Monday, March 31, 2008

i-TFTD #109: The Case of the Bonsai Manager

Short excerpts from the book, "The Case of the Bonsai Manager: Lessons from Nature on Growing" by R Gopalakrishnan

R. Gopalakrishnan has been a professional manager for forty years, with a wealth of practical managerial experience, initially in Unilever and more recently as executive director of Tata Sons based in Mumbai. He has lived and worked in India, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia and has travelled extenseively all over the world.

His book is about nature, management and intuitive leadership. Gopalakrishnan says his book is not a 30-day guide to solve management problems. After the required analysis is done, gut instinct should take over as intuition will be a key differentiator for excellence in the future, he says.

Bonsai manager: How a manager becomes stunted

A stunted manager is one who is operating and working at a level which is well below his potential. He himself is the best judge of this, because he can sense such a condition better than anyone else. He would probably exhibit certain characteristics and attitudes which would indicate to other people that he is working in this manner.

He may, for example, come through as a person who is not very involved or very happy with his work. Worse, he may have given up trying to change this position and may have reconciled to it. This would make him look like a 'tired' manager who does not have the motivation to do something about his situation for many possible reasons.

The disinclination to change the environment around him could be because he is more concerned with security than with satisfaction. It could be that he finds it too much of a bother to seek change. It may be that he is low on self-esteem and is worried about the consequences of trying to alter his situation. Reasons such as these cause him to continue with his unsatisfying predicament to the stage when this very situation becomes normal for him.

At some point of time, his characteristics and attitude become somewhat irreversible. Reviving his managerial learning and motivation becomes very difficult, or not worth the effort on the part of the organization.

This is when he can be considered to have become a permanently stunted manager -- it is the stage beyond which it is difficult to make him 'grow' again in a managerial sense. Such managers can be seen in large as well as small companies, multinationals and the public sector, almost everywhere.

The message is that the 'space' in which a manager grows is extremely important. This space around his job is defined by the manager by four perceptions.

-The nature of his industry and company;
-The type of work he does and his role within his organization;
-The people relationships he is involved with; and
-The threats or obstacles he faces and has to overcome.

If the space in which the manager operates and grows is limited, if his emotional and mental exertion are low, then his developments gets stunted. If he stays in this stultifying situation for long and does nothing to change his circumstance, then he can become a permanently stunted manager!

Just as the growth of the crocodile depends on the diet and the space available, the growth of a manager too is influenced by his 'mental' food (reading, training, and people challenges) as well as the experimental space (new experience and tough assignments that disturb him from his comfort zone). Nobody sets out to become a stunted manager. Yet stunted managers do exist, in large numbers.

Because of inadequate challenge and learning arising from working at the grassroots of company operations, young managers can get stunted in their growth at a very early stage of their career. The truly big and successful managers are set to solve problem after problem, they are constantly challenged to swim upstream against the tide so that they learn and grow fast.

The Case of the Bonsai Manager: Lessons from Nature on Growing

by R. Gopalakrishnan
Foreword by Ratan N. Tata
Publisher: Penguin Books India
Price: Rs 450

Full excerpt at Another excerpt is in Businessworld magazine dated 28-May-2007.

Friday, March 28, 2008

i-TFTD #108: Instant Learning

i-TFTD #108: Instant Learning

Looking around the room, I found 7 secrets of success:

The roof said: Aim high
The fan said: Be cool
The clock said: Every minute is precious
The mirror said: Reflect before you act
The window said: See the world
The calendar said: Be up-to-date
The door said: Push hard to achieve your goals

I have had participants in training sessions do a similar exercise where the objective is to come up with one or more learnings related to leadership, from some inanimate object (preferably from nature). Every time people come out with excellent points. Try it. This is the basis of many creative thinking "techniques" that use a random trigger in the form of a word, phrase or picture. Edward De Bono has explained why such triggers are necessary, in dozens of his books.

How does this happen? Maybe most fundamentals are things we intuitively know or have heard before, the analogy exercise simply reminds us. I find it interesting that each of us has the capability to relate seemingly unrelated ideas in a useful way. And I find it curious that we seldom utilize this ability to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to situations.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

i-TFTD #107: Colored

When I born, I Black,
When I grow up, I Black,
When I go in sun, I Black,
When I scared, I Black,
When I sick, I Black,
And when I die, I still Black...

And you, white fella...

When you born, you Pink,
When you grow up, you White,
When you go in sun, you Red,
When you cold, you Blue,
When you scared, you Yellow,
When you sick, you Green,
And when you die, you Gray...

And you call me Colored?

(Some sites say this is an award-winning poem written by an African kid but other sites attribute different origins.)

The humour and the irony is immediately noticeable. It also makes us wonder about the ability of language to reveal prejudice and to sustain it. Dominant cultures attribute qualities to colors and transfer it to people with skins in those colors. Even the most liberal-minded amongst us may unknowingly be influenced by such bias as described by
Malcolm Gladwell in his book, "Blink". He also points to the Harvard site containing implicit association tests that can uncover this. Try it, it's spooky. They also have India-flavoured tests there.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

i-TFTD #106: Great Leaders are Value Shapers

i-TFTD #106: Great Leaders are Value Shapers

Great leaders understand that it is their capacity to shape values that ultimately directs the course of an organization. To identify the true character and personality of your organization, skip the values statement that hangs in the corporate foyer and observe your people they are the living expression of your organization’s underlying values.

by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg
Great leaders understand that it is their capacities to shape values and educate through vivid, living, personal example that ultimately direct the course of an organization. The way people think about customers and co-workers, the way they behave, and their impressions of right and wrong are all influenced by watching the way their leaders live out the organization's values.

If you want to identify the true character and personality of an organization, skip the values statement that hangs in the corporate foyer and observe the way people act in the mundane, ad hoc, isolated events of every day. Then examine the company's systems, strategy, structure, and policies. They are the living expression of the organization's underlying values.

Every firm builds its reputation based on a set of values. The question is whether the values driving the business of the firm have been haphazardly acquired or purposefully instilled, protected, and promoted. This is why leaders must become particularly interested in their role as value shapers.

Two types of values exist in every organization: the espoused values and the values people practice. When there is alignment between the two types of values, leaders within the organization are perceived to operate out of personal integrity. Simply put, personal integrity is doing what you say you're going to do.

When there is a disconnect between the espoused values and the values we practice, that's called hypocrisy. Professing a belief, philosophy, or standard to which you don't hold yourself accountable is an act of pretension and insincerity. Hypocrisy is the practice of doing this habitually. Leaders who operate out of hypocrisy breed compliance, because they lack influence and must lean on positional power to get things done. In the long run mere compliance will take the organization only so far before people lose faith in their leaders.

Leadership functions on the basis of trust and credibility. That's why leaders must become consciously aware of closing the gap between the espoused values and the values they practice. Leaders who live their values inspire a tremendous sense of commitment and loyalty in others. As a result, they expand their influence and their ability to effect change. This is important because the highly competitive and rapidly changing world in which we live requires nothing short of a radical commitment to excellence from every person in the organization. With strong leadership, people develop the necessary hope, passion, and perseverance to meet the demands of an unforgiving marketplace.

Children do as we do, not as we say. Same thing applies to followers. Part of a person's growth into a leader involves inculcating a basic authenticity. Some might reach high positions without crossing this milestone, and find it highly uncomfortable and unhappy there.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

i-TFTD #105

i-TFTD #105

#105-1. Feeling grateful or appreciative of someone or something in your life actually attracts more of the things that you appreciate and value into your life.

-Northrup Christiane

#105-2. A big shot is just a small shot who keeps shooting... shooting... shooting...

#105-3. It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.
-Harry S Truman

The first cannot be explained scientifically or rationally. Try it and see.

Often the people who give up too soon are the ones complaining about the world, fate, the boss, politics and bad luck. After someone succeeds it looks easy.

The third is true, but practical advice in today's world would be to acquire the skills and tactics to make sure credit is not always denied for your contribution! It is better to be clear what is more important, getting something to happen (regardless of who gets the credit) or being the visible influencer. The answer could change as we progress through stages of maturity.

Monday, March 17, 2008

i-TFTD #104: There's (Always) More Left in the Tube

i-TFTD #104: There's (Always) More Left in the Tube

There's More Left in the Tube
Our biggest breakthroughs often occur when we think there's nothing left in our tube.
by Jeff Keller

When I shave each morning, I use shaving cream that comes out of a small "travel size" aerosol can. The can is only about three inches high. I'd been using that little can for several weeks, when I realized the can was getting very light. I immediately thought, "Can't be much more left in here." I was just about to throw it in the wastebasket when I figured I could eke out another shave or two.

Much to my amazement, the shaving cream kept coming out day after day after day. I ended up getting 19 more shaves from that little dispenser! And to think that I was just about to throw the can away.

I'm sure you've experienced the same thing with a tube of toothpaste or shampoo. It looks like the tube is just about empty, but you keep folding the tube and squeezing and you get days or weeks of extra use from the supposedly empty tube.

There's a lesson here for all of us. We work toward a goal and sometimes get frustrating results for a long time. Things aren't working out as we had anticipated. We think there's not much left in "our tube," and we give some thought to quitting. The reality is that we have a lot more left in the tube, if we'll only continue to believe in ourselves and keep moving forward.

In fact, our biggest breakthroughs often occur when we think there's nothing left in our tube. You see, there's a polarity to life, and when you experience setbacks and disappointments, these are often balanced by significant achievements. Yet most people quit before the "turnaround" happens.

Napoleon Hill, one of the most insightful success writers of all time, described this phenomenon in his classic self-help book Think & Grow Rich. In the early 1900s, Hill spent decades interviewing more than 500 of the most successful people in the United States people like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Andrew Carnegie. Hill reported that hundreds of these successful individuals told him that their greatest success came just one step after they suffered their greatest defeat.

Harriet Beecher Stowe put the principle this way: "When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you until it seems that you cannot hold on for a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn."

About 10 years ago, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen began pitching their book to various publishers. The first 30 rejected their book. They could have thrown in the towel then, believing the tube was empty. Then they got the 31st rejection ... and then the 32nd rejection. Was the tube empty? They didn't think so. On the 140th attempt, they finally got a publisher to say yes to their book. That book was Chicken Soup for the Soul, and it spawned a series of books that has now sold more than 80 million copies!

The challenge is that we do not know when pushing ahead a little bit more will give us a breakthrough. The trick is to maintain a positive expectation and focus only on the next step or two. How do we know whether we are being persistent or pig-headed? The larger the goal, the more noble the endeavour to reach it. When we try new approaches, gather new inputs and help, it is more useful than if we simply keep plodding along. Something like smarter hard work instead of simply hard work or smart work.

Monday, March 10, 2008

i-TFTD #103: Women's Day Special

March 8 was Women's Day. Some of my favourite quotes by women:

#103-1. Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.
-Anne Morrow Lindbergh

#103-2. Knowing what you can not do is more important than knowing what you can do.
-Lucille Ball

#103-3. Nobody really cares if you're miserable, so you might as well be happy.
-Cythina Nelms

#103-4. The next thing to being clever is being able to quote someone who is.
-Mary Pettibone Poole

#103-5. You can look at a person's attitude and know what kind of thinking is prevalent in his life... It's better to be positive and wrong than negative and right!
-Joyce Meyer

#103-6. Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.
-Marie Curie

#103-7. We spend the first twelve months of our children's lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next twelve telling them to sit down and shut up.
-Phyllis Diller

The 3rd, 5th and 6th are profound. We can apply the last one at the organization, too. We send our juniors to assertiveness training and creativity workshops, but by the time they are seniors, how come they learn not to speak up or think innovatively? The price of maturity? Could I retain an external image of maturity and still be enthusiastic and unconventional? Russell has some good advice on this that has been helpful for me.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

i-TFTD #102

i-TFTD #102

#102-1. Humanity as a whole must learn to leave behind the "you or me" attitude of the past and begin to make the "you and me" or "you and us" attitude a total reality today!

-Thomas D. Willhite

#102-2. Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.

-Sydney J. Harris

#102-3. He who adds not to his learning diminishes it.
-The Talmud

The second one is a killer. Anyone who is not "very young" would relate to it. I can offer this advice to such persons: Let others who are younger not suffer the same pangs, facilitate their stepping out and beyond, their experimentation and help them boldly go where... you perhaps did not go.

Knowledge and skills can easily "rust" if not updated and practised. A useful habit is to listen to or read something without saying, "I already know this." Often we discover a new interpretation.