agility · happiness · mentalhealth · mindset · smile

When Uncertainty Hit the VUCA World

I recall sitting in the front row at a conference in 2019 when the speaker (Rich) informed us, the content he is talking about now may not be relevant in 3 years, because it’s a VUCA world. Little did we know we were all going to be facing big uncertainty in the next year itself.

While we always knew that the virus was serious, we were not sure how a country with such as India, with a big population could have a lockdown, and until the last moment everyone was in disbelief. I remember that evening going out in search of milk at 8pm and realizing everything was shut down. 8pm felt like 12.30am with all the darkness.

You always hear that a true leader is shown when faced with stressful situations, but here we were as humans, challenged as leaders. While some made it easy for employees for work remotely, others would not decide until the government had to enforce office shutdowns. Empathy is a big word, but business runs on money and sometimes while the world tries to hide it, it becomes more evident.

The uncertainty hit a new high with cases rising and no clear picture on how and where things were leading. Leadership around the world was waking up wondering what to do. Some companies laid off people, others stopped hiring, while some continued the way it was needed.

I have a good friend circle across many companies, and I heard stories from people working up to 15 hour days and being asked to work more; to companies asking employees to buy home office equipment which the company would support to pay. There were leaders who were troubled because they preferred people working in the office, while others did not mind as long as the work was done. For companies in Bangalore, working remotely was not really a new concept, but to have no office to walk into was.

Leadership was challenged to an extent whether to consider a possible U/W Recession, or to consider no spending. One thing I feel a lot of people sadly forgot was the fact that we were in midst of a pandemic. Everywhere was told that work should continue, productivity (the big word) should be maintained, and you’d have been surprised, in many companies, work doubled and productivity improved.

We teach a lot of things in Leadership right from Psychological Safety to Emotional Quotient, but I feel the world leadership needs a lesson of mental health. A pandemic is a big mental health issue. While you might feel that most people don’t have the virus, a billion still live in the fear and sit at home the whole day looking outside. The stable minds among us said we’ll take precautions and go out for a walk, and while they might be right, we all know we were not living normally.

Leadership needs to ensure that the people we work with are mentally healthy.

Are they spending time with family? Are they in the right state of mind? Are they just working or doing something else? Are we using work as a distraction to cover sadness and burn out? Are we sleeping well? Are we smiling, or are we crying?

Acceptance is another thing we need to understand. I feel humanity grew to an extent where sometimes people are not ready to accept that this will take time to settle down. Every news report of vaccine was taken as if it would be delivered like a pizza in 30 minutes. I feel the world needs to draw a new meaning of empathy, and accept that we need to assume this will be there for the time it takes it to be. We need to see the people around us and understand that empathy involves understanding mental health and assuming that people are a little troubled in mind, and we need to accept that.

While some sectors are doing fine because of digitization, others are suffering. While we may be eating food properly, others might not be, and sometimes even looking at other people suffer makes you feel sad.

As a leader we need to ensure we ask our teams to stay happy, try to give them time to rest, time to breathe. It’s good to have virtual coffee and virtual hangout sessions.

“Human is a Social Animal” is what we read in our books, and that mere fact is a challenge right now. Some people feel the need of touch, and it’s a big thing for some.

I remember 6 months ago doing an activity of Personal Maps ( one of the practice of Management 3.0), telling the team that Individuals and their Interactions are so important, and so we need to ensure that we know each other well, and we need to find common ground to interact and ensure that we all communicate well as a team to ensure we win as a team. These words were important then, but now they are much more meaningful as we all are at home, and so the right leadership needs to ensure that individuals are in the right mindset to work as a team, get the right time for their family, ensure they smile while working, and still talk to colleagues about things apart from work.

While we say VUCA world, ideally, it’s everything VUCA, so we need to keep learning and adopting and so does leadership. Let’s ensure we keep our teams happy 😊

agility · mindset · wholeness

The Importance of Wholeness

It was 2008, and I had taken a train to Bournemouth, on the South coast of the UK. I had worked only in Reading before, so it was my first visit to Bournemouth. At the interview I had scheduled there, I met Robert. I loved the way he asked me questions – he was looking for what I knew, and I felt very comfortable explaining myself and my professional experience to him. I could be myself, because someone wanted to really know what I knew, whereas sadly, most of my interviews before that had focused a lot on what I didn’t know.

To be able to be yourself is something which might sound very simple, but in reality, not many people are able to do that. It’s almost like people wear this mask in front of others, and I’ve seen many colleagues of mine wear that mask for a very long time, feeling like the more fake they are, the better they look. In reality, the more you act against your true self, the more you need to work on it.

Sometimes I feel many organisations have this pressure to have people behave in a certain way. The employees don’t understand the need or the culture of the company, they just prefer wearing the mask, and behaving in a way which the company likes, and they become fine doing that for years and years. Some even feel as long as they are getting promoted gradually and get a good financial hike, they are fine with the mask.

I remember moving into a house back in Bournemouth with 2 amazing housemates to share with. It was a great place, but I was scared of being new to the place, and not knowing the culture of the place, so my first reaction to everything was defensive. The UK taught me to say thank you and sorry for anything and everything. Don’t get me wrong, I used to do that before too, but they do it for every small thing, and this habit made me apologise even if I wasn’t doing something wrong. Comparing this to a company, many people feel that being their true self is risky, they feel if they get their true self out, people might not like them, or people might feel they don’t need to respect them. I’ve heard this from many friends, that often they fear the real them coming out and spoiling the whole relationship status in office.

How often have you seen a meeting room with 8-10 people talking about emotions? You’ll see people talking about something good or bad from electronics to politics, but they don’t talk about emotions, because people feel scared of showing them to their office. I remember a guy once told me he wanted to cry, but can’t because people will think he’s a girl (kind of a sick convention that only girls cry – hate this), He was really upset with the way his manager behaved with him, but was reluctant to either tell him or go to HR. He finally quit the company after suffering for about 2 years. On his last day, I was shocked to see him say thanks to his boss, and when I asked him, he told it’s a small world and they could meet again.

Some people I worked with were very different, they would crack the odd joke, really feel their true self in office, speak what they want to – and really do what they believed in. I feel at times, these people really are very passionate about what they do, and often are very successful. Sometimes to be scared is good, but ensuring you bring your true self to the picture often helps.

It took me a long, long time to realise that we are not meant to be perfect; WE’RE MEANT TO BE WHOLE – Jane Fonda

I was in GE for 7 years, and often when leaders came to speak, I saw a lot of storytelling. Those stories were not only about ones about success and superheroes. They believed in sharing a lot of failures, and the way they told it, it really made you connect well to the story. Yes, they were very senior in their roles (VP, Director, CXO’s) – but even at that level, being your true self is a big thing. How often have you heard a VP come to a stage and say well I failed in xyz? You don’t, or it’s rare, and that’s what made me happy to hear stories in GE. I felt those people really had learnt the lesson of wholeness and were very vulnerable in front of people. It was not always failure stories, there were good/great ones too, but sometimes we all need to face the big fact of life – we all learn the most when we fail.

In a similar manner, I also saw people bringing personal items to their workspaces. Some people having family photos at their desk makes them feel good and ensures they don’t have to keep that mask on. I was big Friends fan, so I had a photo with my friends in a coffee shop, and often people talking about it made me open and happy.

I think this whole thing also ties to the psychological safety of a team. If people don’t feel safe, they can never speak up or be open or true to themselves. It’s the duty of team members to ensure everyone feels safe to speak up and point out anything and everything.

Another aspect which ties in is being vulnerable when speaking to your team. I’ve always seen that we as leaders are often telling success stories where we were amazing, but fewer people like to accept and share their failures in public. They might have learned the most during those failures in life, but they don’t take pride in speaking about them. Being vulnerable for a leader is a very important attribute where people start seeing them as normal human beings, and not superheroes, and then the team feels safe to speak up and share their own opinions, even if they are the wrong ideas. Often the wrong ideas lead to the right ones, and every thought should be taken as an opportunity to learn and grow from there.

I will end this by telling people to think how easy it would be for you to work if you have the real you out front, and you realise you might have strength and also some weakness, but you learn to live with it, but always make sure you don’t wear a mask, and get your true self to your workplace. Because at the end of the day, YOU ARE SPECIAL.

mindset · purpose · smile

Our Purpose – Why Do We Exist?

My journey to finding my purpose started back in 2014 while I was working in GE, and one of my managers asked me where I was going with my life, and what I wanted to do. I had been talking with him to about my role, and the need to get promoted to the next level, and he totally changed the topic and asked me where I was taking my life. I got one of the greatest leadership lessons when he explained that the responsibilities I was asking for didn’t, in fact, require a promotion.

I was looking to be a leader by title, and he said there’s no such thing. It was a big moment for me, because he taught me the lesson that to become a leader, all you need is the right mindset and behavior, and once people see you as one, no one can stop you. Fast track one year, he asked me how I felt, and I told him that the promotion might have been useless if I didn’t understand that lesson. It was really something that made me think and build some great relationships.

Some time back I did a course with IDEO on the Power of Purpose, which again made me come back to this question. The course had pretty good ways of showing how your sense of calling had to do with your team purpose, and also to do with your organization purpose, and how they should really align. Working for an IT company but thinking of playing tennis with a group of expert miners isn’t going to create anything good. The course made us write and refine our purpose statement which was very cool. I also understood that when you connect your purpose to what you are doing in real life, it’s really satisfying.

We have a duty to ourselves and to our organization to enquire about our personal sense of calling, to see if and how it resonates with Org Purpose

– Joe Brown, Portfolio Director at IDEO

Today I work at Symplr, a company that works on how to improve operations for people in a hospital, so that caregivers have more time to be hands on. While I do my job and deliver products with quality, I really see myself connected to the purpose. For me, my healthcare journey started in 2012 with GE (and being a Grey’s Anatomy fan), but now I can really connect myself to my organization’s purpose and that really makes me happy doing what I do in life.

Your purpose might be hidden in fog, you need to find it

Whenever I think about purpose, I can’t forget about my failures. In life, I’ve seen a lot of failures which have taught me how important it is to treat them as opportunities, that help you learn and discover the next steps. It could be as small as a decision not gone your way, to a big thing, but every time you need to think of it as a step towards learning and growth. That’s what will make you become stronger and more prepared. This is a mindset we as leaders need to develop over a period of time and really prepare ourselves for. Failure can come at any stage of life, but it’s the way we react to it which matters.

I remember working in GE through 4 products/programs, and I could see myself being challenged all the time on the way we work. Sometimes when you work in a place, you tend to believe in a year or so that you now know how to succeed in the system, you get how to behave and how to live around that. Life taught me that what/how you work on a project might be totally different to others. I saw projects where there was a huge focus on quality, whereas others which were super aggressive on execution, and every time I changed, I could take help from a mentor who told me that you need to tune yourself according to the system where you work.

I remember working on a program (as a Program Manager) where I had people from Mumbai (India) /Bangalore (India) /Hino (Japan) / Beijing (China) /Milwaukee (US) – and that program taught me how the behaviours of each country/continent are so different and unique. I could start with the simplest things, like in Japan you need to suffix a name by “san” to address a person. The way you behave with people could be the same, but if you need to learn and grow you need to learn the regional conventions and learn how to connect. You need to know that culture matters, people around you matter, and how they perceive you is equally important, and you need to work on those regularly.

Those different projects made me realize that what works in one environment might not work in others, and so you need to keep learning to tune yourself, and realize to tie back to your purpose and giving importance to people. People are really at the heart of everything we do.

I would strongly advise all leaders to ask themselves this: What’s my purpose? Does it tie to my org purpose? Does my team know why we are working on the product, and how it affects people lives? I feel when people know the purpose and can connect to the same, they work the best. Hope you are able to find your purpose and can connect it to your team and organization purpose.