When my father was a child…

February 22, 2009

I recently read this story by Alexandra Ruskin in my son’s text book. It is an interesting tale in which a child talks about his father’s childhood dreams. The story goes like this…

When my father was a child, he was often asked what you would like to be when you grew up. He had different answers each time. First he said he would become a night watchman so that he could roam around freely when everyone else was asleep. Next, he wanted to be an ice cream vendor – have as much ice cream as you want, and yet be able to roam around. Later, he aspired to become a railway engine driver. His parents would laugh at his answers. Father’s dreams kept on changing with time – becoming a pilot, to becoming an actor and so on. Finally, he said he wanted to become a dog. As a dog he could run fast on four legs, bark at people, run after them and laze around – all at his will. He had one problem though. He was unable to scratch his back with his leg like dogs do. He started spending time with dogs to learn the trick. One day an army officer passed by and asked him, “What are you doing with dogs”. Father replied, “I am learning how to be a dog”. When the officer asked why, father said,“ I have been a human for some time and now I want a change. The officer asked him if he knew what a human being was. The father said no and asked him to explain. The officer said, “think over it yourself” and left. Father kept on thinking and realized that he must first learn to become a human being. This time when he shared his desire with his parents, no one laughed. Father had finally got his lesson of life:be a good human being.

My son told me that the teacher asked children the same question in their class after the story. Most children wanted to be achievers in terms of position or money. Only a small group said they would like to be a good human being. When I asked about his response, my son said, “I wanted to be in the group that opted for good human being but most of my friends were in the other group. I was not sure how will I defend my choice. So, I also went with the other group”.

I asked him what does being a good human being mean to you. He thought for a while and said doing good deeds, helping others, etc. I said that is very good and posed another question, “If you see some people beating a man mercilessly on road, what will you do? Will you join the party who is beating because it is in majority or you will try to intervene to make peace and help the man. He said, he will try to intervene to help the man. Then we discussed what is meant by being a good human being. We summarized the discussion with three points: a) we need to do what we believe in and what we feel is the right thing to do. If a large number of people do something, it does not make it right; b) being a good human being does not mean that you can’t be an achiever. You must try to excel in your chosen field and yet be a good human being; and c) in race of life, never compromise on your values.

I hope my son will remember this. I need to reiterate this from time to time though. I shared this episode because it has learning for parents and teachers. Peer pressure plays a dominant role in forming values throughout our lives but is more central in formative years.  We need to talk to children as friends and lead by example. Times have changed. Parents have lesser time for children. Children are living in an environment in which everyone wants to get rich quickly. But we need to lay the foundation of core values in our children. We can’t afford to fail in this.

Do we apply our knowledge in the interest of work?

January 25, 2009

In one of my earlier jobs, I worked in the HR section for a while. Apart from other things, we dealt with performance appraisals. Based on appraisals, annual character role entries used to be made in personal files of officials. These entries played a key role regarding decisions related to career growth of officials, particularly in matters such as promotion. Appraisal done by immediate supervisors located in different locations, used to be finally endorsed by the Managing Director.  I noted that all appraisals had to end with a remark ‘Integrity certified’.  Being the last remark, it meant a lot: other things/contributions meant nothing, if a person did not work with integrity.

Once we were getting the MD’s final remarks on annual character roles of officials. In case of an officer, known for his excellent knowledge of work and was vast experience, the MD wrote, “An excellent officer, very competent, but I did not find that he used his expertise in the interest of the organization. Therefore, integrity not certified”. This remark stays with me till date. What a good test of integrity of people at workplace!

We can watch actions and decisions of people at workplaces. If they reflect the interest of organizational goal and objectives, of stakeholders, of consumers…  they work with integrity. On the other hand, if self-interest is paramount, convenience is a motive of action/decision, application to address critical issues is not found, we can form an impression about integrity of people around us.  In this context, 360 degree appraisal makes more sense rather than appraisals only by the boss/supervisors. Colleagues see a person’s conduct on a daily basis. Smaller acts covey more about integrity rather than one-off decision/act, which may not give the real picture. 

I am sure my colleagues, particularly my Secretary, are the second best judge of my integrity. But I am the best judge. I know my intentions. I know what is driving my action/decisions. I know if I am truthful, honest and ethical.    

… we are the best judge of our integrity. The acid test still remains the same. Do we apply our knowledge/expertise in the interest of organization? A regular introspection will help find the answer, and of course the remedial action.



If you have character, you have the better part of wealth

January 17, 2009

Satyam Computers, once regarded as a corporate success story is now fallen from grace. Much is being written about fudging of accounts, role of auditors, role of regulatory authorities, government’s efforts in resolving the matter and strengthen the system of corporate governance. 


 It is not the first such episode. Nor is it going to be the last one, for sure. Enron, World-Com, Tyco and Global Crossing have dominated the newspapers headlines in the US, quite like the media attention that the Satyam saga is getting these days in India.  


The full story is still unfolding. There are several policy and regulatory recommendations in the offing. But will that be the solution is the key question. Laws/regulations alone will not suffice. Punishing those who are found guilty will also not be enough. People need to change from within and do business in an ethical way. It is time to do something about ‘integrity’ in our lives. John Griggs wrote a nice story “The Night We Won the Buick”, which I would like to share briefly.


A young boy was ashamed because his poor family was the only one in town that did not own a car. His mother used to advise him “if you have character, you have the better part of wealth”. However, the boy wondered what use was character if it could not buy a car. An opportunity came in form of a country fair in which a new Buick Roadmaster was to be raffled off.  His father’s name was announced as the winner. The boy was elated to see the dream come true. The brand new car was theirs. However, he found his parents engaged in an ethical debate. His mother explained the dilemma. Father had bought two tickets-one for himself and another one for his boss. He had marked the name of his boss on one of the studs.  The ticket that won the car was actually his boss’s, not his. The boss did not know the number of his ticket. The boy felt there was no need to inform the boss about it for the  boss was extremely rich; he possessed a fleet of cars already; and there was no way he was ever going to know that it was his ticket that won the car. However, the father phoned his boss and asked him to take the car. The family could not afford to buy a car for several years more and the boy grew up. As time went on, his mother’s aphorism, “ if you have character, you have the better part of wealth” took a new meaning for him. Looking back, he realized that they were never richer than they were at the moment, when his father made that telephone call, and returned the car to his boss. He did what was the right thing to do.


 … I am glad John Grigg’s story is included in school books ( I read it in my daughter’s school book). It is so important to give lessons in integrity and character at an early stage. It is time that business schools gave more focus in imparting practical lessons in integrity and ethical management of business.