When life gives you lemons, make lemonade…

WonderWoman

As 8th March rolls around again, there are countless requests to do a webinar, record a video or an audio byte, do tweetchat, upload photo of smiling successful women at work or at home, mount the stage, hold the mike and talk about gender equality, diversity and inclusion, women in leadership and such! You know what I mean. Like many of you, I’ve been there, done that and more…

While I still do this, what started to disturb me was, these were all “Doing” acts rooted outside of my inner “Being”, ignited and fanned solely by the external world. That’s why while all us women feel a heady rush of an adrenaline on 8th March (after all who does not like flowers on desk, free lunches, time-off, thank you notes) the day soon recedes leaving us with a residual feeling of at best a charming memory and longing if not complete cynicism and apathy.

Having undergone intense crucible moment recently, on deep introspection I slowly started to realize that it’s not the “Do” that I need to search but the “Be” that I need to build! Rumi said “What you seek, is seeking you” and that’s what precisely started to happen. The conversations around me changed, I met people who spoke about deeper meaning of life, higher level of consciousness and I started to “hangout” with those who were in the search of fulfilment and larger purpose of life. They were on the voyage to “Believe In Yourself” exactly the journey I wanted to take and my life took a turn! Do look around, these people are in your life too!

Soon the journey to fortify “My Authentic Self” began and today I walk the path with a surer tread and a stronger “Being”. And now whenever my trainer in the gym tells me to do push-ups and sit-up’s (groan) to harden my core, I smile, give myself a shot of “Believe In Yourself” thought and strengthen my inner core alongside too!

Life is going to throw a few punches now and then! What will matter in the end is “How we took those knocks! It’s time to “Believe In Yourself”, learn and live by these famous lyrics:

I’ll never fear the mountains in the distance, never take the path of least resistance, I’ll give faith a fighting chance, Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance, And when I get a choice to sit it out or dance, I will dance, I will dance!

Are Leaders drivers of Diversity or is Diversity riding in a driverless car?

cars

This decade is perhaps the last port of call for the companies still thinking about Diversity and Leadership. Diversity is not just Gender and Leadership is not just CEO, CFO, COO or the person who owns the company. But alas even after there have been countless articles and blogs written to this effect, endless academia research and white papers that have been published, scores of management lectures and panel discussion on the subject, it’s still the 1st thought that pops up even in most progressive leaders mind and companies. Are leaders the torchbearers of diversity in organizations? The question that begs to be asked is – Not why not? But why? It’s an idea whose time has come and gone!

To my mind, it’s because we have allowed ourselves to think like this, HR and Diversity leaders across the world have risen in unison in last decade or so and drilled the concept of Diversity and role of leadership into every leaders mind, hard-wired it into HR core processes of hiring, learning, performance management etc, to the extent that it’s now become a muscle memory of all leaders! If that be the case, why do we bemoan it?

My viewpoint is that in the corporate world, we have reduced the power and potential of Diversity to the point of trivialization and metricization. It’s a contrarian viewpoint but backed by experience and tons of data.

Let’s look at some other worlds to see how the concepts of Diversity and Leadership play out. If we reflect on any movie award function such as Oscars or Filmfare or IIFA, we will remember that on stage every performer/actor who wins an award starts by saying “I won this because of my team – my director, choreographer, screenplay writer, music director, stunt man, make up artist, publicist and so on” – what they are really saying is – They won, because diverse skills came together to create a perfect mosaic – catapulting them into realms of leadership. The producer and director of the film knows this well and spends time, money and effort putting this magic potion together. Another example is of our armed forces. There is Army, Air Force and the Navy. There is perhaps no one better in the country than the Chief of Armed Forces who knows the immense power of Diversity because it is he who brings it all together in times of unrest, war, riot, revolt etc. As an eg: the diverse skill set of different part of India’s armed forces show various aspects of  diversity – the strength of the Punjab regiment, fearlessness of Maratha troops, Guerrilla war-tactics of the Nagas and valour of Gorkha regiment among many others are legendary.

Hence, it’s the proverbial writing on the wall in the corporate world that says, indeed shouts: that leaders need to appreciate diversity, manage diversity and learn to leverage diversity to ensure competitive strength in the market place as well demonstrate their core moral value system of “opportunity for all”, “fair play” and “equal playing field”. If we continue to hire just men over women believing there are not women out there in the job market who meet our role needs, if managers continue to hire clones of themselves, if leaders vociferously keep defending that “all is well” in their organizations, we have lost the plot even before it’s even begun. I find it fairly a waste of time to keep convincing leaders of the merits of diversity, it’s perhaps the most unproductive job anyone could do in today’s age and times!

So based on my own experience of leading the Diversity agenda in large corporations for over 15years, my call to action points are as under :

1.   Weave Diversity and Inclusion into the language of the company. Sprinkle all leadership communication with the words which position Diversity in the right spirit – Get the verbiage right

2.   Articulate, document and publish your Diversity agenda and then measure it. Drive it relentlessly, with conviction and passion. Slightest of doubt and hesitation will kill it

3.   Continuously check how your diverse population feel – conduct pulse surveys, do focus groups, set up coffee chats – what you don’t know, you can’t solve for

4.   Set up employee resource group – there is power in togetherness. Groups as  Newbies to the company, First time mothers, Far from hometown…derive comfort & feeling of oneness.  Do not fear them getting together – Let them learn from each other.

5.   Run unique programs so that the leaders truly understand nuances of Diversity, such as have a diverse employee from across the company in a structured manner and rotational way attend boardroom meetings, sit through critical project discussion, travel for important client meeting, attend key marketing presentation – the insights and perspective are bound to add value to both the parties

You decide – shall we continue leaning on leadership to drive diversity or Is it perhaps time to – Explore, Experiment and Execute on diversity agenda akin to Driverless cars? 

Bells & Whistles aren’t enough…

It’s that time of the year, when Santa comes flying across the sky and sliding down our chimneys with bag full of goodies and a merry ho ho ho. Eyes stay glued to the hanging stocking by the bedpost, ears strain to hear the reindeer bells ring and hearts brim over with goodwill and joy. But this visual would be quite incomplete; in fact shocking if all you saw were the reindeer pulling the sleigh with all the bells and whistles without the Santa riding in it, now wouldn’t it?

That’s what organizations have to constantly guard against when it comes to building and breathing Culture…it’s easy to plant the tree, decorate it with bells and whistles, put fairy lights on it and sparkly star atop but tough to get it to take deep roots and grow taller. Culture needs a face and voice; usually it’s the Ceo and/or founder of the company.

Often, leaders in their haste set about laying the foundation of Organizational Culture with gusto and enthusiasm only to realize that’s it’s not a project or a product, it’s not a program or a process, certainly not a race or a sprint! It’s an ultra-marathon! Just putting together nuts and bolts of Culture such as training programs, websites and posters, scorecards and rewards is never going to be enough. .

To build, drive and sustain culture leaders have to “run their talk”, “change their language”, “act in accordance”, “protect it when push comes to shove” and “lean on it when torn by conflict”.

Deeply Believe before they Optically Do!

To everyone who is the Culture architect, Culture crusader, Culture evangelist, it’s time to go beyond the bells and whistles and be like the Santa with a constant twinkle in your eye, eternal spring in your foot and forever gusto in your laughter!

Dig deep, Ignite the fire, Leave a legacy…Merry Xmas!

 

My Journey, from Slides to Stories

Story.jpg

If you, like me, worked for many years in global MNC’s and large corporation’s words like pitch, deck, power point slides would be part of your language and muscle memory. Your core professional DNA really! The moment I would hear of an operating review, customer meeting, project update, I would grab my laptop and feverishly begin to search through templates and formats, in fact, I even had them archived as per the person we were going to make presentation to….CEO likes blue colour font and prefers pie chart over bar, CFO wants to see excel and benchmark data, Customer want comparison with best practices…you get the drift. It was all canned and highly personalized. Or so I believed….

And then I discovered the power and potential of being “untethered” – walking into rooms full of people, standing on stage, talking in townhall, pitching to leadership without the slides. A year ago, this would have petrified me but then Life took a turn…

Today, my blood pressure no longer rises, I don’t sleep fitfully, and people around me don’t feel the pressure as I no longer spend endless hours making the deck and then beautifying the slides and then fretting over notes under each of them so I remember the data, insight and punch lines!

I now tell stories of my life’s experiences, my own anecdotes, tales of things I’ve done, paint a picture of things that have happened to me, share my own learning and talk of lesson I’ve learnt, a narrative from the heart that leave no piece out – hard facts or emotions.

And it works like magic! No one was as stunned with the impact it has on audience than I was! Not only did I unshackle myself from unnecessary gadgetry, unburden myself from anxiety of building content but ended up adding meaningful colour and context to my conversations.

Today I am my own “Google”, my life experiences are my “Wikipedia” and I am the “Story”!

 

Serendipitously in search of Destiny…

Rumi 13th Century Poet

“What you seek is seeking you” said Rumi, 13th century Persian scholar, poet and sufi mystic. In recent times, Shahrukh Khan, popular bollywood hero said something similar which caught the fancy of the nation – Agar kisi cheez ko dil se chaaho to puri kayanat usey tumse milane ki koshish mei lag jaati hai (If you yearn for something with all your heart, the entire universe conspires to make it happen)

So far, I did not believe Destiny (Karma) and Serendipity (Chance) had anything to do with each other. But winds and waves of life and time continue to illuminate…Let me explain.

When few months ago, I chanced upon Mumbai Marathon from my balcony, little did I know how that would change my life. Transfixed, mesmerized I watched 40,000 people run their guts out for hope, life, love…Took me a while to understand that “Each of them had a story”

Driven I knew I wanted to be out there running with them next year (2017). But first I had to find “My story”! It took me many months to realize that to go through any life changing experience (and running a marathon is certainly one) besides our family and friends; we need two people in our lives:

One a Trainer who will train our bodies to be stronger – help us workout like a madman/woman, become disciplined like a soldier and fixated on the goal like the Arjun of Mahabharata. I searched and found one. We have a great love/hate relationship 🙂

Second a Life-Coach – it is tough, nearly impossible to tame your mind and control your restlessness without the coach. The coach helps introspect, reflect and enables discovery of authentic self. Thankfully the coach found me! Time will tell how this goes

It is true, once you set out on a path, it does get lit, all roads begin to lead to where you want to go, and you meet fellow travelers on the same voyage as you are…almost miraculously!

So, no longer alone or lonely in this quest…Faith surges stronger in my body, mind and soul.

Rest as the story unfolds…

Brooms are for flying…

vroommmmm

I was tempted to give this article the title from ancient Indian Rig Vedas “Where women are worshipped, there the Gods dwell”, given the fact I am posting it on 8th March – International Women’s Day. And here is a little narrative as to what made me change my mind.

As per Indian Vedic culture, women were held in high regard, they enjoyed position of power, freedom and equality, were revered as goddesses, often advisors to kings on matters of warfare, warriors themselves and were free to choose their own groom in the ceremony called Swayamvara. But in the post Vedic era, their status degraded significantly – Sati pratha, Purdah pratha, Child marriage, Girl child killing, Polygamy became law of the land and sole existence of the women was to live her life for the man – “Pativrata”

So deep has been the physiological and psychological damage to the women through the centuries, that it needs systemic and holistic fixes from all parts of the society. Indian government is running nationwide campaigns to bring balance back in our society via schemes such as Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Acts like Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace, Companies Act which mandates Seat for Women in the Boardroom and themes such as “Nari Shakti” (Women power) at Republic day celebrations.

And where is the corporate India amongst this entire din – does it think of it as “Much Ado About Nothing” or is it doing enough to right the balance? It’s certainly not enough to put a target in the KRA of business leaders often perceived as quota by them to hire more women, run training programs to “upskill” them on management skills which is akin to fuelling the stereotype of what a business leader should be, run initiates to celebrate women day with emails from CXO’s glorifying womanhood  and  flowers on desks by colleagues on #IWD, less said about that the better!

My “call to action” in this blog is less for the companies and more for the women themselves. Assume the role of a leader, it’s there for our taking, fight hard and fight fair to wear the mantle of a leader, it’s equally ours, work hard to move further up the corporate ladder, No, it’s not too crowded, there is place for us there!

Look back and learn from our Rig Vedic Culture and Awaken your “Aadya” (Goddess within)

Now is the time to – Grab the Broom and Vroom! Happy Women’s Day

What Marathon taught me about Culture

Many would agree that when we talk of culture it’s largely if not entirely in context of organizations and countries or even families but running is not something that comes naturally to mind. Till a week ago, It certainly didn’t to mine.

The sound of the drum beats and pounding footsteps at the crack of the dawn on Sunday morning made me change my view. I woke up to the Mumbai Marathon! What a sight it was. Unending streams of people tirelessly running for unity, camaraderie, love, diversity and many other causes but most of all for themselves.

For many it was simply a cacophony of motley noise, vibrant colours and jostling human bodies to all running to get ahead. But I saw a lot more that day.

I saw countless people lined up alongside the road cheering the runners, dozens of volunteers hand out water to them and I saw the sea dotted with fishermen boats keeping an eye on the marathon.

What deeply struck me – wasn’t this Culture in action. After all, if culture is defined as set of symbols, rituals, beliefs and behaviours, wasn’t I seeing all of that in its full glory. What else could it be but our deep rooted spirit of sportsmanship that made us get out of bed at 5am to cheer strangers, our notion of hospitality that had us giving energy bars to folks we would never see again, our ingrained sense of oneness that had us rub knees and ankles of the runners just so they would not get cramps.

In corporate parlance, we would call this visible manifestation of Culture. This would be seen as demonstration of our Values and Behaviours, those of One Team, Honour, Collaboration, Energy, Drive, Respect and more. If that was the case and it certainly seemed like that to me, standing by the road watching this symphony of motion, why was that in an organizations, we had to meticulously craft our Values and Behaviours, bring employees to classroom to acculturate them into it, spend time and money to paint our walls with them, hard wire them into core processes such as hiring, performance management and recognition so everyone would “live them” and no one could short circuit them. Why indeed?

Is it that organizations say one thing and do another, is it we decorate our walls with one message and behave in another, is it we train for values and reward for results, is it we encourage competitiveness and expect collaboration, it is we celebrate aggression and ask for camaraderie. Is it? And expect culture to be the panacea!

As the marathon slowly started to come to an end, I saw people rush out to help the stragglers, offer them rides back home and clap equally hard for them, for indeed in great endeavours it is glorious to even fail.

By talking about Culture in hushed tones of reverence, by conjuring visual imagery of Values as an Iceberg, are we making “Much ado about Nothing”. Perhaps we should just put organizational processes, policies and practices in place which feel right – Fair to Company and Fair to Employee and Culture will take care of itself.

Meanwhile, Mumbai celebrated the victory of all its forty thousand runners, those who won, those who beat their time and those who simply ran!