Seek to understand and then be understood

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It is surprisingly easy to read, repeat, speak and even pass an exam on complex topics and then totally be unmindful of it. We all do that all the time. Any doubts?

The example that comes to my mind is a scene from a humorous movie where the wimpy heroes have the mandate to find a stolen golden crown. They pass by the crown in the road as it literally rolls in in front of them, but they only run away from its path! The audience would always have a laugh. Little do they realize that most of us do the same thing in real life.

Steven R. Covey’s book Seven Habits of Highly Successful People states my title as one of them. I have read it, memorized it, talked about it, but for years little did I realize that it is about me making a change. Seek to understand what we see and then make sense of it before ever opening the mouth to speak about it is a conscious decision many of us have to make, with me at the top of the list.

Speaking about this book, a very interesting anecdote comes to mind. A very devout Salafi muslim professor, who thinks his religious way is the only way for the world started reading this book. He was so thrilled that he told me that if he had ever got this book in his early youth, life would have been different for him. I don’t think he ever meant leaving is fundamentalist world view and embrace a more inclusive world view. Far from it. He meant that he would have been a more successful person in terms of money and fame.

Come to think about it, it is hard to miss Covey’s very important points in the beginning. Everyone will be fascinated by a picture of a lady there, which he calls as either an old lady or a young lady, depending on how you look at it. Most people see only one perspective, not both. I have tested it on many people and verified this fact for myself. Seeing different perspectives of a question requires one to move the frame of reference, which is very difficult without conscious effort. Different perspectives just do not apply to the professor, there is just one correct perspective!

Another thing that goes as background material in the book in the first few pages is about, what Covey calls as increasing the circle of one’s influence. My salafi friend has the world view that everything happens to him, people are out to get him and his religion, that the only course open to him is to protest in all possible ways, etc. He would never even think that he, not others, is the only author of his own future.

So much for the difference between the theory and its practice. The theory may be so very simple and clear, but people practice the opposite of it, while also happily reciting from the theoretical text.

A new HR Model to look at

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Tim Ferris author of various popular books on lifestyle design has made this observation about himself.

The number of people he employs? Zero.
The number of employees working for his company? 200 -300.

He also points out that he has transcended the two differing management styles – participative and authoritarian – by eliminating the human component in the management of business completely.

Just think about this.

We are being told that it is not good to say bad things about your boss or company to the new employer. It is also true that the new employer will value reference from the current employer very strongly. Therefore, an employee facing discrimination or harassment at work is more likely to remain silent about it than ever speak out.

The above condition is now accepted in Human Resources market as the de facto norm. However, a cursory look at the above paragraph makes it clear that this cannot be a good model.

Tim Ferris’s alternate way of using internet to build a virtual company where everyone is accountable to himself is a great idea of the future.

Where have all the leaders gone?

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I have been through this situation:

Leadership is about excelling oneself and getting noticed. Then at some point, sooner rather than later, there comes a call to take leadership roles from someone with power. It is usually a call to action, directly or indirectly. Now the the decision is open to the person whether to accept the challenge or not.

It is surprisingly true that there are vacant leadership positions almost everywhere. It is not about filing an HR vacancy. It is about showing that you can do something particularly well, and lo and behold, there are powerful people out there who want to give you more and more responsibilities.
It is the courage to take the challenges and also grow that makes or breaks a successful leader.

More often than not, people tend not to take up responsibilities. It is easy to criticize, easy to be a pedant journalist writing about niche topics, easy to be a professor analyzing case studies..The list goes on. But the surprising thing that I notice is that many of these so-called experts actually refuse to take leadership positions. Or they don’t care.

That is the essence of Lee Iacocca’s question above, which I quoted elsewhere.

Leadership and change – SCARF way

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Social interactions are developed according to the way our brain sees different situations as threats or rewards. If there is an anticipated reward, we go towards it; if there is an anticipated threat, we go away from it. These are known alternatively as toward responses and away responses. Personal development guru Tony Robbins uses this principle to advocate his method to change bad habits.

What are the drivers of the reward and threat responses? Dr. David Rock identified five domains that control social experience (3) and published the findings in the Journal of Neuro Leadership Journal in 2008.

These are:

Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness.

I have found that these principles are already contained in the ideas of Dale Carnegie’s celebrated book ‘How to win friends and influence people,’ which was published nearly 80 years ago without the help of any scientific research like Dr.David. Dale Carnegie was a theoretical psychologist -much like Stephen Hawkins is a theoretical physicist – and Dr. David is the scientist. In a way Dr.David is approving Carnegie’s hypothesis with his neurological findings.

I would elaborate the first of these five domains, namely status, today.

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:22 NIV)

Isn’t it interesting to read the above biblical verse? It always astounds me think that there is huge hidden wisdom in some of the biblical verses. What happens when you call someone a fool is that neurologically the status of the hearer is reduced and he/ she sees it as a threat situation, the response will be to avoid you.The unfortunate result is that you sadly FAILED the very moment you called this person a fool!

Deceivers know this technique very well. They don’t need to read any book or study neuro science. The principle is already hard wired into our brains already. Soothsayers abound in typical authoritarian leadership situations where most subordinates try to curry favour with the boss by falsely praising him. what they are doing is trying to raise the status of the boss, which is a reward for him. When he is happy, he will naturally help the soothsayers in return.

Now imagine a clever leader using the same technique for correcting wrong behaviour in the team.

He allows the team member to save face. He is aware that oftentimes a direct attempt to correct the behaviour will lead to stubborn denial and even evil plans. The subject may team up with other disgruntled workers to spread rumours, or set you up the leader for failure. Imagine that the clever leader points out the the mistake indirectly and even refers to his own similar mistakes, sometimes totally made-up! This approach has the effect of keeping the status of the offender in tact. He/ she even feels falsely superior to the boss for a time! Little does he realize that the leader is actually cleverly leading him to think like that. The denial and aggression do not show up in this case.

A clever leader will be also able to show the worker a way to improve. He may want to share some tips, but he may make it so subtle that the points will be ‘discovered’ by the subject and may even claim them as his own inventions!

Eventually the offender changes his ways with such an urgency that the team performance improves substantially. Now the clever leader has the last laugh! But he would be laughing to himself and will make sure to compliment the offender for his improvements in public, which is again a status booster for him/ her.

It is difficult to practice, but if you agree with Machiavelli’s principles of power, these are some clever possible additions to them, with a remarkable difference. You can openly talk about this leadership style as a virtue, whereas Machiavelli’s methods are pure evil.

I think some of the 48 tips in the book by Robert Green (1) are gems, but they all appear as evil. Nobody can talk about actually having to practice it, although strangely, everyone uses some of these principles in everyday life, knowingly or unknowingly. Incidentally Machiavelli lived some hundred years before Shakespeare, and guess what the bard of Warwickshire has to say about Machiavelli? ‘A bastard’.

REFERENCES:

1. Robert Green (1998), 48 Laws of Power, Viking Books

An amazing book that substantially improves our understanding of human behaviour.

2. http://www.scarf360.com/about/index.shtml

I came across this link above that explains the SCARF model succinctly.

3. http://www.scarf360.com/files/SCARF-NeuroleadershipArticle.pdf

The original article by Dr. David Rock can be found in the above link. A must-read for those who like to know more.

Bringing up the leader

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Consider the following guidelines for effective leadership.

Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.

Never say, “You are wrong.” However, if you are wrong, admit it quickly.

Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing.

If the other person has made a mistake, indirectly point to it, and allow him to save face. Make the fault seem easy to correct. Make him/her happy to take your advice to make corrections.

If there is a new idea, gently plant it in the listener and let him/ her even claim it as his/ her own.

Try honestly to see from the other person’s point of view.

Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.

Forgive the mistakes and never bring them up once they have corrected the mistakes. Never brand them for those mistakes.

When making corrections, let the purpose always be noble, such as company objectives or the the other person’s achievements.

Smile as often as you can. Always respect the other person.

Do you agree that these are good guidelines? Well, they are not my own.
” How to win friends and influence people” is the title of the world-famous self-help book that sold millions since it was published in the 1930s. These ideas and suggestions are the basis for the book.

Now I will throw down a challenge. Can you find any leader or manager from your personal experience who follows the above guidelines?

Guess what! I have had many managers in my career, and none of them qualifies as a paradigm of virtue according to the above guidelines. Worse, I have had a couple – I would call them Bob and Tosh – who used coercion, threats and abusive language to deal with people.

Goodness in disguise

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A few years back I used to believe that the world was fully corrupt and all money making vocations were evil. It was also in line with Jesus’s assertion that God and mammon cannot go together. Seen in this light, going to church was a futile exercise as inevitably even the congregants had to be votaries evil.

After going through professional ethics examinations for engineering and project management practices in Canada, I seem to be getting a different perspective about evil in everyday life.

Jesus’s two condensed commandments are famously to ‘love The Lord your God with all your heart’ and to ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ There are no laws and prophets above these laws. These two laws have been difficult to digest for a long time.

What does it mean to love your god with all your heart? What does it mean to love your neighbour as yourself?

Well, I have begun to think that the former is the assertion that truth is supreme, incit omnia veritas, or truth alone triumphs, etc.

What is truth? Well, I remember getting into an argument with a classmate of mine several decades ago about this. His answer was that the closest humanity came to realizing the truth was when Pontius Pilate asked Jesus the question; unfortunately Jesus was rushed and he did not get a chance to answer, and alas, we lost the answer for ever!

But what is truth? I think that is what actually is, which is also metaphorically God. There is no way one can go against the truth for ever as that is simply impossible. It is as simple as that. I think that is a profound, yet simple realization.

On to the second commandment, which is to love your neighbour as yourself. Professional ethical questions relate to this very ‘other’ consciousness.

Therefore, finally, I am beginning to think that work places are being silently transformed into places where the two commandments are made to play out by force. That is a significant happening indeed.

Your job is to enjoy

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The other day I noticed a statement in the world of facebook: “your job is to like us.”

Isn’t it amazing to have a job that only asks to like or dislike things?

The advice for a successful life is to accept the past, enjoy the present and have a passion for the future. I agree.

That boils down to enjoying the present moment. However, it is the hardest thing to do.

I remember a Toastmasters speech a couple of years back where the speaker passionately advocated setting a personal goal of increasing the fun in everyday activities by 10%. The idea is good, but how is that possible? There is no practical step in this statement to find a way to enjoy or to increase the pre-existing enjoyment, let alone measure it in percentages.

Children are spontaneous and find enjoyment in every moment. But as people grow older, they sadly alienate themselves from fun and attend to only serious stuff. Now their job is only to fret an fume and manipulate and take revenge and so on. They are so consumed by these thoughts that genuine opportunities to enjoy elude them.

Opportunities to enjoy do not require great investments of time or money. They are everywhere. Figure out what makes you happy, or what used to make you happy as a child. Live the hell out of your life in the current moment by doing some of those very activities to begin with. It might sound silly, but why is that not possible?

If a music and dance party made you happy, why not do that again? If jumping up and down on bed made you happy, why not buy a trampoline and do it and laugh your guts out? If listening to music made you happy, why not do that right away? There are countless ways we can find happiness. It is only a matter of choice to realize that the most important job right now is the job of enjoying the moment, not anything else.