Don’t miss the opportunity to hire your best worker

November 29, 2016

Bill Porter was born with cerebral palsy. He decided to succeed in life despite his physical disability. Getting a job was not easy. People would not look beyond his disability. He persisted and got the job of a sales man with Watkins Company. Convincing the customers was even a greater challenge. He was ridiculed, doors were slammed on him but he did not give up. His only support was his mother. Every day she would write two words – patience and persistence – on his lunch pack. When a tired and frustrated Bill opened his lunch box, these two words gave him the strength to carry on, which he did. After the first sale, there was no looking back for Bill. He went on and on and won the best salesman award of his company year after year. I would invite all to watch the film ‘Door to Door’ that is made on the inspirational life story of Bill Porter.

Bill’s story reminds us once again that if we have a desire to achieve something, nothing can stop us, not even a physical condition such as cerebral palsy.

I thought of sharing the story of Bill in this post as 3rd December is the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Around 15% of the world’s population has some kind of disability. It is time to do some reflection.

What should be our attitude towards persons with disabilities?

I would first invite you to watch this video.

Science and technology has made tremendous progress and developed tools/gadgets that make life easy for people with disability. What has not changed much is the attitude of society towards persons with disability. It is not moving beyond offering help, sympathy and some limited action. We have made separate toilets and separate parking slots for physically challenged persons. But is that enough? Separate toilets in workplaces do not ensure employment for people they are meant for.

Let me ask a question: what is the difference between a person who uses a wheel chair and a person who uses spectacles due to diminishing eye sight? Both depend on external devices but the one on wheel chair is seen as ‘disabled’ whereas the one using spectacles is ‘normal’.

The perception of disability needs to change. We need to look at the ability, not disability.

Employers, in particular, must keep in mind that having a disability does not reduce a person’s ability to work. If you look just at the apparent disability, you may be losing the opportunity to hire your best worker.


Go hard on ‘Soft Skills’

October 29, 2016

I was recently invited to give an “inspirational talk” on Intern Development Day in my office. As the speech was part of the interns’ professional development programme, I requested the organizers to get me responses from the interns to the following question:

What could possibly stop you from achieving your career goals?

The question was put up to interns before the event. Around 50 responses were received. The analysis of responses brought out some interesting points, besides helping me finalize my short 15 minutes talk.

40% mentioned issues related to their personality (laziness, lack of determination, self-doubt etc.); health and illnesses; and skills (language and communication skills, time management etc.) that may affect their career goals.

40% highlighted external factors such as growing unemployment; short-term jobs with no or less possibility of extension, issues of work permits and policies that affect job prospects of youths.

20% were the bold and confident responses mentioning ‘nothing can stop us’.

These responses came from young persons of at least 15 nationalities, representing all regions of the world. Hence, I feel like writing on the issue and sharing some thoughts.

Growing youth unemployment is certainly a concern but at the same time, according to McKinsey reports, only 43% of employers can find enough skilled entry-level workers.

I would offer the following three suggestions:

Soft skills shouldn’t be taken softly any more: Only academic and professional education are not enough. Young persons need to focus hard on soft skills: communication, inter-personal skills, positive thinking and creativity. There are very good courses available, including online, that can be taken to strengthen soft skills.

Employers want multi-taskers : Apart from requisite educational and technical qualifications, employers are looking for people who are multi-taskers; solution-oriented; and demonstrate willing to willingness to learn new skills.

Use short-term jobs as an opportunity: The world of work is changing fast. Globalization and technical innovation has changed the business practices and work patterns. Short-term contracts are likely to stay. The future of work is where people will work for different employers at the same time. In this context, it is important to use the short-terms job opportunities to learn new skills and expand your professional network.

Having said that, It was good to note that 20% young persons were very positive, mentioning ‘nothing can stop us’. This positive attitude and determination will be important in finding your niche and being successful in a rapidly changing world of work.

Learn to live with less

September 29, 2016

Once a farmer lost his watch in the barn. He wanted to get it back at all costs because he had some sentimental value attached to it. He searched for a long time and did not find it. He then took the help of some children who were playing nearby. The children went inside the barn but could not find the watch either. The farmer got very disappointed. Just when he was about to give up, a little boy came and asked to give him another chance. The farmer agreed and the boy went into the barn alone. After a while the boy came out with the watch in his hand!

The farmer was very happy. He asked the boy how he succeeded while everyone else had failed to locate the watch. The boy replied, “I simply sat on the ground in silence. In silence, I heard the ticking of the watch and just looked for it in that direction.”

Silence brings peace and a peaceful mind can think better than a worked up and preoccupied mind!

What should we do to have a peaceful mind?

I once had a colleague whose office desk used to be very clean always. Even if there were a few papers or files he would keep them neatly. Files or papers would never occupy more than 10 per cent of his desk’s space. The rest was just an open space. Once I was in his office and a visitor walked in. Surprised to see his clean desk, he commented, “Either you have very little work or you are very efficient to dispense off your work quickly.” My colleague answered, “I don’t know if I am efficient but I think better working on a cleaner desk rather than the one which is full of papers and documents.”

This indeed is a profound thought!

We feel better and think well when there is more space around us, be it in our office or at home. Unfortunately, we have the habit of accumulating things whether we use them or not. This takes unnecessary space, both physical as well as mental as we remain concerned to do something with our possessions. We can certainly live with less. It will help to ‘let things go’ and take up a cleaning drive from time to time.

I wonder how people can manage 3-4 bank accounts, 8-10 different credit cards, 2-3 phones, 3-4 different loans and so on. Our mind is always crowded.  Moments of silence and peace are few. We are becoming less creative. When we lose a watch, we waste time looking for it, rather than sit in silence and listen to its ticking.


How to Stay on Top of the World

August 31, 2016

An interaction with young people during any of my ‘Opening Doors’ workshops is always an eye opener. I learn a lot from their responses, questions and feedback.

I recently did a few sessions with students of Unity College and Unity Mission School in Lucknow, India.

At the outset, I asked students to identify themselves either with an animal, a musical instrument or any other object. They were given options to select from. The student group chose an interesting array of animals and items such as a horse, lion, guitar, tabla and even a cricket bat to turn the spotlight on their individual strengths.

Needless to say, none of the children identified themselves with a donkey, a species considered to be wanting in intelligence. When the students jocularly remarked on this, I shared a well-known story with them:

One day, a donkey fell into a deep pit and struggled to get out. He brayed for hours while his owner tried to figure out what to do. When the owner realized he couldn’t rescue the animal, he gave up and decided to bury the donkey alive. With a shovel, he began filling the pit with soil. Suddenly, he noticed an amazing thing. As the soil was thrown on him, the donkey would shake it off and step on it. With each shovel of soil, the donkey rose higher by simply shaking off the soil and standing on it instead. Eventually, the mound grew high enough for him to jump out of the pit.

We then discussed lessons emerging from the story:

  • Shake off the dirt: Life is going to throw dirt on you. Don’t allow it to affect your self-esteem. Just shake it off and step forward.
  • Learn from difficult situations: Every obstacle, setback and challenging situation provides an opportunity for learning.
  • Never give up in life: With sustained efforts, we can get out of the deepest trouble. Rather than thinking of the problem or people, who pull you down (even bury you alive!), think of what you can do to get out of the situation.

And, when it comes to learning, we can learn from anyone, just by looking at their strengths. A donkey is known for its endurance and stamina but people have always looked at it as an object of ridicule, overlooking its strengths and usability. I hope my young friends will remember these lessons and put them into practice.


Break the ropes that hold you captive

July 30, 2016

When faced with a problem, you have two options: do something to solve it or do nothing. Everyone will agree that we can’t let it go and do nothing. We need to do something to get out of it but not everyone does it.  Why?

Let me share a known story:

A man once saw elephants that were held by a small rope tied to their front leg. He wondered how such huge creatures can be held only by a small rope. They could break the rope any time but, for some reason, they did not do that.

He asked their trainer, who said, “When they are very young and much smaller we used the same size rope to tie them. At that age, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away, so they never try to break free.”

Most of the time, we don’t even make an effort to do something because we are conditioned to believe that this is the way our life is destined to be. We need to change this fatalistic attitude. We need to break the rope that holds us captive.

The real challenge is that the ropes that hold us captive in our life are not visible. In most cases, they get developed as a result of life’s experiences, circumstances, setbacks, broken relationships etc. As time passes by, we get “conditioned” to accepting the life as it is; and stop making efforts to improve it.

We need to find and break the ropes that keep us captive, without even thinking about failures. Failure is part of learning. We should never give up the struggle in life. Theodore Rosevelt sums it up well, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”

My idea alone will not change the world!

June 30, 2016

I attended the Women Deliver Conference in Copenhagen last month. Tom Osborn, 20, Founder and CEO of GreenChar, Kenya was declared winner of the Social Enterprise Challenge Global Solution Award at the conference.

What GreenChar does is significant. From agricultural waste, it makes and distributes low-cost charcoal briquettes. These briquettes help reduce indoor air pollution and lower carbon emissions, besides protecting women from the negative effects of indoor smoke and fuels on their health. The briquettes produced by GreenChar are cheaper and efficient than conventional wood charcoal and firewood.

Indeed, it is a well-deserved honour for young Osborn and his company.

This will certainly motivate young persons to use their entrepreneurial skills towards a bigger cause.

Osborn received a cash prize of $5,000 to scale up his innovation.

He may do so but would that solve Kenya’s energy problem?

I doubt because over 80 per cent Kenyan homes use wood fuels as their main source of household energy. And, over 68 per cent of Kenya’s total energy consumption is wood fuels. This can only be done only if the Government of Kenya picks up the idea and scales it up, in partnership with GreenChar. Such a public private partnership can be a good example of moving towards green energy.

This calls for some out-of-box thinking and openness for partnerships. But more than anything, it calls for an attitude of solving problems based on someone else’s idea.

Leaders need to come out of the attitude of ‘My idea changed the world’ to an attitude of ‘picking up innovative ideas and taking them to scale’ to solve a big problem in their country or world.

We need to redefine what makes a great leader.

Would future international conferences constitute an award for leaders who replicated a successful idea?


A silent signal of truth is louder than a voice of lie

May 28, 2016

At the time when the US presidential election is all over in the news, I take you back to 2004 when Victor Yushchenko stood for the presidency of the Ukraine. Despite all tricks of the ruling party and threats to his life, he did not give up. On the day of the election, he was leading but the results were tampered with. The news anchor of the state run state-run channel UT1 reported, “ladies and gentlemen, we announce that the challenger Victor Yushchenko has been decisively defeated.”

Natalia Dmitruk was a sign language interpreter on the channel. She was on duty to translate the news for the deaf community. She refused to translate the lies. Deviating from the official script followed by the voice announcer, she instead signed to viewers, “I am addressing everybody who is deaf in Ukraine. Our president is Victor Yushchenko. Do not trust the results of the central election committee. They are all lies…. and I am very ashamed to translate such lies to you.”

The deaf community sprang into action. Her co-workers at the channel; and other channels resolved to report fairly. Mass protests led to the “Orange Revolution” when over a million people, wearing orange, made their way to the capital demanding a new election, which happened and Victor Yushchenko became the president.

Natalia’s act demonstrated the strength of her character, integrity and raised the bar for fair reporting of media. When asked why did she do this? Natalia’s answer was modest and simple, “I just went in and did what my conscience told me to do.”

It is important that we all listen to our inner voice —our conscience—that keeps telling us the right thing to do. This reinforces the lesson I shared in one of my previous posts, “If you have character, you have the better part of wealth.”

We are living in the information age, surrounded by 24X7 news. Imagine the impact if we have journalists like Natalia everywhere who tell the truth, expose the oppressors, and take up the rights of innocent people no matter what colour or race they have; and whether they are in Syria, Palestine, Yemen,  Nigeria, Europe, America,  or any other part of the world.

If a person appearing in a lower corner of the television screen can cause a revolution without even speaking a word, the loud voices on media can certainly do much more in these troubled times!