Learning from the news-makers

Cyrus Mistry & Ratan Tata Cyrus Mistry’s death a few days back and Ratan Tata’s silence at the time of this writing is something to reflect on. The falling out between the two is universally known after Mistry’s sacking as the Chairman of the Tata group. In the event of Cyrus’s tragic and untimely death, what would Ratan Tata be going through? It is his own personal matter, at one level. At another level, it surely prompts soulful reflection on what they meant to each other. Whether Mistry’s passing moves Tata to reassess the arc of their relationship and reveal inner truths of his own; only time will tell.  These inner truths – if shared – can serve the world.  When an icon like Ratan Tata decides opens up for the sake of posterity, his revelations can offer guidance on how to reconcile hearts and minds and heal ruptured relationships. Especially, relationships between people who seem so similar and connected to each other, and still find themselves being pulled apart by the larger world that no individual controls. Mikhail Gorbachev…

Hate interruptions as a Leader? Think again

Ask any leader to share what they wish they could avoid and top of the list would be : I wish I could avoid being interrupted by people in my daily schedule. When Doug Conant became a CEO, he tried his best to not get interrupted. Did not work. Left with no other choice, he thought over how he viewed the challenge. He was looking to avoid these people interruptions so that he could maximise opportunities for exerting stronger leadership – at a time and place of his own choosing. What if he looked at it differently? What if these interruptions themselves were timely opportunities to exert strong leadership? Thats when he came up with the concept of a Touchpoint. A Touchpoint is an interaction where you get an opportunity to deal with an issue and move things forward. People were coming to Doug because there was an issue they needed his help on. The brilliant insight Doug had was that when people come to you for a talk on their own, they are already primed to be receptive to what you…

95% of people think they are self-aware. The real number is staggeringly low.

I am a part of the real number that is self-aware. If this is the first thought that comes to your mind on reading the headline, you are highly likely to not be self-aware! What is self-awareness? Self-awareness is the will and the skill to understand who we are and how others see us. Why is self-awareness so important? Alan Mullaly, former Ford CEO put it best. “Self-awareness sets an upper limit to our effectiveness in all that we do” Vision, communication, teamwork, execution, design, negotiation, selling, persuasion, strategy, art, literally anything you do; how much you will succeed and how far will you go is decided by how self-aware you are. Imagine that your life-work is a car. Self-awareness is the driver. How much mileage you will get out of driving your car is decided by your self-awareness. What can I do to develop my self-awareness? There are two tools that Tasha Eurich offers in a podcast. Daily check-in At the end of the day, ask 3 questions 1) What went well today? 2) What did not go well…

Zelenskyy -Leadership appreciation

Volodymyr Zelenskyy – the President of Ukraine – stayed back in Kyiv and is leading the fight against Russian invasion of Ukraine. People recognised his courage and willingness to die while defending his country. He has justly become a leadership icon. Even as Western allies, mainly the US, warned that the Russians were going to invade, Zelenskyy urged everyone, including the international community, to stay calm and not get carried away by a mass hysteria. In the future, historians and analysts will ponder over the sagacity of his leadership utterances just before the invasion. Let us explore a few dimensions of his leadership in this extremely trying time for his country. Projecting calm before the invasion As the leader of the purportedly weaker nation, Zelenskyy’s projected calm may have made it easier for a soon-to-be-embattled people to believe that he will hold his nerve and lead a fightback. Zelenskyy may have made a choice to not appear tense and desperate – at least publicly. Behind the scenes, he may have been unrestrained and channeled all the nervous energy into things…

Free Solo – Of Heights & the Abyss

A ‘free solo’ climbs mountains alone without ropes. Only 1% of whose who climb are free soloists. And as there is zero margin for error, there are many who die. Not a life that most of us lead.   And yet, the greatest achievement of Free Solo is that we cannot not ask the same questions for ourselves that the documentary asks about Alex Honnold. What does he seek out of life? How does he regard death? And how does living life on the razor’s edge -where he could die any moment- impact his overall life ? And that is what makes ‘Free Solo’ such a compelling watch. You will ask the same questions about your own life, even when his life is so different from yours. We all have our own mountains to climb. Known only to us. As of October 2021, in India, Free Solo is available for viewing here      

Creating space by reclaiming time – A message for achievers and leaders

You clump all of the wood material and stack it on top of each other. And start the fire. But, the fire doesn’t catch on. All the wood is right there. Something is not working. What is it? An experienced camper taps you on the shoulder and you step aside. She rearranges the wood in some pattern that you can’t make sense of. And lo and behold, a brilliant blaze starts leaping up towards the sky! What did the camper do? She created space, oxygenating space, as Juliet Funt calls it. Fire needs air to move through the wooden pile and supply oxygen. In the previous arrangement, there was no space and no air movement. When the space is there, you have a fire! Where is the oxygenating space for us in our lives? To power us towards achievement. Funt calls it white space, in reference to the white that signifies free time on our scheduling calendar. Coloured is time blocked. White is time without anything scheduled. This time – creating it, safeguarding it, and expanding it – holds the…

We DO NOT learn from Experience

A short quote can reveal wisdom that is more invaluable than studying encyclopedias. As a learning and change specialist, here is a gem that sparkles. If this be true, how can we do better in learning? What are the areas we can work on? The simple answer that follows from Dewey is that we can – we can create learning at the level of experience – we can create learning at the level of reflection In simple words, we can encourage people to open up to new experiences and new thinking. Learning at the level of experience In the movie, Swades; Kaveri Amma sends Mohan on an errand to a village. Mohan works at NASA and has a blinkered perspective on how life is meant to be. Kaveri Amma knows that Mohan is going to undergo an upheaval during his journey through impoverished India. And she is right. Mohan realises that even clean water is hard to come by as he seeks drinking water in a train. He sees that people are eking out a living amidst the lack of…

Coaching – Letting the cat out of the bag

The unexamined life is not worth living – Socrates The more I experience coaching, the more Socrates seems wiser. Even coaching is ripe for a thorough examination. Every field that has canonical principles and prescriptive guidelines actually is. A certified coach enters coaching with a deliberate structure and an expected flow. The coach may feel like being in control. Life’s glorious spontaneity almost always shakes the coach out of a reverie. I was coaching an enterprising working professional the other day. We had arrived at a clear coaching goal. I was balancing head and heart in continuing the dialogue. The path seemed straightforward – in my mind. The heart was at ease.. And then, suddenly, things changed! My coachee became emotional and wasn’t in a good place. As coaches, we are taught to be prepared with our plan. In that moment, I realized one has to be prepared to let go of the plan as well. And so, I did. A silence, a prayerful silence enveloped our conversation and brought in a recovering pause. Initially, silence holds the thread of…

The wisdom in serving self-organising systems

On 1st April, 1973, the Government of India launched ‘Project Tiger’ for the protection and conservation of the rapidly dwindling tiger population. Kailash Sankhala, the first Director, set forth on the guiding principle for Project Tiger. Do nothing (to the forest) and allow little to be done. On visiting TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences) as part of a combined faculty group conducting a career guidance workshop, I remember reading a commemorative plaque there. The words that stayed with me were.. The end of social service is to end social service Dr. William Osler, the father of modern medicine, and a pioneer medical educator, was being counter-intuitive when he said.. One of the first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine. The fields differ, but the approach underlying the words, the awareness they all show is that of intervening in a self-organising system. In order to save tigers, the action-oriented saviour may have adopted a gung-ho approach. A slew of measures and directives. Sankhala knew that intervention was the problem in the first place.…

When Teams Outperform – The Crucible Moments

SCENE 1 1996. Lahore. It was the night before the Cricket World Cup Final! The two contesting teams were dining together at a celebratory event.  Australia and Sri Lanka. Australia, the overwhelming favourites. Sri Lanka, the absolute underdogs. The World Cup Trophy was also at the scene. Naturally, the players could not take their eyes off. Their hands were twitching to get hold of it! The Australian players moved first and posed for pictures with the trophy. The Sri Lankans eagerly awaited their turn. Just as they were ambling towards it, a voice boomed out and asked them to stop! It was Arjuna Ranatunga, the Sri Lankan Captain. All he said was, “No photos now. We are going to win it. You can click as many pictures as you want tomorrow.” A festive moment and a simple wish. Ranatunga made it a crucible moment – a time when aspiration was stoked and inflamed by desire.   SCENE 2 2006. Johannesberg. Australia vs South Africa in a 5 match One day series. The mighty Australians had in typical combative style clawed…