How do you increase your influence and impact?

How do you maximise your influence and impact in a fast changing environment?

A Do-it-yourself plan.


Some years back in my work life I came across an individual who for anonymity’s sake we will call Shib.  

Shib was insecure and hankered for a leadership role as a way to get out of insecurity. At every opportunity he would showcase and ‘beat his drum’ about his past experience. He refused to accept that in the disruptive environment that the business was facing,  experiential learning was ill suited to handle the situations being confronted.. More significantly the ‘All knowing, All doing’ defensive shield that had become his second nature prevented Shib from acknowledging that he might be lacking competences needed to engage with the situations.  These two over time  became a dangerous mix for an increasingly inauthentic and damaging behaviour with the guy resorting to his positional ‘Command and Control’ power more and more as the organisational performance nosedived.

What does use of positional power lead to? Like termite it starts to eat into the existing credibility and trust structure of an organisation which takes a long time to build. Once credibility starts getting lost,  influence gets diminished and impact gets diluted.

The Shib Case study made me recall what Malcolm Forbes, the publisher of Forbes magazine, had once remarked:

“Those who enjoy responsibility usually get it, those who merely like exercising authority usually lose it”

In the increasingly uncertain and fast-changing business world of today, many of us may be falling into the ‘Shib trap’ of over- reliance on positional power without even realising it. We thus need to do a periodic dip-stick test to review our sphere of influence and efficacy of our impact. Should we notice operational zones exhibiting uncertain influence and impact, it could be time to take action.

 So what could you do to enhance your influence and increase your impact?

  • To create a coordinated effort, you and your team members need to be accountable to each other in terms of tasks, actions and time lines. Ask this question of yourself:

‘Are you willing to be accountable to your team members about your performance as you would like them to be about their performance?’

  • Do you have a Learner mindset? Are you willing to discuss with your team the skills and behaviours you are developing for your own self? Are you willing to be vulnerable about yourself and your own need and efforts to improve yourself?
  • Do you personally invest in others? When things go wrong, are you willing to take a deep breath, desist from fault-finding but rather say to the team, “I know how stressed you guys must be feeling at this juncture!”
  • Are you willing to align ‘Who you are’ with what your team members perceive about you? To gain an insight into the extent of this alignment (or not), you may wish to see how many of these questions you answer as “YES”:
  • When you give space to others, do they see you as passive?
  • When you are compassionate, do your team mates see it as weakness?
  • When you display energy, do others see you as being pushy?
  • When you take a decision, do your team members see that as controlling?

Be willing to become vulnerable by asking  your team members to tell you about what they perceive as  your top three ‘bad’ areas. These could be aspects like Arrogance, Passive, Self-opinionated, Impulsive, Indecisive, Untrustworthy, Close minded, Impatience etc. In case they feel uncomfortable  to tell you these on your face, it is okay to get this feedback anonymously.

Identify the top three negative characteristics  that you embody in the eyes of team members and stakeholders. Then ask them these two questions  for each of these characteristics.

  1. “What is that one thing I could do that would stop me showing up as arrogant ( or impatient, untrustworthy etc) ?”
  2.  “What is that which I should stop doing that makes me show up as arrogant (or impatient, untrustworthy etc.) ?”

In Learning………

Shakti Ghosal

http://www.empathinko.in

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.

That never-ending cycle of our problems and solutions…….


“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”
                                                                                                         – Albert Einstein

 Problems-Solutions-2098789

As I look at what all is making the news in the world today, I am struck by an interesting trend.

  • No sooner did nations heave a sigh of relief that the war against Global terrorism viz.Al Qaeeda in Afghanisatan had been won, one is witness to the rise of other terror groups like the Islamic State (IS) and Boko Haram in Iraq and Nigeria.
  • Initially hailed as a path breaking positive development in terms of spread of people’s power and democracy in the Middle East, the Arab Spring now faces criticism for the collapse of Governance and societal structures in a large swathe of countries like Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria,Yemen and so on.
  • As the US and Iran engage in serious talks around international controls on the latter’s nuclear plants and technology, Israel claims this is leading to a heightened risk of war in the region.
  • As oil prices collapse and the oil consuming nations of the world rejoice, the funding of green technologies and their implementation for climate change initiatives takes a back seat.

What is it that, in spite of the best intentions and efforts of nations and leaders, the world seems to perennially lurch from one negative occurrence to another? Occurrences that seem to encompass every aspect of our existence- Terrorism, Threat of War, Governance, Climate change and what have you.

Strangely, I am witness to a similar trend as I shift gears and go down to my organisational and personal level.

  • I implement an incremental volume based pricing strategy to gain a new business account. However information about this gets known to an existing customer  who then threatens to shift business away if the same low pricing is not offered. The result: lower profitability even with higher sales.
  • I recommend deviation from the company’s HR policy to help a staff faced with the settlement of high medical bills. Though I succeed with my recommendation, this opens up a Pandora’s Box of complaints about discrimination and how other similar cases got rejected in the past.
  • Based on my directive, the sales team resort to focussed selling of identified products to maximize revenues. While this gets achieved, the sales of other products suffer leading to some Principals and suppliers getting upset.

Lean-Startup-630x548

Do you notice how, inspite of the best intentions and competence, solution to an existing problem somehow becomes the harbinger of a new problem? It is as if we are in the midst of situations akin to that of a worn pipe prone to leaks. As a leak is patched at one place and pressure is put back, the pipe cracks at another place and the leakage starts again.

So, what is it really that leads to well thought out problem solving strategies heralding a fresh bout of new problems?

Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan, in their bestseller ‘The Three Laws of Performance’ (TLOP), have not only provided an answer but also a sustainable way forward approach.

As part of our survival instinct, we are conditioned to take aspects of our life experiences, of what worked and what did not, fears of what might go wrong and so on…and store them in a place so that we could refer to them, when needed, in the future. As we go through life, we keep on storing more and more such stuff in that place of ours. What do you think happens? Without us even realizing, our actions and performance get restricted to what is allowed by all that stuff we have stored from the past. We end up being on ‘safe rails’ and doing more of what we have always done. In effect we become blindsided to everything else which somehow was not in our past. Authors Steve and Dave refer to this human tendency as they argue that our thoughts, strategies and actions arise from the future as “given by our past”. They call that place where we store our past our default future.

Steve and Dave go on to explain why solutions implemented lead to new problems. They show us the trap we are liable to get into as soon as we envisage a solution. We remain blinded to the fact that the only solutions to a problem that occur for us in fact arise out  of our default future where all our past is stored. This only allows us to do what we did in the past which in fact created the problem in the first place. We thus get sucked into the never ending cycle of problems, solutions based on the past…. leading to more problems

The TLOP holds the promise of getting us out of the above problem- solution trap. So how could we do that?

First, we uncover the default futures- all that past stuff that we hold onto, consciously and sub-consciously, that exist for us as well as other stakeholders and how that clutters our thoughts in the present. In effect we start understanding how this past driven default future actually impacts how situations occur- for us and others, and how that correlates to actions and performance. So as a situation occurs negatively for us, the actions and performance correspondingly suffer.

The TLOP further state that the way to dramatically upscale our actions and performance is to alter how situations occur for us. This can be achieved through use of certain kind of language. As we gain mastery over use of this kind of language, we are able to do two things. First, we are able to close past issues and upsets, remove these out of the default future where we had carried them into and put them back where they belong, the past. Second we begin opening up space for a new Created future, a blank canvas in which we can envision something radically new, something no longer constrained and dictated by our past.

A future that addresses the concerns of all.

A future in which everyone joyfully comes to live into.

A future that now no longer needs to follow the never-ending cycle of problems and solutions.

In learning………….                                                                  Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the future of your organisation and your life by Steve Zaffron & Dave Logan, 2011

How can I use my Context?


untitled

In my last post ‘My Context uses me’, I had dwelled on how my Context, that omnipresent meaning making machine in all my situations, uses me. How my context wields the power to put me on rails and makes me react in predictable failing ways. I was left wondering whether I could do something about shifting away from such almost certain failures.

The “Being a Leader” course, attended by me recently, revealed a pathway.

As we saw in the last post, our context does function as a cognitive lens, a filter so to speak, through which we view the world, others and interestingly, even our own selves. As we look at a situation, our context highlights some aspects, dims a few and even blanks out yet other aspects. So what makes up our context? It’s our Worldview and frame of reference for the situation at hand. It is our beliefs, biases, prejudices and assumptions which play a part in the context’s meaning making and filtering process.

Cognitive-Distortions-Skew-Your-Perceptions

Now let’s consider what constitutes our beliefs, biases, prejudices and assumptions. In a nutshell, it is our past experiences. Our brains are adept at using this past to create a default context which comes automatically with the situation at hand. This default context, coloured as it is by our past concerns and fears, restricts us and our actions. As the context is decisive, one can see the wisdom of the old French proverb, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”.

The “Being a Leader” course went on to show that a critical part of our effectiveness in leadership and life arises from our ability to replace the default context by a created context for the same situation. This created context, unencumbered by anything from the past, allows us to see possibilities which were not being allowed so long by our past.

So how does the above work? To understand that let us revisit the situation which we had talked about in the earlier post, ‘My Context uses me’.

“Whenever I notice someone, be it a family member, relative, office colleague etc. not doing it ‘my way’ or voicing disagreement about my way or style of functioning, I feel that the person is actually trying to prove me wrong , undermine me, not giving me the respect which I deserve etc.”

.My default context was, ‘Disagreeing with me implies proving me wrong, undermining me, disrespecting me etc’. This context led to situations occurring for me negatively and made me react in negative, hurtful ways.

As I review the above situation, I realise that I do hold the power to create a new context for myself. A context which says, ‘Getting the job done is what counts and it really doesn’t matter if the way adopted by others is different to mine so long as the job is done’.

As I think of this created context, I can see that it allows me to hold the big picture of getting the job done and get people to align their focus and actions to that. I also begin to see that with this context, I am no longer getting undermined, proved wrong and getting disrespected.
I now see that I hold the power to use my context to my advantage.
***
On a lighter note, I append below an extract from the ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ by Norton Juster, which highlights how one could mis-use the context to the other person’s disadvantage!

“I don’t think you understand,” said Milo timidly as the watchdog growled a warning. “We’re looking for a place to spend the night.”
“It’s not yours to spend,” the bird shrieked again, and followed it with the same horrible laugh.
“That doesn’t make any sense, you see—” he started to explain.
“Dollars or cents, it’s still not yours to spend,” the bird replied haughtily.
“But I didn’t mean—” insisted Milo.
“Of course you’re mean,” interrupted the bird, closing the eye that had been open and opening the one that had been closed. “Anyone who’d spend a night that doesn’t belong to him is very mean.”
“Well, I thought that by—” he tried again desperately.
“That’s a different story,” interjected the bird a bit more amiably. “If you want to buy, I’m sure I can arrange to sell, but with what you’re doing you’ll probably end up in a cell anyway.”
“That doesn’t seem right,” said Milo helplessly, for, with the bird taking everything the wrong way, he hardly knew what he was saying.
“Agreed,” said the bird, with a sharp click of his beak, “but neither is it left, although if I were you I would have left a long time ago.”

In learning…….. Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgements:
1) “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.

My Context uses me.


“For me context is the key- from that comes the understanding of everything.”
– Kenneth Noland, American contemporary artist.

context-img4

Interestingly, my first acquaintance with ‘Context’ was from an experience with something which is opposite, that is ‘Out of Context’. I was in junior school when one of the girls in my class came running to the teacher and exclaimed loudly, “Miss! Miss! Dilip is saying he will kill someone!” When Dilip was called in for his explanation, it transpired that during lunch, he had remarked, “It is so hot. I feel like killing that person and sitting in his place in the air-conditioned school office.” Here was a case of a young mind taking some words out of context. The listener, listening to the specific set of words without the benefit of the context in which they were spoken, however derived a different meaning altogether.

As I go through life, the power of context continues to be revealed to me. I am witness to myriad claims and counterclaims in the realms of politics, media and entertainment in which politicians and celebrities, when confronted with some of their past utterances, resort to saying, “I never said that, I was quoted out of context”. Stating this, the individual is quick to articulate a context which completely shifts the meaning of what he /she had said.

The dictionary meaning of Context is ‘the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement and idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed’.Said another way, Context is something which interweaves into a situation to provide meaning. While we may not be conscious when we look at a situation, there is always a context that we hold that generates for us the sense that we make of what we see. A situation in a vacuum is apt to lose much of what it might mean or imply for us.

How a context can shape the way of being and actions of people is wonderfully portrayed in “The Life of Brian”, the 1979 British Comedy film. Tired of masquerading as a phony messiah, Brian tries to run away from the crowds following him and loses one of his shoes in the process. To the crowd however, the context is one of ‘every word and action of Brian is a point of doctrine’. The accidentally lost shoe of ‘Messiah’ Brian is held up as such. This is humour and satire at its best!

***

As I start distinguishing the contexts in my own life, I see a particular situation playing out repeatedly.

Whenever I notice someone, be it a family member, relative, office colleague etc. not doing it ‘my way’ or voicing disagreement about my way or style of functioning, I feel that the person is actually trying to prove me wrong , undermine me, not giving me the respect which I deserve etc.

I thus see all such situations from a context of ‘Disagreeing with me implies proving me wrong, undermining me, disrespecting me etc’.

As I hold this context, the situations occur for me negatively. This negative occurring impacts my mental state, emotions and thoughts as also the actions I contemplate. So how do I react? I tend to lose sight of the big picture. I justify myself by knit picking on the right or wrong ways of doing things from my perspective. I get down to micromanaging and in my anxiety to enforce, end up in confrontation, acrimony, blame game and what have you. So even though I started trying to get something done, I have really ended up fanning dissent, demotivation and unworkability.

I can see now how my context has been using me. How, time and again, it puts me on rails and makes me react in a predictable, disempowering manner. How my reaction gets based on how the situation, shaped and coloured by my context, shows up for me.

So if my context uses me thus, can I shift away from it to avoid my disempowerment and failure to get the job done?

I am left wondering about what kind of practices I need to adopt to shift away from disempowering contexts to empowering ones for myself……to be continued…….

In learning……… Shakti Ghosal

Whose Business are we really in?


Whose business are you in

“No one can give you freedom but you……”
―Byron Katie

My daughter was coming home for her Diwali vacation and had to catch an evening flight from Mumbai. Her cab got caught in an awful traffic jam a couple of kilometers from the airport. Almost an hour passed and the cab had barely moved a few meters. Visions of her missing her flight, not knowing what to do and not having a place to stay wrestled with each other in my mind. In a panic state, I started calling my daughter as well as the driver of the cab repeatedly. Little realizing that I was offering no support or suggestions, only communicating my panic to both of them. Making their situation worse, reducing their ability to think clearly and consider other options.
***
During a review, I found that a team handling a critical project with a deadline, had totally overlooked the time schedule of a specific activity. In the ensuing brain storming session, a plan was formulated whose proper execution would get the project through. My apprehension about whether the plan would be handled properly led me to try and micro-manage the team members at every step. But what this led to was resentment , loss of the team’s initiative taking and working together ability and members blaming each other.
***
I am a stickler for orderliness. Specially at home, I know where things are kept and stored. So when I see my wife and daughters taking out and using something, I expect that afterwards they would put it back where I believe it should be kept. Alas! This seems to be hardly their priority and so things taken from somewhere are kept back somewhere else. I intensely dislike this and therefore become more strident and possessive about how things need to be used and kept. I need hardly add that neither my wife nor daughters have been able to come to terms with this trait of mine.
***
As I look back at the above situations, I realise that in every case, my thoughts and the consequent behaviour and action, have led to more stress, both for me and others. I sense that in some way, my thoughts and consequently myself, are not willing to accept the reality of ‘What Is’. So what is the genesis of such thoughts and behaviour?

Byron Katie, American speaker and author, in her self enquiry method ‘The Work’, provides an interesting perspective and insight. She identifies three kinds of business in the Universe: Our own, other peoples’ and God’s. God’s business is really about the reality that exists. So when we are unwilling to accept such reality, we are really into God’s business. When we hold fear or expectations about other people, we are living into these other peoples’ business. As per Katie, every time we start mentally living in God’s or other peoples’ business, we are no longer in our own business. We separate from our own selves and this is what leads to the stress we experience.

In the words of Byron Katie:

“If you understand the three kinds of business enough to stay in your own business, it could free your life in a way that you can’t even imagine. The next time you’re feeling stress or discomfort, ask yourself whose business you’re in mentally, and you may burst out laughing. That question can bring you back to yourself. And you may come to see that you’ve never really been present, that you’ve been mentally living in other people’s business all your life. Just to notice that you’re in someone else’s business can bring you back to your own wonderful self”.

In Learning………… Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: The Work of Byron Katie. http://www.byronkatie.com

My Already- Always listening


“Effective listeners remember that “words have no meaning – people have meaning.” The assignment of meaning to a term is an internal process; meaning comes from inside us. And although our experiences, knowledge and attitudes differ, we often misinterpret each other’s messages while under the illusion that a common understanding has been achieved.”
— Dr. Larry L. Barker, Author & Executive Coach

Already Always listening

I think of a few people engagements I have had in the recent past.

An office colleague comes in to discuss a problem that is likely to arise because of depressed business and enquiry levels from the Middle East markets. Our dependence on these markets has been high historically and remains crucial to meet our budgets. This upsets me. Time and again I had suggested that the division plans Sales trips to the region well in advance to renew our contacts with existing clients and meet new prospects. I sense this has not been done. A voice inside screams, “This guy is casual and lazy to plan in advance. He did not take my suggestions seriously and now when things have gone out of hand, he is running back to me with excuses. Why should I listen to him now?”

The other day, I hear that a market competitor has rolled out a series of innovative business initiatives in order to gain market stature and share. The CEO, known to me well, is a high school drop-out and has clawed up his way in the industry over the years. The inner voice returns, “There seems to be something wrong here. How on earth could this guy come up with such better initiatives than me when he has been so below me in scholastics? This is an affront and this guy, with such initiatives, is trying to undermine me.”

I am at this workshop and I meet an ex junior colleague who left our company some years back. I get to know that in the interim, he did his Masters and is now an Assistant Professor at a Business school. During his presentation, he waxes eloquent on Leadership and the need to envision a future that excites. While I cannot find fault with what he says, my earlier perception about him as a mere desk worker seems to stop me from embracing the concepts he speaks of. That voice inside whispers, “How could this guy, so much younger and less experienced than me, know more and teach me leadership concepts? Accepting and acknowledging what he says would put me down. I can’t do that! I need to think of how I could disagree with him.”

Do you see how that voice inside me is my Already- Always listening?

Do you see how my Already- Always listening has led me to have preconceived interpretations of what is being said even before it is said?

Do you see how such interpretations create judgments and opinions in me even before the other guy has opened his mouth?

Do you see how these judgments and opinions constrain and limit my listening, my thoughts, my actions and even the possibilities I am willing to consider?

It is as if I get onto rails which then allow me to think and act in only set ways. So when my colleague approached me to discuss what could be various options available to improve business from middle East markets, my reaction was to blame him for not having considered my earlier suggestions. In the second case, rather than critically reviewing the business initiatives of the competitor to learn and initiate effective response, my reaction was one of non-acceptance and making the competitor CEO ‘vanish’. And in the final case, rather than gaining insight from my ex-colleague’s presentation, I had closed my mind to much else except look for logic to make him wrong in my own perception.

Dear Reader, can you identify similar experiences in your life? If so, do you see how our Already-Always listening constrains and restricts us from achieving that big picture empowered way of being that we envision?

What is it that sustains such Already-Always listening and the related interpretations within us? This happens because almost all of us are not even aware of the distortion that exists between what is said to us and what we end up listening. Since we are not aware, we also cannot comprehend how our interpretations may be distorting our perceptions. So we end up assigning disparate causes to our relationship breakdowns and suboptimal performance but never the core issue of how our way of being and acting have being negatively impacted from the distortion that landed for us in our brains based on the Already-always listening and interpreting we did. We then try and ‘fix’ this false cause, which is really an effect, leading us to go through life trying to put out one fire after another.

Does this look or sound familiar?

So what could we do to distinguish and become aware of our Already-Always listening so that it loses its ability to run us and our lives?

In learning…………. Shakti Ghosal

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.

My Life Sentence


“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself’.

Leo Tolstoy, Russian mystic & novelist. 1828-1910

jail_life sentence

At the age of ten, I had the first realization of what a gang was and what it could do to me. I do not recall how it started but one thing led to another and soon all my neighbourhood friends and playmates had ganged up against me. One evening, I had climbed up on the roof of our house with our servant as he was fixing the radio antenna. I saw my ex friends and playmates holding hands, dancing and skipping together and then with a shock, I heard their voices mocking, mimicking and making fun of me. In that moment I heard an inner voice saying, ‘There is something wrong here. There is something wrong with me.’

I remember telling myself, ‘I don’t belong’. I became a loner, did things on my own and showed up with a ‘I do not really care to belong’ persona to my erstwhile friends and the world. Even after a few weeks when all became well again and I was back with my friends, my self imposed life sentence ‘I don’t belong’ continued to reside inside me.

I time travel a few years ahead to when I am in my mid teens. I see myself having a great time with a bunch of friends at school. Sharing books and comics, watching movies and developing views of the world together. Being cool was all about hanging out together; classes and the need to master what was being taught took a back seat. I justified to myself, ‘I am smart and I can always make up my studies before the exams’. So it came as a shock when my final examination grades plummeted. That inner voice returned, ‘There is something wrong here. There is something wrong with me.’

I recall my father telling me, “You have become a mediocre. Mediocre people do not succeed in life”. In that moment of humiliation and self-doubt, I said to myself, ‘Life success depends on scholastic success.’ As this got ingrained in me as a life sentence, I got back to being a loner and focusing on scholastics. Over the years, as I went on to achieve one scholastic peak after another, to the outside world I was smart and successful. But somewhere inside, those vestiges of childhood humiliation and self doubt remained and my view of the world and behaviour towards other people continued to be guided by ‘Life success depends on scholastic success.’

Today as I think of myself, I sense how the life sentences I had imposed on myself during moments of shock and bewilderment those many years back, have so become part of who I am. It is as if there are several ‘me’s enacting different roles here. There is the judge ‘me’ along with the jury ‘me’ who have sentenced the accused ‘me’ to live out my life in a cell. A cell whose walls, ceilings and floor are composed of my own life sentences. Like inmates of an actual prison, I have devised my own winning and self-serving formulas to cope with the constraints of my prison life. Ironically though and unlike the actual prison inmates who try to get out into the free world, I don’t see the need to do so as my life sentence created prison bars have so become part of my persona and who I am.

And so I continue to go through Life carrying my life sentences. In many situations, I cope and come out the winner In others I feel like a ‘thrown dice’, caught up in unfolding events, clinging onto the ways from my past but yet failing to call the shots. I am left wondering who or what is leading my life.

Can I presume you, dear reader, also feel the same?

So how could we build our lives around our ‘real’ self, free of our life sentences and the persona we have created to cope? In their path breaking book, ‘The Three Laws of Performance’, authors Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan deep dive into this aspect. They point to a way of overturning our life sentences to free ourselves of these.

We need to start by showing compassion to that little guy within each of us who has been carrying the burden of the life sentences all these years. That guy who did his best to cope with life and produce results by trying to make up for what we have perceived as wrong with us. By hiding from others, even from our own selves. By conditioning ourselves to be different from who we think we are.

The authors then recommend that we create a crisis of authenticity within ourselves. A crisis of the real ‘we’ against the persona created by our life sentence. To create such a crisis ‘we need to locate where our foot has got nailed to the floor’. We do this by engaging ourselves with the following queries:

•Where in your life is something not working or not working as well as you want?
•In what areas of your life do you feel a loss of power, freedom, fulfillment or self expression?
•In those areas of life you just identified, how are you being inauthentic- what are you pretending, avoiding, not taking responsibility for?
•What can you see has been the impact, the limitations, of your having been inauthentic in those areas?

Dear Reader, are you ready to overturn your life sentence?

***

Two Wolves – A Cherokee Parable

2 wolves
An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life…

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.

“One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego.

“The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness,
benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

“This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather,
“Which wolf will win?”

The old chief simply replied, “The one you feed…”

***

In Learning…….. Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the future of your organisation and your life by Steve Zaffron & Dave Logan, 2011. Chapter 6, Pages 143-168.