The Millennial Leadership Series : Core of Leadership transformation


The only way to change someone’s mind is to connect with them from the heart.”

– Rasheed Ogunlaru, Life Coach & Speaker

 

How-Well-Do-You-Use-the-Leadership-Skill-of-Empathy

Recently I had the opportunity to be a Master Mentor to a set of alumni mentors of a premier business school as part of its ambitious initiative to offer a Career Support Program for its graduating students.  As the master mentor, my role was really about ensuring the effectiveness of the mentoring process.

The alumni mentors had graduated from the same school few years back and were shaping up as young business leaders in the industry.

In one of my interactions, an alumni mentor mentioned that inspite of his efforts, he sensed a lack of openness and desire to engage from some of the students. I could sense his frustration of seeing his mentoring efforts becoming unproductive.

I asked, “What shows up when you think of your own leading ability?”

“Well, when I am able to influence and get things done”, he answered.

“… and when you see that happening, what behaviours do you display?” I continued.

Reflecting a bit, the mentor replied, “Well I believe I encourage people to take on new initiatives.”

I could sense the disparity between what the mentor believed he was committed to and the outcome that he was achieving. I avoided saying so.

Changing the track somewhat, I then asked, “What do you think gets in the way when you try to support others to take on new challenges?”

The alumni mentor responded almost immediately, “Well I think I need to be more empathetic and less of a stickler to holding people accountable.”

I thanked him for this great insight.

***********

As a Leader, Manager or Supervisor dealing with teams tasked to produce outcomes, we get conditioned to link results to all that is happening outside us. So tracking people, their performance and holding them accountable comes naturally to us. Very seldom do we look inside our own selves to determine whether the way we speak, listen and act could have a bearing on our team member’s performance. This is where the power of empathy steps in.

In the disruptive world that we live in, where past performance has less and less traction for the future, Leaders need to anchor more within, with empathy at the core of growth and transformation.

  • What might you do today to focus on building trust through empathy?
  • How could you be a ‘success enabler’ of people by proactively removing barriers out of their way?
  • How could you be a sounding board for people to come to, so that you could put them in a position to succeed?

In Learning

Shakti Ghosal

 

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‘The more things change, the more they remain the same’


The more things change the more they remain the same

 

Have you been witness to the following situation in your workplace?

Team member speaks of things like: “We just do not have what it takes. It will not work out for us. We are more involved with internal politics and lack initiative. We are always behind and late in responding to competition. Our leaders just do not possess the calibre required.  We will only go down and down…….”

Leader responds with thoughts like : “ We have a mediocre set of people working here, they just do have the capability. We keep on training them , we involve them in decision making but they just don’t have any good ideas. We just cannot afford more expensive professionals so need to make do with such mediocrity. We are doing the best we can but our team is not upto the mark………….”

The perception about the problem and what is needed to remedy it is diametrically opposite in the minds of team member and the leader. What remains common for both the sides is the direction in which the organisation is heading, which is only downwards. Opposing perceptions, opposing prescriptions, same outcome!

In the words of Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan in The Three Laws of Performance:

“Everyone experiences a future in front of them, even though few could articulate it. The future lives at the gut level, we know it is what will happen. We call this the default future, and every person has one. And so does every organisation. We live into our default future unaware that by doing so, we are making it come about.

………….the same dynamic exists at the organisational level. Statistical evidence shows that most significant change efforts fail. This is because regardless of the Management interventions tried, the default futures of employees and leaders are still in place. The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

‘The more things change, the more they remain the same’

With the new millennium heralding an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environment, the tenets of Change Management as we know it, might not work.

So what is it that the millennial leader has to do to transform the situation and elevate performance?

 In Learning………………………………

Acknowledgement :  The Three Laws of Performance  by Steve Zaffron  & Dave Logan. Published by Jossey – Bass, CA , US.

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

Climate Change and Leadership


Are humans any smarter than frogs in a pot? If you put a frog in a pot and slowly turn up the heat, it won’t jump out. Instead, it will enjoy the nice warm bath until it is cooked to death. We humans seem to be doing pretty much the same thing.

Jeff Goodell, American author

Dear Reader, I wish you a lovely 2016 full of good health and cheer.
Happy New Year 2

Driving home from office the other day, I was drawn to an interesting talk show with an astronaut who has been to the International Space station (ISS) three times. As he spoke of his experiences, some of the things he said resonated with me.

The astronaut spoke of a huge perspective shift that occurred for him as he watched Earth below him. Even though the ISS, moving at a speed of 28000 Km. per hour, circles the mother planet once in one and a half hours, he never tired of seeing the ever-changing hues of blue of the oceans, green of the land and the brown of the desert and mountains on the daylight side and the twinkling lights of human habitation on the night side. But what he really saw was the connectedness of everything – the water, the land and the atmosphere. What he also saw was how human activity was creating pollution and shrinking the natural habitats. In that moment he saw the sheer artificiality and futility of borders, nations and differing ethnicities.

Earth from space

***

The Paris Climate deal is being hailed as a major leap for Mankind. What is it that differentiated this Paris negotiation from the earlier failed one in Copenhagen six years back? To me this success has been all about leadership.

In the words of Stern, a participating climate economist, “Openness and mutual respect were the hallmark of the Paris talks. Great care was taken to ensure that every country, however small or poor was an equal knight on the climate deal round table, was listened to and consulted.”

Paris also saw some very innovative processes being employed.

The Confessionals – As the name suggests, these were confidential spaces, assuring complete privacy, where delegates could speak from the heart with nothing held back.
The Informal-informals – These were small group huddles in the corridors or even on the floor in which delegates were tasked to discuss and remove the “square brackets” of disagreements in the agreement text being drafted.
The Indabas – A Zulu tradition in which large groups of senior delegates, sometimes eighty in number, would gather to thrash out the final remaining disagreements.
The Coalition of high ambition – With the deadline drawing near and the final agreement not yet in sight, the key figure of Tony De Brum of Marshall islands became an unexpected rallying point of more than one hundred nations including the US, EU, Canada and Australia.

As I said earlier, the success of the Paris Climate deal was really about Leadership.

A Leadership of listening to the concerns of every stake-holder nation, big or small, rich or poor. The Confessionals and the Informal-informals allowed this very well.

A Leadership about envisioning and realizing a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway. A future which would restrict the global temperature rise to below 2 deg. C above pre-industrial levels. An alignment of the actions of 200 nations which would steer the world away from a default future of a 5 deg. C temperature rise based on current carbon emission trends. A default future of catastrophic droughts, floods, heat waves and sea level rises rendering large parts of the globe uninhabitable. The Indabas and the Coalition of high ambition supported this aspect.

Climate change 1

CC 2

As President Barack Obama said in a statement post the agreement.

“………………………….A few hours ago, we succeeded. We came together around the strong agreement the world needed. We met the moment.

Because no nation, not even one as powerful as ours, can solve this challenge alone. And no country, no matter how small, can sit on the sidelines. All of us had to solve it together.

The targets we’ve set are bold. And by empowering businesses, scientists, engineers, workers, and the private sector — investors — to work together, this agreement represents the best chance we’ve had to save the one planet that we’ve got.

I imagine taking my grandkids to the park someday, and holding their hands, and hearing their laughter, and watching a quiet sunset, all the while knowing that our work today prevented an alternate future that could have been grim; that our work, here and now, gave future generations cleaner air, and cleaner water, and a more sustainable planet. And what could be more important than that?………………………….”

***

Using the example of the Paris meet, can the world shift away from the power politics of the G7, the G 20 and the OPEC to a more inclusive forum where all the 200 odd nations have a say and agreements become more consensual?

And like that astronaut in the ISS, can each one of us too seize this moment and rise above our unexamined beliefs and perceptions of Humanity’s divisiveness that has created borders, nations and differing ethnicities over all these centuries and millennia?

In Learning……… Shakti Ghosal

The Turn of the Screw


“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.”

by James Belasco and Ralph Stayer in Flight of the Buffalo,1994

Turn of the screw

China seems to be more and more in the news of late. Well I suppose with its clout as the second largest economic powerhouse in the world, that is hardly unusual. A couple of months back, the country unilaterally devalued its currency Yuan by about five percent to combat declining exports and economic slowdown. More recently the Chinese communist party at its annual conclave announced the end of the controversial ‘One child’ policy, allowing couples to have two children for the first time in thirty-five years. In an environment of economic slowdown, this underlines a heightened fear of loss of competitiveness to countries with better demography.

China degrowth

The Turn of the Screw…….

As Oil prices drop from above one hundred dollars to around forty dollars per barrel, the oil producing nation states in the Middle East led by Saudi Arabia seem to be stumbling, with fiscal deficit rapidly rising to unsustainable 20% of GDP levels. As these countries frantically dip into their reserves to balance the deficit, they fervently hope for oil prices to start climbing up again.

Oil and Gas

The Turn of the Screw……..

I suppose majority of the world believes, just as China and the Middle East hope for, that the economic and oil prices downturn are temporary and the ‘screw would turn back’. China would continue its rise, oil prices would climb back and all would be well with the world again.

My thoughts go back to that prescient article “Marketing Myopia” written by Professor Theodore Levitt of Harvard Business School more than half a century back. The central argument in that was “the history of every dead and dying ‘growth’ shows a self-deceiving cycle of bountiful expansion and undetected decay.” Professor Levitt goes on to say that with the ‘turn of the screw’ in terms of the environment, market and technology, there is always a small timeframe ‘window’ allowing an optimal match between these and an entity’s intrinsic competences. As the screw turns, that fit between such competences and the environment, market and technology starts getting lost. What is needed then is to rediscover and reinvent oneself in terms of ‘What business we are in?’ While Professor Levitt essentially wrote the article from an organisational and industry perspective, I see his concept much more universal and having relevance to nations and Global trends.

myopia

So how do I see the future trending?

For decades, manufacturing from the developed world has been migrating to China, attracted by low costs and productivity. But rising costs in China and development of sophisticated automation are tipping the scales back. Realizing the need to automate to remain competitive, China is implementing advanced robotics. It is constructing the first “Zero human labour” factory in Guangdong which would use a thousand robots to do the work of two thousand humans! But does this not run contrary to the effort to increase the Chinese work force by allowing a two child policy? And what happens to the Chinese manufacturing competitiveness as and when the US and Europe also employ similar robotics to manufacture? Allowing same costs but less the shipping time and transportation costs. Clearly, manufacturing is headed back to the consuming countries themselves. Once again a manifestation of the turn of the screw.

And what about the Middle East and its oil lifeline? For decades now, this region has been enjoying windfall profits from Oil and Gas and resorting to heavy subsidization of its citizenry. Says Meghan L. O’Sullivan, director of the Geopolitics of Energy project at Harvard Business school, “The expensive social contract existing between the Rulers and citizens in the gulf states will get more difficult, and eventually impossible to sustain if oil prices don’t recover”. (A few years back, during the days of the Arab Spring, I had deliberated on this ‘Social Contract’ aspect in my post, “Childhood’s End?”). The question that brooks an answer is when will the oil prices recover? More and more experts in the Energy sector are of the view that with improved energy efficiencies brought in by new technologies and the fracking industry waiting on the sidelines, there is no way oil prices can go up to earlier levels. This coupled with clean energy technologies like the Solar and Wind advancing exponentially means that the fossil fuel industry is headed the way of the dinosaurs. Yet another manifestation of the turn of the screw!

One might wonder that with such inevitable turn of the screw, what is the kind of leadership that would succeed in the world. As I think of this, I realise that such leadership needs to have the ability to envision and embrace a future unencumbered by the present- be it the technology, the geopolitics or the economics. A future which addresses core concerns rather than transitory symptoms. And a leadership which comes to live into such a future as it empowers others to deal with the socio-economic and other changes needed to realise that envisioned future. A future that was not going to happen anyways……….

In learning………….. Shakti Ghosal

Reference: Marketing Myopia by Theodore Levitt, HBR July-Aug 1960.

Robben Island and a perspective shift


“I was made, by the law, a criminal, not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for, because of what I thought, because of my conscience.”

Nelson Mandela, 1962

We embarked on our tour to Robben Island from the V & A waterfront in Capetown.

The ferry starts from the Nelson Mandela museum and one gets the opportunity to see a range of photographs about the early settlements and the apartheid era of South Africa before one embarks on the ten odd kilometer boat ride.

Nelson Mandela Gateway museum on the V & A Waterfront, Capetown
Nelson Mandela Gateway museum on the V & A Waterfront, Capetown

For me the trip attraction lay in getting a glimpse of the apartheid days and how Nelson Mandela lived eighteen of his twenty-seven years of imprisonment in that place. Interestingly, something I had not been aware of earlier but came to know during the visit was that apart from Mandela, two other post apartheid South African presidents, including the present one, were imprisoned there.

Robben Island
Robben Island

The island trip consists of a guided bus tour of the infamous lime quarry where Nelson Mandela did hard labour and progressively lost his vision, a leper colony which had existed on the island more than a century back and the military fortifications made during the Second World War. The highlight however was clearly the tour of the maximum security prison for which our guide was Henry, an ex-political prisoner who had spent six years in the island prison during the time Mandela was incarcerated there.

The lime quarry where Mandela did hard labour
The lime quarry where Mandela did hard labour

An interesting insight which Henry offered was about the elaborate cover up the apartheid government resorted to in front of international media and United Nations in those days. To the outside world, the prison administration declared that political prisoners like Nelson Mandela, keeping in mind their educated background, were only assigned ‘skilled’ activities inside the prison complex like construction work etc. While the hard labour of working in the limestone quarry, cutting stones etc. were reserved for prisoners who had been sentenced for criminal charges like murder, robbery etc. While in actual practice it was the other way round! The apartheid thinking was that while there was a chance to teach skills to criminals to enable them get absorbed back into the South African society, there was no such possibility for the political prisoners.

The Prison
The Prison
Maximum security zone of the apartheid era
Maximum security zone of the apartheid era

The cell which was home to Mandela
The cell which was home to Mandela

As the tour ended and as we walked back to the quayside to board our ferry, I overheard a conversation between Henry and a tourist.

‘So Henry, as you look back to your days in this prison, what kind of anger or regret do you feel?’

‘Well, when I was first brought here forty years back, I did feel anger and frustration at the sheer injustice of it all. But interestingly, after a while that went away and I became more calm and accepting. This is something which most political prisoners learnt to do when here. This was important for our own well being.’

‘That’s interesting. And what did you learn to be able to do that?’

‘Well what I learnt was to shift my perspective about the situation. My perspective about what made the Government and the administration do what they were doing.’

‘And what perspective was that?’

‘Well I realised that the reason for my being imprisoned on an island like this was not because I had done anything wrong as the authorities would have me believe. Rather they were afraid and insecure about me and the ideas I stood for. So why I was being tormented physically was because I and what I stood for were tormenting them much more mentally. So it was really a quid pro quo and I had nothing to feel angry or upset about.’

Boarding the ferry I looked around to see Henry walking back slowly towards the prison. I understood how that four decade old perspective has allowed him to make peace with his own self and the world. How it keeps pulling him back to Robben Island, the place of his earlier torment, year after year and speak about it to countless visitors like me.

With the ferry speeding back towards the mainland and the Table Mountain visible on the horizon, a thought kept coming back to me.
table-mountain-cape-town

What stops Henry’s perspective from being created in so many places in the world where anger, torment and fear continue to create violence and unhappiness?

What could each one of us do to spread that perspective?

In Learning…….. Shakti Ghosal