August 18, 2014

Lessons for a father - But, it's my blanket!!!!!

Image Courtesy: Flickr
We are there!! Not that we have been necessarily waiting for it, but we are where mostly animated characters take over our lives. The "little ones", being as important as they are to us, exert enough influence over us to choose "___" (Dora/ Elmo/ Cars - take your pick).

In our case, the lives have started revolving around a furry red monster and its not all fun and games either.

We were watching a movie this week in which Elmo loses his beloved blanket. He has to go all the way to Grouchland USA to retrieve it. The movie ends on a happy note (of course!!) but for those who are willing to learn, it holds a very important lesson.

Elmo loves his blanket to a point where he does not want to share it with anyone. After all, it is his blanket.

After watching the movie, it hit me that there was an Elmo in all of us. There is always an idea or some piece of information or knowledge that we tend to not share with others. Just like that blanket, it keeps us cozy with the thought that we know something or can do something that others cannot.

Know where that takes us? All the way to Grouchland! 

Have something that can make this a better world? An idea, a thought, goodness, kindness, something to smile or laugh about? Share it. Help people get better. Make those around you truly happy. Make them feel appreciated. 

Leadership is nothing more than helping people surpass their self-set limits. It is an art that requires, just like anything else, continuous learning. Inspiration to become better can truly come from anywhere...even from a kids' movie.

Elmo has his blanket. We all have ours. Let us share the warmth.

August 11, 2014

Lessons for a father - Driving Leadership

Image Courtesy: Flickr

Know what's really annoying? A traffic jam! Add to that a busy schedule and promises to keep and we have a recipe for high emotions, drama and the possibility of a lot of things going wrong.

There are websites and devices that can help us not get in these bad traffic conditions. If we, however, do manage to get into one, the stop and go traffic can also teach us a lot as well.

This week gave me such an opportunity to learn from my fellow travelers. These lessons in motion (literally!) can easily be metaphors for leadership and business. Here is what I learned:

  • Whether in driving or leadership, communication is key: Changing a lane while driving or direction of business is an easy enough maneuver as long as good and clear communication is in place.  People following our leadership or our vehicle are dependent on us in letting them know when and where we want to change the direction and going through a smooth change.
  • Movement should be at an appropriate velocity: Our movement, on the road and in teams that we belong to, should neither be so fast that we might get out of control nor so slow that we become bottlenecks for people that might look up to us for guidance. These movements, at optimal pace, must also have direction. Haphazardness usually leads to ugly results.
  • In times of adversity slow and methodical helps: Think of snow days, or of heavy rainfall. These mark days of adversity (and for the adventurous spirit in us, of a lot of fun!) on the road. We should keep moving forward, albeit with some extra caution.
  • Continuous checks maketh a reliable system: We usually do not wait for the tires to blow out or the gas to run out to go to the gas station for example. Similarly, we should not wait for plans and processes, that might have worked in the past, to go past their expiration date to do a routine checkup and, if need be, change them.
  • In times of extreme darkness, rely on the leadership: What do we do in times of darkness? Switch on our headlights of course! At that time, a well functioning headlamp helps us see the road ahead. Is that a lot different from a well oiled executive machinery that allows us to steer through times of uncertainty?
  • It does not matter what we drive: We might be driving the finest and newest vehicle money could buy or we could be in an old van. Who cares? Similarly, we could be working on big or small projects. We could be in teams that span the globe or are local. The idea is to get to our destination, be safe and have fun. 

Let us have fun then! Let us plan but not get too fixated on them. Plans change. Roads disappear. New ones appear. The unknown path, might be long and confusing at times, but still take us to our destination.  The fastest cars with the best GPS systems might get stuck in long traffic jams while the old jalopy might get us home on time.

Happy driving people!

August 3, 2014

Lessons for a father - Professional Disruptor

Image Courtesy: Flickr

If we were to ask that all-knowing keeper and searcher of information, both relevant and otherwise, we will realize that disruption is nothing but "disturbance or problems that interrupt an event, activity, or process".

Personally, I like that definition. It is objective in stating, as a fact, that an event, an activity or a process has been disturbed. It does not say whether disruption is good or bad.

But, wait a minute! 

When can disruption ever be a good thing? That does not make any sense! If processes and people are working as expected and they have, over a period of time, learned a way that works, why would we want to create any disruption? Doesn't that one golden rule suggest that we shouldn't try and fix something that is not necessarily broken?

I like to follow another rule as well. Let us call it the "break everything rule"!

Break Everything Rule!

This requires a major shift in our mindset, but what if we actually started believing in the fact that everything can be improved? Not just say it, believe it. 

Let us all play the role of a professional disruptor where our sole responsibility would be to question status quo with the intention to make things better.

Here is how I propose we can start (an incomplete list of course)
  1. Ask the why, what, how, when and by whom. Most importantly, how is the process or activity currently done?
  2. Ask if the person already has a way of improving it (make them a disruptor too!).
  3. Whatever be the answer to #2, the new and improved process should not let go of the human element - at the end, a process or an activity is as good as the people that commit themselves to it.
  4. And the most important bit - surround yourself with people that you can trust (as diverse as possible) and keep asking them how you can improve what you are doing. Create an incredible and honest feedback mechanism.
  5. Never shy away from having an idea or an opinion. Wars and peace both are dependent on someone coming up with an idea and speaking up.
While being a son, husband, father, friend and as leaders, let us improve things around us. And all that starts with a simple question - how do we leave things better than we found them? The answer will not be hard to find.

July 28, 2014

Lessons for a father - Back To Basic Physics (Scalar Vs. Vector Leadership)

Image Courtesy: Flickr

What has basic Physics got to do with leadership and parenting?

A lot.

Two words, very distinct in their meaning, are sometimes, albeit wrongly, used interchangeably. They are speed and velocity.

How are they different? Both represent motion but only one seems to lead us anywhere.

In Physics, the difference between the 2 words is the same as scalar and vector values. A vector value has an additional component of direction along with that of magnitude. So, velocity doesn't just tell us what speed we are moving at, it also tells us what direction we are moving in.

That is very helpful information indeed. As leaders we ask our team and ourselves to provide exceptional service. As parents, we are in the mode of continuous growth - both while helping our kids grow and as we grow to be better role models for them. That depicts motion

Without, however, laying down our expectations from our team, and our children, as completely and clearly as can be (direction of movement) we continue to live and lead in a scalar mode.

Take for example a car which accelerates in place really fast or moves haphazardly. It might be fun for a while but it will be just a matter of time before the car runs out of gas, the tires go flat and the car becomes generally unusable. 

Then there is the other car. With or without a lot of power and acceleration, it does move in the direction that the passengers need to go towards. The power, coupled with direction, serves a purpose. Yes, power and speed help, a lot sometimes, but movement in a specific direction assumes a much more important role. Even while moving slow, it still moves in the right direction.

I have seen managers and parents say "I hope my team/ child gets better at X" (whatever X is - collaboration or counting, for example). Without defining the "X" all we are asking for is a powerful car which runs in place and does not go anywhere. It becomes the responsibility of the driver, the parent and the leader to change the oil, to refill the gas, make sure all tires are working at capacity and are well aligned and, most importantly, to provide direction.

Difference between scalar and vector leadership is like telling someone to run at 5 miles/hour for 30 seconds to get to a pot of gold versus telling them that they need to do that by running in the north direction. I think the latter would be a bit easier with a higher possibility of success.

Which leadership style do you practice? Do you find it easier to provide direction?

PS: I apologize for the amateur art. Definitely not one of my skills!

July 21, 2014

Lessons for a father - Between Disaster And Perfection

Image Courtesy: Flickr (Saku Takakusaki)

I really wanted to utilize a word that depicted the antonym, the exact opposite, of perfection. There was the option of using the word imperfection but to me that is a state that tells us we are not there yet. I needed a word that could, possibly, finish the sentence, "that was anything but perfect, it was a/ an...". That is when the word disaster came to my mind. To a lot of us, that might not be the right word, but the intention was to utilize 2 extreme conditions.

We are so enamored by the whole concept of perfection that we, often times, forget that there is an entire area of "good enough" between the 2 dreadful extremes.

Our love for perfection, not the pursuit of the it but the state itself, often forces us to neglect what might actually be pretty good. But, accepting what might be good enough does not mean accepting mediocrity. It means that we enjoy what we have and what we might have worked very hard to achieve.

Our son does not like saying "seven" in his progression from 1 through 10. Should we be bothered by the fact that the count is not perfect or celebrate the fact that he is definitely moving in the right direction and, for now at least, what we have is really good enough?

I can do with losing a little more weight and getting fitter. I have heard many others talk about the same thing. Should I be depressed with my bad health or understand that my continuous work towards my goal is good enough? 

Leadership and fatherhood both require a lot of patience. They also make us face adversity regularly. We all are on the path of intentional and continuous self-improvement. We are all, at best, a work in progress. 

In the meantime, however, it is pertinent that we enjoy and celebrate what definitely is good enough.

July 14, 2014

Lessons for a father - Dealing With New-ness

Image Courtesy: Flickr with edits

Is all that is new good for us? That can be the case if we respond to the change, the newness, well. Easier said than done though.

Change almost always seems like a dance to me. So many things can go wrong at any time that anything less than our complete focus might not work. But that is hard work. The incessant focus can be very demanding and who is to say whether the change is actually good?

I have had the privilege to witness some organizations and teams go through change. The what's and the why's, at least on paper, are easy to answer. The change usually, at an organization level, is a function of a new target market, increased focus or just good business sense. In all the mayhem (temporary usually) that follows, we tend to forget that organizations are not just cubes and ledgers. The most important component going through the change is the human element.

A lot of organizations going through changes, and becoming new in the process, tend to keep human issues for later. Phrases like "all that emotion is not my job" or "they need to get with the program or leave" tends to make people believe that they are not important for or needed in the future of the organization. 

Not dealing with the team's issues on time might resemble a car manufacturer which keeps the task of solving the engine issues "for later".

I read somewhere, that an illusion of communication is worse than no communication. I think the same holds true for progress (like Petronium said many years ago) and being on the same proverbial page. Do not just assume that people will understand the change, help them get there.

As leaders, we must make sure that a change, no matter how minor, is communicated well and our team is ready to be successful with the change and the new-ness as well as possible. 

More importantly, we must make sure that the soft issues, those dealing with our people, are sorted because our ledgers might represent our finances while how we deal with our people depicts something way more important - our culture.

July 7, 2014

Lessons for a father - The Best Idea Of All

Image Courtesy: Flickr

What do the now famous "Obamacare" and the iPhone have in common? What sort of commonality, do you think, exists between free speech and level of water fluoridization? What about gender and race equality, day care for children, computers, music, television and a whole host of other things? They were all an idea once. Just an idea.

All of us have been given this great gift of thought. We can all think. It does not matter where we come from and what the nature of our adversity is. We may be incapable of solving a particular problem but that is not the point. We can think and that is all an idea needs - thought.

We get so wrapped around the issue of coming up with the best solution that is unbreakable under duress that we forget that an idea - any idea - is perfect. 

So how is it that ideas do not work? Because of us.

The implementation of an idea, which till then had been perfect, throws curve balls in the form of human, system or resource limitations. An idea might not work because the world, we, are not ready for it or, there is a better idea to replace it or, worse, because we do not want it to work.

Till that time, however, it is as good an idea as any other. For us to implement, consume and judge the fruits of our mental and physical labor, we all need and must have an idea.

So what if we realized that there is an idea which is the best of all? What if it is an idea that is unimpeachable and has the capacity to fulfill every criterion that we set for it to be a success? What if it is so powerful that is needs to be implemented at work and in families right away? And what if we all already know about it but shy away from it all the time?

The best idea of all, I think, is to have an idea. The idea might prove to be unimaginably hard to implement. May be it will be impossible given the framework of time, budget and human and technical resources at our disposal. But, it might also be the best idea that anyone ever came up with. The only way of really finding out if you just came up with the idea of the next century is to have it and share it. 

I do hope that our son grows up to be full of great ideas. If not great, however, I do hope that he is full of many ideas.

Rome was not built in a day, neither was the American dream won nor was Everest conquered and not Camelot created. But it all started in someone's head one glorious morning. 

It all started with an absurd idea to change the world as we know it. 

Have you had an idea lately? What did you do next?