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!


Staying positive till the end

December 28, 2017

What would you do if you were to visit a person in his last moments?

A person very close to me was critically ill. Doctors had given up hopes. He knew that he had just a few days to live.

Several ideas crossed my mind as I drove to visit him – What kind of mindset will he be in? What am I going to talk to him about? Do I give him hope when there was none? I was sad, nervous and tense.

He saw me enter the room and smiled as warmly as he used to do always. He talked the way he used to do earlier with no mention of his illness. It was only after having the regular normal conversation that we came to the talk about his condition. As I held his hands and said, “we are all praying for you,” I enquired what did he say to his family members. He informed me that he called all of them together and said, “Every body has to go one day. I am going a few days earlier than you.”

He survived a few days more than what the doctors had predicted but then passed away. At his funeral, his words —Every body has to go one day. I am going a few days earlier than you — kept on in playing my mind.

What a positive attitude towards death!

Lord Budhdha presents it well, “Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that and all will be well.”

How should you present your initiative to the boss?

November 19, 2017

A young colleague, who was working on an idea to move forward, recently asked me, “how do I present my initiative to my boss”? She had been trying but was a bit frustrated to see it not moving forward.

Several Initiatives get killed at the stage of an idea. Why? Not because they are not good but because they are either not presented in the right way or not presented at the right time.

According to Victor Hugo, Initiative means “doing the right thing without being told.”

This simple definition points out towards the real challenge. When you propose to do something you have not been told to do, risks are many: fear of failure, someone may block the work, you might get more work etc. Yet, taking Initiative is the right thing to do. It makes you different from others; and most of the bosses appreciate it even if they may not approve all initiatives presented to them.

Here are three suggestions:

Timing is the key:
Even the best of the ideas discussed at a time when the boss is too busy, rushing for a meeting, stressed with something, or just having a bad mood will not receive a good response. You know your boss’s personality and working style. Handle carefully and find the best time and manner to approach him/her.

Pre-test the idea:
You should certainly have a plan on how will the initiative be implemented. Yet, present the idea first in such a way that you are also seeking inputs and suggestions to make it work. Managers are more likely to approve when their ideas are included in the plan. They want to call the shots! Emphasise why is the initiative in the interest of the organization, linking it with the organizational goals missions or priorities.

Don’t become too pushy: Remember, bosses don’t like to be bossed around. So, don’t be too pushy. Give them time to think and respond. You can certainly do the follow up in a gentle way.

Finally, remember that taking an initiative is also an opportunity for you to learn new things and new skills, which leads to your own growth and success. Ralph Waldo Emreson sums it up well, “Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.”

Do you know what stresses you?

October 30, 2017

I am one of those who can’t watch a “live soccer penalty shootout” in a big game. It is too stressful. I wonder if it stresses the spectators so much (some even get a heart attack and die!), how stressful it must be for the players. There are studies to show that it is the stress, not skills or fatigue of the game that causes players to make mistakes like kicking the ball outside the goal post.

In today’s fast-paced life, everyone seems to be stressed. Workers may find work to be stressful; whereas for many not having work is the biggest cause for stress. Tensions in family and strained relationships cause stress to many; whereas some attribute stress to their loneliness. Age is no bar. Children, adults and old persons all suffer from stress.

Doctors say a bit of stress is good as it pushes us to perform better by keeping us alert. But when does it cross the goodness bar and becomes harmful is not known. Chronic stress can actually affect all aspects of our life: emotions, behaviours, thinking ability, as well as physical health. The World Health Organization says stress has become a ‘world wide epidemic’.

Experts agree that eating a healthy diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep can go a long way to managing stress. But the problem is that stress goes unnoticed for a long time. We spend our life amidst worries, anxieties, and tensions not realizing that if they continue for too long, they stress us.

We need to reflect for a moment and find out what triggers stress in us. It may be different for different people. In my case, when my ‘things-to-do’ list gets too long, I get stressed. And tasks which have remained pending for long keep adding to my stress. I feel relieved when I find time to finally do some of the pending tasks. After completion of each pending task I ask myself —couldn’t have I done it earlier?— the answer, invariably, is ‘yes’. Even though I believe in ‘DO it NOW’ attitude, there are times I don’t do it myself. By writing about it as a stress management technique, I am reminding myself, as much as I am reminding others.

Who is smarter? You or your phone?

September 30, 2017

Sad but true. A few years ago, a teenager from Anhui, one of China’s poorest provinces, sold his kidney to buy an I-Phone. This tragic incident was recalled by Dr Jack Linchuan Qiu, a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong speaking at our office recently.

There are over 2.6 billion smartphone subscriptions globally, likely to go up to 6.1 billion by 2020. What is concerning is that fact that on an average people spend over 4 hours a day on their smartphones. Dr Qiu feels world’s addiction to iPhones and other smartphones/devices has created a generation of iSlaves. His recent book “Good Bye I Slave” is on this topic.

For me, Smart phone usage is a behavioural issue that needs attention. Much has been written about its adverse effects on health (not just on adults but children as well) productivity and relationships.

How can you know if you are a smart phone-addict? You are if do one or more of the following:
– You look at your phone first thing in the morning when you get up.
– You take the phone with you to the toilet.
– You check your messages or speak on the phone while having meals.

It may not be difficult to change these habits. If you do that, it will be a good beginning. It is also not a good idea to be on a large number of social networks and groups such as WhatsApp. You end up being flooded with messages and most of them are useless forwarded messages that keep doing the rounds.

The biggest problem, however, is that excessive use of smartphone does not allow us to enjoy our present moment or focus on the person we are with. I had written in one of my earlier posts about make the-best- of -now attitude. Indeed, the most important person is the one we are with, in a given moment. So, don’t let your phone snatch away that moment from you. Switch it off from time to time. It is a smart thing to do! This alone will decide who is smarter: you or your phone.


A bedtime story for leaders

August 31, 2017

The Panchatantra is a collection of fables from Indian Civilization. Parents often read these as bedtime stories to their children to pass on some moral messages.

The stories work just as well for adults. I often use the following story in my advocacy work to call for early action against public health challenges such as HIV and AIDS. Here it goes:

There were a lot of fishes in a lake. Somehow the lake never caught the attention of fishermen. But one day, as the fishes were happily playing around in the water, they overheard a fishermen talking to another. “This lake is full of fishes. Let us come tomorrow and catch them.”
Fishes reacted differently to this threat. One wise fish said, “Let us get out of this lake before fishermen come back. I know a canal which can take us to another lake,” Another fish said, I know what to do in case the fisher men actually came. But the third fish said, “I don’t think the fishermen will actually come. No one ever came to catch us. So, I will not leave my home.”
The fishermen did come the next morning. The first fish who had foreseen the risk was safe as he had swum away with his family. The second fish also had a plan. He acted as if it was dead. The fisher men thought they had caught a dead fish and they threw it back into the water. He was safe as well. But the third fish was caught and consumed.

The way countries responded to HIV and AIDS in the past three decades is actually like the response of the three fishes. Countries which foresaw the risk early and took proactive action did much better. Some countries, which responded when the problem struck were still OK. But the third category of countries which thought ‘AIDS will never happen to them’ were the ones who saw the maximum impact of the epidemic. As stakeholders remained in denial, HIV continued to spread even though there were ways to prevent it.

This is not about AIDS alone. Development professionals and agencies continue to face denial on several issues, the latest being the climate change. Some feel it is not a real problem.

Looks like leaders need to read the Panchatantra tails to understand the importance of being proactive. Arnold Glasgow says it well, “One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.”

What did I learn in nine sessions?

July 31, 2017

I was having pain in my left knee. My doctor recommended me to take nine sessions with a physiotherapist. I wondered why nine sessions? How could he be so precise? Anyway, I came to know later that this is the norm in Switzerland. They begin with a number so that the therapy leads to some result in a specific period of time. In most cases, nine sessions are enough, though some cases do need prolonged care. In my case, it actually took nine sessions – spread over a few weeks – to get rid of the pain. I must continue the exercises though.

I loved my physiotherapist Quentin Harri, an amazingly professional. Quentin knows his job well, has a positive attitude and is a great communicator. His inspirational and reassuring words truly complement what he does with his hands; and make light of some of the hard exercises he makes you do. He began each session by reviewing the status of the pain, identifying the problem area and saying, “Let’s work on it together.”

I asked Quentin what expedites the progress in his patients most. He said, it is the patient’s willpower and determination to get better. “I only do a small part, actually patients cure themselves” were his humble words. I asked him to share his most satisfying experience. He said, “A woman came to me on a wheel chair and went back walking. It took us more than a year but we achieved what looked impossible in the beginning. The woman pushed herself out of her comfort zone. The progress was slow in the beginning but it did not hamper her determination to get out of the wheel chair.”

To me, main lessons from this experience are as follows:

• Have a time-bound plan to achieve your goal. Remember nine sessions! It may take more or less but it is good to have a specific plan with clear objectives and timeline.

• Adopt “Lets work on it together attitude”. What you achieve is not the result of only your efforts. People have supported you in the process throughout whether you realize or not.

• Be an optimist and persevere. Don’t let the enormity of the problem or situation affect your determination to succeed. Don’t give up. You will get to your goal ultimately!