The Millennial Leadership Series: Freedom versus Accountability


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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?


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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

The Millennial Leadership Series : Disrupt or be Disrupted?


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Disruption, be it through technology, innovation process or through something else, seems to be the flavour of the corporate environment. So what is disruption? In simple terms, it is when a new product or service helps create a new market and in the process significantly weakens and at times destroys an existing product or service, market category and even an industry.

As can be seen from the above, there are two facets of Leadership that operate in a disruptive environment.

First, the kind of Leadership that can envision and innovate a product, service or process that  either creates a new market or sets about destroying an existing product market category. Think of the I Phone. Think of Uber.

Second, the kind of Leadership that can recognise the disruptions gaining strength within the industry and take timely and intuitive actions to not only protect one’s  existing business but ride the disruption as an opportunity. Think of General Motors and its incisive investments into EV and autonomous vehicle technology.

The 20th Century has been witness to innumerable cases of strong leaderships with impeccable management credentials consistently failing to anticipate market disruptions and falling by the wayside. Think of Kodak.

With the exponential growth of disruptive products and processes that we are witness to today and the convergence of these to create mega disruptive trends, a completely new kind of Leadership blueprint and mindset is needed to be effective in the twenty-first century.

What kind of Leadership blueprint and mindset might this be? How does one acquire it?

 

In Learning………

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A Brave New World


 

How beauteous mankind is!

O brave new world,

That has such people in it!

 

                                                                                Shakespeare in The Tempest

 Climber enjoys the view from the top of the mountain

“….We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. Protection would lead to great prosperity and strength…. We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth.”

Donald Trump in his Presidential inauguration speech, 20th Jan 2017

***

“But there is simply no need in the 21st century to be part of a federal government in Brussels……… It was a noble idea for its time but it is no longer right for this country. It is the essence of our case that young people in this country can look forward to a more secure and more prosperous future, if we take back the democratic control which is the foundation of our economic prosperity………. We can control our borders in a way that is not discriminatory but fair and balanced and take the wind out of those who would play politics with immigration.”

Boris Johmson, British politician & “Leave EU” BREXIT campaigner, 2016

***

“We launched the Make in India campaign to create employment and self-employment opportunities for our youth. We are working aggressively towards making India a Global Manufacturing Hub. We want the share of manufacturing in our GDP to go up to 25 per cent in the near future.”

Narendra Modi, Indian Prime Minister, 2016

***

The signs are everywhere. Of Globalisation, the beacon that was destined to shape this century, suddenly dimming. Of ‘Walls’ being built to prevent the ‘Others’ read immigrants to come in and usurp work that rightfully is ‘Ours’. Of bringing back off-shored jobs. Of ‘reclaiming back’ what belongs to us.

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Which brings us to Technology. Now technology has always been  synonymous with productivity and economic progress. From those early days of industrial revolution of the eighteenth century to the mass manufacturing assembly lines of the twentieth century to the global networks of the twenty-first. Over all this period, it has been technology that has created jobs.

Faced with falling economic growth and stubborn unemployment (and under-employment) levels, politicians have been quick to chase symptoms. So the big bad wolf behind joblessness and immigrant inflows is seen as the ‘open doors’ of Globalisation. The Close Sesame formula seems quite straightforward. Close the doors, bring back all the off-shored work and leverage all the right technology. And ‘Hey presto!’ the pathway to economic growth and job creation shall be ours.

So Globalisation, the job destroyer is out……… and Technology, the growth and  job creator is in. Or is it?

Globalisation is all about free flow of technology, talent and capital. So as we turn our backs to Globalisation, can we keep technology, talent and eventually capital on our side?

There is also the other paradox. Of how nations and people get to apply different yardsticks to Globalisation as applicable to oneself versus others.  So Donald Trump sees nothing wrong in the spread of American entertainment and fast food brands globally but hates work getting off-shored. And Britain, the creator of the Commonwealth group of nations worldwide, now prefers to go it alone within Europe. Prime Minister Modi and India cry foul when changes in work Visa rules threaten the country’s IT industry but simultaneously focus on ‘Make in India’ to reduce imports.

And finally there is strong evidence that technology in its present avatar of automation, networks, robotics and artificial intelligence no longer creates jobs, in fact quite the contrary.  It has become the destroyer of jobs!

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Countries are witness to jobless economic recoveries. The world overall has seen productivity and economic growths far outpacing job creation. What this means is that companies and factories are able to produce more and more goods and services without the need to have more workers. What is it that is balancing the equation? Technology of course!

A major reason for the huge upsurge in start-ups is the widespread access to technology concurrent with the vanishing of  the traditional entry barriers relating to capital, workforce, infrastructure etc. One needs to merely read the stories of millennial entrepreneurs and their creations  like Jan Koum of WhatsApp and Mark Zuckerburg of Facebook to appreciate this.

What technology is also doing is shifting the wealth creation away from the workforce as they lose their indispensability and towards the entrepreneur controlling the technology. So the rich become richer and the Haves and Have Nots disparity continues to increase. In the US, we thus see 1% of the population holding 25% of the national wealth!

Finally, we are witness to the phenomenon of ‘tolerating people at work’. Not because they are intrinsically needed but because they work out cheaper in maintaining status quo compared to technology. So warehouses postpone introducing robotics owing to plentiful labour being available to do the work at low cost. Supermarket checkout counters continue to use clerks even though automation is available to do the job. What this of course implies is that there are growing numbers of people (immigrants, laid off workers, new entrants to the job market etc.) out there who are willing to work at abysmally low wages. Even the otherwise technology-mouthing Governments like it as this sustains socio-economic status quo against fears of disruptions which out- of- work populations might foster.

There are however strong indications that going forward the above compromise may no longer work.

Let me explain myself. It is fairly well known that technology gets governed by Moore’s Law. What this law states is that for every dollar spent the computing power (and the corresponding productivity) doubles every two years. Doesn’t seem much, does it? But hang on a minute! Do you know what this does to productivity over a period of time? Over two decades, the productivity goes up a thousand times. Over four decades, it goes up a million times! And computers and computing power have been with us for more than four decades now. This is the power of the exponential law which all technologies tend to follow. Which leads to the technology cost curves coming down fast and over time tending to become zero!

Another change that is being wrought by raw computing power is the unleashing of Artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms on a scale unimaginable even a decade back. As you might have guessed, this is leading to machines performing complex tasks which have been the exclusive preserve of professionals. Like medical diagnostics on patients better than the best doctors. Or scanning and interpreting past legal judgments, written contracts and assess risks to make a legal recommendation better and faster than a lawyer. Over the next decade or so, no jobs could be considered safe from being taken over by machines.

Do you see what the above two aspects together would do? Cost of using technology for not only low end jobs but even complex work would keep on spiralling down towards zero. We can’t compete with zero marginal cost can we? The writing is clear on the wall. More and more of us are going to be laid off……. with jobs harder and harder to find. We humans are well on our way to technological obsolescence!

So as I gaze into the crystal ball, what do I see?

I see the process of human work obsolescence accelerating and societal structure changing beyond our wildest imagination. Due to key exponential technologies like the internet of things, machine learning and robotics converging together, wide vistas of traditional human activity have no longer the need for humans. Several projections indicate that over the next two decades, available jobs would decline by 50%!

I also see technology continue to remove money out of the equation by making products and services cheaper and cheaper. This in fact had been happening for a while. Did you know for instance that a one teraflop processor which used to cost forty six million dollars in 2000 now costs below fifty! And the smartphone which we take so much for granted has in fact replaced a plethora of stuff in our lives which would have cost nearly a million dollars a couple of decades back!

 The downward movement of the technology cost curve would only accelerate. So a ‘Car as a Service’ future populated by Uber, Ola and the likes would ensure beggars would also be chauffeured around. The best surgeons would be robots working 24X7 with precision and the records of million past surgeries, at negligible charge. Cost of Housing too would fall dramatically as more and more folks work from anywhere in the world with avatar co-workers in virtual offices. Most people would enjoy energy independence through roof top solar panels and energy stored in vehicles. Rather than spending on energy, they would be earning through trading with the grid. And of course most education and entertainment would be available online for free.

So the future that I see hurtling towards us is of a world of people having little or no work, rather not needing to do any work, with an abundance of products and services available at low cost or free.

As Morpheus says to Neo in the Matrix:

 “……This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you…. believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill……. and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more….”

Our Brave New World too seems to be a story of the blue and red pills allowing us a choice of the path we could take.

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One road leads us to a virtual utopia. Inhabited by people fully able to realise their creative and innovative potentials. A world where people are uniquely free to follow their passions and creative urges. Where innovations are exploding every other day and unimaginable wealth is getting created. Where products and services are plentiful and available to all. Where being wealthy or not no longer matters. A world that has finally come to realise the socialistic dreams of Karl Marx and Lenin, but in a warped way.

The other way is to the land of dystopia. Of people lacking meaningful work and condemned to exist on the lower rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy. With not a hope in hell of achieving the higher rungs of potential. Of folks condemned to live on a Universal basic income provided by the Governments of the day. Of large sections of society feeling increasingly dispossessed and spiralling down into drugs, gambling, terrorism and similar madness.

As the anti-globalisation clamour becomes more strident, I am left wondering about the pill that we as Mankind are about to take. What is the kind of leadership we need that would point us to the right pill? Is our current leadership upto that task?

In learning……

Shakti Ghosal

 

Acknowledgements:

 

 

 

 

 

Sundarban Chalo


“In our legends it is said that the goddess Ganga’s descent from the heavens would have split the earth had Lord Shiva not tamed her torrent by tying it into his ash-smeared locks. To hear this story is to see the river in a certain way: as a heavenly braid, for instance, an immense rope of water, unfurling through a wide and thirsty plain. That there is a further twist to the tale becomes apparent only in the final stages of the river’s journey- and this part of the story always comes as a surprise, because it is never told and thus never imagined. It is this: there is a point at which the braid comes undone; where Lord Shiva’s matted hair is washed apart into a vast, knotted tangle. Once past this point the river throws off its bindings and separates into hundreds, maybe thousands, of tangled strands.

Until you behold it for yourself, it is impossible to believe that here, interposed between the sea and plains of Bengal, lies an immense archipelago of islands………”

Author Amitava Ghosh in ‘The Hungry tides’

This is the Sundarban, the beautiful forest. Also home to the Royal Bengal Tiger.

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The Royal Bengal tiger is one of the most majestic creations of Mother Nature. Known for its grace, beauty and ferocity, it can grow up to twelve feet in length and weigh as much as 190 Kgs. Possessing the longest canine amongst meat eating mammals, the Royal Bengal is a solitary animal and marks large territories for itself extending up to two hundred square miles. It has adapted itself to the Bengal mangrove ecosystem of the Sundarban by being an ardent swimmer; anything that moves in this habitat is food! One forceful attack and the prey has nowhere to run; the Royal Bengal possesses such power as to snap the spinal cord of the victim in one jerk. A less known fact is that in one to one combat with a lion, the king of the forest, the Royal Bengal tiger has almost always won. And like the erstwhile Royal families of India, the Royal Bengal Tiger is well on its way to extinction.

( Facts from Internet )

Our trip to Sundarban starts with a car ride to Godkhali ferry ghat which lies at the end of the Bengal peninsula. The road ends at a decrepit sign announcing, ‘Gateway to Sundarban’ next to the worn steps of the ghat. A short boat ride to the island of Gosaba and we step into a Bazaar, its by-lanes, its teeming humanity and the filth and squalor which today’s plastic, paper and throwaways create. Alas! Quite a contrast to the vision I had held about Bengal’s villages in my mind’s eye.

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Forty five minutes of bone rattling auto-rickshaw ride through grain fields, ponds, and hutments later we are finally at our Eco-resort. With the promise of Sundarban just beyond the flowing waters.

Sundarban. A UNESCO World Heritage site. The name itself conjures up exotic images for me. Of narrow waterways hemmed in by overgrown foliage on the banks. Of boats navigating the waterways in stealth with the rowers in search of the wood of Sundari trees, the much sought after Bagda Chingri ( Tiger prawn) and madhu (honey). Of crocodiles waiting on the banks in ambush for their prey.Of giant pythons coiled around tree branches. And of course of the Royal Bengal tiger swimming out in the darkness to climb onto the boats.

As we journey on our river cruise away from inhabited islands to the uninhabited ones, the stark beauty of arguably the largest mangrove forest land in the world begins to unfold. The kaleidoscopic flora seamlessly embracing the silted land and the silt laden waters. The fascinating adaptation of the different mangrove species to the tides and the saline water with the stilt and the breathing roots. The latter manifesting as countless hard spikes sprouting out of the ground. As if warning that you enter these lands at your own peril. As we get to  the widest water expanse created by the confluence of five rivers, the boat engine is shut. The sudden stillness and silence is enigmatic. Of time standing still, as if waiting for the Sundar Ban to reveal its mysteries.

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Which brings me back to that star attraction of Sundarban, the Royal Bengal Tiger. Well we fail to spot the guy even though we do the rounds of the three main watch towers in the Tiger reserve- the Sajnekhali, Dobanki and the  Sudhnyakhali. But in the bargain, we do get vantage views of the magnificent Sundarban forests as the guide points us to the Goshap     (Water monitor lizard), Horeen ( spotted deer), Kumeer ( crocodile) and different bird species.

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As we prepare to leave Sundarban, I sense its allure beckoning me to come back again.Inviting me to explore more of the complex network of tributaries and tidal waterways between the islands and atolls. Inviting me to marvel at the creation of new islands as the old ones submerge under cyclones and tides. Inviting me to immerse in the mythology of Goddess Bonbibi, that ultimate saviour of the forest and all who venture within. Inviting me to once again savour the ethereal sunset and enveloping darkness on the Vidya Dhori river. And of course inviting me to set up one more rendezvous with the elusive Royal Bengal tiger.

As I once again undertake the bone rattling auto rickshaw ride on my return journey, I see the beauty and tranquility of  an agrarian lifestyle jostling to retain its place amongst the ugliness and discomfort imposed by so-called ‘development’- once concretised roads lying dilapidated and broken,  haphazard and unfinished infrastructure and the filth of plastic and other wastes. Just like the Sundarban tiger and other wildlife having jostled for space with the ever expanding humanity through decades……….

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Sitting in the ferry moving towards the mainland, I think of the socio-political leadership needed for inclusive development of the simple and friendly people of Sundarban. Leadership which would hold the ability to listen to and align with the concerns of all on the ground. But beyond such Leadership, the question that comes to my mind is , “What could each one of us do to support and sustain the rare and fragile ecosystem that is Sunderban?”

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In Learning….

Shakti Ghosal

Travel Recommendation :  We travelled using the services of Sundarban Chalo Tours   Contact No. 9748278990, sundarbanchalo@gmail.com

We had booked the 2 nights 3 days  Tour package. I believe we need this kind of a  period to  savour and appreciate the sights and sounds of Sundarban.

While we had opted to join the tour from  Chowringhee Lane,  Sundarban Chalo Tours  in fact had  several  convenient pick up points in Kolkata for  guests. We found the vehicle quality and driver to be excellent.

 The company owns its own boat and crew and so we felt  we were on our own private cruise while sailing in the Sundarban river network and estuaries!  The  tour coordinator and the guide went out of their way to make the trip memorable  with piping hot breakfast and lunch cooked and served on-board.

The Eco-resort we stayed in was clean and the employees extremely friendly and customer oriented. All the meals served was freshly cooked with a surprise evening entertainment program of folk music, dances and barbecue under the stars!