On life…and learning

Posts Tagged ‘Organization

True Feedback

with 2 comments

Over the last few days, the whole world heard a victorious Barack Obama thank his wife of 20 years profusely for the encouragement and support he received from her during the presidential elections he contested in the USA. While he proclaimed his much stronger love for the first lady, we observed a thunderous uproar, cheers and applause, not only from those who watched this incident unfold while being present at the ceremony, but billions who watched it glued at their television sets.

This is arguably the most powerful man on the earth speaking. And mind you, he is speaking in the full public view, acknowledging the role that only a spouse can play. This is not the first time we have heard Obama express his thankfulness towards Michelle – and don’t you mistake him – he is not only expressing gratitude for her being a wonderful wife or a mother or a homemaker alone. He recognizes the role of a strong person backing him; aiding him not only with reinforcement, but also with feedback and most probably, with much needed constructive criticism at times. Well, we all know how much we need that one in our lives and careers…

I am a big fan of one taking well-intended criticism in his or her own stride, and working upon bettering self. And trust me you, no one gives a better, sometimes harder-hitting feedback than a spouse. In the times we live , chances are that our spouses are far more educated and successful than us, and chances are even higher that they are wiser ones, specially in the moments when we choose to lose it!

And why to only speak about the need of feedback when one is at the wrong end of things and needs what is now most fashionably termed as ‘developmental feedback.’ Criticism, well meant one, is most crucial at the times when one is rather powerful, successful and flowing with the good times. That is when the chances of converting our 99% good-looking results into a solid, sustainable 100% performance gets overlooked. Along with support and care that a spouse extends, that moment of her pointing at a new way, guiding towards that blind side, hinting at newer risks to be taken and higher reward to be achieved, showing that under-achieved angle of personality, hitting on hard towards that one key area of focus that we may have been missing inadvertently… all these moments and feedbacks in turn become the seeds of our future success as a whole.

R Gopalakrishnan, the celebrated author of bestseller, ‘The Case of the Bonsai Manager’, in his latest marvel ‘When the Penny Drops – Learning What’s Not Taught’, lays considerable stress on the role a spouse plays in explicit feedback, much differently than all other people you give you feedback:

“It is often said that if you really care about somebody, you give them constructive feedback. If you do not care about somebody, you say only positive things. However, in reality, that is not the way the world works.

He explains:

“Very little is told to you by your boss or colleagues about the negative manifestations of your bonsai traps. Why should your peer do so when it is none of his business? And why should your senior do so lest he be regarded as a nagging senior? Why should your subordinate risk his career by doing so?

Gopalakrishnan asserts further:

“You can become aware of your dark spots by someone holding a mirror to your behavior and by looking deep into the mirror…

…Wives are known to render a unique service to their husbands by telling them what no one else dares to. The explicit feedback that a leader can get from the spouse can be harsh, but very valuable…”

Now, isn’t that so true? I am sure, deep inside our hearts, all spouses agree to this one. Think of it, who would in Obama’s staff, dare risk giving a critical feedback to THE President of THE US of A! The same feedback, I am sure, the first lady would render so easily to, what we now know, much willing ears…

I lead a pretty large team – women and men who are strong & competent individuals. To every one of them, when I interviewed, asked a question…

Have you gone back ever and asked your spouse this question – Hey mate, what are the two areas of mine that if I work upon and improve, I would become a much better professional?”

Every time I asked this question, I have observed amusement writ large over the face of the person. Nearly all of them don’t answer, as they have never asked this question to their spouses. And yet I can tell you, all well-meaning ones have gone back that day and asked this question for sure…

I am sure, they heard something really sound and useful that time…

I am leaving you with what R Gopalakrishnan calls the Clementine Mirror; he produced in his book a letter written by Clementine Churchill to her husband, Sir Winston Churchill – the Clementine Advice.

It is indeed a worthy read:

My Darling,

I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something I feel you ought to know.

One of the men in your entourage (a devoted friend) has been to me and told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough, sarcastic and overbearing manner…if an idea is suggested, say at a conference, you are supposed to be so contemptuous that presently no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming. I was astonished and upset because in all these years I have been accustomed to all those who have worked with and under you, loving you – I said this, and I was told ‘No doubt it is the strain’.

My Darling Winston, I must confess that I have noticed deterioration in your manner; and you are not as kind as you used to be.

It is for you to give the Orders…with this terrific power you must combine urbanity, kindness, and if possible Olympic calm…I cannot bear that those who serve the Country and yourself should not love you as well as admire and respect you…

Besides you won’t get the best results by irascibility and rudeness…

Please forgive your loving devoted and watchful…


(June 27, 1940)

Now, isn’t that the most sound business advice a leader can get? Do think about it.


Photo-credit 1: skillsconverged.com || Photo-credit 2: Flipkart.com || Photo-credit 3: Lettersofnote.com

PS: You can access the complete letter here.

MBA at 16! A must read…

with 10 comments

Just completed reading the latest book from Subroto Bagchi, ‘MBA at 16; A Teenager’s Guide To The World Of Business’, Penguin 2012. This is an absolutely path-breaking work! The Gardener pens a very crisp, captivating and insightful piece for the 16-year olds, taking them through the world of business. Like all his earlier works, in this book too, he doesn’t preach, doesn’t load you with information. Contrarily, he ventures into the real world of 31 students, all in their teens; spends months with them, becomes a part of them, and finally comes out with this very simply-written, yet a well-researched work.

All of 157 pages, you would assume that it’s a 3-hour read at best. It could have been, yes. However, once you start reading, you’d not simply pass through the pages. Despite the fact that the book is written in form of a simple story, every page offers learning to 16 years and 32 years old alike! He takes us in the life of a teenager and helps us view business from their eyes. Much contrary to the prevalent opinion that teenagers are only hooked on to MTV, X-Box, dating and masti, the book captures the promise this GenY-minus-10years would bring in the world of business.

I have tutored a lot of students – during my education years and thereafter at some MBA schools while working now. However, I always missed the business-orientation in them. They were simply – students! Somehow, the rat race of Indian education overlooks this factor completely till you don’t enter college. Many lack this orientation even when they enter the ubiquitous & pathetically mushroomed ‘management schools’. Amongst the plethora of text-books, career-counseling books, self-help books, et al, what we lacked was one such work, which takes teens through a real-world of business, in the manner they want to learn. A manner, that brings glint to their eyes, whenever they think of the business-world…

As a 32 year old, I found this book equally useful for me. It made me ponder, introspect; am I equipped with skills and attitude required to manage this generation? Or, to be managed by this generation, one day not very far? I found a lot of questions to answer, many a things to learn.

I am purposely not turning this blog into a proper book-review; I would like the readers to experience first-hand the concept this book offers, without any pre-conceived notions. The reader needs to pick her own takeaway…I would recommend this book to you – if you are 16 years old, if you are entering/passing out of a B-school, if you are 30 and climbing the corporate ladder, if you are parent to a teen and if you are 50 and a CEO – it has a learning for all of us. Certainly, a must read for every high-school teacher, management-school professor and Talent Managers of every learning organization…

I am sure that at the end of the book, you’d also like to thank Subroto, for his appreciation and efforts in the direction of creating a smarter corporate India. I believe all of us share the responsibility.


You can read this review, and many more, on Subroto Bagchi’s website, at:


Photo-credit: penguinbooksindia.com

What Makes A Team ‘Work’?

with 9 comments

All through our lives, right from the formative education years to the working years, nearly all of us get to become part of several teams – local cricket or football team, school choir, family events, Lion’s Club, societies at college, functional and cross-functional teams at work, et al.

I too have been a part of many such teams all my life, sometimes as a team-member and sometimes as the leader. However, over a period of last decade or so, I have followed the dynamics of teamwork very closely and with an albeit higher curiosity. I tried to follow patterns in behavior, codify the dynamism of team-skills and attempted to make sense of the conflicting views & outcomes thereafter. Time spent while at management and law school and several years of working thereafter helped me gain some very interesting insights and perspectives on what makes a team ‘work’ together.

While there is no dearth of literature available on this subject, one would agree that achieving near-perfect teamwork is a far cry from reality, especially in the corporate arena. The jury is still out on what actually makes a team click together, work together and subsequently achieve a common goal, each and every time. Interestingly, I also noted that many times, even great results or goal-achievement cannot conclusively state that the team did ‘work’ together as a cohesive unit or as a whole!

In my view, under-mentioned are some very crucial elements that make a team ‘work’:

Making of a Team – Willingness and Passion:

  • Clarity of purpose of the team – what is the goal and what is it worth; why and how do I fit in; what’s there for me in it…all of the three questions should be answered in order to get individuals together as a team.
  • An individual’s own willingness to be part of a particular team – you don’t need ones who don’t want to be there.
  • Passion quotient of individuals – lack of it in even one of the teammates could be a real killer. If only a few deliver upon the team’s need of passion, the team may deliver results, but will surely not hold for long as a unit.


  • Only Competent Individuals On Board. It is quintessential for the team’s leader to define the necessary skills needed and ensure only the competent individuals are hired/selected. Compromising here will have a simmering, yet long-term ill affect, not only on the results and performance, but also on the team’s bonding. Good talent always wants to work with only other good talent.
  • No room for displaying poor ownership or lack of competencies – slackness, poor learning agility, lack of participation, are big NO. They not only adversely impact results, but also lower the overall team-engagement and pull it down. Conceding here would only invite discontent from other members.
  • Existence of complementary competencies amongst the teammates. A heterogeneous team is better than a homogeneous one; once each team-member knows and believes in the reasons of their own as well as others’ roles, responsibilities and strengths.

Culture, Respect and Connect:

  • Culture – that ‘conflict is not equal to negative behavior’. Often, we mistake genuine conflict as unwarranted and discard it. However, in my view, healthy conflict is the root of all progress. Having said that, due caution should be exercised against turning the conflicting views into negative display of emotions.
  • Culture – that it is good to disagree with each other, as far as you do not disregard. Debate and fight the idea, not the person.
  • Culture – willingness to praise good work and thank for contributions. “We are all great pals, where’s the need to thank each other?” – this is one big piece that most teams miss.  Teams that learn to praise commendable work and thank each other connect far better than a team of ‘otherwise great friends’.
  • Respect – towards every individual. Each one has a role to play and despite the professional differences that may occur, respect for each other’s personal self mustn’t go down.
  • Respect – for each other’s talent and contribution. ‘Know it all’ attitudes won’t make a team ‘work’ together.
  • Absence of personal insecurities – this one is a true make or break element. It is very hard for a team to ‘work’ together in presence of insecure behavior, demonstrated or otherwise. Insecurity amongst the teammates inspires spite and poor connect, and while the team may still achieve short-term results, the team won’t ‘work’ together for long.
  • Having fun together. How boring and disconnected a team would be, if there were no fun? Remember ‘Fun’? From amongst the pursuit of goals, seriousness of efforts, data, analytics, homework, et al, fun often takes a beating. Ensure the element of fun stays in all you do, the team would ‘work’ together. Celebrate birthdays, achievements, outings, even farewells; create avenues of having fun together.
  • Connect holistically. This works very well, especially in the context of Indian culture. We love to connect on the personal note, share personal challenges and happiness alike. I am of the view that while the team-leader has a larger role to play here, every team member can chip in with genuine interest in each other’s lives. Think of it, how strong the bond would be when each member of the team knows in his or her hearts that everyone is standing by, in the hour of need.


  • Leader’s absolute interest and willingness to lead the bunch is crucial. Who wants to be led by someone who isn’t willing to lead? Leader of the team must be strong enough to see the bigger picture and wise enough to identify with his or her teammates, play the role of a coach & guide and build a culture for all to succeed.
  • Team’s unflinching trust in the leader’s authenticity, abilities and competencies – brilliant individuals won’t agree to be led by a poor or incompetent leader for long.
  • Team trust on leader’s fairness towards all – a real test of character for any leader. The leader has to ensure establishing a fair and impartial performance yard-stick for each individual member, and doubly ensure that it is visible too to all team-mates.
  • Be there when needed! Leader is required to demonstrate courage by standing up for the mistakes of his/her team. Once established, this works brilliantly in keeping the faith of a team on their leader and goes a long distance in building a well-knit team.
  • Talk, Communicate, Share – surely a leader’s most crucial job in making a team ‘work’. Seamless communication, of information, praise, feedback, ideas, goals, even failures, builds a strong internal network within the team. And mind you, by communication I don’t mean one-way sermons from the leader – I am referring to open connect and communication across levels. Failure to achieve this leads to conjectures, surmises, doubts, et al, leading to poor performance and lower team engagement.

Courage and Managing Failure:                           

  • Belief – that it is OK to fail at times. Every team that concertedly documents their ‘best-failed’ ideas quickly and builds a method around each failed attempt stands the test of time longer.
  • Absence of blame-game: “We know why we failed and we will work around it next time” instead of “I did it right, only if you had not failed…”
  • Demonstrating Courage – in taking feedback without being defensive.  Well, it is easier said than done. However, when a well-meant feedback is taken in right spirit and worked upon, it not only boosts up the capabilities of the recipient of the feedback, it also does wonders to the overall capability of a team to continuously improve as a unit.
  • Displaying Courage – in giving feedback, in an unbiased, timely and constructive manner. No point in trying to beat around the bush or appease each other when the contribution and/or level of performance is lower that expected. Individual who are courageous enough to speak up their mind, without intending any personal assault, build foundation of a sustainable team effort.

Over a period of last few years of my working in teams, I believe above are the key determinants of what makes a team ‘work’.  When well-meaning and competent individuals get together as a unit, have & display faith in each other’s abilities, learn to praise and motivate each other; when the team stands by the leader and vice-versa and don’t waste time in blame-game and/or only thinking about credit, the team ‘works’ wonderfully together. As a team-member and a leader both, I understand teamwork is a journey and not an end. Thus, I have trained myself to carefully watch for all of above factors and keep implementing them as a ‘work-in-progress’; leading to continuous improvement in ensuring better individual & team effort, connect, bond and attainment of results. I would say, ‘it works!’


Photo-credit: xtremeleaguetrivia.com

Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?

with 9 comments

I have often been amused by the fact that everyone calls himself or herself a leader these days. Fancy designations and titles have crowned nearly all middle and above management roles as that of a ‘leader’. Everyone is being projected a leader, without knowing what is leadership all about in the first place!

Does the fact one has become a senior manager and manages a team make him or her a leader? Does one become a leader just like that? Or there is more to it…?

To my mind, leadership is more about knowing and managing self and not only managing others. It starts with asking some hard-hitting questions to self, before embarking on the journey of leading women and men…

Twelve such questions all leaders and leadership aspirants must ask themselves and find answers for, are:

  1. Why do I want to be a leader?
  2. Am I an authentic person and appear one too?
  3. Do I prefer hiring people stronger than myself under me?
  4. Am I a teacher, a coach; genuinely like working towards making everyone successful?
  5. Do I possess and demonstrate strong learning agility or do I behave as if a ‘know-it-all’? What will my team say about me in this regard?
  6. Do I genuinely take and manage well-meaning criticism without my ego overtaking? What will my team say about me in this regard?
  7. Do I allow myself to fail at times, and document each failure, thereby creating a method around it for others to learn?
  8. Do I allow my team their fair share of mistakes?
  9. Do I like being popular, and thus avoid giving feedback?
  10. Do I genuinely give credit to my team for all good they do? What will my team say about me in this regard?
  11. Does my team know that even if all goes wrong, I will stand ahead of them in facing the music?
  12. Have I ever told my people, “As your leader, I am with you and not above you”?

If you do not have clear answers to each one of these yet, just ask another question to yourself…

Why should anyone be led by me…?


Photo-Credit: photographyblogger.net

Making Everyone Successful…

with 4 comments

Retail has been growing as the fastest sector in India. In last ten years or so, this industry has grown manifolds, both in size of business and employment opportunities. Largely this sector hires people at the workmen level – those who operate as customer-service/front-end employees managing the sales floor. Since value-retail is the largest sub-sector in the industry, maximum number of people are employed herein. The sector looks for only two abilities in its front-end employees – basic education level and willingness & aptitude to serve customers. This stratum of employees is generally the minimum-wage earner and is either graduate/undergraduate or lesser educated. They span across ages, from 18 years to 40 years of age, even higher in some companies. Men and women alike are employed in this sector, and they are all from diverse work-backgrounds. In a nutshell, we are talking of a Mini-India on the sales floor!

The Human Resource managers in this industry have a crucial role to play in managing this talent pool. Making these employees successful is a challenging task, given the quantum of diversity of this workforce.

Now, what does it mean when I say ‘making everyone successful’?

To my mind, being a successful retail front-end/customer-service employee denotes very simple things. They are:

  1. Earning one’s livelihood by working with the organization: We are referring to the set of people who run their households earning the minimum wages – ranging between Rs.4000 pm to Rs.8000 pm. The livelihood of the wage-earners’ family depends upon this salary. The added sales-incentives, often a part of the remuneration, are also a substantial amount for these employees. Hence, by employing them and remunerating fairly without any bias towards education, experience, age and gender, HR Managers enable them to successfully earn their livelihood.
  2. Having sufficient role-clarity about one’s job: Howsoever simple this job appears prima facie; it is replete with processes and procedures across roles. Ignorance of the realities and expectations of this role can lead to dismal performance later. Thus, clarity about the job-description and demands thereof is a key determinant of success for any employee.
  3. Learning one’s job: No one can be successful without mastering one’s work-area. Inducting and training the employees in their job-domain, processes and bringing about the customer service orientation is a key imperative. Sourcing and hiring this workforce is easy – they are available all over. However, training them successfully & enabling them learn their job is the role of the L&D Managers and the supervisors. Lack of knowledge of one’s job can easily demotivate an associate and lead to her failure.
  4. Performing one’s job with commitment and as per expectations of the organization: This is a key determinant of success at work. Success is outcome of the ownership displayed at work and adherence to the processes and policies. Moreover, working on the retail sales-floor requires tremendous patience and perseverance. HR Managers have a significant role of building a culture of opportunity, fairness and recognition for all employees, wherein they feel belonged to the organization and its vision.
  5. Striving to be continuously better at one’s work and be a team player: Retail is a team game and success of an individual and that of the whole team is mutually interdependent. HR Managers not only need to promote teamwork, they also need to identify and build leadership talent, which acts as mentor and coach for an individual and the teams. A team where each individual has a clearly outlined role to perform and is recognized & rewarded for the same is the key for creating zealous employees. Moreover, coaching for improvement is a quintessential factor in making employees successful in their role. It is important for HR managers to build a culture of risk-taking and allowing mistakes & failures, which in turn enables an employee to strive towards betterment and not fear the penal action when she fails while attempting to do so. 
  6. Improving one’s skills, knowledge and competencies, so as to become eligible to grow further: While the above-mentioned five factors relate to one’s success in the current role, one need to keep improving upon the skills and competencies, which will help her become better at her work and add value to her job and organization. HR Managers and supervisors monitor performance and potential of an employee and look for areas of improvement and skill-development. Once the developmental areas are identified, Training team has an important role to offer in building the competencies of an individual – both functional and soft skills. Simple skills I can refer to here is learning English – verbal and spoken, and the computer-skills.
  7. Enhance one’s potential by learning newer skills: Learning newer skills help one grow further. To be able to grow further, one needs to learn skills pertaining to the next/higher work level. This would also mean learning cross-functional skills and managerial capabilities. HR Managers, in their avatar of Talent and L&D managers have a very important role to play in identifying and realizing the potential of the employees and grooming them for higher roles. This is specially a key factor for retail front-end employees, where individual contributors need to be trained upon cross-functional skills and people-management capabilities, in order to build upon their potential for a people-manager/leader’s role.
  8. Grow further: This is a most distinguishable determinant of one’s success. When an employee grows further up and does not succumb to the famous Peter’s Principle, she is surely being successful. HR Managers need to very granularly observe & assess managerial talent and potential and promote ONLY those who are ready to grow. Poor assessment of the readiness-quotient of an employee may lead to subsequent failure – not only of the employee in question, but also of the team and organization she is part of. Creating well-defined career frameworks, assessment tools and communicating the same to the employees help establish a culture of performance and merit and provides opportunities of growth and success.

Each of the above eight factors is mutually inclusive determinant of success and all of them together when achieved as a whole, make an employee successful. HR partners have a pivotal role to perform in each of these domains. However, that is not an easy task, as given the workforce diversity, no one employee would ever behave & perform as the other! Out of the lot, the toughest ones to manage would be those, who at the start show a lot of promise & capability while being inducted into the job, but if not managed well, they may run the risk of skidding off the route somewhere, leading to poor performance and results.

Making everyone successful…are you ready for this challenge?


Photo-credit: Coachville.com

Written by RRGwrites

November 12, 2011 at 1:27 AM

Coaching: the real meaning

leave a comment »

As an HR leader, I have always been intrigued by the concept of Coaching, as it is practiced in the corporate world. All through my work-life, I have been advising the business partners as to how they can be a better leader and coach. To my mind, skill of coaching is an integral skill for any business leader and it is an imperative for leaders at all work-levels.  However, I have often observed that it is in this very skill leaders do not do as well as they ought to.

While there is no dearth of literature on this subject, I observe there exists a huge disconnect when it comes to actual practice. Coaching means two different things altogether to the supervisor/person coaching and to the person being coached. To the supervisor – it often means giving feedback & correcting. On the other hand, to the recipient, it largely means criticism. This issue of inadequate or poor understanding of the real meaning, purpose and necessity of coaching and our own perceptions of the same cause all the chaos in organizations and leads to a baffled, ineffective coach-supervisor and a disgruntled subordinate.

In this blog, I shall be touching upon the subject of coaching and my experiences with front-end managers and young and aspiring leaders, and their understanding of meaning of the word ‘Coaching.’

In a retail organization, where we try to build leadership talent at all levels, roles of front-end managers like Store Managers and Team Leaders are very crucial. These are the key leadership roles; represent the first line of leadership of the company. They are responsible for managing more than twenty employees, who are extremely diverse – demographically, culturally, educationally and intellectually and largely belong to lower-income/education strata of the society, thereby requiring all the more support and guidance from their leaders. Thus, the store managers and team leaders need to train, guide and coach their subordinates towards running a highly process-oriented business unit. Keeping in view the low learning agility of this sect of employees, coaching & mentoring is one of the key skills a frontline manager must develop. Thus, company’s investment in their learning and building their leadership skills is an imperative.

Over a period of several years, I have been involved in imparting the skill of coaching to the newly inducted as well as to the experienced front-end managers, who join us in batches of 25 trainees or so. These are young women and men, with an average age of 27 years, an average work-experience of 5 years and less – largely as individual contributor, and are just starting to learn the leadership skills. Since their role is highly dependent on people management skills, it becomes very critical for them to appreciate the basics and fundamentals of coaching. I have spoken with close to a thousand such managers and team-leaders on this subject.

Easier said than done…

When I was confronted with this challenge years ago, I thought of making them revisit the very core of the word ‘coaching.’ To do so, I have been using an extremely basic example. However, it has proven highly effective, as far as my purpose of making them appreciate the real intent and purpose of coaching and their role of a coach.

To every set of trainees, I ask two simple questions:

  1. During your school education, did you attend any coaching classes or tuitions?
  2. If yes, please share what is your perception of the word ‘Coaching’, as you experienced during your school years.

Batch after batch, (I must have spoken with more than 50 such batches by now), more than 75% of the trainees share that they attended coaching classes or tuitions during their school education years. They go on to share ‘their own perceptions & thoughts’ of the word ‘Coaching’. All this while, I have come across several words & phrases, which trainees shared as answer to the Question 2 above. To these managers, coaching meant:

  • Guidance
  • Support
  • Training
  • Mentoring
  • Improving skill(s)
  • Learning new skill(s)
  • Learning to pass, at least!
  • Learning to top the charts
  • Improving upon the weaker subject
  • Getting additional help
  • Learning tips and tricks
  • Getting feedback

During this part of the discussion, I purposely avoid adding my thoughts and encourage each trainee to share their own individual experiences and perceptions. However, batch after batch, I observed that these young leaders echoed very similar words to describe coaching, as mentioned above.

We also discuss the need for coaching classes during school years – the need of every student appeared different from the other. Those who scored marks less than 50 attended coaching/tuitions to at least keep passing! Those scoring 50 plus aspired to secure a first division – 60%. The one’s who scored above 60 aspired to obtain a distinction – 75 and above. Those securing 80 plus, aimed to top the charts. All desired coaching, albeit for different reasons!

All of a sudden, better appreciation of the word gets build…

Then comes my third question: “During your school years, in coaching classes or tuitions, how many of your were subjected to corporal punishments, taunts and even derogatory remarks about your abilities as a learner?” Please raise your hands, those who did.

Initially, no one responds. Slowly and gradually, some trainees start raising hands. Some were beaten up by their coaches/teachers, some were subjected to taunts and unflattering remarks and some were even abused with derogatory language. Batches after batches, I have observed that more than 70% of trainees share these sentiments.

However, when I ask as to why they didn’t share above views while they were describing their experiences with the word ‘Coaching’, there falls a dead silence. Largely, I could see trainees amused. Their reasons come out gradually – they shared only positive things, they shared what they thought was right; they shared what they felt good about.

They say, “We didn’t like what happened and hence, we stayed away from sharing the same. While we did experience negative behaviors, we only shared what we believe is real meaning of coaching for us.”

Meaning of the word couldn’t have been clearer!

You may think – what’s the big deal in me doing this whole exercise? What am I trying to say through such a simple example? Well, there IS a big deal. My purpose as an HR leader is to create leaders at every level; to establish connect between the coach and the subordinate, a skill that may not be well-ingrained by preaching via a power-point presentation on coaching and mentoring. By making these young leaders re-live their own experiences, I only make them reflect upon their own coaching styles. They get to respect the whole purpose of coaching for success, in a real and humane way.

Over a period of all these years with all these batches, I have started to see a pattern of thought-process and introspection. These managers look back and review their thoughts about their role of a coach. Subsequently, when they reach their stores, they remember most of this exercise and the learning. Often, I’ve noticed that the well-intentioned managers become better aligned to the key principles of coaching. They relate to the relevance and purpose of coaching, in the similar simple manner as it was in school days. They learn to exercise caution in words and tone, while coaching. They respect their subordinates’ feelings and expectations during the whole process of coaching. They learn to view each individual’s need for coaching differently and guide accordingly. They turn into more empathetic mentors; and coach just the way they themselves like to be mentored.

Above all, I observe they start becoming kind, gentle and generous to faults…this has helped me create first generation retail leaders at this pivotal work-level of frontline managers.

How do you prepare young leaders to be a successful coach? Do share your views.


Photo-credit 1: CNN.com

Photo-credit 2: how-to-draw-funny-cartoons.com

Written by RRGwrites

October 22, 2011 at 11:07 PM

Leadership and Failure

with 6 comments

October 15, 2011. It is 10pm in India. Indian cricket team has just won today’s ODI against England! Hurray! Dhoni scored a match-winning knock and was awarded “Man of the Match.” He rocks!

Don’t you feel strange? This very Indian team was written off only a month ago – obituaries were writ all over. I remember reading how the team has let the nation down and that Dhoni needs to review his captaincy, he needs rest!

A month ago, they had all failed, and their leader, Dhoni, failed miserably…

Strange is this word, failure. I have always found it even stranger when linked to the failure of a leader. We love to crucify our leaders when they fail. Analysis-paralysis is done to see what went wrong, and most often, the leader of the pack is packed!

Our corporate world is even more incriminating. It just doesn’t allow people to fail – there isn’t a room of acceptance or acknowledgement of failure. In case a leader fails, she is impeached brutally. We just don’t read the two words – leadership and failure – together.

I have always found this ironical. I my view, leaders must fail. They must learn to fail and sometimes, fail spectacularly. I know you may find it stupid for me to say so. Let me explain…

A leader is often considered above the followers. A person of higher skill, intelligence, authority, command and even a master of the trade. She shouldn’t fail – she has to succeed in everything she does – that’s why she is the leader and that’s why people follow her. She can’t fail…

Only, if that were true…

Leaders are very human – just like the rest of the humankind. They are not leading because they are BEST at everything their followers do and know; they lead for they are good with people, good with managing their talent and ambition. There is no guarantee that a great software engineer would become a great Project Leader too. And we would all agree, even the ones so called best-in-class fail to lead a team, unless and until they know how to manage people and make them deliver their best. Now, that has no bearing altogether on the leader’s expertise of the craft in question.

In my view, all leaders have a right to make mistakes, right to fail. They just need to have a will and skill to recover faster than other who failed, and document the learning immediately for others to learn from it. I remember reading somewhere, “One fails faster towards success.” Failure is a part of winning, and if leaders are the one who guide us towards success, they must be allowed to falter, to bite dust. More so, because every failure is a mere event and not a person called Leader. What matters is the lesson, the learning, the will to accept the failure and the resolve not to repeat the same mistake. Now, if failures aren’t tolerated at all, there won’t be any learning and improvement too. Won’t that be too dangerous a situation for the growth of the organizations, nations and humankind?

My fundamental belief is – failures make leaders appear a little more vulnerable, a little more human and much closer to their followers. We connect with people who are like us. We don’t want our leaders to be necessarily infallible; we want them to standby with us when we fail, and pull us out of our debacles. Now, if we could witness our leaders rising from their ashes, I believe, our resolve in them would increase manifold. Then, shouldn’t we allow our leaders to fail at times?

In modern day organizations, we keep hearing words like ‘risk-taking.’ We attach considerable merit to this phrase, and also call it a leadership quality. We encourage risk-taking and offer rewards for successful outcomes; praise the leaders for taking well-planned risks. Now, don’t we fail sometimes when we take risks? We do. But the same modern day organizations impeach the leaders without a second thought, when they fail. No wonder, average shelf life of a CEO in the USA is close to only 2 years! Why would any leader take risks then? And we all know, how slow the pace of growth would be, if leaders wouldn’t take risks!

Samuel I. Hayakawa once said, “Notice the difference between what happens when a man says to himself, “I have failed three times,” and what happens when he says, “I am a failure.”” 

I allow myself to fail. I have failed on several occasions in my life, even failed spectacularly at times. And each time, learnt an invaluable lesson – of not repeating the reason of my failure. Each failure has made me stronger, better, enriched. It brought new learning, it made me braver. My failures opened the new doors too. I am a better leader by allowing myself the freedom to fail. Today, I allow my team-members their share of failures, their share of mistakes. I already see them doing the same with their teammates…it is absolutely infectious, a matter of culture, and translates into an inevitable quality of a leader – to try to do better, to fail, to learn from that failure, teach others how not to fail at the same thing twice, and to keep pushing the envelope.

Do you?


Photo-credit: ashepherdsheart.blogspot.com

Written by RRGwrites

October 15, 2011 at 2:18 AM

Managing Diversity at Workplace

with 5 comments

Last week, I was discussing the subject of gender diversity at workplace with a bright management student, who is specializing in human resources. During the discussion, I shared with her how I believe gender-diversity is a key business imperative and not a mere fad.

However, she expressed her doubts on the overall subject of organizational initiatives promoting gender-parity.

According to her, an organization’s prerogative should be to promote meritocracy and establish processes that induct and manage talent irrespective of gender. She vehemently asserted, “To provide a pedestal to women and promote their cause in order to maintain gender parity would result in the male workforce feeling threatened and maybe even frustrated. A business has to be lead by people who have proven their worth and allowed metrics, numbers and tangible results to speak for them. Hence, ideally an organization should only make sure that equal opportunities are being provided to both genders and that women are supported and given an environment where it enables them to compete and prove their merit just as well as their male counterparts.”

She also raised the subject of female employees balancing the role of ‘care-giver with career-builder’ and raised an argument of it being matter of choice of the women. She asked, “please help me figure why should it be a business imperative to ensure gender parity at leadership roles, give that the organizations should necessarily be unbiased against any gender and provide equal opportunities?”

I am sure many of you may opine sharply to the thoughts expressed by the student above. Some of you may also say, “How dare she say all this?”

However, her confident argument and thought process behind it made me think. I am an HR professional; as a leader of several bright young women and men, I am responsible for hiring, building and promoting talent at all levels across functions. In all my years of working, I never observed any kind of bias towards any element of workforce diversity, including gender diversity. I worked with some of the great organizations of India and the world, which promoted & extended an inclusive, fair and open work-culture to all their employees, and always advocated & promoted talent and merit. Thus, I didn’t face any such situation where I would have experienced any undue bias towards any gender whatsoever.

Having said that, I am aware that this isn’t a universal phenomenon. We do keep hearing issues like ‘glass-ceiling’ that may still exist in some sectors and organizations. We do observe there exists certain discomfort with women working in manufacturing facilities or sales units. Often, this discomfort is not expressed in words, but a careful perusal of the body language of the hiring manager says it all. I have infact seen job-descriptions, which clearly say, “Only males apply”.

I often feel surprised at such discomfort or classification of gender, for I always thought Sudha Murthy broke the myth way back in ‘70s, by knocking the doors of a famous manufacturing company and opening it for women employees on shop-floor.

The difference of attitude of the society towards the women-folk has always left me confused. As a school student, I grew up with my female batch-mates studying much harder, being more sincere towards education, and participating in all events – indoor and outdoor, and competing with equal passion. However, right after the Class 10th, we could observe the change in society’s approach – boys aspired for engineering and girls often ended up taking ‘Bio’ – the aim being an apparently safer, or less riskier career in medicine! In those years, a very miniscule section of women applied and studied at the engineering colleges. This was way worse in pre-‘80s, where home-science and humanities were the key subjects for the girls. Either no career at all, or teaching or government jobs were the limited careers women aspired for! Thanks to this mindset, only a small creamy layer of women-folk pursued higher education or even joined the ITIs to pursue technical qualifications.

The late ‘90s and early 2000 changed it to a considerable extent. We witnessed a lot of women applying to and studying diverse fields like engineering, law, hotel-management, etc. Gradually, the percentage of women in such courses increased. The management colleges too started to have a good one-fourth and more of the batch as females and society started to change the outlook towards women opting for ‘riskier’ careers. However, largely this change remained confined to the metros and other large cities, and more so in the upper-middle class families.

Hence, the disparity in workforce remains at all levels to this date. Our factories do not employ women – they are considered a male bastion – due to the so-called physical labour required, perceptions of safety norms and also due to the mindset of the employers. So, at the workmen level, we don’t see many organization employing female workers. Law of the land doesn’t help remove the disparity either. It still doesn’t permit a large section of female employees to work before 6pm and after 8pm, and hence, poses a strong challenge towards organizations that aspire to promote work-force diversity to its fullest extent and benefits. Also, at this stratum of the society, male-members are still considered the breadwinners, and women run homes and look after children and elders.

I could never understand this dichotomy, for the fact that all our Indian homes that could afford a home-help, women of only the above mentioned stratum of the society work as maids, earning a substantial potion of their household incomes! Our farms always employed women, engaging them in harder physical labour than our factories merited! I always wonder if women can move around the town till late hours, why can’t they work inside offices and factories till late? After all, providing safe working conditions is what law and order is all about, and restricting the working hours only appear unfair to me.

On the other hand, at the knowledge and management workers levels, disparity is certainly decreasing. We see women performing exceedingly well in such roles. However, the numbers still do not stack up at all levels in the same manner. There are two broad reasons for this – one, still the number of female candidates studying in professional courses is far lesser as compared to their male counterparts. Blame the fact that old societal norms still exist in a large part of our small towns and rural areas. A very large segment of women do not get parental/societal approvals to move out of hometowns to pursue quality education elsewhere. Even those who do, often move back to hometowns, either working at whatever is available or yet again applying to ‘safer’ public-sector jobs, banks, et al. Hence, the modern, private-sector organizations get to receive a very small amount of applicants, and thus the poorer gender ratio at workplaces in lower and middle-management.

The second reason is that the women who get to obtain quality education, receive family support to pursue careers, join, work & perform in organizations, face another challenge – managing the dual roles of homemaker and career woman. Ironically, the age between 25 and 35 years when one can and has to concentrate on the career the most, most women drop out to get married, give birth to and raise kids. While both law and organizations extends support in such cases, this support is often inadequate. The pressure from society is often back breaking, many a times not allowing women to continue with their careers. Of course, this varies from family to family and society to society as a whole. However, we often see that such women resume work, if at all they do after a long break, only to find their roles being replaced by others. They are offered to take up whatever roles are available at the hand, which may or may not suit their skill or liking. In this hyper-competitive era, such gaps can be terminal for any employee, and thus jeopardize the rise of an otherwise competent performer with even higher potential. Consequently, we see furthermore skewed gender-ratio at senior leadership levels.

Keeping in view the above aspects, it becomes imperative for all well meaning organizations to encourage gender-diversity by employing focused strategic initiatives and provide cultural & infrastructural support to all female employees. In my view, these initiatives & opportunities in no manner subjugate the interests of and opportunities available to the male employees. Human capital is way too precious an asset to be forsaken at the altar of any diversity-initiative. In order to support diversity, no sensible organization would blindly entertain unacceptable quality of talent on its rolls and the subsequent loss of productivity.

I strongly believe that merit and talent is primary and cannot be compromised upon at workplaces. Having said that, creating an unbiased culture of opportunity, consideration to the physical and personal attributes of the female workforce and building concerted & innovative working possibilities that support women across ages and work-levels is an organizational imperative and must not be viewed as any special favour towards them.

I am reminded of this small piece I read very long ago in a book based on World War-II. It still holds a lot of meaning in the current times, when the value of partnership is even higher for both genders. Quoting here:

Rosie keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage
Sitting up there on the fuselage.
That little frail can do,
More than a man can do,
Rosie, the riveter.
Rosie’s got a boyfriend, Charlie;
Charlie, he’s a marine.
Rosie is protecting Charlie
Working overtime on the riveting machine.

I rest my case…please do let me know your views.


Photo-credit: McKinsey Report

Unusually Excellent

with 2 comments

by John Hamm

I recently completed reading this excellent book on leadership. In last 9 years, I have read several books on the subject; this one is arguably the best one.

‘Unusually Excellent’ provides an effective framework – 9 necessary skills required for the practice of great leadership. John takes you through each skill in a well-structured and elaborate, yet simple and compelling manner. He makes you think and ponder on your leadership style, without sounding preaching. He builds his case strongly for each skill, his stories make you identify your gaps, without making you feel miserable about them.

What made me read this book with considerable attention was John’s immaculate presentation of the 9 essential skills – unlike the rules that many other authors of leadership arena insist upon. I have always believed there aren’t any rules of leadership; leaders are born, not made. However, we can always acquire the quintessential skills of this art, making us more effective leaders by the day.

In recent past, many authors have stressed on leaders not focussing on basics; John explains this in a very effective manner through an excellent example of TaylorMade adidas Golf’s Performance Center in Carlsbad, California – ‘The Kingdom’. It was really an ‘Aha’ moment for me to read how great golfers, when face failure, learn to revisit basics of golf at this state-of-the-art facility. John builds a strong pitch here for CEO’s, by comparing them to professional golfers, and asks them to keep revisiting their basics. Really good…

This book is meant for both experienced and aspiring leaders, and is highly accessible & practical in approach. For me, there were some very compelling stories and examples featured in the book, and I picked up some great learning from each one of them:

  • Page 5, Carl’s story teaches us humility in a special way, a must have skill leaders often take for granted
  • Page 16, Jim’s story is really insightful…as a leader, “I am not above you. I am with you…”
  • Page 49, how a digital camera teaches us to fail, and do it better next time…
  • Page 61, “There is no such thing called bad weather, only inadequate clothing…”
  • Page 67, message from a great leader, “Connect with me. I know what to do. Together, we will accomplish something great that you will look back on with pride.”
  • Page 68, Born-again employees – this one is this incredibly important – “to keep your employees engaged, you must regularly re-create the original passion, simulating the reasons they first joined the team.”
  • Page 158, David’s story on ‘Talking Trust’ – how to resolve audience’s reluctance to ask questions when there is power in the room

and many more…

A key factor that John insists on is leaders’ personally spending considerable time hiring their team. He argues that “hiring great people is the highest leverage activity that leaders undertake.” I fully second this part. This is the first and biggest investment any leader would make in creating a great team, a worthy investment that has far-reaching effects and results.

Another great insight I picked up was on Page 134 – concept of “84 Great Things.” Superb example of ensuring flawless execution and very implementable…I have already started to practice it.

I spent a lot of time reflecting on John Adler’s story, on page 167-68…the Solitary Touch…how every word that a leaders speaks makes an impact, how their all words carry a message, an actionable for all…

‘Unusually Excellent’ is an unusually excellent work on the subject. This book is for the leaders, and not on leaders. It helps you build a perspective on leadership over a long career, and does not offer any tricks to be a leader. I have really benefited from this book…it has made me think, reflect, improve…I am on the path to being a better leader and will keep coming back to consult this book. I am sure, this will be one of the most thumbed books in every well-meaning leader’s library.

Highly recommended…


Photo-credit: endeavor.org

%d bloggers like this: