Why I don’t believe in personal / professional divide?

Throughout my career, I have never believed in keeping separate lives for personal and professional fronts, as people say. One big reason for this might be that I started my career in a startup, and have worked mostly with startups where the work culture and environment was uber-cool and the person sitting next to you was a friend first and colleague later.

There have been times where I have been advised to keep my personal and professional lives separate, and to think and act only professionally while at work. I myself have thought (for a brief duration) that keeping this separation was the way for peak performance, but I have failed miserably whenever I have tried that. In this article I will share my views about why this separation between personal and professional life no longer works. It might have worked a few decades earlier, but in this age of facebook and twitter, I don’t think peak performance is possible if we keep our personal self at home.

1. Sharing our Feelings Bring People Closer
It is no secret that honestly opening up to another person and being authentic about a situation taps to the deepest levels of the listener and helps to forge trustworthy relationships for the future. By sharing something which touches or moves another, we are building bonds of trust which will not only give us a friend but also a colleague who will be fun and easy to work with, and produce greater results.

2. Bring Yourself to Work Fully
Whoever thinks that emotions have no role to play in professional decisions probably has a blind tied over his/her eyes. We can put on a ‘all-work’ mask, but it is only a mask, as our emotions (and the level of comfort and trust) plays a big part in any business decision. We can try to pretend that we will not let our personal lives affect our work and vice versa, but the truth is that they do. People act differently at work depending upon the mood at work, because as human beings, a parent will not stop worrying about their child just because they are in ‘office‘.

3. Leaders are Humans too, and Leadership is not Perfect
Leadership (and leaders) are no longer seen as super humans, who are meant to be admired and respected, and their word followed like a war order. These days, true leaders are seen vulnerable to the same emotions we all are, and they generate more trust and loyalty by being authentic rather than being perfect. If you are late to office because of a personal reason, there is no point in hiding it just for the sake of personal / professional divide.

4. Working with Friends is Always More Fun
Nobody wants to spend 8 hours (the biggest chunk) of our waking lives daily with bozos. Life gets much more interesting when we are doing what we like to do, and with people we like to interact with. Working in a field which excites you in the company of friends makes work so much easier. We all know how difficult passing the eight hours at work becomes when there are just colleagues and no friends. Friends can make time fly by and you won’t even realize you are working. It also raises the productivity level of you as an individual and the team as a whole.

Having said that, this article should not be interpreted as a case for taking your work home or letting personal come in the way of work. What I want to say through the above points is that we can be much more interactive if we see our clients and colleagues as people first, and not stop ourself from understanding or forging a friendship with them just because personal lives must be kept apart (as per popular advice).

Three More Steps to take as an Entrepreneur for your Employees

Last year I wrote an article about three small steps in treating our employees that can make a big difference as an entrepreneur. Great teams are made up of employees who help each other, know their roles, set aside personal goals, and value team success over everything else. I want to expand those steps and add three more very simple things we can do –

Your first few employees will make or break your company

Your first few employees will make or break your company

4. Be the First to Take the Blame
Whenever something goes wrong, as it will many times, it is the boss’s duty and responsibility to be visible and face the music from inside and outside. Otherwise, anger, upsets and blame can set in and make things worse for the future. While taking blame, you also have to be honest about what is happening and efficient in dealing with the repercussions.

5. And the Last to Take Credit
Always give credit to the team first, because any success you have is actually theirs. That doesn’t mean discounting your role which you should always acknowledge. But your success is not only yours, and that’s why you should pass on every credit you get to the people behind, who normally wont get much visibility. Make sure they know their part in the success and importance in the company.

6. Make Sure Your Employees know how much They Mean to You
If someone is working a weekend for you, make sure you are there too. Otherwise, do something to let them know how much that means to you. Nobody wants to work on a weekend, and it is your duty to acknowledge their effort and responsibility to make them feel thanked for their contribution.

Not Listening to, or Moving Forward Despite the word NO Thrown at You

One side effect of being an entrepreneur is that you stop hearing the word “NO“. In fact, one can say that you still hear the word but you don’t listen to it or it doesn’t stop you anymore. Where it gets interesting is when this start happening even in personal and day-to-day issues apart from just professional matters, as I have observed in the last few months.

Lately I have noticed that how I have annoyed and surprised many people as I have ignored when they said NO to a certain matter, or how I have come up and followed up with them again and again. People are not used to hear back from people after they have uttered the NO word, but it works for me as long as it gets the job done.

What's your definition of NO?

What’s your definition of NO?

I think what entrepreneurship has done is forced me to change the definition of NO to “not right now”, “not this way” or something else depending on the situation. If I look back, I can remember very clearly a few instances when I have followed up on a NO response with – “How about tomorrow?”, “How about if I do it this way?”, or “Is there another way we can work it out?” and similar such questions until I get at least a part of what I wanted in the first place.

When we are working on something we really care about, it is very easy to get discouraged. It is very normal to even assume NO as the answer if the opposite party doesn’t reply or get back to us for a few days. But the truth is that there is probably a reason unknown to us for the No or No Reply. And in most of the cases, there is an alternate to that reason which, if explored, could lead to a Yes eventually.

I guess this is almost second nature to entrepreneurs, but we must always keep persevering if we “really” want to get what we desire. And if it is meant to be, it will happen eventually. We just have to keep on it, day after day, week after week, and month after month.

And even if you get a final NO (like somebody threatening to hit you the next time you bring a certain issue up) or you decide to move on (which is always a fine line), I have also realized that setbacks are often the starting points of something else, and not an end in itself. The only question is how we approach them, and where we draw that thin line between “giving up” and “going after what you really care about“.

In Business – Don’t Take Care, Take a Chance

As I have written in some of my previous articles, what distinguishes great people and organizations is not how they succeed, but how they fail. Great organizations (especially dealing with innovation) are about taking risks to do things that haven’t been done before. And like with any experiment – you know there are going to be more failures than successes. That is the definition of innovation. If the odds were higher and success was almost certain in every one of two cases or so, every Tom, Dick and Harry would be doing it.

Take Intelligent Risks
We live in a world of risks, and we live in a world of failure. Entire industries like venture capital, portfolio management and insurance work on the model of taking intelligent bets and risks, and making the few big wins count more than the numerous failures. So rather than eliminating risks, we should take intelligent risks and learn to eliminate the uncertainties. Because without risks, there is no moving ahead.

Look Far Ahead – The Bigger Perspective
When you look at the big picture you will realize that when you fail you are not finished. Failure doesn’t mean a full stop, it just means a temporary barrier on your way to wherever your vision is going to take you. Failures build our character amid immense challenges, and that is an incredible muscle to build for tough times. Over the period of a long journey, the definition of failure changes for most people, and we start becoming much less scared of it.

Be Ok with the Fear of Failure
What is lacking in the current environment is the concept of constructive failure, by which I mean the ability of doing things and failing, then learning from the mistakes and iterating until you reach the milestone of success. Failures can by compared to the lighting lamps on the way to every success story. Being able to take failure as an asset is a unique trait. When you really learn is when you are confronted with failure.

Dont Live Life, Be Alive
Many people say you can learn from the failure of others, but there is only limited knowledge and experience you can gain from reading books and listening to others. You can’t relive the experience of falling from a bike by reading about it. So in terms of failure, if we ‘really’ want to learn the lessons and want our time and money’s worth from failure, they better be our own. There are some experiences which must be felt if you have to learn the lessons with them, and there are no short cuts.
Infact, most of the success stories we know today are also stories of many more failures which are never highlighted by the media. To give a few examples, Henry Ford failed in five businesses before starting the Ford Motor Company and Soichiro Honda was turned down by Toyota for a job and was jobless for some time before he started making his own scooters at home. Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper for a “lack of imagination” before he started Disney. To stress the point that innovation in business is similar to experiments by scientists, we have the examples of Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers. We will have examples in art, politics and sports too of such people, and some names that come to mind are Winston Churchill, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, JK Rowling, Elvis Presley and Michael Jordan.

How to Treat your Employees – Three Small Steps That can make a Big Difference

Employees are your first customers. If you want to make your customers happy, the first step is to delight your employees. However, this is a double edged sword and easier said than done. Being flexible to listen to and find the best fit for an employee in your company and still being able to take decisive actions is a tough skill to master. Here are three simple steps every entrepreneur should take to ensure the right working relationship with his / her employees.

1. Share Everything
I believe that honesty is the best policy, so celebrating the good news together and breaking the bad news first is very important. Keep everything transparent with your employees and other stakeholders (unless something is legally confidential) to build trust and ensure their co-operation. It is important to learn the lessons of entrepreneurship together with your employees, and make sure they understand everything and grow with you.

Thomas Watson Quote

Recently, I was asked if I was going to fire an employee who made a mistake that cost the company $600,000. No, I replied, I just spent $600,000 training him. Why would I want somebody to hire his experience? Thomas John Watson, Sr.

2. Do Everything
Never ask your employees to do something which you don’t want to do. Always tell them that you are ready to do whatever it takes for making the business successful. Do tasks from time to time to build emotional bank deposits and build trust. Make sure they understand why everybody is doing what their roles demand, and how it all fits into the bigger picture.

3. Get Connected
Make friends with your employees. Get to know them personally, their families, problems in life and what they want to do and achieve in life. See if you can make a difference. Respect their private space, but always recognize that they are human beings first, and employees second. And health and family will always take preference, as it does for us. So if they are not able to give their best at work because of some other issues, as an entrepreneur, it is our problem to make sure they have whatever support they need.

Now that I have written 3 points, I think I can write another three. But I will save that for a later post and time.