Friday, 28 December 2012

Obstacles faced by Leaders (2.)

I wrote a blogpost on this topic in October , 2012 .It was written after I had read the book "Why Leaders Can't Lead:The Unconscious Conspiracy continues"(Warren Bennis).I had an opportunity to think through this vital , topical and important subject when Bankers Institute of Rural Development(BIRD), Lucknow invited me to address  a group of Senior Bankers on this very subject .I found that I have a lot more to say  .Also ,I had the opportunity of discussing it with three of my friends, who are esteemed leaders in their own right .I share  below some of the  thoughts I included in my address.
                                     Two most important obstacles before leaders today are related to vision.The first is lack of vision ,unclear vision , fractured vision or unstable/changing vision .This happens due to inadequate tenures and frequent changes at the top , leading to instability in vision .It is partly a result of election cycles, political appointments and changing political leadership .
                                   The second obstacle relates to inadequate sharing of vision .The investment of time and resources required in building a shared vision is not there .Most of the leaders do not realize the importance and essentiality of sharing the vision .A shared vision is different from the personal vision of leader.Peter M . Senge has adequately emphasized the need for building a shared vision in his book The Fifth Discipline , and I do not wish to stress this point again .Those who are interested are strongly advised to read  or re-read The Fifth Discipline .Apart from leader , followers have their own visions and do not want to change their vision easily ,thanks to individualism inherited by our generation .The absence of a shared vision is the biggest obstacle faced by a leader .
                                       The third obstacle faced by a  leader is their distance from the reality .Most of the leaders live in an unreal world, where they believe that a person in India(New Delhi) can live on six rupees a day.Leaders live in a world made and created by advertizing , media , Movies , fashion, technology and shopping malls.Leaders donot touch the lives of living people they want to lead.The result is a long distance/chasm  between the leader and the followers.
                                 It is debatable whether bureaucracy is always an obstacle for the leader. They have expertise and understanding but also develop entrenched interests. .But generally speaking , to begin with , bureaucracy can be an obstacle .Bureaucracy has set , laid down procedures and processes , and these are not always result oriented .Some of these are based on historical contexts and some are irrelevant and unduly complicated and dilatory , requiring reforms .In addition , bureaucracy is  divided into departments , with  narrow focus .These  organization men and women do work in silos , posing as an obstacle before a leader.
                                          Most of the leaders I talked to , complained about poor work ethics in India.It is difficult to find human resources with dedication to work , professional ethics , punctuality and integrity .There is a natural resistance to change .
                                        Many organizations are closed , and with fixed mindsets of employees.They do not look for opportunities and not open .Such organization pose  big obstacles for leaders.
                                          A leader  generally confronts workers who are demotivated and have become cynical and dis-illusioned.They do not easily trust the intentions of the leader , thereby posing a big challenge.Leaders , to have a short cut , rely excessively on extrinsic rewards and motivators.They fail to look at intrinsic sources of motivation like respect and high expectations.
                                       Most often , leaders choose their Ghostly Doubles as their core assistants .This is known as Doppelganger Phenomena.The selected assistants are from the same stock in attitudes  and ideas .This creates a band of Yesmen and Yes women around leaders , resulting in often wrong decisions .Assistants should be as diverse as possible .This diversity leads to more mature decision making .
                                        A leader faces obstacles from his colleagues and bosses as well .Colleagues may not accept his/her leadership and may feel that they are superior to the leader .Bosses also sometimes compete with the leader if she or he is more charismatic.Sometimes , bosses may have a vision or a view or values which is different from the leaders'view/vision/values .This may  prove to be a big obstacle for the leader .
                           A leader also has to face organizational politics as well as interse conflicts. and ego issues among individuals , groups and cliques.When the going gets tough , the leader begins to fear failure .As a result , the agenda for  personal survival dominates over organizational agenda.
                             A leader may suffer from a burn-out  as a result of being overwhelmed by the work load,the frustrations,the stress and the demands.As a result , the leader may no longer care.The leader must learn to recognize the signs of burnout . Another stage is that of burn-down when the leader  experiences the loss of passion or intensity or enthusiasm due to familiarity or long service.Burn-down is not as obvious as burn-out.Both are very formidable obstacle for a leader.
                                   The leader has some power . The more power he /she has the less is questioning by the followers.As  a result , the leader begins to acquire power at the expense of the greater community .There is "Know it all"attitude .The leader has a tendency to become overbearing , presumptuous, arrogant and full of hubris.There is less tolerance for constructive criticism.Humility begins to decline , and complacency takes over .The leader begins to lose the right to lead.Some leaders have an obsession with bottomlines and profits.They treat workers as tools, and care less for the customers.
                                             Often , the leader fails to live by his own rules , standards and stated value .This hypocrisy is a big obstacle faced by the leader.
                                              There is always a loneliness at the top .The leader has great difficulty in socialization .Too much familiarity and social interaction with professional colleagues and followers  can lead to problems at work place .
                               Litigation , conflicting and often ambiguous court judgements can lead to the replacement of expertise, and finally to sub-optimal decisions .Labour laws , union actions can further affect the working and decision making .Objective feedback about the performance may not be available .All these prove obstacle for  the leader.
                              The leader may have the inability to keep up with the young, emotionally ,socially ,occupationally and technologically.New technologies need technology savvy leaders.
                              In India, especially in public sector(to some extent , in private sector too),there is general lack of accountability regarding performance .There is a general inability to punish or correct for non-performance , and even for intentionally delinquent actions.Poor performers are either moved sideways or upwards, rather than being turned out of the organizations .
                                    Having listed the above , rather long list of obstacles faced by leaders , let me hasten to add that a true leader firmly believes that there is always a better way of doing every thing , and that all obstacles can be surmounted and eventually make you a better leader .

Saturday, 22 December 2012

My Guiding Principles in Professional Life


It is easy to talk about a principled life but as one  chooses to work in the real world , full of contradictions and paradoxes  , it becomes increasingly difficult to  choose the principles which can guide us effectively .I have been in search of a set of su
1.The "Rule of Law"and not any individual is supreme .
2.Maintenance of standards of conduct , speech , behaviour and dress.
3.Evidence based  discussions , decisions and judgements .
4.Taking responsibility .
5.Truth and uncompromising integrity .
6.Fairness, justice and impartialty.
7.Caring and responsiveness.
8.Political neutrality.
10.Bias for action .
11.Focus on action and not on fruits of action .
12.Freedom from prejudice .Openness.
13.Non-controlling and non-possessiveness in relationships .
14.Steadfastness , persistence , perseverance , patience and determination.
15.Forward looking ;Learning from past .
16.Learning continuously and for life.
17.Creativity and innovation .
18.Consultative style of working .
19.Eternal vigilance and non-complacency.
20.Self-awareness and self-knowledge.
                        It is my firm belief that we should lead a professional life based on principles .Only in cases where our principles  come in conflict with  caring for others that we need to carefully  consider the situation and decide .This I have dealt with separately in one of my earlier blogpost "Caring and not the principles . ." 

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

From Self-organization to Self-mastery

To organize self we have to be caring towards self .It means weeding and destroying what is not needed and will not be needed in future.It also means finding adequate space for what is needed to be retained, and also arranging them in such a way that we can retrieve whatever we have stored in the shortest  time .                            

              Self-organizing is a discipline.It involves clarity of mind , practice , patience and self-control.When done regularly at frequent intervals , self-organizing leads to self-mastery.Peter M. Senge has described Self-mastery as one of the five essential disciplines for leadership as well as for building a learning organization.Self organization is a process of self awareness and leads to self mastery.It helps us to cleanse our cob webs and bring to us clarity of mind ,thought and purpose.Human mind or nature is not easily subject to order.It has to be trained and disciplined.There are layers and layers of organizing.When we do second order organizing , we go into the deeper layers of  documents and materials.

Organizing requires us to know what is really important to us that we would like to retain and expand .What we would like to categorize as trash or redundant and would destroy.A clear understanding of what is trash and what is important enables us to know what kind of  our associated actions have so far affected the world and what have not been so .This also makes us understand our current reality and stand on various things and issues.Self organizing should be developed into a life long habit , an attitude and a way of living.                

                     Self-organizing increases our efficiency , proficiency and effectiveness,thereby making us professionally competent.When self-organizing becomes a regular life long habit ,attitude and discipline,it leads to self-mastery.Self-organizing gives us satisfaction and happiness.It makes us realize how na├»ve and ignorant we have been , and gives us a sense of confidence.Is organizing ,like consistency ,hobgoblin of small minds?No , because organizing expands our minds by the process of creative destruction. When we begin to organize , our mind has to discriminate between what is needed to be destroyed and what is needed to be retained and for how long.When we organize,our mind is undistracted and is free from lower level thinking.Organizing empowers us by  enabling us to focus on the broader horizon.                    

                    It is necessary to review our complete inventory every 3 months with strict regularity.In a way ,every review offers us a new start,a new opportunity to begin at the beginning.It brings us closer to our purpose ,by enabling us to weed out the trash and the redundant.
       Basis of organizing should be logic and not memory .Documents should be retained and arranged on the basis of a logic,for our memory is fragile .The logic of self-organizing starts with questioning what is actionable and what is non-actionable. Non-actionable documents are of three kinds;
1)Trash:Those documents  which are not needed, and which need to be destroyed.
2)Material in incubation:Those documents which need to be retained.Some may be needed to be retained for an uncertain period of time while others for a fixedor known period.
3)Reference materials:Some materials like books are needed to be retained in archives and library.Such documents are general reference and not more than one or two on a topic.We need to establish norms and time of retention  and destroying of different types of documents.
x x x x x x x x x x xx xx x x x x x xx xx x x xx x x x xx x x xx x xx
I decided to organize all my papers, books , certificates, writings , pictures and reports, which I had accumulated in the last 30 years.I devoted about two hours daily for about sixty days .As I  overcame my initial inertia and impatience ,I began to feel a sense of self-control , self-awareness , satisfaction  leading to a better clarity about my purpose and life goals.I thought , I was approaching  towards what Senge has called Self-mastery.I know ,I am no where near that stage ,but I certainly know that self-organizing is one very effective approach to Self-mastery .

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Freedom from Prejudice:The Cornerstone of Leadership


A leader must be value oriented and socially sensitive with tolerance and respect for diversity , and lead her/his organization to assume higher and still higher social responsibilities .If one studies  likely trends in leadership for the coming decades, one will find that in business , government or politics ,  diversity and social responsibilty  are two things  that  will  occupy increasing resources,priority  and attention .It is just the result of  evolutionary dynamics .Prejudices  can be based on race , religion , caste, region or physical or mental disabilities or any other factor. For example , prejudices against  women , jews , Africans , certain castes  and many other groups still exist in different countries.There is a wide spread prejudice against persons with certain disabilities.To be able to be an effective leader in such a world , a leader must not only  be personally free from all kinds of prejudices but also ensure that  members of the organization she or he is leading also rise above them.And this needs to be both in theory and practice .It is not easy .That is why , real leaders are very few .The rest are just duplicates .
                 " All overblown and generalized  prejudgments become prejudices if they are not reversible when exposed to new knowledge." so says Gordon  W. Allport in his classic 1954 book "The Nature of Prejudice"For those who have not heard of Allport , he was a leading social psychologist of 20th century.From 1930 onwards , he was a Professor of psychology at Harvard .Born in Indiana  in1897 , he died in 1967 at the age of 70.
A prejudice has two ingredients:An attitude of favour or disfavour  , and an overgeneralized belief .A prejudice , when practiced , results in discrimination.Discrimination comes about when we deny to a person or group equality of treatment .For example , it becomes discriminating when we exclude people from our neighbourhood, school ,employment or organization or country.Differential treatment based on individual qualities are not discrimination but those based on ethnic categorization are discrimination.To quote the UNO:"Discrimination includes any conduct based on a distinction made on grounds of natural or social categories, which have no relation either to individual capacities or merits or to the concrete behaviour of individual persons."It is born out of ignorance , superstition and unjust customs .

To some extent,each one of us is prejudiced against many things.We judge in favour of the values we hold, we defend our values and ways of living,we defend our values with pride and we reject those who oppose our values.
                   Is there such a thing as national character?The answer is yes, though objective studies  about national character are few in number.But it is important to distinguish between the real national character and the stereotypes , images that people have about national character.The Japanese have images of Americans as" hypocrite, materialistic,coarse, self-indulgent and luxury loving."Images are a mix of facts and previously held values and frames of reference.It is important to study images because people act in terms of these.It is important to correct false images because they add to misunderstanding and conflicts.Understanding images of national character as well as the genuine differences in national character, are important for leaders in this era of global markets and  increasingly unified world /humanity.                
       Prejudice leads to autistic thinking  and wrong decisions or sticking to old views.Autistic thinking is contrary to reasoning or directed thinking , and is irrational .It takes our thoughts to self-indulgent fantasy and does not advance them .In fact , we do not get anywhere.The whole process is self-serving .Our decisions , as a result , are in accordance with our preconceptions and self-interest.They are not objective .We tend to justify or rationalize our autistic thinking and do not like to admit that our thinking is autistic .
   If prejudice , by definition , continues despite exposure to new knowledge , what are the remedies?Can I overcome my own prejudices, or do I need external assistance .?Allport has  suggested  seven ways to  remedy prejudices .
1.Legislation  for  protection of victims against discrimination .
2.Formal educational methods.
3.Contact and acquaintance programs.
4.Group retraining methods.
5.Mass media.
6.Exhortation .
7.Individual therapy.
Formal education involves  imparting inter-cultural education .Evaluation studies have shown that inter-cultural education does result in lowering the prejudices.To my mind , this lends very strong support to inclusive education .Contact and acquaintance programs  make for friendliness and mutual respect .."Whatever makes for equal-status relationships and for more intimate acquaintance is likely to make for increased tolerance."            Group retraining is essentially a study of techniques of democratic leadership .It is a training program that helps people to improve their skills in  human relations.Mass media  ,films, publicity campaigns and propaganda do help in reducing  prejudices .
Another method is exhortation , preachment , admonishment and ethical talks .The best method to  reduce prejudices and change attitudes is individual psychotherapy.The individual needs to feel the need for approaching a counsellor.Though very effective , psychotherapy can reach only a small number of people .It needs to be practiced along with other methods of reducing prejudices. 
            A leader with prejudices cannot remain leader for long without destroying herself or himself ,and the organization she or he is leading.A "prejudiced leader" is an oxymoron (Yet none of the leaders except very few are completely free from prejudices.).Such a person is unfit to lead in a globalized world, with increasing demands to deal with diversity.With autistic thinking , she or he has poor ability to make correct decisions , be just and fair, to inspire and motivate.Such a person  wastes tremendous energy and resources of the organization and society and weakens the efforts for unity.She or he will not be able to enforce  with speed and firmness orders (from the top or courts )against  prejudices and discrimination.Such a leader cannot have tolerance and respect for the members of organization and other stakeholders  with diverse beliefs.
          India , with its million mutinies(To quote V S Naipaul)and rich diversity poses  great challenges as well as opportunities for leaders  to achieve the goals of equality, equity and growth.This necessarily makes it imperative that all persons in organizations (including business and non-governmental) of all kinds develop a culture of tolerance and respect  for diversity and freedom from prejudices .They should increasingly and deliberately place themselves in situations where they are required to handle successfully more and more diversity.This requires modernization of thoughts , beliefs and attitudes towards diverse groups  with their diverse character , attitudes , beliefs and values.In an organizational context , this means giving  special attention  to diversity and freedom from prejudice ,while  recruiting , doing placements,and designing,and implementing training programmes for the employee and top managers.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Obstacles faced by true Leaders

Why do we have very few true leaders , who can excite or inspire us? While there is a crying need for leaders in India and the world in all spheres of life  , why is the necessity not mothering true leaders?The question has actually two parts:
1)If such leaders exist , why are they  reluctant to lead or serve?
2)If as a nation we are not producing such leaders , what are the possible reasons?

I propose to take up only the first question at present .I will deal with the second question in another blogpost.Warren Bennis  dealt with this question in his 1989 book , "Why Leaders can't Lead . . The Unconscious Conspiracy Continues"(Warren Bennis , Inc.University of South California:169 pages).In fact , in this book , there is a  whole chapter 7 on this issue(entitled;"Where Have All the Leaders Gone?".He has given a number of examples in this book from the USA, some of them quite provocative.For example, in the chapter 13,"Pornography of Leadership" Warren Bennis says:"Nor does it (Smallness) solve anything when a leader pretends closeness to or a direct relationsahip with the people, as when Jimmy Carter wore Jeans and cardigan sweaters in the White HouseThe "simple" life as seen on a technotronic quadraphonic TV tube-is soft porn for the intellectual , falsely soothing and just as corrupt as the hard kind."However many of his insights are sharp and universal and apply to leadership issues in general, all over the world  .The book is different from normal leadership books and I recommend you to read it .
                  The main obstacles needed to be surmounted by true leaders are many , but I will shortlist some of the more important ones .
1)Leadership positions compel leaders to live in an unreal world .This world is away from the real problems of the people and is made up of media , advertising , technology , fashion , luxury and shopping malls.They  often meet and get advice from people who themselves live in an unreal world .In the process they begin to avoid reality and avoid facing facts.Their daily life is vague , dreamy and semi-conscious, and out of touch with reality .(I recall the story "The Bishop" by Anton Chekhov).
2.The Leaders become too focused on Bottomline and staying in power and increasing their power base.Money and Power become the main ends of leaders .They transition from selflessness to self-centeredness to selfishness.They become materialistic, greedy and ambitious  to the core.This quest for acquiring and retaining power  makes them centralized and controlling  everything , and they fail to delegate power and authority to others.
3.One major obstacle before leaders is entrenched bureaucracy, with a commitment to status quo.Because of increasing departmentation , subdivision and segmentation of work, bureaucracy performs segmented acts which  are amoral and done without guilt and responsibility .The leaders find it easy to use bureaucracy  for immoral acts .As Warren Bennis says:"Bureaucracies are beautiful mechanisms for evasion of responsibility and guilt."
                     A leader can cross this bureaucratic hurdle if he or she is on guard .This can be done by avoiding the temptation of appointing and surrounding themselves with"doppelgangers"(ghostly doubles).Leaders tend to choose assistants who  resemble them"not only in ideas and attitudes but in height , stature and dress".However comforting loyalty and congenialty  are, leaders should choose assistants from diverse viewpoints and background, as far as possible .A group of yesmen and yes women creates doppelganger effect , and in open invitation to anarchy.In my experience of three decades in  many key bureaucratic positions , I have witnessed the permanent  down fall of many  promising leaders.
4) Sociological trend towards individualism is also an obstacle in the path of leaders .People have their own personal vision and and are not willing or interested in  shared vision of the organization .They are unwilling to cooperate in teams, unwilling to make sacrifices for the common goals .They live in their own cocoons.This poses serious obstacle in the path of leaders.
5)A similar development is that people are increasingly becoming cynical and  do not dream any longer .It is extremely difficult to inspire and lead people who are without a dream for the organization or the country.
6)Pressures from competing constituencies make the task of leader difficult and full of obstacles .
7)Fear of failure is an important obstacle for a leader.They have a fear of being disappointed in case they fail .This creates self doubt and lack of confidence. and lack of faith in one's abilities.They indulge in destructive self-criticism .
8)Some leaders develop a "Know it all" attitude.They respond poorly to constructive criticism .
9)Leaders have a tendency to become hypocrites.They fail to abide by their own professed rules and standards.
10)Loneliness and socialization :Leaders have a great difficulty in choosing who to socialize with .Often , they have less time and interaction with  their family , resulting in loneliness .
           As a result of above obstacles , leaders who can take the nation to the heights of progress , justice and happiness, remain reluctant candidates for assuming the burdens and responsibilities of leadership .(I  need to study, discuss and reflect hard  to be able to suggest solutions at present but  i hope to do so soon ).

Friday, 5 October 2012

The Top Ten Leadership Skills

Why leadership is critical for success in any organization , is a subject which deserves separate space .But if you accept this as a given fact , then the most logical next question is :what are the skills of a a leader.(I presume we are talking about great leaders).Books like "Measure of a Leader" by Aubrey C. Daniels and James E. Daniels and "The Fifth Discipline . . The art & practice of the learning organization"by Peter M. Senge, touch these aspects  with some clarity .
              We can enlist hundreds of skills which we need to acquire  to develop  leadership in us.But some skills are critical and far more important .I reflected on this aspect and based on my observation , study ,my  exposure   as a senior civil servant in one of the biggest states of India and reflection , I was tempted to draw up my own list of the top ten skills of a leader.I confess that it is neither original , nor final .In fact , I have decided to monitor it from time to time and make changes , if needed.
                In what follows , I will describe these ten skills .Those who differ , are welcome to comment or write to me .It is interesting to assess one self periodically  regarding where one ranks in relation to these skills , and then think of the ways to improve one's performance , and actually perform better as a leader .There is no doubt that the better we are on these leadership skills , the better and more effective will be the performance of the organization to which we belong .

1.Personal mastery:Self- motivation , with a passion , a purpose , a meaning , hope ,optimism, positive thoughts and a high mojo .To be able to exercise leadership , we have to be self-motivated and ignited.This is possible only if we have a purpose and a meaningful mission .To my mind , this is the top most quality a leader must have and regain if he or she has lost it .We must be full of hope and optimism.We should have a high mojo and positive thoughts.
2.Self-management , self-organization , self-control, discipline including time management.We must bring order in our life , both in terms of time and space .This requires a strong discipline , a sense of cleanliness , avoidance of waste and also keeping our consumption to minimal levels .

3.Values , character , honesty, spiritual qualities and fortitude despite obstacles.We need to have faith in ourselves and courage of our convictions .This requires continuous practice with a sense of detachment .

4.Need for change .Building shared vision .Communication .Leading change .We must be able to feel the need for change in ourselves and in our organization, and we should make every member of our organization to feel the same need for change .Then we should develop a shared vision of things to come after the change .Finally we should have the skills to lead the change to its conclusion and reach our vision .

5.Team learning , coaching, mentoring , training , teaching , motivating , inspiring,  ensuring accessibility and mutual respect between leader and followers.A leader must be able to collect people together so that they think and work as a team .

6.Systems thinking , having a big picture.A leader should not only see the bigger picture but ensure that all the members of the organization also see the bigger picture .

7.Ability to manage , competence.We should not only lead but ensure that the things are efficiently managed within the organization .Ensuring that management is done , is also the task of leadership.

8.Confidence , decisiveness and sound decision making .A leader should be able to decide on issuesw and not dither endlessly .

9.Flexibility , adaptiveness, technology , innovation , creativity .A leader should be able to prepare the organization for flexibility .The organization should be able to adapt to new decisions , policies , strategies , technologies and innovative processes and practices .

10.Mental models , mindsets, paradigms.A leader should not only be able to question and change his or her own mental models , but also ensure that the whole organization is able to question and change deeply held but obsolete mental models .
Note:           The place in the list which I have allocated to a  leadership skill in the above list , need not  reflect the relative importance  of that skill in relation to others .