Are you Spinning the Wheels or Changing?

A Maxi Post after a long time. Hope you read through and find value in this experiential piece in  one of my leadership journey

This truly reflected what a particular organisation (hitherto successful) did when they wanted to step up to the next level – with the existing efforts and mindset this was virtually a non-starter. While heritage is a Strength of an organisation, when not harnessed the right way would surely be reduced to a baggage and a heavy one for the whole organisation to haul. This baggage famously known as the Corporate Cholesterol retards agility, creativity and responsiveness of the organisation. Unknowingly, a whole lot of resources would be directed to building of these very fats when things go well. This build-up becomes so intense yet invisible that it takes a heart attack to realise that it got this far.  This is especially so in Corporates torn between “trying to be professional” and “proprietary firm mindset” of old timers.

A change manager was hired by an  organisation (fits the above description to the “T”) to bring in changes to smoothly step to the next level of growth, stagnated for quite a while. He was assigned to head the biggest branch (by stakeholder strength, product spread, turnover and even real estate) and bring about the change here first. This executive with extensive experience in top notch Corporates that had to be technological & physically agile (due to the area of operations) realised pretty soon that it was the “Mindset” that was the Cholesterol primarily built from from the top and layered down to the last employee worth his/her salt. Lack of trust in ability and integrity of people working in this highly “Human Resource” Intensive organisation resulted in centralising all the powers and decision making to a Single person, let us call him the dreaded four lettered word – BOSS! Omnipresence being quality of God, this human BOSS could not watch over everyone’s shoulders all the time (though most of his productive hours went in that pursuit).

This culture was deep ingrained by those reporting to the BOSS that they became the “boss” for people down the line. The recipe for a major Heart Attack was slowly being written – Individual Silos built to protect their turf at various levels ensured that there was no circulation of positive energy flow between layers (laterally and vertically). No one trusted the other (saw this in case of a couple in this organisation, while one grudged the other getting recognised with an award)

Operations in this location started exactly 30 years ago and average service age was 15+ years. Many in the team also believed in this and told the executive as much.

Forget changing mindset of long entrenched, “passenger” mindset of the team. They are comfortable in their own silos and there is enough Cholesterol built up and thick skin too.

 

The first thing this executive did was to establish trust – First between him and his reportees and thereafter with each other. He also ensured that every single person was insulated from any kind of threats or intimidation or interference in his/her work. Excellence in Delivery of the designated and agreed task (agreed by the team member & signed off with their reporting Manager – it was no longer with the BOSS or boss). It did not take much time to see the turn around – less than 90 days. Every behavioural myth was broken.

To borrow from the best seller book “The Fish”, this particular branch from being the “Toxic Energy Dump” was now a darling location for all. Everyone on this campus was an epitome of happiness and vibrancy with positive energy.

Performance soared, people looked forward for sun to rise and rush to work, they considered each other as an excellent support system, professionally, personally, emotionally and spiritually too. A perfect example of Help everyone and Get helped by everyone! It was a ship that sailed perfectly in a still ocean and choppy waves were absorbed effortlessly. Every one became a perfect living example of  Leading from Behind. Boat sailed well, as in the earlier days for 3 long years. Miles were covered, all challenges conquered and were relishing the fruits at every harbor. It was no less than a fairy tale situation, too good to be true and too good to last. Undercurrents began to slowly surface, surprisingly it was not from within the team.

Well entrenched and boss and silos began to be shaken. Cholesterol are known to be stubborn fats – which did not want to release its vice like grip. If you were looking for an example of Parent grudging the success of the Child, here it was. I have referred to as the “Raman Syndrome (nothing to do with Nobel Prize winner)” in another piece Ramans of Work place – Not a Myth! This sense of threat (misplaced one obviously) by the Raman a.k.a the BOSS  made him make the seas choppy. In the name of recognition and growth the bosses who were convinced by leading from behind were moved to different roles – a change just for the sake of change (for ulterior motives, we can say with benefit of hindsight). Cholesterol found pliant fat cells, the Organisational Yes-men, not necessarily horse for the course who were again put in places to dissolve the insulation for the people down the line and create chinks in those armours. An open office is very threatening and challenging to a Manager. Especially those with a historical Type A leadership style which would be a misfit in this Knowledge-worker, Rights-aware, Opportunity-aplenty age. What Raman did not realize that Different types of Leadership like Antique furniture exist for different values as I discuss here Leadership – Antique Value or Utility Value. But then it was desperate times to prove what a child can do it, parent can do it even better. Then came the over-enthusiastic, relocated silo, the new boss who also was shaken out of the cosy comfort of status quo earlier, wanted to prove the BOSS that everything of the intervention was opposite of what original values were. Undoing the gains and getting back to Blue Ocean thinking that it is never going to be Red. Status Quo was comfortable but possibility of Heart Attacks? Worse still, is when fats can turn carcinogenic. Restoration work began in full earnest. It was back to status-quo to prove older methods still can work today. Started using Alcohol as an anaesthetic to prove that it is as effective or better than Xenon – pain became visible and felt by everyone around. To borrow from Change Management Expert Tori Reid :

If you constantly change your to-do app, route to work, lane on the highway, or line at the supermarket, you probably know that at some point you’re just spinning your wheels.

 

Don’t Change for Change Sake & definitely not thoughtlessly

And watching this pile of fats, reminds me of the proverbial over-enthusiastic demolition man – who in trying to impress the BOSS in a demolition spree would end up like the one below. This man has an impressive track record of demolition anything that he touches (atleast 4 instances of near closures) , even without a hammer – the man with SADIM touch

Self-Demolition Man

Would like you to read this piece of mine, when the Jealous & Feels Threatened BOSS, dished out some advise, not only chose wrong example and secondly he understood it grossly wrong (Happens when you love to hear your own voice a lot). Anyone cannot do a job, it requires someone with skill and commitment. The one will real capability will agree and live the dictum “We are not the Doers – What it really means “

 

Clicking on the links will take you additional reading (pieces written by me)

Accountable or Responsible

What we don’t let go, we carry as a burden. A few weeks back, I was at cross roads of my career, especially that as a leader. While a couple of seductive options (materially) laid bare before me, it was a painstaking to take a call on the way forward. One evening on my regular journey in the e-World, I chanced about my favorite  “The Fable of the Bridge” by Rabbi Friedman that threw gave me a whole lot of lessons as well as direction to the path I should take. (Received via Yahoo group mail – yes it was very popular those days) Read on…. (reproducing it for the benefit of those who haven’t read it before)

It is a moonlit night and alone in his thoughts he starts crossing a bridge. The man sees out of the corner of his eye a stranger dressed much like himself coming towards him. He thinks the man approaching is putting his hand out to greet him. However, the stranger has the end of a rope in his hand with the other end entwined around him.

The stranger asks the man to hold the end of the rope. Whilst perplexed the man complies.

The stranger asks the man to hold on tight with two hands and then promptly jumps off the bridge toward the swift running deep river below. “Hold on” the stranger cries. The free-falling body hurtled the distance of the rope’s length, and from the bridge the man abruptly felt the pull. He held tight despite being almost pulled over the side of the bridge.

Peering down at the stranger who was close to oblivion, the man yelled, “What are you trying to do?”

“Just hold tight,” said the other.

The man tried to haul the stranger in but he could not. He could not get enough leverage. His strength was almost perfectly counterbalanced by the other man’s weight.

“Why did you do this?” the man called out. “Remember,” said the other, “if you let go, I will be lost.” “But I cannot pull you up,” the man cried. “I am your responsibility,” said the other. “Well, I did not ask for it,” the man said. “If you let go, I am lost,” repeated the other.

The man looked around for help, tried to invent solutions but could not think of any that would work. He waited for someone to come and help pull the stranger up, but no one came. Fearing that his arms could not hold out much longer, he tied the rope around his waist.

“Why did you do this?” he asked again. “Don’t you see what you have done? What possible purpose could you have had in mind?” “Just remember,” said the other, “my life is in your hands.”

Time passed and a decision needed to be made. The man could not hold on much longer.

A thought occurred to him. If the stranger hauled himself up and he kept the end steady and pulled a bit, together they could get the stranger back to safety. But the other wasn’t interested.

“You mean you won’t help? But I told you I cannot pull you up myself, and I don’t think I can hang on much longer either.” “You must try,” the other shouted back in tears. “If you fail, I die.” The point of decision arrived. The man said to the other, “Listen to me. I will not accept the position of choice for your life, only for my own; the position of choice for your own life, I hereby give back to you.”

“What do you mean?” the other asked, afraid. “I mean, simply, it’s up to you. You decide which way this ends. I will help you if you help yourself.”

“You cannot mean what you say,” the other shrieked. “You would not be so selfish. I am your responsibility. What could be so important that you would let someone die? Do not do this to me.”

He waited a moment. There was no change i the tension of the rope. “I accept your choice,” the man said, at last, and freed his hands.

This was the Eureka Moment for me too. I was clinging on to something that I should have let go. There was no way I could lead or help others by doing things for them. I realized that while I am accountable for others, I was not responsible for them.

unlocking-power-accountability-employees

Definitely it was not for me to be tied up like this man in the fable to others’ needs and happiness alone. It was about choices and not perfection of the solutions. I had to take a call and make my choice. It wasn’t easy to let go of something that was a passion for many months – a shared passion with the team. And Lo!

I found the solution again. What was I clinging on to? Was in a role – did the best and move on.

A man was running for his life to escape a hungry tiger.
He came to the edge of a cliff, stepped over and held onto a vine. The tiger couldn’t reach him, but there was no way up again.
Looking down he saw another tiger at the bottom waiting for him to let go and fall.
A rat appeared and began gnawing at the vine.
The man noticed a strawberry growing on the face of the cliff.
He held the vine with one hand and with the other grabbed the strawberry and ate it. How sweet it tasted!

The choices that were offered by life was too sweet to be missed anymore. Decision was clear and action too – I MOVED ON. No sense of doership or ownership, just like the flowing water below the bridge. Instruments in place for carrying out the bidding of the Divine. Enjoyed the journey, met a lot of co-passengers – most of them friends for life.

Love or Hate the Act, not Actor

Starting with an excerpt from “About” section of this site.  Easier said than done! Basic premise is that no one is bad, only their acts are.

Love or hate what I write or do, please don’t love or hate me. In short, love/hate Sureshisms and not Suresh.

 

I “have tried to imbibe this philosophy in my career of nearly 29 years, of which it was Team Lead or above after the first 4 years which has saved me a lot of blushes, retain exceptional talent and also get along with people better or atleast as much as any of my colleagues could. A subordinate making a blunder is never damned (or allowed to be damned by his peers or superiors) whatever the cost and (s)he was defended & protected to the core (Unless it was an act against principles of ethics and integrity). It is not very difficult. List down whatever good this employee has contributed and you have an answer, why “a” blunder however costly it may seem, should not be the reason to dump the person into the cellar.

“Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”
― Dale Carnegie

 

Just look around, everyone seem to be fed on staple diet of Condemnation, which is being relished too and you see only bad (Work, Politics, Religion, Media). What does it change? Zilch! Whereas compassion and understanding, a tinge of positivity goes miles to change things and transforms the unchangeable.

My eternal favourite Sloka on Leadership from Bhagavad Gita 3:21

yad yad acarati sresthas; tat tad evetaro janah |
sa yat pramanam kurute; lokas tad anuvartate ||

Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.

Take away: A leader who does not lead by example is not a leader at all. Not about preaching, it is about doing. What you do, is emulated – not what you talk

And another thing I picked up along the journey is Leadership is not about Power, it is about Empowerment. Else you remain a Manager or the dreaded 4-lettered word “BOSS”

Signing off with a quote about the fakes, I love (Author Unknown)

“Whenever they are condemning weaves or breast implants, some people speak so passionately that their false teeth almost fall out.”