September 14, 2014

Lessons for a father - Of Rights And Duties

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Rights are extremely important. They are responsible for the basic human dignity of all people and their right to live in freedom and with justice and equal opportunity. Some rights are ours because we are human. Others because we belong to a certain nation. Even others because we are a part of a select group. Generally speaking, rights allow us to do what we want to do and be what we want to be within reason.

Accompanying rights, however, is a special list that I always feel gets left out. This list is of duties. If someone takes our rights away, we have various entities to get help from. If however, and sadly at some level, we ignore our duties, there may be national ramifications but not legal ones.

This week, I invested some time in gathering a list of rights and duties that I have and I should hold myself accountable to. It is a very powerful and important list of our rights. It is also a fantastic list of my duties. Unfortunately, I realized that I have not been fulfilling my duties as well as I should.
Once I had assembled the lists, a couple of things came to mind.
  1. A list of rights without duties seem incomplete.
  2. We should have a list of rights and duties for work and family as well.
If our country gives us rights then it becomes our duty to give back. We might choose not to do that and no one can take us to prison for it, but fundamental duties continue to be moral and patriotic obligations that we owe to our country.

The same should hold true for professional teams and families that we are a part of. So I decided, this week, to create a list of rights and duties that I have towards my professional and home teams too.

List of Rights List of Duties
Right to do what we want to do. Duty to keep doing what we might not like to do.
Right to be irritated and angry at people. Duty to keep smiling no matter what.
Right to find fault in others. Duty to improve everything around us.
Right to be ignorant. Duty to be open minded and appreciate diversity.
Right to resist change. Duty to accept that change is inevitable.
Right to be all-knowing. Duty to always be a work-in-progress.
Right to be an individual contributor. Duty to realize that we could be leaders in whatever we do.
Right to have our version of the truth. Duty to realize that truth does not suffer from versions.
Right to tell people how to be successful. Duty to create an environment where success happens.
Right to enjoy status quo. Duty to keep moving forward.
Right to have fun. Duty to make sure that the fun is not on someone else's expense.
Right to learn. Duty to learn.

This is not an a complete list. There are a lot more duties that I have towards my professional team and family. I have maintained that things happen to us because we let them happen. Our success and happiness is only dependent on what is within us. How we handle adversity, again, is a function of our inner character and strength. Blaming or giving credit to the world and others for what happens to us, usually, is a waste of time.

The rights on the left are sufficient for us to have and do our job. The list on the right might help us be more and add more to our lives and to lives of others.  In our attempt and with an intent to leave this world a place better than we had found, let us not forget the duties that we have towards ourselves.

Do you agree with the lists? What would you like to add or remove from it?

September 7, 2014

Lessons for a father - Lost? Stop. Ask For Directions.

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It is a very disconcerting feeling this - of being lost. It can, however, be also what starts a new chapter in our lives. It really come down to how we handle being lost.

The phrases that we use when we get lost range from "what am I doing" all the way to "I have no idea where I am". It can leave us confused and looking for genuine help and advice.

We all have been told that the mark of a person is a function of how well they handle adversity. I maintain that the strength of a person also lies in whether or not they question everything.

So yes, "where am I", "what am I doing", "should I really be doing this" can, very well, set the tone for confusion, ambiguity or the feeling of being lost. If we play to the strength of our character, however, we could easily look at those very pertinent questions as stepping stones that propel us to where we can and want to reach in life.

The questions then turn to:
  • Who - who do we ask for advice in times of need?
  • How - how do we get out of the state of being lost?

The "Who" first. My first preference has always been myself. No one can know me better than me (apart from my wife of course - she does!). Usually, we have the answer. We just need the requisite strength to accept the answer and move forward. In the rare case when we do not, we need external agents of advice. They come in form of friends, family and mentors. All our work in our life to surround ourselves with people that we trust, and who are hopefully smarter than us, comes in handy in this time of need.

The "How" requires more work. Here is what I practice:
  • Define, very clearly, what it is that you want to do.
  • In an absence of that definition, do what you have to do till you can do what you want to do.
  • Whatever you do, no matter how big or small, should take you closer to your goal.
  • Surround yourself with smart people that you can rely on in times of need.
  • Realize that goals can change over time. Be open and receptive to change.

Getting lost and continuing to walk and doing what needs to be done can be one of the best things that happen to us.  As long as we return home, that could be a great journey. 

What do you do when you think you are lost? Let me know via a comment below or by using this.

September 1, 2014

Lessons for a father - Someone Else's Shoes

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I realized, again, last week that there are at least 2 ways of doing anything. There is the correct way and the "other" way. I also realized that the correct way requires a lot of things to go right. Sometimes one event can trigger a chain reaction that derails even the best laid plans. 

All that is a known fact though. Something else that is universally known is the idea of leadership that asks its followers to walk in someone else's shoes. Sadly, with the speed at which the world goes around, it is hard to do that. Hard but not impossible. Empathy can, sometimes, positively impact adversity, but we get so bogged down by making things happen that we forget the most basic of all our virtues - that of being human.

As leaders, both at work and home, it is easy to tell people what, when and how to accomplish something. Personally, I do not think that is leadership at all. Engaging people, helping them understand and grow and working within a framework where we realize human limitations seem more like leadership to me. 

For an instance, we can keep forcing our son to walk and run and do math or start talking in well structured sentences. I think all we will mostly get, out of this brand of "leadership", is failure and frustration. On the other hand, if we help our son grow but allow him to take his time to get to the ultimate goal of acquiring knowledge, I think both of us will end up learning and being better at whatever we want to achieve.

At work too, if we can cultivate an appreciation of empathy and understanding towards our peers, and create a framework where constant and continuous learning and improvement happens, the rewards could be far better and deeper than projects finishing on time.

Here are a few things I am thinking of incorporating better in my life:
  • At least for a week in a year, we must do something at work that has nothing to do with our job.
  • Instead of waiting for someone to finish talking so we can talk we MUST, genuinely, listen.
  • Let us NEVER compare one person with another. We can never have a complete understanding of someone's life.
  • Let us appreciate the fact that people make a lot of sacrifices to do what they do.
  • Let us realize that a team, professional or familial, is of people. Everything else is secondary.
  • Let us have and exercise patience. Greatness is never achieved over night. 

Do you think empathy has a place in today's leadership?

August 25, 2014

Lessons for a father - Unfashioned. Unframed. Chaos.

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I do not like what it stands for, but for some odd reason I love the word! In one word we can explain so much that may happen around us and the state of things. A few weeks ago, I started reading about its origins and came to realize that it had a deeper meaning than I thought.

Chaos is from the Greek word Khaos, meaning "gaping void". A gaping void of what though? It stands for nothingness or an absence of anything. That is a part of what it stands for. Let us delve deeper.

From our perspective are we, as leaders and parents, creating a void by not doing what needs to be done sometimes?

The word, chaos, brings out a very negative emotion usually. I have hardly met anyone that wants or craves chaos. We, usually, prefer some sort of an order to things. Then why is it that we fail to remove chaos from our lives completely? Again, I do not have an answer to that.

Dive a little deeper and we will realize that according to mythology, Chaos was a confused shapeless mass from which the universe was developed into a cosmos, or harmonious order. Harmony came from chaos? That is indicative to me. Looks like someone took the opportunity of the void, the absence, and created balance. Can we emulate that behavior?

Here is what I would do.
  • Remove everything that is superfluous. If we do not need it, there should not be any place for it in our mind or lives.
  • Simplify. Make everything simple enough for anyone to understand. The simpler things are, the easier it would be for everyone to do and follow. Simple = less confusion = usually less chaos.
  • Make good communication a necessity. Communication holds the key to our success. Try and do anything without good and clear communication and you will know what I mean.
  • Have a vision. It is very hard to run a marathon without knowing when and where it ends. Without knowing where we are going, confusion and chaos will surely follow.
  • Whatever you do, keep people first. If we all lay the ground work, through communication, clarity and a vision, and the main component - that of the human element, is taken care of chaos will not win.

There is a lot of good in this world. But, we also have a "lack" around us. There is, sometimes,  an absence of leadership, of good advice, of laughter, of food, of love and empathy, of kindness, of teamwork, of giving, of gratitude, and yes of balance among a great many other things.

I think it is time that we stepped up the proverbial plate and took up that challenge. Let us make remove chaos and create harmony.

What do you do to remove chaos from your personal or professional life?

August 18, 2014

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

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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

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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

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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.