Friday, January 18, 2008

A few thoughts penned down......

“Leader”, this is a word which has been goin around for a very long time. But what does it mean? Why is it such a fancy word these days? Why is it that companies spend millions and millions every day just to ensure that their empolyees are leaders .This is a question which has been going through my mind for a long time now. To learn of leadership I read a lot of books about leaders who have changed the perspective of this world. I wanted to find out what was it that made these people achieve so much. There I found two qualities which were common between all these people: Two very simple qualities that every human being has but which can fade away with time.

Taking responsibility of ones own life:

I would be able to give you personal experiences and normal middle class person’s opinion but not great theories or fancy lookin graphs to tell you who I think are leaders. To me a leader is one who takes responsibility of his own life. A leader is the one who realises that it his responsbility that he becomes big in life. For example let us take Mr. Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi. He is considered a good leader. What did he do? He took up the responsibility of fighting for India’s independence. That was his dream and even though there were loads of obstacles he came across them only because he had taken responsibility. He took responsibilty of his life, took responsibility of achieving what he wanted to get. He thought “It is my life and if I have taken somethin upon myself it is my duty to achieve it.” This small initiative separates a leader from an ordinary person. Any person on this earth can take an initiative, but only people who finish up the initiative collects the fruit of it and will be called a leader by others. Is taking resposibility of one’s own life that difficult? If we dont take responsibility of our own lives, who would?

Being Productive = Not being lazy

If we are ready to take responsibility of our own lives, then what is stopping us from getting to the top of the world? Why are some people top CEOs whereas some people are struggling even to have 1 square meal a day? Don’t people want to be rich and have the best life in the world? Who wouldn’t want to live in a dream house, have loads of money, drive the best car, wear the nicest clothes, and eat the most delicious food? Gosh! Even the thought of having so many things makes me dizzy! I definitely would love to have all those things and I’m sure most would agree with me. But why is that only few of the people get what they want whereas the major dont get the life they want to have?

Very simple answer, people are not ready to go that extra mile. To cut the long story short, people tend to become lazy when they don’t see short term results. I know many who would not be ready to accept this, but it’s a fact. We are human beings. We sometimes love to take things easy and we get used to the kind of lifestyle we have. I accept I’m lazy sometimes. To give you an example; the other day I was sitting at work and I started missing home, friends, and the life style I’m used to in India. In fact I just wanted to rush back home. After about half an hour of depression I did a self analysis. I asked my self “Have I achieved what I had come here (Sri Lanka) for?” The obvious answer was no. Then I realised that when I didn’t see quick results, laziness had crept into me and made me lose focus. As a matter of fact I was ready to let go of my dream just because I was lazy. I’m sure this happens to every individual but a leader is a person who overcomes this part, turns the negative energy into positive and moves ahead.

At the end of the day life is very simple: You dream of having something, work whole-heartedly for reaching it and at the end of the day you will get whatever you desire. There will be a lot of obstacles but when you do it whole-heartedly you will find ways to overcome them. This is what nearly every world leader’s biography proves. People, the whole world is waiting for us, let us go ahead and chase our dreams!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Victims of Conditioning

After 30 years of sedentary living (where the most active thing I did was probably running to catch the train) I started working out at the gym 3 times a week last October. By November I was on an offsite program with UTI at a hotel without access to a gym.

I was sufficiently gung-ho about making up for the missed work-out to get up at 5:30 and jog on the beach for an hour - which I continued for all the programs until one day it started to rain... and I said to myself "I'm not so passionate about this that I want to do it in the rain" and I went back to sleep.

One hour later, enjoying a cup of coffee on the balcony; I was explaining to Kaushik (my room-mate) why I had skipped the run. Kaushik looked out to the ocean and saw some fisherman in a boat, and commented "For you, running was an option; when it was raining you had the luxury of choosing to quit. For them [the fisherman], fishing is a livelihood - rain or shine they have to go out there"

This led me to thinking... why couldn't I have run? I was running barefoot (so no worries about stinky shoes), the other clothes wouldn't have suffered if they got wet (they anyway got sweaty), and I would take a shower after the jog anyway. So, there was really no reason why I couldn't have jogged, except for the deep-rooted conditioning from my younger days: "Don't get wet in the rain, you'll fall sick."

How often does it happen that some outdated conditioning deprives us of making the best use of the opportunities around us? Probably more often than we realize, given that you usually don't recognize the conditioning in yourself.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Random excellence

Before joining UTI I was working as part of a top leadership team of a youth-driven nonprofit organization. Simultaneously I was completing my Master’s Thesis on diversity and teamwork, part of the study being the concept of high-performance teams. These “hot groups” or “virtuoso teams” are a rare phenomenon and particularly complicated unit of analysis due to their seemingly random way of emerging, functioning and delivering extraordinary results. I know what I’m talking about because the leadership team I was part of fulfilled the criteria of a high-performance team. We were on a year-long mission of turning around a somewhat stagnated organization; “building a better future” as we’d say. It was nowhere near the ideal team that most team theories suggest: we rated poorly in team cohesion, empathetic communication and consencual decision making. There was a lot of rebellion against old norms, prevailing disagreement and heated discussions. But there was also overarching commitment to get results. I believe that team exceeded expectations on all areas of work. Later we became the best of friends. Though scattered all around the world (Puerto Rico, Finland, Malaysia and Sri Lanka) we are still in constant communication and even hearing a certain song in radio triggers the memories of that unique “Team Lego” as we called ourselves.

As time passed the theories and experiences gave way to new ones. Last weekend I was facilitating a yet another Wild Drift team development program. But it wasn’t a yet another program: something surprising happened. There was a team that seemed to go against all the ideals of teamwork yet they completed their task in a record-breaking time. As per my role in the activity I tried to confuse them, mislead them and set them up for failure. No matter what I tried they wouldn’t fail. Though there was no harmonic cooperation they portrayed unanimous passion and desire to get results: They came to win. I was perplexed: how can this random bunch of people be so successful though on the outset they are far from a well-behaving team? The answer was that we were witnessing a high-performance team in action. They did fulfill the team basics of sharing a single dream, having mutually complementing skills and organizing themselves around a common goal. But that is not enough to explain the extraordinary results they got. The advantage came through the “magic” of a hot group. Why I say magic is because there is no single formula that an organization could follow to build a high-performance team. In actuality, you don’t build high-performance teams: they emerge. Of course you can set the breeding ground for hot groups: you can select the brightest minds into your organization, you can tear down the walls (physical and mental) that restrict sharing ideas and you can challenge them with highly ambitious goals. That might increase the likelihood of seeing high-performance teams emerge, but it doesn’t guarantee it.

What is the learning point? If you want good results, you go by the book. If you want extraordinary results you ensure the basics and then bring in a bit of chaos, shake it and stir it, and hope for the best…

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

People vs. electricity

How many companies are there that claim victoriously “People are our main asset”? And how many of those actually put their brainpower in use? Imagine what would happen if there was no internet connection at your office. Would you be able to work? Or what if the whole electricity was cut off? Would all your operations stop at once?

Imagine how dependent we have become of these two assets! Lack of electricity or even internet connection can paralyze huge organizations though they claim people are their main asset. Since when have people needed electricity to operate? It’s not like you can pull a plug and your brain stops working.

How could we build work patterns that would be independent of anything else than interdependence of people?

Oh wait, I need to check my email…

Monday, September 03, 2007

The power of cricket

Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam… Sri Lanka has many religions but one “religion” unifies everyone: cricket. However, this posting has nothing to do with it. It’s about crickets, insects related to – and often confused with - grasshoppers.

Have you ever seen a cricket? Maybe you have. Do you think a cricket can have any impact in this world, other than being bird food? It’s such a minute thing. How could it possible be important?

Well, have you heard a cricket? Most likely you have. Though you sometimes might ignore a cricket when you see one, you can’t ignore it when you hear one, because it ain’t alone. Especially in warm countries like Sri Lanka the cricket chirping can be so loud that it covers all the other sounds behind it. Imagine, chirping started by one one small insect and joined by thousands of others can defeat the sound of man-made machines that swoosh by one the road.

And what does this have to do with leadership?

True change leaders who can have an impact on themselves, their relationship, their family, their colleagues, teams, organizations, countries and the whole world understand the power of one and are able to connect others in the same mission. Their impact becomes as powerful as the herd of crickets.

But the difference between a cricket and a leader is that whereas for the former it all comes naturally for the latter the impact comes as a result of hard and smart work, practice and deep self-reflection.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Creating abundance

Father: "I want you to marry a girl of my choice"
Son: "I will choose my own bride!"

Father: "But the girl is the daughter of Bill Gates."

Son: "Well, in that case... ok!"

Next - Father approaches Bill Gates.

Father: "I have a husband for your daughter."

Bill Gates: "But my daughter is too young to marry!"
Father: "But this young man is vice-president of the World Bank."
Bill Gates: "Ah, in that case... ok!"

Finally Father goes to see the president of the World Bank.

Father: "I have a young man to be recommended as a vice-president."

President: "But I already have more vice-presidents than I need!"
Father: "But this young man is Bill Gates's son-in-law."

President: "Ah, in that case... ok!"

It seems that everyone is pretty much clear by now of the difference between management and leadership, but still people and organizations tend to practice more management than leadership. The above story is a great example of leadership. Managers manage scarce resources. Leaders create abundance: even If you have nothing, you can get anything.

That is what they’ve been teaching us in schools world over: a good manager utilizes the scarce resources effectively and optimizes processes. But there’s no leadership! A good leader doesn’t care of the current lack of resources but he clarifies what needs to be done and then finds ways to get the resources.

Let us give you another example. Anuruddha Bandara – or AB – is the co-owner of Wild Drift together with Ruki. When we were still at the old office – a dark and gloomy box compared to the new one – we sometimes needed a change of environment for brainstorming. We would pick a time when AB is not at the office and go downstairs to his room. Though it was a fairly small room with just a modest table and a couple of chairs, it was enough for us to have deep discussions of future and come up with breakthrough ideas.

AB’s room was a wonderful resource for us. Who knows, maybe the most important decisions in the future history of Unleash Talent Inc were made in that room. A manager would have stayed upstairs.

(Thanks Maliendra for sending us the story!)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Go away!

Everyone knows that the web is full of great resources, thoughts, ideas, writings and whatnot but how many of us actually take full use of them? We'd like you to go away! We'd like you to check the Leaders' Links on the right pane of this blog and check out what other people have to say about leadership and strategy. For example BNet is a great resource for short and snappy ideas for further exploration or just to pep up your day of leadership. They recently wrote about refining the strategic core of your business. Worth checking out, especially if you're familiar with blue ocean thinking. The guy referred to in BNet - Chris Zook - wrote about finding your next core business just recently in Harvard Business Review. We'll direct. You explore. But you can also direct and give us hints of great leadership and strategy links. Would appreciate your contribution for common good!