Five Things A Leader Must Do By Default

In today’s corporate environment, after a few years of doing your job well enough, chances are that you will be asked to step up and lead a team. You trained and studied to be good at your job, and now getting to manage people seems like a reward for a job well done.

By promoting the good performers to be managers and leaders, people have assumed for centuries that the skills that made you successful as an individual contributor would also make you successful as a manager. If you have led people for any considerable amount of time, you would know how false this assumption is. Yet in the business world, this continues to be the norm.

Today I want to list down five things which you must do, or are expected to do by default, to be effective as a manager/leader. And it is likely that nobody told you this when you were promoted. I have only figured them out after leading teams for over a decade, and I believe I am on a continuous journey to learn and know more about leadership.

1. Lead Yourself
The first thing you must do to be effective as a leader is to lead yourself. Your relationship with your team will be determined more by your trustworthiness than by any other skill or talent you might possess. Trust is the foundation of leadership, and you build trust by leading yourself first – by holding yourself accountable for what you demand from your team. Like any worthwhile endeavour, it takes time, effort and daily investments to build trust with your team.

If you want your team members to honour their promises, honour your promises to them. If you ask them to be on time for meetings, you must be on time first. Or you will lose their trust. If you ask them to be respectful to each other, you must respect them first. Or you will lose their trust. If you want them to be humble, you need to exemplify that in your behaviour. If you need them to be honest and sincere, you need to acknowledge your mistakes publicly and make amends for them. You can not lead a team if you can’t lead yourself.

“Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.” - Unknown

2. Know Where You are Headed

When you are leading a team, people will look up to you for providing direction. Having a well-defined purpose clarifies why the team exists in the first place. Coming up with the team’s purpose together with your team will empower them to take decisions which are in the best interest of the team.

Listening to your team and engaging in a dialogue will allow the team to define and own its purpose. You need to spend time with the team regularly to discuss, revisit or reshape the team’s purpose. Ensuring each member understands the team’s purpose and their role in the team will empower them to prioritise their tasks effectively.

3. Be a Coach
If you have people reporting to you, then you are their coach by default. You don’t have a choice in being their coach as people will approach you anyways. When they are demotivated, when they have a conflict, or when they need help for any other reason; it is your responsibility to listen, understand their concerns, and then coach them to align their personal motivations with the team’s shared purpose and goals. If you can’t do that effectively, it will impact the results the team intends to produce in the future.

While I assert that you are a coach by default, the skills and conversations required to be a coach don’t come by default. You must invest time and effort in learning and practicing your coaching skills. How well you coach people will be directly proportional to the results the team produces. Investing in learning these skills and making coaching a priority will be your best investment ever.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there” – Lewis Carroll

4. Demand Commitment and Accountability
Just as every sport has a certain set of rules, each business team can come up with rules (or standards) which apply to their business and industry. These rules will govern how you work and define success and failure. Examples could be how you treat your colleagues, how complaints are handled, and what boundaries you set in matters important to the team. Once these standards are set, it frees up everyone to exercise their own creativity in making decisions. This gives shape to the ‘culture’ in the team.

After you set up these standards together with your team, you have to demand them. Of course, for this to work, you have to exemplify them yourself. Holding your team accountable to these standards (or rules) will bring the team members together and set the team up for high performance. The intention behind it is not to punish or penalise people when they slip up, but to ensure an open, fair and supportive culture in the team.

5. Serve Your People
I believe that leadership is a privilege, and that each leader is a custodian of the company’s values, beliefs and ambitions for the future. Leadership will require you to think beyond your own self-interest, and from your team or company’s point of view. In order to lead you must be willing to serve – to put your team’s interest in front of any individual interests, which might lead you to make some difficult decisions from time to time.

Leadership is not about power or authority, nor is it about popularity. Leadership is about character – which you will need to express yourself authentically, compassion – which you will need to grow and develop your people, and integrity – which you will need to serve your people with the respect and transparency they deserve.

I believe that leadership is standing for something bigger than yourselves. You show your team the way, give it what it needs to do the job, and then get out of the way. Your biggest job is to create an environment of respect and accountability, where people have fun and express themselves freely by continuously moving forward towards the team’s goals.

Leadership is Service

To sum it up, these five points above are not strategies or tactics which you can incorporate in your leadership style to get better results. These are the bedrock which will give rise to a myriad of strategies and tactics, which in turn will lead to those results. If you try to fake them, your people will call your bluff sooner or later, and you will lose all credibility and trust. An attitude of humble service will enable you to become a better leader, while taking care of your team and company’s needs.

How to Powerfully Step into the New Year 2017

I think it was 1989 when I, for the first time, realised that the 1st of January was a special day. The biggest change for me, one that always took a few weeks to get used to, was to write 1990 instead of 1989 in our school notebooks daily. While the whole world celebrated and wished each other on the 1st of Jan, nothing much else seemed to have changed (for me). Today, as we stand at the cusp of 2017, 28 years have passed since then. Though the fact still remains that nothing much changes between Dec 31 and 1 Jan, if we look at the last 28 years, then we can no doubt say that the whole world and each of our individual lives have changed immensely. While we may not always notice and acknowledge it, change is the only constant in life. A New Year is our annual reminder that time has come to move on and prepare ourselves for the changes coming.

Today I want to ponder and write about how to powerfully step into the new year, so that we are not surprised or shocked by the changes it will bring along. Over the years I have realised that we might very well let the years slide by without much attention; there always comes a time when we are made aware, not often subtly, that time has moved on. So read on if you prefer to enter the new year on your own terms, or skip this article if you feel a new year is too insignificant an event to trouble your brain cells.

1. Complete 2016
The first step before starting anything new is to finish what you are doing now. Just like we put the first foot down before lifting the other one while jogging, just like we get our raw vegetables and spices ready before cooking our food, it is imperative that we finish our 2016 before we even start thinking about 2017. If we ignore this first step, the result will be the same when we start cooking a delicious dish only to realise later we never got the required ingredients.

What I mean by completing 2016 is taking some dedicated time before the new year to –
1. Introspect your goals (if any) at the start of the year and make peace with where you are now.
2. Celebrate your achievements (big and small) and laugh about your failures (missed opportunities)
3. Reflect upon what you have learned, and how you have changed or grown over the year.
4. Free your mind from the grip of the difficult people and hard situations you have encountered this year.
5. Apologize if you realise you have been a difficult person in someone else’s life.
6. Give up any blame, regret or shame gathered this year. There will be new to collect in 2017 🙂
7. Thank and express gratitude to everyone who has made a difference in your life.

2. Know Yourself
The next step before moving ahead is to take some time to know yourself better. That doesn’t mean finding out your blood group or body weight or exam grades or other people’s predictions about your future, but rather looking deep inside yourself to discover your deepest values and motivations. You can do so by answering questions such as –
1. What are your deepest motivations? What have you always wanted to do?
2. What are you really passionate about? Is there something worth devoting your life for?
3. What drives your actions and decisions? What are the values you hold most dearly?
4. What makes your really happy or angry?
5. Who are your biggest inspirations in life, and who are the people you can’t stand? Why?

Answering these questions are anything but simple and there can never be final answers to them. But if we take time and ponder over them and come up with some ideas, we will know ourselves better than anybody else (our parents, friends, grades, achievements, money) can tell us about.

3. Where do you want to be in the next 5 or 10 years?
The next step is to think about the future and exercise your imagination muscles. Think about the kind of person you want to be in the next 3, 5 or 10 years. This might seem like too far ahead in the future, but it doesn’t take long for these years to roll by. Just think about how quickly the last 10 years have passed by. Imagining your own future can feel a bit strange and uncomfortable at first, but soon it will become a lot of fun – just like a game. Do not let this question overwhelm you (which it can), and instead, play it like a game and see what you come up with.

While you imagine your future, think about your deepest desires and ambitions. What do you want to accomplish that will give you the most satisfaction? What changes you want to see in yourself, your family, your society, your company, your city and your country? How do you want people to relate to you after 10 years? In this step you do not need concrete answers, but a vague image of where you want to be. The intention of this exercise is to get you thinking about your future, the actual answers you come up with are not so relevant.

4. Decide milestones or checkpoints on the way
The next step is to identify milestones for the next 1 year for the ambitions which you discovered in the previous step. Don’t let this step scare you. You don’t have to decide milestones for each one of your ambitions – you can choose a few which are the most important to you. Also don’t worry or bother about “how” you will reach your milestones as you have the whole year to think about that.

These milestones will serve as checkpoints which will measure your progress towards your long term ambitions. These milestones can be broken down into quarterly and monthly milestones depending on what you prefer. The only thing to take care while marking these milestones is to make sure they can be observed and measured by anyone easily and they are not vague. Make sure to be clear about what you want to achieve, when and where you will achieve that and with whom. The more numbers you can use the better this step will be in its fruitfulness, and it is best to avoid vague words like soon, sometime, in a few weeks, improvement, better, more, etc.

In the above two steps, it is very important to also include and keep time for recreation, fun, sports and other forms of entertainment. The whole idea of this exercise is be more aware about yourself and prepared for the coming year, and it is very important to not take it too seriously and think only about work and professional stuff. If you are a movie buff and want to watch 100 movies or visit a few movie festivals next year, plan your milestones for it.

Where are you going?

Where are you going?

With the above four steps, you can step into the new year and make a powerful “start“. Of course, that doesn’t mean that your life will pan out exactly as you imagined or that the next year is going to be your best year. It just doesn’t work that way. But knowing where you want to go is always better than hoping to get “somewhere”.

I can write another article about what you can do in the new year to make sure you hit your milestones, but we must always remember that change is the only constant in life, and it can come up in unexpected ways and mess up our plans anytime. But having messed up plans is still better than having no plans at all, and we can repeat the above process anytime to plan afresh for the future – we need not wait for the next “New Year” to repeat this process.

Investing in Yourself and Making Powerful Choices

John was pushing on the gas as he didn’t want to be late for this meeting. If he can crack this deal, it would be a game changer for his company, and he had worked hard for it. But just as he was visualising what he would say in the meeting, his car engine fell silent and it came to a stop soon after.

After struggling for a few seconds, he shouted ‘fuck!’ as his eyes went towards the fuel meter. “This can’t be true”, he uttered in complete shock as he looked at the needle towards the E in his car’s dashboard. He got down and started kicking his car in frustration when a passer by stopped and asked – “What’s wrong?”

“I can’t believe I just ran out of fuel. And I am already running late for this very important meeting.”

“Why didn’t you stop on the way to refuel your car?”, asked the bystander.

“Didn’t I just tell you?? I have to make it to the meeting. I am already late.”

If you are laughing or smiling at the above story, don’t. Because we (Yes! Including you and me) aren’t very different either. In our day to day lives, we are also too often focussed on what is urgent or what seems important today that we end up ignoring what is really important for us in the long run. If we use the “filling the gas” metaphor which I used in the story, then it is evident that it was a case of bad prioritisation, but it is not so simple to see the same in our daily lives.

If you really want to not run out of gas, you need to invest in the person you are, because that will determine how far you will go. Investing in Yourself is the equivalent of “filling up the gas”. Below I am listing down the four steps we all can follow to do so.

1. Understanding Yourself

We are all shaped by our surroundings – our parents, our peer at school and work, our friends, our culture and our experiences as we grow up. It is very rare that we spend time in exploring who we are on a deeper level. What are our values? What makes us really happy or angry? What do we want our life to be about?

Questions like these can help you uncover your personality and understand how you came to be the way you are. By exploring these questions you also get the freedom to choose the kind of person you want to be, or if there is something you want to re-invent or change about yourselves.

2. Awareness of How You Act

We all have certain beliefs which explain us the way things should be or should not be. Almost all of our decisions are based on these beliefs about people and situations in life. It is our mind’s job to ensure our safety and survival in this fast paced world and it does that by making decisions for us, many times which are even unaware to our conscious self. It is like we are running on auto-pilot.

Making efforts to uncover your blind spots and to be more conscious requires being more mindful of your daily decisions – both big and small. It is only through focusing attention on your mind that you can be present to the robotic nature of your life. By being present to this routine will lead you to the next step – of making your own conscious choices.

Invest in Yourself - Warren Buffet

Invest in Yourself – Warren Buffet

3. Making our Own Choices

Once we are aware of how our unconscious mind drives most of our actions, we can be more deliberate about our choices. Each and every choice we make has the potential to change the direction of where we are going, and each choice will have its own consequences.

By being conscious about your own choices based on your values and beliefs, you can take control of the steering wheel of your life and stop being just a passenger in life.

For example – Rita believes her boss is rude and has a bias against her, based on past experiences. Now every time she gets into a meeting with him, her mind acts overtime to sense any hint of a bias towards her, and as soon as that happens, she start to defend or prove herself right. Often it develops into a behaviour pattern which she can’t help. She feels trapped and not having any other option. Now suppose Rita wants to invest in herself and has taken time to think about her life and understand the events that shaped her personality. She realises that being respected and treating others fairly while working towards common goals are amongst her deepest values.

Now when she hears something from her boss which sounds biased against her, she gives her boss the option to explain his point or rephrases it to make sure she understands correctly, but doesn’t assume anything. After that, she acts based on her values and makes her point to her boss to find common ground rather than to prove him wrong. If her boss is still unreasonable and rude towards her, she respectfully informs him that his behaviour bothers her and look for ways forward. In this case – either her boss ends up changing his behaviour, or she decides to change her team or job, but either way she feels in control and empowered about her choices.

4. Mastery via Practice

Once you have made your own choices, the next step is to practice doing daily whatever is required to stay on course. It takes great amount of discipline and practice to unlearn old habits and learn new ones. You will obviously fail many times when trying to form new habits, but eventually these new habits will feel like second nature. Only by being aware (or mindful) of the decisions you take each day you can be deliberate about them to move your life in the direction you want to go. The challenge is to reflect and learn from your experiences and re-invent yourself if the need be.

The Power of a Pause

When Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister of India, I always wondered what could be the reason behind the pauses he took while speaking. Sometimes I thought it was because of his old age, and sometimes people even made fun of him for this habit, but I was always amused by the wisdom of his words – not just his political speeches, but his writings and poems in particular. If we take a pause and think for a moment, we can all recall such people who take longer than usual while speaking or answering questions. In today’s fast paced world, I believe such people can teach us some valuable lessons.

Our Quest for Survival

Human beings are hard-wired for survival, and that is the reason we are the most evolved species on the planet. Our brains constantly listen for signals from our senses (sight, sound, touch) and acts immediately if it senses any danger or threat to our physical well-being. Similarly, our mind always listens from external events, giving us a running commentary as life unfolds around us. When we are conversing, our mind tells us what to speak next or it makes a judgement about the speaker or the spoken. It is the mind’s job to make sure we don’t look bad (or stupid), and it decides (for us) what to do next to save us from (perceived) threats to our social well-being.

Our Ability to Intervene & Take a Pause

If there is one thing which separates us from other living beings, it is our ability to stop this cycle of action and reaction, and to take a pause before deciding how to respond. Most of the times, both action and reaction are simultaneous, with no pause between them. An example could be our spouse asking the same question every morning and we replying with the same response without even blinking. The same happens at work when we talk to our boss or our colleagues.

A small pause before we start to speak or answer can do wonders to a conversation. Most of the times when we are not talking, we are actually waiting to talk. Sometimes the person on the other side has a lot more to say but is hesitant and so he stopped. By taking a pause after he has stopped speaking, and maybe using words like hmm… uh.. ok.. but not jumping in with our views, we can let the other person complete whatever he has in his mind. We can even ask follow up questions like – “Do you have anything else to add?” before beginning to speak ourselves.

Simple and powerful words by Mark Twain

Simple and powerful words by Mark Twain

In my conversations where I have been aware to take a pause, I have noticed that speaking up after letting the other person finish leads to more fruitful conversations and both parties are left satisfied. This satisfaction is of being heard, and of being understood. What’s more strange is that sometimes I don’t even have to speak up, and the conversation automatically leads to where I wanted it to go by just listening. As people are listened to, they let their rigidity of stance soften and consider your view point even without your asking for it. Such is the power of taking a pause and listening.

Responsibility = Our Ability to Respond

We live in a world today where we want everyone to be responsible. We want our children, our political leaders, our colleagues, our managers, our neighbours to all be responsible. “Responsibility” is an over-used word in our media driven society, but I believe being responsible is first and foremost our ability to respond consciously. It can make a huge difference in our lives if we can train ourselves to take a pause often and act not from our mind’s fears and judgements, but from our values, priorities and goals.

Taking a pause will force us to think about what is really important to us, and it can have a profound impact on our work and lives. Pausing creates space for ourselves and others to express themselves fully. It creates positive energy instead of building tension and enables us to handle tough situations in a more mature way.

I want to end with a simple request – to take a pause and think about this article, rather than just believing the commentary your mind has provided you as you were reading it.

The Last Moment

We say the whole world is connected,
But how far apart we have drifted?
We all have touch phones to show,
How many of us are really in touch, though?

Everybody is in a hurry,
Why has life become so fast?
An anxious obsession for the future,
And endless worries about the past..

Each day, every moment must be cherished,
Some will be sunny, and some overcast!
Our enthusiasm must never be diminished,
Just smile, and enjoy life’s every contrast!!

Endless work, targets and deadlines,
Days, weeks and months pass so fast!
Sing a song, read a book, watch a movie,
We never know which one will be our last!!

In the world of facebook and twitter,
Our networks and friend lists are so vast!
Go out and meet your best friend today,
You never know which day will be your last!

Life doesn’t has to be a torture,
Instead we should aim to have a blast!
Every moment can be an adventure,
As we never know which will be our last!!

Life is Lived in the Now and Here

Life is Lived in the Now and Here