Experience the problem you need to solve

October 30, 2018

The Chairman, TATA Steel, Jamshedpur, India was holding a weekly meeting with his staff. One worker complained about the poor quality and maintenance of toilets for workers. In contrast, the toilets meant for the executives were of top quality having the highest standards of hygiene and cleanliness.

The Chairman found this was unacceptable. Workers should have access to clean toilets. He asked his top executive how much time they would take to set it right. The executive asked for a month’s time.

The Chairman said “I would rather do it in a day. Send me a carpenter.” The next day, when the carpenter came, he simply ordered the sign boards to be swapped. The sign board on the workers’ toilet displayed “Executives” and the Executives’ toilet displayed “Workers”. The Chairman then instructed this sign to be changed every fortnight. The quality of both the toilets came at par within three days.

This incident was shared as an example of leadership by a friend, which indeed it is. But it also shows people need to have a feel of the problem they need to solve. Workers’ toilets would not have improved so quickly if the executives would not have had to use them.

One-third of the global populations still does not have access to a clean and hygienic toilet. Close to 900 million people across the globe continue to practice open defecation. The sustainable Development Goal 6 aims to achieve access to water and sanitation for all by 2030.

Achieving this goal requires a change of mind set to approach solutions. Leaders and managers need to get out of their comfort zones and experience what people around them go through. Then only they will find quicker solutions.

My father was a police officer. I remember he would often go unannounced and eat in the canteen meant for police constables. He ate where all constables used to sit and eat rather than being served in the officer’s dining room. This ensured that the food caterers consistently gave attention to the quality of the food, cleanliness of the canteen, its washrooms and crockery. And, this was also good for the morale of the hard-working police constables.

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One bag for you, one for others

July 19, 2018

If you go shopping on Saturdays in June and November in Switzerland, chances are that you will be welcomed by a volunteer at the entrance of the supermarket who will offer you a small bag with a gentle request: As you shop for yourself, please buy something for charity, put it in this bag and give us. You can buy things for poor and leave the bag with the volunteer as you go out.

The effort is organized by a non-governmental organization called Samedi Du Partage (Saturday of sharing). Since 1993, the organization has been organizing collection of non-perishable food and hygiene products in different supermarkets, with the participation of volunteers.

I participated in one such drive on the 2 June 2018. Over 900 volunteers collected items at over 70 stores across the city. Tons of products were collected. Volunteers would now spend weeks in sorting them out before distributing them to the poor people through over 50 charitable organizations.

It was heartening to see the willingness of people to donate. They did not ask questions. They trust the work of ‘Samedi du partage’. They have been doing it for years. During the rush hour, as we could not offer the bag to each person entering the shop, some patiently waited for their turn and asked for the bag. A young student came in and handed me a few things. What he had bought for himself was just a water bottle. When I asked he simply said, “I came to buy water for myself. Saw you guys here and thought of joining this effort.” An old woman made three trips, and each time she donated something, saying she finds it difficult to hold much weight at a time.

I decided to write about ‘Samedi du partage’ as it presents a very good model. It makes it convenient for people to help the poor while doing their daily chores. It is also an excellent example of mobilizing volunteers and reaching the needy in partnership with a large number of charitable organizations. I wish such a model is replicated in different places as well.

I am sure most people will be willing to help if a reputable organization approaches them and makes it easier for them to support a good cause. Even if no volunteer approaches us when we go shopping or eating out, we may consider keeping aside a small amount with the intention of helping others.


Three qualities of a leader

June 29, 2018

Some soldiers were trying to move a heavy log of wood without success. Their leader was standing simply watching as his men struggled. A rider passed by and asked him why he was not helping. He said, “I am the corporal. I give orders.” The rider went up and helped the soldiers lift the wood. With his help, the task was accomplished.

The rider was George Washington, the Commander-in-chief. He quietly mounted his horse, went to the corporal and said, “The next time your men need help, send for the commander-in-chief.”

The story brings us to three key characteristics of great leaders.

Leaders take actions: They don’t wait. They don’t just talk or order. The join their team whenever they feel the need. Imagine the morale of the team when its leader joins the team members and works with them to achieve something.

Leaders optimize resources: Leaders make the most of the resources – time, finances and human beings – that they have at their disposal. They keep an eye on all the three. Leaders are excellent managers in this sense. A leader has to be a good manager though the reverse is not necessarily true.

Leaders Inspire: This is the most important quality of leaders. They inspire people/teams with their vision, commitment and actions. Leaders trust their team members/followers. Their communication is inspirational too. They don’t just discuss ‘what’ is to be done, they discuss ‘why’ it is to be done and what ‘impact’ it would bring in. People give out their best when they know that their individual effort is linked to a bigger goal.

Ken Blanchard sums it well, “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”


Three ways to developing patience

May 30, 2018

A young Japanese man wanted to learn martial art. He went to the best teacher of the time. Meeting the teacher he asked, “how long must I study in order to become the best in martial arts?” The teacher said a minimum of ten years. The young man thought it was too long. So he asked the teacher, “What if I studied twice as hard as everyone else? How long would it take then?” the teacher said, “twenty years.” Running out of patience, he asked again, “What if I worked day and night with all my effort, how long would it take then?” “Thirty years,” was the teacher’s response.

The young man got confused and asked, “ How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?” the teacher responded, “The answer is simple. With one eye focused on your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the way.”

I shared the above well-known story to expand on the profound response of the teacher that actually tells us why we don’t patiently pursue our dreams. We want to achieve results quickly and that dilutes the focus on efforts.

Patience is the ability to accept delays, obstacles or challenges without getting annoyed or disappointed and persevering with the effort to achieve the goals.

How can we develop patience?

Identify the situations which make you impatient
It could be anything like prayers not being answered, efforts not yielding the desired results, delays in flights, being stuck in a traffic jam, delay in food being served in a restaurant etc. Identify the situations in which you normally lose your patience.

Recall how you behaved in some of these situations
Reflect on your impatient behaviour in different situations. And, then think of the outcome of that behaviour. You might regret your instant reaction out of anger, frustration etc. This realization would prepare you to respond differently next time such a situation arises.

Anticipate delays and challenges
Things don’t always go as planned. There are unforeseen situations or some other facts that can cause delays and irritate you. It will be good to think ahead and plan for at least those factors that you can think of. For example, while learning a new skill, tell yourself repeatedly that everything is difficult before it is easy. For avoiding traffic jams, see if you can factor in some extra time in your schedule.

Patience is key to success. It is an attitude that we all must develop. Problems of life are like the red light on a traffic signal. If we wait, light becomes green. Let’s learn to wait.


Your social media usage defines you

April 29, 2018

Do you know that more people own a mobile device than a toothbrush? Do you know that grandparents are the fastest growing users on twitter?

Social media has over 3 billion active users now. 61% smartphone users look at their phones within five minutes of waking up and 74% check about 15 minutes before going to sleep.

84% people use social media to support a cause or issue they strongly feel about. Imagine the amount of goodness that can be done or promoted through social media, if we select the right cause.

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There are many positive examples: someone finding a kidney donor through Facebook, funds being generated to support a social cause, people raising their voice against sufferings in Syria, Palestine or Yemen, human rights violations; sharing of inspirational stories of people fighting a disease or helping others.

However, what is worrying is that social media is also being used for promoting hatred and divisions. While it feels good to find an old friend on Facebook, it saddens me to see old friends fighting on grounds of politics or religion.

How can we use the power of social media for promoting goodness? Here are some tips:

Define your purpose: Remember, your social media usage defines you, your personality and your character. Your post, comment or even a like means you believe in it. The purpose needs to be clear in mind in order to decide on content that we post, like or share.

Say “no” to hatred: Stay away from reacting to posts/comments that spread negativity and hatred. Don’t follow the groups or people who do so. If such posts reach you through your networks, don’t comment or get involved in discussions.

Treat opinions and posts with respect: You may get hundreds of messages, many of which you may not agree with or even dislike. Don’t respond harshly. Be respectful to people and don’t make personal comments. No response is better than a bitter response! It will break the cycle of negativity.

Think before you post or share something: Remember your purpose. Ask yourself, what impact my post, or comment is going to make? If it is going to do well, go ahead, else abstain.

Social media has given all of us a voice which our earlier generations did not have. We have an opportunity to make a positive impact on the world by sharing good ideas, inspirational stories, speaking for the voiceless, creating peace, harmony and love. Let’s use it for this purpose.


Five ideas to help you “Do it Daily”

February 26, 2018

Want to lose weight? Exercise regularly; Want to learn a language, study every day; Want to get good marks, study every day; Want to master a skill, practice daily.

‘Do it daily’ is the advice we keep receiving. The issue is how to do something daily. We start and give up after a few days. I would propose the following five ideas:

Set small goals
My French teacher had a very practical suggestion. She asked me to spend just five minutes every day to revise what she had taught. It worked! When I was setting myself one hour to study every day, it was not working out. But finding five minutes was easy, even if it was just before going to bed. To my surprise, I ended up studying more than five minutes daily, sometimes even an hour or more.

Don’t Make Comparisons
It is natural for us to make comparisons with peers. However, people are different. Some learn something quickly than others but it does not mean that others can’t learn. It is better to have targets for your own progress rather than comparing your progress with others.

Give up making excuses
Most of the times, we give up doing what we want to do daily on small pretexts. For example, no walk if it is raining; no study if there is a festival; and no music practice if there are guest coming over. Doing something daily means actually finding time to do it every day, without fail. The only liberty we can take is to adjust the time, if something else comes up.

Reward yourself
Reward yourself when you achieve your small goals. For example, If I could do it daily for 30 days, I will have dinner at my favourite restaurant or go to movie with friends. These are social activities we do regularly anyway but linking them with a personal sense to achievement will act as another motivation.

Find someone who pushes you
We all know people who are our true well-wishers, and can give good advice. Share your goal with one of them. He/she will keep reminding you of the goal and help you overcome challenges that come in the way. Moreover, this will also enhance your accountability towards your commitment.

Everything is difficultly before it is easy. With consistent effort and perseverance, we make incremental progress. Jascha Heifetz, one of the greatest violists, once said, “I don’t practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it.”
This is the best way to emphasize upon the importance of doing something daily if we want to excel at it.


Help people achieve their goals

January 30, 2018

Four years ago, I had written a post “Lessons from living legends.” It was incredible how some of the living legends had shared lessons from their hugely successful life.

“Our achievements are due to the support of people around us,” was a great reminder by the noble laureate Dr Venkatraman Ramakrishnan. Who would not agree with this? Indeed, there are people around us who help us throughout. We need to remember them and be thankful to them.

However just being thankful is not enough. The bigger question is: how can we pay them back? In most cases we can’t pay them back. The only way is to help others achieve their goals and let this cycle of goodness continue.

How can we help others achieve their goals? Here are five ideas:

Look beyond your own goal: This is the first requirement. While it is good to be focussed on our own goal, we must look beyond. There are people around us who have a dream as well. Only by being perceptive of that, shall we start thinking of what can we do to help them.
Be approachable: Most people will not seek help or even ask for an advice, if they don’t find us approachable. They may open up only if they find us responsive and trustworthy. We need to demonstrate our approachability by responding to phone calls, emails and messages no matter who they are coming from. At times we pay less attention to the calls coming from people who actually need us.
Inspire people: Most people need just an inspiration. A reassurance that there is nothing wrong with them if it is taking time to achieve what they are striving for. A few words of advice and motivation from us can rejuvenate them to strive harder. Reminding people of their strengths and a “do-not-give up” advice will go a long way.
Share what you can: All of us have something to offer – skills, experience and ideas – which can mean a lot to others. It could be teaching a neighbourhood kid who may drop out of school if his grades do not improve. It could be reviewing someone’s project work and giving some advice or helping someone prepare for a job interview etc. In most cases, this does not take much from us.
Look around and identify a few who might need your help: Finally, it is a matter of actually being proactive and identifying those whom we can help rather than waiting for them to approach us. It could be a child, a co- worker, a friend/family member or just a migrant or a refugee who is struggling to settle down in a new environment.

These are just a few ideas to reflect upon in the first post of the year. Wishing all a very successful and peaceful 2018!