The Millennial Leadership Series: Freedom versus Accountability


freedom_birdcage

I hear the following words often.

“if you wish to see creativity at work, cut the bureaucratic red tape dammit!”

“Hierarchies no longer serve.  We need networks of free individuals”

Red tapes and Hierarchies are all designed to drive accountability. To ensure that in a work situation, where you have been given freedom to act, you become accountable for delivering something in return. Red tape dictates that one submits to certain checks and balances as part of a process to drive an initiative. And to hold onto a work position within an organisation, one needs to accept the command and control hierarchy there.

So what is that which has created this belief that Red tape and Hierarchies which drive accountability somehow negate Freedom and the creativity that might flow out of it?

As I think of the above question, I sense the concerns are really about the perceived loss of Power. Power that comes from a freedom to take decisions and explore creative possibilities. But there is also a flip-side to this. In my own work-life I have seen innumerable instances of people not able to handle the freedom allowed them and actually floundering and not sure of how to proceed.

The Millennial Leader, faced that he is with relentless changes and disruptive influences, can ill afford to get overly involved with sorting out red tapes and hierarchies. He needs to instead  focus on creating a culture that  drives both Freedom and Accountability.

Freedom not about unburdening people and allowing them to do what they want. Rather the kind of freedom that allows people to envision new possibilities.

Accountability not of imposing something and devising reward and punishment schemes to do that.  Rather the kind of accountability that would lead people to take ownership and hold passion for the possibility they envisioned.

What practices does the Millennial Leader needs to adopt to shift from ‘Or’ to ‘And’ between Freedom and Accountability?

In Learning………

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The Millennial Leadership Series : To Be or To Do……


“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And
by opposing end them?

– William Shakespeare in Hamlet

visualisation of a future

A few days back I was reading Richard Branson, the Virgin Group Chairman’s blog on New Year resolutions. What jumped out at me was the section in which he says we need to shift our resolution from a ‘To Do’ list to ‘To Be who we wish to be’ mindset.

As we tick off completed items of our To Do resolutions, we do derive a sense of achievement, do we not. But does such a sense actually support us to move forward?

The world we live in today is all about change and uncertainty. The opportunities and possibilities out there remain optimally aligned to our To Do lists for a limited time. The leader who lacks this awareness is like the guy who patches the first visible leak in an old pipe and puts pressure back only to find new cracks developing. A solution leading to a new problem.  Before we even realise it , we have sacrificed our strategy and ‘To Do’ prioritization  at the altar of day to day expediency.

Some years back, I was part of a corporate group which was in a downward spiral. Market share on most product lines was getting lost leading to the profit targets getting missed. Dissatisfaction and blame game was awash all round, affecting even personal relationships between colleagues. Business alliances with Principals were fraying, lurching from one emergency situation to another. We seemed to be living a corporate death-wish.

We were so busy fire-fighting with the daily ‘To Do’ priorities, the underlying issues perpetuating the problem were left untouched. Leadership and employees alike held beliefs like:

“We are fighting a losing battle. Things would just not work out”

“We just don’t have in us what is needed”

“We’ll just shrink and shrink… till we shut down”

These beliefs and the resulting assumptions, fears and cynicism were leading the organisation into a future of mediocrity and possible demise.

The way the millennial leader could tackle above kind of situation is to jettison the ‘To Do’ in favour of ‘To Be’ mindset. To be the catalyst to rewrite the future. A future that is not derived from the past. A future that would be lived into by all concerned. A future that holds the capacity to shift people’s actions from disengaged to proactive, from resigned to inspired, from frustrated to generative.

What is it that the Millennial leader needs to do to be the catalyst to rewrite such a future for his organisation?

 

…… In Learning     

The Millennial Leadership Series: Authenticity and the Gremlin


Gremlin

Wish you, dear Reader,  a wonderful 2018 ahead! 

On a longish flight last week, I was again drawn to “Taming your Gremlin”. In the book, the author Rick Carson claims to offer a surprisingly simple method for getting out of your own way.  As I riffled through the pages, I came across the various manifested Gremlins who masquerade as us to the outside world in terms of our personality, our beliefs and our behaviours. This inauthentic persona a.k.a. our Gremlin got created somewhere in the past due to certain specific circumstances but has now taken control of who we are.

Millennial leaders are being increasingly buffeted by disruptions and an environment that lacks predictable cycles and trends. Such unpredictability gives short shrift to management tools and organisational decision making processes. In the absence of path clarity Leadership can get subsumed by the Gremlin.

The Gremlin whispers.

“As a leader you cannot afford to lose peoples’ admiration. If needed you need to stretch the truth and hide what is embarrassing or awkward and even…..manipulate situations and people.”

“As a Leader you need to maintain the pretense of loyalty to your bosses and supporters. Otherwise you run the risk of losing their admiration and support in these uncertain times.”

“You need to look knowledgeable and pretend to have understood things which you haven’t. Else people would think poorly of you.”

Increasingly the inauthentic ‘Gremlin’ persona holds sway. But unfortunately, the personality traits, the beliefs and the behaviour which worked earlier might not succeed under the changed circumstances. After all ……………………

  • Can you be effective in what you want to do when you are trying to be someone you are not?
  • Can you put faith and trust in others to handle an uncertain situation when you yourself are faking it?
  • Can you exercise moral authority on people to embrace something new when you are being inauthentic?

The millennial leader needs to increasingly anchor himself to the foundational element of Authenticity. Being authentic is being and acting consistent with who he holds himself out to be for others, and who he holds himself to be for himself.

Also, one cannot pretend to be authentic. That, by definition, is inauthentic……………

So, what is the pathway that the Millennial leader needs to follow to improve his authenticity?

 

In Learning…………

Acknowledgement:  Taming your Gremlins by Richard D. Carson. Harper Collins, 2003

The Millennial Leadership Series : What a Millennial Leader needs.

How could the millennial leader develop the twin competences of uncovering the ‘unsaid’ concerns and envisioning a future that inspires and aligns?


Millennial leader

 

Yesterday I was at the bank with my relationship manager. A petite lady in her thirties, I had always found her customer- centric with a willingness to serve. After the bank work was done and we got to chatting, I discovered the magnitude of disillusionment with her work environment that she harboured. What was interesting was that her boss, the branch manager too had a great reputation of being customer-centric and was clearly a high flyer within the bank.

As I left the bank I wondered what it was that created such misalignment between a leader and his people even though both held the same work values and traits.

Over the last hundred years, Leadership has come to be characterized by certain values. The more than a hundred thousand books available on Leadership speak of aspects like Vision, Motivational, Inspiring, Purposeful, Communication ability, Goal oriented and so on. So why is it that knowing and even exercising these values and traits does not lead to great leadership?

In this new millennium, organisations have increasingly shifted away from top down instruction driven structures to flexi- flat competence enabled networks of ‘heads up open mind’ individuals  eager to innovate and seize opportunities.

The millennial leader can no longer be a chest beater with a ‘my way or highway’ mindset. He needs to bring in a set of his own competences into the work network.

First, the ability to uncover the ‘unsaid’ concerns of stakeholders and put these concerns where they belong, in the Past, by appropriate closing.

Second, the ability to envision a future that inspires and excites by aligning with what the stakeholders expect.

How could the millennial leader develop the twin competences of uncovering the ‘unsaid’ concerns and envisioning a future that inspires and aligns?

In Learning…………… Shakti Ghosal

Air to the bird, water to the fish……


‘The three great mysteries: Air to a bird, water to a fish, Man to himself.’
– A Hindu proverb

What are the kind of situations which bring out the worst of reactive thoughts in us? I offer a few personal examples here.

**

I am driving back from office. Mind laden with the ‘To do’ stuff for tomorrow, interspersed with unrelated thoughts from the past. I get yanked back to the ‘now and here’ by a black SUV suddenly crossing the lane from the wrong side. Slamming the brakes, I curse.
Drivers Beware!

**

In a hurry to get back home, I rush into the Al Fair supermarket to pick up a few items which my wife had asked me to. Though the place seems fairly crowded with folks like me trying to squeeze in some grocery shopping, my check-out queue moves briskly till I reach second spot. It is then that the guy in front of me gets into a long drawn discussion with the counter lady on the intricacies of some redeemable voucher. Impatiently standing there, I see rage and anger building up inside me.
Supermarket queue
**

I notice an office colleague not complying with my instructions. When asked, he voices disagreement. I see this as trying to undermine me, or worse, an attempt to derail what I propose to do. I react by knit picking on the guy, by micro-managing at the activity level and in my anxiety to enforce, I end up hurting and demeaning. In all this, both of us have lost the big picture of what we had set out to achieve.
Office disagreement
**

Now these are my examples but I can wager you would have seen one or more of these playing out in your own lives. So what is it really that brings up these reactions in us?

As I ponder over this question, I start seeing aspects of my own self-centeredness. A ‘Self centering’ that I am at the center of the world for myself and somehow my immediate needs and feelings should determine how things should operate in the world. A ‘Self centering’ which then becomes a slew of learned reactive thoughts and behaviours to make that happen. Reactive thoughts and behaviours which have got hard-wired within to the extent that it is now a default setting, a who I am wound up being.

So the guy who I am wound up being is now conditioned to curse when someone drives wrongly on the road. Or to get into a rage when someone delays completing some work. Or to hurt and demean when the other guy does not do things ‘my way’.

Chris Argyris, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School, and a Thought Leader at Monitor Group, after four decades of studying individuals and organisations, concluded that, ‘… people consistently act inconsistently, unaware of the contradiction between their espoused theory and their theory-in-use, between the way they think they are acting and the way they really act.’

In real life, we might be completely aware of the right and wrong way of speaking, dealing with people and behaving. But come a situation or someone else’s behaviour that triggers our inner hard wiring, our reactive self takes over, ready to protect our turf at any cost. The interesting thing is that post the event, we remain hardly aware of how our reactive behaviour and actions were so much in variance to what we generally believe our actions and behaviour to be. A veritable Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde manifestation within us!

Have you ever wondered what makes it so hard for us to stop that reactive “Dr. Jekyll” self from taking over? This is because we mistake ‘Who we have wound up being’ as ‘Who we are’. This prevents us from seeing, as Chris Argyris surmised, the gap between the way we think we are acting and the way we really act. What is undistinguished begins to control us. Just like Air to the bird and Water to the fish!

So how could we start seeing the air and the water? What could we do to distinguish and remove all that acquired fluff of how we have wound up being to get down to the essence of who we are?

I believe we can make a start by holding the consciousness that we have a choice when confronted with a reaction generating situation or person. For example, what if I chose to think that the guy in that SUV who crossed the lane wrongly was rushing to the hospital where his wife was critically ill? What if I chose to believe that the guy trying to redeem those Al Fair vouchers was doing it to buy provisions for an orphanage? What if I chose to believe that the office colleague is as dedicated as me to achieve the overall objective?

The next step is to distinguish those aspects which have become part of ‘Who we have wound up being’. Read the language constructs below:

“ I Am….”

I am intelligent and smart.
I am disciplined and orderly.
I am competitive.
I am impatient with others.
I am a perfectionist and do not suffer fools.

“The way I wound up being….”

The way I wound up being is believing I am intelligent and smart.
The way I wound up being is disciplined and orderly.
The way I wound up being is competitive.
The way I wound up being is being impatient with others.
The way I wound up being is a perfectionist and who does not suffer fools.

What do you notice?

Do you notice that as the language construct shifts away from “I Am……” you gain the ability to distinguish the several traits you have acquired from who you intrinsically are?

Do you see that unlike the birds and the fishes, you are now able to discern the air and water around you?

Do you realise that you now have a choice?

***

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says,” Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes,” What the hell is water?”

David Foster Wallace in ‘This is Water’, commencement speech, 2005

Acknowledgement:
“Being A Leader And The Effective Exercise Of Leadership: An Ontological / Phenomenological Model” by Werner Erhard, Independent & Michael Jensen, Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration Emeritus, Harvard Business School.

Listening into the future


“Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing. It is often through the quality of our listening and not the wisdom of our words that we are able to effect the most profound changes on the people around us.”
Rachel Naomi Remen, American author, teacher and ‘Integrative medicine’ pioneer.

How many of us really give a thought to how we listen? Listening, for most of us, is something taken for granted. Just as seeing or breathing. But what if I were to tell you that there exists a special kind of listening that can create a new future, both for the speaker and the listener?

Consider the following.

You: “Are you planning to see a movie this weekend? I am looking for someone to go with”
Me : “Can’t say for sure. Maybe, maybe not.”
You: “Hmm! Okay, will you let me know once you make up your mind.”
Me : “ Sure, shall do.”

What would you say about the above conversation? Seems to be pretty straight forward and ordinary does it not. But if you look at it again, you would notice two aspects. First, the exchange has been about my hearing the words and then responding based on my interpretation of the same. Second, how the interpretation impacts what exists as concerns for me, allows me to agree or disagree.

Now, let’s consider another exchange.

You: “I do not agree with your handling of the situation. I feel that might create a bigger problem.”
Me: “I have tried to do the best I can. I believe what I did was the best under the circumstances.”
You: “Well, what you failed to do was consider other options which would have been better.”

Do you notice that in this hearing I have interpreted your words as judging me and have immediately reacted by justifying myself and my actions?

Like the other senses, hearing remains a meaning making activity. Essential to interpret what is happening out there and how it might conceivably impact us. Hearing remains essential to survive. We thus become adept and skilled in hearing and do it all the time. Hearing though is not listening.

So what is listening? It is an art and may not come easily to most of us. It is really about when we listen, we do so without interpretation, without judging it against what we know, what we believe, what we assume. If this leaves you wondering whether you have ever listened at all to anything, welcome to the gang! For this remains true for all of us.

listening image

So what is it that stops us from listening? As I dwell with this question, I come to a surprising realisation. Which is that I do not want to listen since I find it dangerous. I remain afraid that listening might force me to let go of my beliefs and biases, shatter some of the perspectives I hold dear, that I am accustomed to. So how do we remove this fear and apprehension that our listening might endanger our beliefs, shatter our long-held perspectives?

Well, we can make a start by practicing to ‘listen authentically’. We do this by being alert to any inauthenticity that we find creeping in. For example, while listening I might notice a need for me to look good or needing to be liked. Or an evaluation or judgment swirling in my mind about what the other person is saying. Noticing this in itself brings up that self awareness that I have listened inauthentically. It then allows me the opportunity and access to train myself to listen without that inauthenticity.

You might wonder, ‘But is it not critical for us to bring judgment and perceptions from past situations to be able to make meaning of what is being said? Why should we dispense all that just to listen authentically? And what is the advantage we would gain by doing that?’

So we get back to understanding the nuts and bolts of ‘listening authentically’. What we saw above was what we need to do at our (listener) end in terms of being non-judgmental and being alert to our inauthenticities creeping in. Now let us understand how ‘listening authentically’ manifests for the guy who is speaking. Well what it does is let the speaker say everything he has to say until he has nothing else to say about what he was saying.

And this is when the magic happens!

The speaker has the experience that he has actually been gotten. He and we may not realise it but our ‘listening’ has supported him to table all his concerns, his fears and allowed him to put all that behind him. The concerns, the fears from the past that had put him “on the rails” towards a future which was cluttered with and an extension of his own past. With the past clutter gone, a blank space has been created. A space waiting for a new future to be born. A future that was not going to happen otherwise.

The listener at the other end, shorn that he has chosen to be, of all judgments and interpretations, also finds himself no longer “on the rails” and no longer being held hostage by his own beliefs, biases, prejudices and taken-for-granted assumptions. Old resistances and blocks go and he too becomes part of the blank space. A space now open for new possibilities, new conversation and a new future.

Dear Reader, do you see how simply listening authentically transports both the speaker and the listener into a new space? A space which holds the key to releasing both sides from the bondages of the past? A space which allows both sides to write a new future? A future created which was not going to happen anyway?

Created future

Dear Reader, are you willing to make that commitment to listening to have the magic happen for you?

***
Ester asked why people are sad.

“That’s simple,” says the old man. “They are the prisoners of their personal history. Everyone believes that the main aim in life is to follow a plan. They never ask if that plan is theirs or if it was created by another person. They accumulate experiences, memories, things, other people’s ideas, and it is more than they can possibly cope with. And that is why they forget their dreams.”
-Paulo Coelho in ‘The Zahir’, 2006

In learning……. Shakti Ghosal

Mind Shift


“Whatever we are waiting for – peace of mind, contentment, grace, the inner awareness of simple abundance – it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart.” ~Sarah Ban Breathnach, American author.

Everest

The morning of Saturday, 25th April dawned at the base camp of the Mount Everest expedition like any other. Just before noon, Sherpa Bahadur was attempting to establish contact with the expedition team up on the slope when he was non-plussed to see the snow covered ground shift and rise like a living apparition. The last thing he remembered was an ear-splitting sound and being swept away by the shifting ground under his feet.

nepal-earthquake-avalanche-ap855095418230
For days and weeks earlier, unknown to the Sherpa and his expedition mates, two pieces of the cracked Earth’s crust below, had been moving and pressing against each other, like they have been wont to do periodically for millions of years. The heat and the churning currents of the molten rocks underneath was leading to the crust crumbling and buckling with intense pressure points being created. Something had to give. And that is what happened on that fateful Saturday. As the pressure propelled the molten rocks below the crust to shift and move like a jumble of conveyor belts in disrepair, it manifested as a powerful earthquake of 7.9 magnitude on the Richter scale all over the Himalayan regions of Nepal and North India.

Witnesses later reported that the shifting avalanche began on Mount Kumori, a 7,000-meter high mountain just a few kilometers from Everest, gathered strength as it totally engulfed the base camp in the lower reaches of Everest.

For Sherpa Bahadur, a survivor of this immense natural tragedy, the shift of Earth’s tectonic plates led to a mind shift in terms of a change of focus and perception. What really mattered in terms of his relationships with his missing colleagues, the memories of all the great times they had had as they had planned for and painstakingly executed the expedition together came crowding into the mind. The pettiness of behaviours, the jealousies, the selfishness, all part of the way he had wound up being, seemed to recede. Standing amidst the destruction, carnage and sorrow, he found himself surprisingly engulfed by a peace of mind and an inner awareness of commitment.

Little did he realise it in that moment but Sherpa Bahadur had come through a Crucible event. A transformative experience that had given him an altered sense of identity and purpose. As he set about initiating efforts to rescue his missing team members, folks around him could not help but notice his strength of purpose and the nobility of his selflessness.

A crucible experience is a trial and test, a shifting of the ‘tectonic plates’ of our mind, opening us up to entirely new ways of being, of thinking and acting. As we do this, we can turn our life completely.

Steve Chandler, the author of “Shift your mind: shift the world”, says, ‘When the mind is open, it will shift. When that happens all of life becomes, momentarily, light as a feather. Light as a breeze. Beautiful! You go up to the next level of consciousness, and creativity, energy, vibration ó whatever you want, you’ve got it.’

So what is that mind shift Steve is talking about and what could one do to make it happen?

Well for a starter, we need to bring in a heightened awareness of our way of being. Only with such awareness can we hope to achieve some of the mind shifts given below.

MindShift

* A Gratitude Mind Shift: ‘Do you carry that nagging feeling that somehow you have less than the other guy? Could you shift your way of being to see all that you have as a blessing?’

* A Self-Creation Mind Shift: ‘Do you find yourself blaming others and the circumstances when faced with a problem? Could you shift your way of being to seek opportunities for self creation and development when confronted with pain or difficulties?’

* Being Cause in the matter Mind Shift: ‘Do you find yourself resisting or denying problems when they arise in your life? Could you shift your way of being to acknowledge that somehow, somewhere your choices and actions might have caused these?’

* A Self-Trust Mind Shift: ‘Do you find yourself doubting your own self and seeking answers from others? Could you shift your way of being to trust your own intuition and wisdom?’

* Being committed to something bigger than yourself mind shift: ‘Do you find yourself embroiled within your own self-serving pettiness and fears? Could you shift your way of being to embrace a cause bigger than yourself and choose to be fully alive and engaged to that?’

* An Initiative-Taking Mind Shift: ‘Do you find yourself waiting for someone else to take the lead? Could you shift your way of being to be the creator, the fire starter?’

* A Present Moment Mind Shift: ‘Do you see yourself being held back by your past? Could you shift your way of being to drop that story that is holding you back so that you could recreate yourself every day?’

That crucible experience that Sherpa Bahadur had on the lower slopes of Mount Everest on that fateful day was really about a very fundamental realization. Which is this. All that we perceive and take for granted, who we know our self to be, what we assume to be true about us, others and the world in general, is not the only reality. It is this realization that allows us to achieve heightened awareness and transform ‘the way we have wound up being’, allowing us to enter a new world. It is this realization that allows us to open our mind (and heart!) to the Shifts we have spoken of.

My invitation to you, dear reader, is this. Today, right now, pick one of the above Mind Shifts that most resonates with you. Gently place it inside your psyche and begin living it. Come on, give it a try! As you open your mind to embrace, you might be astonished with the results.

In Learning……… Shakti Ghosal

Post script: The post alludes to the recent devastating earthquake in Nepal. However Sherpa Bahadur is a fictional character and has no bearing to any living person. I however have no doubt that in reality there are innumerable individuals out there, who faced with a crucible experience arising out of the earthquake, have risen to the occasion with their untiring efforts. I offer this post as an acknowledgement and homage to all such brave and selfless individuals who have been working tirelessly on the ground to support the shattered communities.

Acknowledgements:

1) ‘Crucibles of Leadership’ by Warren G. Bennis & Robert J. Thomas, Harvard Business Review,
September 2002.
2) ‘Shift your Mind: Shift the World’ by Steve Chandler, Robert Reed publishers, February 2010.