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Friday, December 14, 2007

Practicing leadership in corporate world

Leadership is a much misunderstood concept in corporate world. Every CEO and senior manager is supposed to practice leadership. He is shown a role model of Jack Welch or Nelson Mandela and told to emulate their behaviour. It is a foregone conclusion that a person at senior level must practice leadership whether he is ready or not.

Trainers further add to the confusion by 'labelling' many of their programs as 'leadership development programs'. They go a step further by claiming that leadership can be practiced at any level: junior, middle or senior. This is the Western view of human development: you can do anything if you have the willingness and drive to achieve it. This view creates heroic individuals who may perform heroic acts, but can also create deputees who cannot even think for themselves.

The confusion is fed by reluctance of researchers who refuse to define leadership. Researchers interview and study CEO's and political leaders, decipher common traits and behaviour, and claim to discover the common denominator of a leader without defining leadership. In their quest to define leadership traits, they may even forget that many of the CEO's and leaders they interviewed may have been 'adminstrators'.

Rudolph Giuliani's resurrecation of New York after 9/11 is one such example. Reviving a city/institution after such a tragedy requires extraordinary capabilities to bring together all stakeholders, chalk out an action plan and execute it. But is this leadership?

Is 'removing terrorism' same as 'removing terrorist'? Is countering the practice of anti dowry same as passing the 'anti-dowry' law in the parliament? Is instituting 'secured transport' in a city after 11 pm same as instituting police practices to catch criminals in the city?

If you observe closely the similarity in the second and first act, you will understand the concept of leadership. The first act requires understanding of ' interrelated systems', while the second requires understanding of 'linear systems'. The first act requires a far difficult juxtaposition of different initiatives and weaving amongst different stakeholders, while the second requires a 'one dimension action' against the dissidents. The first act requires dealing with dynamic complexity while the second act is dealing with static complexity.

In short, the first act requires the ability to deal with 'Systems'. ( please do not confuse system with department or process. It is a word which has precise definition, derived from a practice called Systems thinking.)More so it requires an ability to understand and deal with open systems and that too multiple systems at one time.

This is where we have a definition of leadership. Leadership practice is an ability to influence open system(s) in a sustained manner. Sustained manner means not just one time action; but an action which can be sustained after the initial trigger is off.

This definition will tell you where where leadership cannot be practiced. If, for instance, not a single system is 'kept' open at a junior level, you may not be able to practice leadership at a junior position. You will also realise that you are not expected to 'practice' leadership even at senior positions in certain times. For instance, if an organisation has to be revived, it needs huge 'administrative ability'.

With a precise definition of leadership, you will know and how and when to practice leadership. You will know that despite whatever your effort, you cannot achieve anything more in an organisation where platform creation is going to take huge time. You will set realistic expectations.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

It is so unfair to judge someone by our expectations

Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly currently are the victim of our unrealistic ( not closer to reality) expectations. Because India won 20-20 tournament, we expect India to win again even when the format has changed to 50-50. If India cannot win with Big 3 in 50 over format, we want selectors to give the 20-20 stars ( like Robbin Utthapa and Gautam Gambir) a second chance instead of giving second chance to Big 3 who have performed well in the last series. We want to ignore the past record of 20-20 stars in the fifty over format and still believe that they will perform better in the 50 over format when everyone ( including Dhoni) believes that 20-20 over format never tests capability of a cricketer. Even when we know Australians are better in the 50 over format than us, we want to forget that because it clashes with our expectations. Everything is unfairly stacked against the Big 3 because they have not 'fulfilled' our unrealistic expectations. Isn't that surprising?

But if you think for a while, it is not really so surprising. I met a couple last week, where the male partner has still not forgiven the female partner because she has not 'fulfilled' his expectations of a 'mate' after 5 years of married life. I have met managers who evaluate their juniors, not based on their capabilities, but on their expectations. I have met parents who constantly judge their child against their expectations and cause unintended damage to the child's life.

Even at a personal level, this matters. I know of an entrepreneur who has innovated and brought a radically different concept in homeopathic software who feels he has failed because he has not earned 'enough' as compared to his expectation. When I told him that his expectations were unrealistic ( given the nature of his radical product), he replied that this knowledge will not bring any solace to his wife and family who expect him to succeed in lesser time. And I also know of an entrepreneur who lives on an expectation that his idea will succeed one day, even though it may be a black swan event that occurs rarely in the real world.

Expectation surprisingly is a much more powerful driver in career managment than we credit it for. Expectations are triggered by comparisons ( that my colleague is getting more than what I am getting), unrealistic wishes and desires ( I loved painting once upon a time so painting can be my vision) and also to justify our inability to adjust our beliefs ( like I continue to expect something impossible because 'making it possible' is more painful and excruciating).

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Why did India lose against NewZealand?

The above match is a classic case of how diagnosis should not be done. In a system, cause and effect are intermingled, and it requires a non-linear thinker to seperate the elements and come to a conclusion.

For instance, one of the newspaper column said that the 'fault was in giving too many runs at the end'. If you have observed other matches, you will always find that many runs are scored in the last few overs. For instance, South Africa scored some 40 odd runs in last two overs. It is the interplay of different different factors in 20-20 game that causes this. If an experienced team like England has not learnt this trick, can we expect Indians to do so?

Another diagnosis was Yuvraj Singh should not have been bowled in the 16th over. One newspaper column also wrote that 'India did not seem to have learnt anything from the past. Yuvraj was hit for five sixes in a over'. This newspaper column does not know that being hit in the last overs depends on how bowler 'readjusts' with the batsman. For instance, England bowler Schofield gave 14 runs in 3 overs, but gave away 3 sixes in the last over, because he could not readjust with the Morkel's hitting zone. So why was Yuvraj given the 16th over? One can surmise that Dhoni must have thought that ' Having seen how he was hit by Mascerhans ( of England), Yuvraj must have learnt this readjustment'.

Another wrong element in the diagnosis is our intrinsic bias. Because Robin Uthappa played well in the match before that, the commentators do not want to blame him. But one can argue that it was precisely the 'mental unpreparedness' of Uthappa that swung the match. Contrast this with SriLanka chasing Newzealand. After a initial flourish, their next batsman took their time to settle before they went for the kill. The failure of Uthappa to adjust and settle probably lost the game, one can argue. But no commentator even mentions it because bias of 'past' performance clouds the 'present'. If one is diagnosing what went wrong in the current game, why should one get biased with the past?

A match between two players is a system. In a system, everything is an interplay. Cause and effects cannot be delineated easily. A smaller match between a batsman and bowler is also a system. One who does the 'readjustment' faster wins. Because everything is over if you do not readjust in time, the 'time to swap back to normal' matters a lot in a game. Schoefield readjusted beautifully with other batsman in the first three overs, and lost the battle with Morkel in the last over. In the larger scheme of things, that mattered to England a lot. So the diagnosis should be to to 'enable Schoefield to understand what could he have done differently'. And in the India match, it could be to 'help Uthappa to settle before he plays his natural game'. Of course, there are many such elements in a matter that matter in a match. For the sake of simplicity, we are just picking one example.

In a game, the mental traits of being in present, of not getting overwhelmed by the target, of not going too far ahead of the game, of playing the game within one's zone are the qualities that matter, because time is dominant factor. Like the famous football Italian coach Valleri said " I never lost a match. I was always short of time".

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Think two times before changing your job

Today, executives have numerous job options, due to which they often change jobs for the simplest of the reasons. They should rethink their decision due to two reasons.

One, they reset their stock of credibility they have gained with their employer to zero. Their entire experience of few years is brought to zero because they have to fight again to prove their credibility in a new set up. Credibility does not depend on the skill they have gained in the earlier job. It depends on the track record they have created on the jobs done, on the promises they have managed to keep despite the difficulties, on the support they have provided to the teams while delivering the tight schedules, on the kinds of problems they have solved and above all the 'trust' they have gained of their immediate superiors. All this stock is reset to zero. In short, they reformat their disk storage of credibility and start afresh. For a career, that is a definite loss.

Two, they often claim to have changed jobs because they did not get what they wanted in terms of experience. It is important for a youngster to learn to keep his expectations in check, because the world does not run according to his timetable. Instead, these youngsters get impatient too soon and want to jump to another company just because other company is 'offering' something they want at that point of time. Little do they realise, that they will face the same situation again in a new company. These situations are therefore learning experiences where the youngster has to learn to cap his aspiration and wait 'patiently' for the right time.

Worse still, they often change jobs due to 'ego' reasons, due to conflict with boss, or even because someone got more raise than them. Managing a difficult boss is another learning experience that one should undergo at a young age. If the youngster fails to utilise his experience, he is less equipped to negotiate the difficult boss at senior level (if he is unlucky to get one), when the stakes have considerably risen. At that time, he will have noone else other than Fate to curse.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Does Sanjay Dutt deserve the punishment?

Sanjay Dutt's fans say that he does not deserve this punishment because he is a nice human being, that he helps poor, that he is son of a honest politician and so on. They claim that he does not deserve to be punished so harshly.

Sanjay Dutt's critics however argue that mistake must be punished and he infact has gotten away with far less punishment than he deserved. They also warn that one must not confuse between his public image ( engendered by his roles) and his real actions and behaviour.

What is the truth? For you and me, who are far away from the real terrain, we cannot even expect to understand the 'truth'.

We are all governed by 'perceptions'. Perception is a hot-pot of objective information , individual beliefs & biases and the image one carries in the public. Even though such public incidents bring the role of perceptions to the foreground, we are governed by perceptions far more strongly than we would like to believe.

Consider these examples. How do you evaluate your doctor ( or his/her actions) without knowing medicine? Or how do you evaluate your TV mechanic or car mechanic without knowing an iota of electronics or car mechanics? Or how do you evaluate, say a businessman, without understanding anything about business? Or even judging the teacher of your kid without knowing anything about education and its impact on child development? Or deciding which soap to buy without knowing which chemicals are harmful to you?

Perception drives our conclusions and actions far more than truth in real life. But somehow, we ignore this 'truth', hoping that we are the champions of objective truth. I have surprisingly found that perceptions govern even our career outcomes more than our real skills, but we chose to ignore it. During my research on career building, spanning over 10 years, i have met many individuals who have driven their career by 'perceptions' than by their skills. ( Please see my book "The five myths of career building", published by Macmillan)

Monday, May 28, 2007

What does Virendra Sehwag need?

This is a classic conundrum of all successful people. When they are succeeding, they do not want to take a pause, reflect and understand ‘why are they succeeding’. At that time, if someone stops them to reflect, they claim that they are too busy and occupied with success. They argue that ‘explanations do not help’. However, when they encounter failure, they are unable to chalk a course of action in a limited time-window. With limited time at their command, and even more free advisors to suggest, they cannot figure out ‘what went wrong’. They are stuck.

You will find that all sportsman face this problem one time or another in their life. When they ‘rebound’ in time, we never understand what happened. But when they cannot rebound in time, we mourn their failure; such as we are doing for Virendra Sehwag, Irfan Pathan and now perhaps Munaf Patel. In the past we have heard about cricketers like Akash chopra, Vinod Kambli and others who never rebounced.

During my 18 years of research on careers, I have found that all successful individuals are afflicted with this ‘virus’ some time or another. In professions like sports, failure gets noticed because it is visible to everyone. In corporate life this failure is not visible. It is therefore unknown to most people. But I have seen many careers ‘derailed’ due to this virus: some never recover, few recover and chose different paths, few become superstitious because they are confused, while few others blame bosses for their affliction.

But the root cause is somewhere else. It is the lack of framework to succeed. Without a ‘framework’ of how one succeeds, one can never figure out the role of 'output system' in excelling. Only a framework can help us understand our real 'skills' and take preventive actions, if required, to gain the requisite skill. Only with a framework (which I call as model) can one diagnose and not react to low performance, because it could be due to improper designed output system. On the other hand, one may respond quickly to 'low performance’,  because skill-gaps are within us. Please see this blog to understand this better.

This is why you will find Enlight, the first career building model, useful to take charge of your life. You will find an introduction to this model, both on this website, as well as in the book ‘The five great myths of career building’, published by Macmillan

Saturday, May 19, 2007

First book on career-building model is released

Here is the chance for you to 'do' what you always wanted to do - start taking charge of your career.

Macmillan has published the book 'The five great career-building myths' on 11 May 2007. The book should be available at the retail shelf, through out India, after 26th May.

Currently the book details can be seen on the following link

Please also visit the site at and post your comments.