Just how important is an apology?  Turning a critical dialogue to a more meaningful one!

The following two incidents , one at work and the other at home would put things in perspective.

I remember one incident in office where there was an impending senior management visit along with one of our client representative.  This account was crucial so much so that they contributed a significant amount to our bottom line.

Our boss gave us a whole lot of tasks to complete before the D-day.  Our team had burnt the midnight oil in getting things ready and waited with excitement to showcase our capabilities both to the client and to the senior management team.

The day arrived, the client and our management team arrived and were first involved in a long closed door meeting with our Boss.  Our excitement turned to dejection when post that meeting, the team just left and our Boss after sending them off got back to his seat and started to work as if we didn’t exist.

All of us were fuming and wanted to know what happened and why we were not met by the client and the management team.  We confronted our boss and what irritated us was his response “Hey, they didn’t find the need and so did I at that moment, so what’s the big deal?”

This is where it started to get ugly and we shot back in unison “next time we are not going to do an overnight’er and this is the last time.  You know we worked our ass off for you and you didn’t even bother to come by and let us know what happened”

This was going nowhere as he shot back “You guys don’t have to tell me how to run the business.  I am the one who decides and I am clear that it was the most appropriate thing to do at that time, that of not making them stay longer”

This response clearly indicated that the Boss here has taken the confrontation as a show of disrespect by his team on his judgment of the situation.  The dialogue had turned critical and heading towards conflict.

A similar dialogue at home, when I returned home late from work as we had a huge crisis to be dealt with in office.  It was both mentally and physically exhausting.  The moment I entered home, my Wife shouted “I’ve been waiting here like an idiot, thinking that you will come early today and take me out on a promised date and here you are who didn’t care to even inform me.  You never keep your promises and this is the last time I am believing you”

This dialogue was also turning critical.  I shot back “Oh! please give me a break.  I am already exhausted dealing with all that is happening in office and now I have you to content with at home”

Both these instance will tell you when the dialogue gets critical.  It’s the type of response we give or get during such conversation.

In both instances you will find that the parties involved i.e, Boss and Team, Spouse and Yourself, the outbursts were an indication that all felt violated and were fighting for respect.  People felt ‘hurt’.

The best option is for you to step out of the ‘content’ of the dialogue and see what caused this aggressive response.

An apology would have done a world of good and moved the dialogue into a more meaningful understanding of each other.

saying sorry quoteAn apology which sincerely expresses your regret in your role to have caused that hurt in others.  The boss could have simply responded by saying “I am so sorry, I couldn’t give you guys an opportunity to showcase your work, after all the hard work you put in”  This would have led the team to then calm down and start asking more meaningful questions like “what transpired in the meeting?” etc.

Similarly, I could have just responded with something like “I am so sorry, I know I screwed up and couldn’t make it early and I didn’t call you”  I couldn’t extricate myself from the mess in office”  Would have brought my wife to at least calm down and ask “what happened” instead of blaming me.

In both instances I felt an apology would have moved the dialogue from critical to meaningful.  My wife keeps reminding me all the time that a “sorry” would help than attacking back.  It irritates her that instead of showing some respect, I start to attack as a defense mechanism.  It then escalates into a full scale show down with no meaningful conclusion and a lot of ‘hurt’ as residue.

We seem to always get caught in the fight to win and our ego adds fuel to the fire.  The best way is to sacrifice a bit of your ego by admitting your mistakes.

Now I know, we place high value to our ‘ego’.  But whenever you give up something you value, you are rewarded with something even more valuable, i.e., a healthy dialogue and better outcome.

All it takes is an apology!

Great Leaders Often Spend Time – To See How Others See Them! Do You?

An elderly gentleman went to the Doctor and with a complaint about a gas problem. “But,” he told the Doctor, “it really doesn’t bother me too much. When I pass gas they never smell and are always silent. As a matter of fact, I’ve passed gas at least 10 times since I’ve been here in your office. You didn’t know I was doing it because they don’t smell and are silent.”

“I see,” the Doctor replied as he examined him. When he was finished, he wrote a prescription and handed it to his patient. Take these pills three times a day and come back to see me next week,” he instructed.

The next week the gentleman was back. “Doctor,” he exclaimed, “I don’t know what medication you gave me, but now my gas… although still silent… stinks terribly!”

The Doctor retorted, “Good! Now that we’ve cleared up your sinuses, let’s work on your hearing.”

An extremely useful step in our leadership development is seeing myself as others see me. So I need to understand their perceptions of my behavior. My effectiveness in leading, relating to, or working with others is highly dependent on their perceptions of me. I may not agree with what they see, but their perception is our reality. Those around me have an opinion of who they think the real me is. Their perceived “truth” becomes the way they treat me. Their perception forms their part of the reality of our relationship.

The discussion of perceptions is often a thorny one as we work with individuals, teams, and organizations to improve their effectiveness. For example, we tend to define levels of service or quality through our own eyes and values. That may not be the way our customers or partners define it. There is no objective definition. There is only the reality that I see, you see, he sees, or she sees. Our personal perception is our personal reality. There’s no accounting for taste. Everyone forms his or her own opinion no matter how wrong we may think it is. If we’re going to improve the service or quality delivered, we need to first understand how those we’re serving, or producing for, perceive service or quality.

Like beauty, service, quality, honesty, or integrity, leadership is in the eye of the beholder. I judge myself by my intentions. Others judge me by my actions. My intentions and the actions that others see may be miles apart. Unless I know that, I am unlikely to change my actions or try to get others to see me differently. I can become trapped in their reality and get very frustrated when they don’t respond to me as I’d like.

Getting feedback from others on our personal behavior is tough. It often hurts. The truth may set me free, but it will likely make me miserable first. When we get feedback, we nod our head to the positive and supportive statements that agree with our own views. However, when it comes to our weaknesses or improvement areas we take those to heart and sometimes dwell far too heavily on them. We can get ten rave reviews for work we’ve done and one critical comment. That one comment hurts. If we’re not careful, it can fester into doubts and a loss of confidence. As a result, the truth that may set us free of our less productive habits becomes the truth we prefer not to hear. That’s human nature. What stunts our personal growth and gets us stuck in a rut is when we refuse to hear any more of it. As a parent, boss, or appointed leader of some type, it’s too easy to hide behind our position and avoid feedback.

The wider the gap between our own perceptions of areas to improve and the feedback we’re getting the more we may experience the “SARAH process.” This approach comes from grief counseling. The first letter of each stage spell “SARAH.” The stages are Shock, Anger, Resentment, Acceptance, and Help. When I get open and honest feedback on how others perceive me, I may be shocked, angry, and resentful. But unless I accept that as their perceptions of the real me (their reality of me), I’ll never progress to the final stage of self-help or seeking help from others in taking action on the feedback and making the changes called for.

Human nature seems to endow us with the ability to size up everybody but ourselves. As painful as it may be, feedback is a big contributor to our leadership development. Feedback is often a key element in personal learning and improvement. It helps us to size up and see ourselves as others see us. We may not agree with the perceptions of others, but unless we know how we’re perceived, we stand little chance of improving our relationships and effectiveness with them. Feedback also gives us another opportunity to reflect on our behavior from the view point of others. It provides outside perspectives on the exploration of our inner space.

Not all feedback is valid and helpful. Ultimately I have to decide what fits and what doesn’t. I have to choose the feedback that rings true to me. According to an ancient story, a man once approached Buddha and began to call him ugly names, Buddha listened quietly until the man ran out of insults and had to pause for breath. “If you offer something to a person and that person refuses it, to whom does it belong?” asked Buddha. “It belongs, I suppose, to the one who offered it,” the man said. Then Buddha said, “The abuse and vile names you offer me, I refuse to accept.” The man turned and walked away.

Leadership ‘WTF’

Leadership ‘WTF’

‘What To Focus’ (WTF) on is the continual dilemma confronted by today’s leadership. He is faced with conflicting needs from his role with questions like, should I be more focused on the ‘Result’ or ‘People’; ‘Control’ or ‘Create’?


When he starts driving for results relentlessly, he finds that in the process of doing so, he is not able to concentrate on the people dimension. Sees that the workplace becomes competitive, people are stressed and teamwork and collaboration becomes a casualty. And if he does start focusing on the people, results start to stutter as people settle into their comfort zones.

Similarly when he is growing the team there is a need to bring in processes, controls and monitoring mechanisms to keep the team from derailing and if he does that more the casualty is ‘innovation’. People are caught up in compliance and keeping the status quo and slowly over a period of time become risk averse as any deviation to processes gets penalized.

So the question is ‘WTF’?

Leaders must in an increasingly complex world strike a balance between competing roles and here are the four dimensions they must do always to keep the team at peak performance levels.

Stimulating Communication – The leader must create a stimulating communication climate – where there is free flow of feedback amongst the team members, people actively listen to gain understanding of each other and the work they do together. Such climate should also create an enhanced sense of ‘sensitivity’ where there is mutual respect.

Trust – The natural outcome of such a communication climate is of ‘openness’ where people have no hidden agendas and ‘collaborate’ with a win:win mindset. Integrity is a key ingredient which leaders can demonstrate to enhance trust where they walk-the-talk.

Accountability – An enhanced climate of trust builds a strong circle of safety for the team members, where they can start focusing their energies on seeking out opportunities than trying to fight the internal threat of mistrust, political behaviors and unhealthy competition. When people feel safe, they demonstrate a higher level of commitment and spend time to develop their competence necessary to achieve results.

Results – When the leader creates a highly accountable workplace built on trust, he ensures that people strive for results without a sense of being pushed. It ensures that there is a high level of ownership amongst the team members and they are willing to work hard to achieve their goals.

Now are you clear ‘WTF’?

4 Steps in resolving conflicts in teams

Conflicts in teams can be a great source of change and innovation.

No matter what kind of team it is, no method of managing conflict will work without mutual respect and a willingness to disagree and resolve disagreements. Each person on the team must be willing to take the following four steps when a team meeting erupts into a storm: listen, acknowledge, respond, and resolve remaining differences.work-conflict-feature

Listen: To hear what someone else is saying is not the same as listening. To listen effectively means clearing your mind of distractions and concentrating not only on the words but also on nonverbal gestures, which often convey ninety percent of what the person is trying to say. When resolving disagreements, you often have to deal with feelings first.Acknowledge: You can acknowledge people’s positions without agreeing with them. Show this with statements like, “I understand that you’re angry,” “If I understand you, you think we should”, or “Let’s explore your opinion further.” You may still disagree with them, but at least they know you’ve heard them.

Acknowledge: You can acknowledge people’s positions without agreeing with them. Show this with statements like, “I understand that you’re angry,” “If I understand you, you think we should”, or “Let’s explore your opinion further.” You may still disagree with them, but at least they know you’ve heard them.

Respond: You’ve listened and acknowledged what the other person is saying. Now it is your turn to be heard. If you’re offering criticism of your teammate’s ideas, make sure it’s constructive, and if you’re disagreeing with them, be ready to offer an alternative. Be willing, also, to be questioned or challenged, while avoiding defensiveness when you answer.

Resolve remaining differences: Define the real problem by looking for what’s causing the disagreement. Then analyze it into its manageable parts. Now you can generate alternative solutions to the problem and select the alternative on which everyone can agree.

For individuals to work effectively in teams they must be able to clearly communicate their ideas, to listen, and be willing to disagree. Although it is difficult, learning to appreciate each other’s differences reflects a team’s ability to manage conflict. When conflict occurs we must not turn our backs and hope it will go away. Instead, we must learn to tolerate it, even welcome it, for well-managed conflict can be the source of change and innovation.

5 Family Leadership Lessons You Could Apply at Work

If ever you want to perfect the ‘Art of Leading’ and the behaviors which lead you to achieve that, you don’t have to attend workshops , seminars and read books; but to look inwards; to yourself and the way you ‘Lead’ in your family. Let me explain this a little. family

What do you think are the hallmark of a leader that he has, shows or possesses;

  1. Provides
  2. Nurtures
  3. Protects
  4. Builds
  5. Develops and Grows

Don’t you think as the head of a family or as a parent you do that at home? Why can’t you just take those very behaviors or actions to your office? Isn’t that what you yourself want or expect from the person who leads you in your office or who you choose to follow? Let’s look at these in a little more detail

Leader as a Provider

At home and as a provider of your family food, money, clothing and basic necessities of life. You ensure that no one is deprived of the bare minimum required for comfortable living. More importantly you are continually focused on and measuring your families conditions on these parameters. Providing all the members of your family with an environment which helps them achieve the goals which they have set out to achieve or aspire for.

Do you do the same as a ‘Leader’ in your office? Do you provide for or ensure enough wealth, good food and a healthy environment where your employees can feel comfortable? Isn’t it as important to your professional family as well?

Leader as a Nurturer

What are the nurturing behaviors family leaders exhibit? They nurture importantly the values and behaviors in their members. They provide the cultural context to the family; sensitize members and help them remain true to their culture. By the daily nurturing of such behaviors they develop habits in members which help them to face the challenges which the environment poses and succeed.

Leader as a Protector

Providing a safe and secure environment is one of the primary responsibility of the family leader. It ensures that the members of the family are confident and can perform their duties without any fear. The fact that their family will back them up in the face of any adversity provides a lot of confidence for them to explore, seek out and achieve success in their chosen path.

Leader as a Builder

Not just building homes but building character and skills is another role which the family leader plays in his day to day life. By demonstrating exemplary behavior himself, he encourages the members to do the same. It is a fact that the members start to mirror behaviors shown by their leader and turn out to become like them in the long run.

Leader as a Developer

The leader is also constantly looking for and aiding the development of skills in their members to better prepare for the future.

Leader as an agent of Growth

The leader provides a vision of the best future state to all members of the family. He constantly motivates members to work hard towards achievement of set goals. He provides regular feedback on what is working and not working and is not hesitant in doing so. He measures progress and helps his flock remain focused and prevent them from going astray.

If you can do all of the above for your family; why can’t we do the same with our office family? When you provide, nurture, build, develop and grow your teams just as you would your family, you will be surely succeeding as a leader.

Elections, Voter behaviour and lessons for leadership

Elections, electioneering and voter behaviours provide great lessons in leadership.

When a prospective employee signs up to join your organization, he makes his choice – similar to a voter casting his vote in favour of a party, its representative, governance track record or purely based on comparative choice available. I believe that any organization can relate itself to the context of a political party, elected representatives, council of ministers and the government. There are great many lessons you can derive by analyzing each of the dimensions which go to make a popular government..

To be an ‘Employer of choice’Vote

The dream of any HR leader is to make his company an employer of choice in the increasing cluttered marketplace where patience runs very thin for both employees and their employers. With constant battles with employee attrition, low motivation, interpersonal conflicts, lack of collaboration and employee stress, it is important to look at ’employee happiness’ as a strategic tool than merely as reaction to events. To be an employer of choice is more like being the party of choice for governance. Leadership must understand that you require to gain the ‘confidence’ of your employees to get a positive vote for governance. They will choose you over others only when you meet their expectations as much as we do with our political dispensation.

Unfortunately, in the corporate world the vote is cast everyday based on the quality of leadership governance you provide on a daily basis. You do not have the luxury of getting the vote cast every 5 years and until then afford to relax. I am listing a few of the many points you as leaders may want to consider towards providing great governance to your voters aka employees.

  1. Corporate slogan – what’s your corporate slogan? an elevator pitch or a line which appears at the top of your webpage or advertisements. The one which provides employees (prospective and present) a sense of who you are and what you can deliver or they can expect. You can have different slogans for different dimensions of your work; like for customer, employees, vendor partners etc. Many organizations focus predominantly on creating and socializing slogans for customers and only a few for the people who work for them. How about ‘enabling your dream’; ‘providing a platform for your creativity’; ’employee wellness is at the heart of way we conduct our business’. I’m sure you are getting the point I’m making here? Your corporate slogan should be at the heart of driving all your actions. It’s something which can provide a daily boost of motivation to people who you work with and work for. When organizations fail to articulate their slogan, the people will start creating their own and as the number grows it will become increasingly difficult to handle. One important aspect which I would like to mention when you create this slogan; Do not hand over this job to an agency. It’s always best when the statements are straight from the horses mouth. You don’t have to be fancy and bombastic in your presentation. As long as it comes from you the business leader, it will be seen and perceived as authentic. I for one am not a big fan of creative agencies meddling with or providing me with slogans which then I have to work with. You should restrict their inputs only for making them presentable. I’m sure you would have come across many election campaigns backfiring because the creative agency dished out slogans which were ‘creative’ but could not relate to the reality nor provide conviction to the campaigner. Parties have lost election because of such campaigns. An example is the ‘India shining’ campaign of then government which fell flat on its face and couldn’t connect to the masses. While powerful slogans can get you to power but you as a corporate leader must also be convinced that it is sustainable in the long term. I suggest that this corporate pitch should be decided and articulated by the leadership themselves.
  2. Corporate manifesto – you must consider having a manifesto for your company which becomes the essential document which guides all your actions while conducting your business. When I say, a manifesto, it should be such that it is easy to remember, communicate and carry. It can be something of a one or two page document which provides your employees and customers a feel of your culture and the way you intend to transact business. This is not your conventional policy document which is often exhaustive, technical and caught up in legalize. I’ve seen many employees when asked about their awareness of company policies drawing a blank or remembering very little. Policy documents are visited only when the need arises or a crisis emerges. I’m not suggesting that you should do away with such documents; manifestos just serve a different purpose. It helps people by providing them directions for work everyday; every moment. Some organizations might call this their ‘values document’ which once downloaded as part of onboarding exercise is conveniently forgotten; as much as the voter forgetting the political manifesto after the elections only to remember when crisis occurs or impacts him directly. So what’s your manifesto? do you have one? Remember it can be for a year or five years and you can publish them periodically.
  3. Campaigning – who are your campaigners? – your leadership team or group of managers are effectively like the campaigners during elections. They are the one’s who go on to commit on behalf of the organizations to employees, customers and prospects. They reflect the organizational ethos for their constituents. It’s imperative that your campaigners ‘walk-the-talk’ else the constituents will lose faith in the whole setup. Every word that comes out of their mouth, every action or inaction, commitments they make are all recorded in public memory and are not erased. Everyday will be a measurement of their performance against what they said during the campaign. Failure to meet the expectations will prove costly. Let me give an example of a Hotel which claimed its philosophy was ‘Always guest first’ and when a prospect wanted to meet with the front office supervisor, he was told that the supervisor is in a meeting and he had to wait. You must choose your campaigners and the campaign very carefully. A campaigner has to stick to the exact same words from the campaign plan and must remain consistent – ‘walk-the-talk’. This is what will get you the vote.
  4. Voting and the feedback process – Voter turnout and voting patterns are a good indicator of your governance and the hope you provide to your constituents. A low voter turnout could indicate the ‘loss of hope’ or ‘lack of alternatives’. It is indicative of the fact that the people have lost complete faith in the process as their leaders seem to have let them down badly. They feel short changed. A high voter turnout similarly could indicate that people are happy or have found a strong need for ‘change’. They believe that their vote will make a difference. In the same way a 360 feedback process in the organization helps the leaders to get continual feedback on their performance. While many organizations have experienced that people have lost faith in the 360 process very similar to the voter behaviour during elections. When does an employee lose faith in the 360 feedback process? You know that when there is no follow through on the feedback received. It’s important that leaders use the feedback as an effective means of their corporate governance and use follow through actions to build the faith of their employees in the leadership and organization. Else, you risk being voted out (at least in their mind).

What are the leadership lessons you can think of?