.   The direct benefit of trust based on the foundation of openness and transparency is ‘speed’ of work.

Empower

An ability to decentralize the decision making process, letting go of hierarchies and giving your employees freedom to make decisions about their work is the key when you have your workforce operating from home.

When working from home, everyone’s managing themselves to an even greater degree as it is; it’s important to give everyone the full autonomy to do that in order for them to do it well. This is where situational awareness comes in: sharing objectives and goals is crucial. It makes it easy for people to manage themselves better in deciding what to focus on now and what to leave for later.

Set up communities of practice

An increased level of self-regulation would mean that your employees become more interested in learning how to do their work effectively. That would mean reduced need for a centralized training function to train the entire workforce or help everyone develop new methods for remote working. Instead, setting up of online communities of practice can help colleagues freely share tips and tools in a peer-to-peer network structure. Everyone is learning alongside one another

If someone is struggling with a particular task, it’s likely that someone else somewhere in the organization has already had that same problem and would have even solved it. The solutions to problems can then be shared freely across the organization which would mean that there is no time wasted in reinventing the wheel and all employees feel supported as they perform their roles. While most large corporations do have the knowledge management practices in place, our experience shows very limited use of such networks. The work-from-home scenario today helps to harness the power of communities even more and go on to increase collaboration leading to trust.

Digital socializing

Those moments at the coffee machine shouldn’t disappear just because everyone’s working remotely from home. Organizations must understand the importance of casual conversation and social connections. Use online meeting rooms for not just work but after hour hangouts as well. It’s a great idea to encourage people to come up with creative ways to build social bonds. It’s a great opportunity to involve families in the social events by organizing collective fun events and tasks.

It’s all a good time and keeps the socializing going. It’s important to check up on people too. During the pandemic, people will feel more anxious than usual, and there’s no way for your human resources team to take care of everyone. When people know everyone’s got each other’s backs, there’s less of a sense of isolation and more of a sense of trust: The feeling that, together, everyone will be able to continue doing a great job and achieve higher levels of performance even if it’s from the comfort of their homes.