Friday, 25 July 2014

How to handle the scars of life

Once upon a time,  there was a King who had a wise  minister   The king had utmost faith on the minister.  Before taking any crucial decision, the king always consulted him and  learnt for his wisdom. 

One day, while hunting in the forest,  a  tiger pounced on him . Though the king killed the tiger, but his face was bruised very badly.  The king was very handsome and he was proud of his good looks.  He was very upset  and could not concentrate on the matters of the state.  The minister observed his king for a few days but when he saw that the king was not able to recover from the trauma, he went to meet him personally. 

"O King, Why are you upset ? Your wounds have already healed and you will be better in a couple of  days more  " 

"My wounds will be healed , but I will be scarred for ever. My face will never look the same again.... " the king moaned. 

" Your highness ! Do not fret.  Whatever happens happens for the good.  God is just. Have faith on him.  Sometimes there are situations in life when it seems that you are doomed for ever. But , later, in retrospect , you realize that things aren't so bad after all.  We have to persevere through our hard times.  Patience, faith and self confidence should be our guiding lights. ...."

Hearing his words, the king became very angry with his minister. 

"My face is mutilated , and you are saying that it is for the good !  Get out from my kingdom and never ever show your face again ..."  the King boomed. 

With a heavy heart, the wise old minister  left  his beloved kingdom. 

After a few months,  when the King was returning after a war,  he was abducted by dacoits. They wrapped his face and tied him up . They waited for nightfall , when the leader of the group will come and sacrifice him to their Goddess.  

The head of the dacoits came - " Remove the cloth from his face... " He ordered. 

When he saw the scarred face of the king,  he said " No... ! His face has flaws so he cannot be offered to the Goddess ... let him go ! " 

The King was released.  

As he walked away from the forest, the King remembered the wise words of his minister ... yes ... Whatever happens happens for the good.  later, in retrospect , you realize that things aren't so bad after all...  I have done a grave mistake ... The next day, the king went to the small hut near the river apologized profusely to the wise minister.  He was brought back to the kingdom with great pomp and show. 

We all face hurdles in life. At work and at home. Sometimes, we  feel that things cannot be worse than this and why did this have to happen to me. Tough situations take out the best in you.  There are numerous examples where people faced adversity to come out shining more than what they were in their comfort zone. 

Always try to turn adversity into an advantage. For that we need optimism and positive thinking.   Only you can help yourself.  You have to keep faith in yourself else it is very easy to go down the spiral. 

Tough situations do not last, tough people do ! 

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Can Female Leaders Have it all ?

In the last few days ,  this contentious topic is doing the rounds in all newspapers, tabloids, websites, TV , twitter , facebook etc..   

In a recent interview,  PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi has said  "I don't think Women can have it all . We pretend that we have it all. We pretend we can have it all " . 

Then she went ahead and told the following incidents from her life :

" I'll tell you a story that happened when my daughter went to Catholic school. Every Wednesday morning they had class coffee with the mothers. Class coffee for a working woman—how is it going to work? How am I going to take off 9 o'clock on Wednesday mornings? So I missed most class coffees. My daughter would come home and she would list off all the mothers that were there and say, "You were not there, mom." "

"The evening when I was appointed as the President of the company, I got home about 10, got into the garage, and my mother was waiting at the top of the stairs. And I said, "Mom, I've got great news for you." She said, "let the news wait. Can you go out and get some milk?" I looked in the garage and it looked like my husband was home. I said, "what time did he get home?" She said "8 o'clock." I said, "Why didn't you ask him to buy the milk?" "He's tired." Okay. We have a couple of help at home, "why didn't you ask them to get the milk?" She said, "I forgot." She said just get the milk. We need it for the morning. So like a dutiful daughter, I went out and got the milk and came back. "

As a female , I too know these pangs of guilt and anger.  We seethe at the unfairness of it all. As Nooyi has rightly said - the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other. 

"Total, complete conflict. When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just as you're rising to middle management your kids need you because they're teenagers, they need you for the teenage years.  And that's the time your husband becomes a teenager too, so he needs you . And as you grow even more, your parents need you because they're aging. So we're screwed. We have no... we cannot have it all ".

Nooyi has touched upon a sore point of the working women.  

Yes,  all the points are true, But have you ever wondered why is it that only Females feel like this ?  Don't you think that the above points are true for the Males too ? Then what is the difference ?  Why does only the Females feel guilty and burdened ? 

The answer is simple.  The females have been conditioned that way. Collectively, unconsciously, it has seeped into the DNA of all the females, all over the world that bringing up your child, looking after your household is the primary duty of the women.  

And this cannot be eradicated in a year or even ten years. It might take a couple of decades  and that too if  the women change their own mindset and in turn change the mindsets of her family. 

  • There should be equal distribution of work in the family and the work should be based upon the aptitude of the partner.  It might happen that the female of the house has a greater aptitude for dealing with external matters like bank, finance and cooking then her husband should help the kids with their studies, other household work etc.  Females themselves should not fall into the trap of stereotyping. 

  • There will be situations when the females will feel guilty. And there will be circumstances when they will be made to feel guilty.  Whenever I am in such a situation , I ask myself  "Why ? "  The same question has to be asked to the husband as well and again to your mother or mother in law or anyone else. No justifications , but simply try not to feel guilty.  The consequence or the situation is not the fault or the responsibility of just the female. Everyone else in that situation is equally responsible and can take action.  When Nooyi found out that there were many mothers who were not present in the school and the next time when her daughter said that Nooyi was not there,  she rallied the names of the mothers who were not there too. These are coping mechanisms .  So, even your daughter can act in a stereotypical mode since she stays in a society and peer pressure and other actions work subconsciously in her mind.  Female leaders have to keep the coping mechanisms going on , persistently, consciously and explaining and discussing about these with her kids so that they too can share her thoughts and feelings. 

  •  I am not against motherhood.  I have a beautiful daughter and she is the apple of my eye and I think children are the greatest source of joy.  But again , if  any female chooses not to start a family, I think she should be given the choice.  A few years after my daughter was born, I was under pressure from my parents as well as in laws to have another kid.  But at that time, my career had just started to shape up.  I was doing well at work.  Having another kid would have put a sudden brake on the ascent.  Because I knew that I will be expected to balance my work as well as my kids.  Somehow , the same is never expected from the fathers.  This change has to be brought in . Nowadays, in India, some progressive organizations give paternity leave of a week. That is not at all enough. The paternity leave should be at least of `12 weeks, just like maternity leave. Again , the father might be wary of snide and subtle remarks about lparenting , since it is considered to be very "female" job.  The organizations should actually glorify the fathers who look after their kids.  

Changing the society, our family and most importantly changing ourselves (females) might take infinite time.  But I am sure that the change will happen.  

We have to keep faith . Female leaders , mothers, managers have to keep on trying, helping other females, their daughters, their sons  to change their mindsets. 

We have to be relentless in our efforts. 

We will win . Finally.  And then we need not "Pretend". 

Female leaders can have it all. 


Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Virtually Possible !

I am a big proponent of flexible timing and telecommuting.  

In my two decades of experience,  I have seen many failures as well as success stories of  centralized as well as decentralized projects. 

A hundred years ago, when the industrial revolution started, the workplace moved from small home based offices to large centrally located factories.  The villagers migrated to cities and towns .  Now, in the 21st Century, we see a reversal.   From centralization , we are moving back to decenralization.  

 This is the age of Virtual Teams. Technology has made it possible to work from anywhere.  Decentralization is now feasible and in most of the cases advantageous - both for the employee as well as the organization.  But along with the advantages, there are some problems too.  Managing these issues helps the leaders in the organization reap the advantages of telecommuting. 

The main problems of  a virtual team are managing people when they are far away, limited personal contact, motivating , conflict resolution and getting the work done when the team members are scattered across different locations. 

So, how can a leader manage a virtual team  effectively ? 

  • Uniform Treatment  and communication - Treat the virtual team the same as  the team who are physically present in your location .   The communication to the full team should be uniform.  No matter where the team members are located, they should be kept informed of team and departmental going ons.  Chit chats between team members enhances the team spirit.  In one of my organizations, we had deployed a indigenous messenger which was used by the team to chat and convey information.  Periodical  newsletters  also works well , where along with the articles and appreciations, a chatty section is included which includes tidbits about the loves of the team members. 

  • Personal interest : The leader should take a personal interest in each team member.  In a company , I was reporting to the Global Head and she made it a point to talk to me at least once a week and figure out how things were going on .  I used to make congratulatory calls to teams when they did something special.  On different occasions like birthdays, marriage anniversary, births etc,  make it a point to send a card or a bouquet. These are small things , but since you cannot see or touch the person , it becomes absolutely essential to do these things. It works. Trust me.

  • Periodical team meetings :  This one is a mandatory one. Specially for virtual teams or for globally distributed teams.  Once a month or two months, hold a hold a full team meeting.  The best way is to do a video conferencing. If that is not possible , try Skype.  If that too is difficult, at least hold a teleconference.  Have a set agenda and allow time for every location.  These are opportunities for exchanging and sharing ideas, best practices and build espirit de corps.

  • Set working guidelines :  Working guidelines for telecommuting is a must. Set specific targets , if possible daily targets and put a process for comprehensive and regular status reporting and tracking.   It is a good practice to set a specific time in the day when s/he should be available for calls, talks , meetings.  Have them come to office (if they are nearby) for training programs, important meetings, extra curricular and teaming activities. 

The telecommuters should be made aware of the potential problems of working from home. Some people feel that they miss out on the water cooler talks and socializing at the workplace and another person felt overwhelmed with the prioritization and self discipline of working from home. These are the cases , where people chose to return to office.  So, instead of  a permanent arrangement, let the people try it for a while where the team member as well as the  leader can assess whether telecommuting is working or not. 

So, go ahead and try virtualizing the workplace.  It sure ensures employee satisfaction as well as reduces costs. 

Do share your experiences with virtual teaming. 

Cheers !