The LGBT Sandwich

Lettuce, grated cheese, bread, and turkey make a delicious sandwich. Unfortunately, Supreme Court of India has ordered LGBTs to cold turkey their sexual activities; else, they will face criminal prosecution. The poor souls are sandwiched between the Delhi High Court order that liberated them four years back and the Supreme Court latest order banishing them into dark ages. Maybe banning judges from issuing judgments on the last day of service that impact nearly 10% of the nation’s population would benefit. Can India in this day and age declare 12 million Indians as potential criminals because of sexual preferences?

The politicians have jumped at the opportunity to make their vote banks stronger for the coming national elections in May 2014. Sonia Gandhi said Parliament would pass a law to decriminalize homosexuality. Great, why wasn’t it passed earlier? BJP and some more parties have declared it is a sin. Since BJP professes to stand for Hindutva, have they read the Hindu scriptures on this topic. Politicians and judges are playing with the personal lives of 12 million Indians as if they are cattle.

1.  Is it a Sin?

If God created humans, then why did he create LGBTs if they are supposedly immoral? Do we say a person is evil because he has one blue eye and one black eye? Are differently abled people born criminals? In the worst-case scenario, one can say LGBTs are sexually differently abled. No, I am not propagating this viewpoint. There is nothing wrong with LGBTs physically, morally or intellectually. They are as normal as heterosexuals are. Heterosexuals’ intolerant attitude towards homosexuals is wrong.

Heterosexuals must stop blaming the victim under the guise of religion. In ancient India LGBTs were part of the mainstream population and respected. For instance, in Mahabharata, Arjun dresses up as a woman for one year to disguise himself. Amba, whom Bhishma refused to marry, is reborn as Shikhandini. She exchanged her sex with a Yaksha who wanted to be a female, to punish Bhishma for rejecting her in the previous birth. Lord Shiva’s one form is of Ardhanarishvara – meaning the lord who is half woman. In one story, Lord Vishnu becomes Mohini, has sexual relationship with Lord Shiva and has children from him.

The Ottoman Empire funded Islam propagation in Middle East from the 13th century. It decriminalized homosexuality during Tanzimat period (1839-76). In Persia, homosexuality and homoerotic expressions were accepted in public places. Male houses of prostitution were legally recognized and paid taxes. (1501-1723)

Hence, how can it be possible when the same religions are being followed from middle ages, previously homosexuality was an acceptable act, and now in 21st century it becomes a criminal act?

Section 377 was imposed by the British Raj in India in 1857 to stop the British homosexuals fleeing to India. Now the western world has accepted homosexuality and Indian politicians are propagating repressive policy to meet their political ambitions. As usual, they have got it backwards.

2.  It is torture?

In my teens, I turned rather precocious. When my father and I went out, I checked out guys on the road.

When dad noticed my behaviour, he was horrified. Here is the conversation that followed:

Dad: What are you doing Sonia?

Irrepressible me: My eyes turn sore from studying, I am checking out eye candies to relax them.

Aghast dad: Your sister would never do such a thing.

Brazen me: Yeah, isn’t she a duh. What a waste of good looks!

Horrified dad: Your mom….

Unfazed me: If I had mom’s looks, I could get into so much trouble.

After a few weeks, dad found a practical solution to my problem. Whenever we went out, I was driving and he sat in the front seat, looking around. When I asked him why, he responded – “Health issues, heart problem, doctors told me to reduce stress.” Meow!

Every heterosexual child has a similar story to tell. As the child becomes an adolescent, parents try to gear their emotions, desires, and social behaviour according to the cultural norms of the society. The heterosexual adolescent runs to his/her parents for solace when facing the first heartbreak and rejection.

In contrast, see the nightmare an adolescent faces when s/he realizes that they are attracted to the same sex and not the customary opposite sex. Erik Erikson, the world-renowned psychologist developed the eight stages of psychological identity development model. According to him, between the age of 13-19 years, adolescents address the questions – “Who am I? What can I be?” through social relationships. This is the stage of developing one’s own identity and if a person is unable to do so, they live with role confusion during adult age. Between 20-39 years, an adult addresses the question – “Can I love?” through romantic relationships. During this stage, a person forms intimate relationships or if s/he is unable to answer the question, lives an isolated life.

An LGBT teenager learns to attach shame and guilt for their sexual desires. The teenagers realize that if they confide in their parents, they might reject them. Their friends will socially isolate and ridicule them, their teachers will rusticate them from school, and outsiders will exploit them. The intolerant society gives them a gag order for life. The children have no adult or peer to talk to and have to live through this nightmare all alone.

As an adult, LGBTs realize that they are capable of becoming celebrated artists, musicians, philosophers, scientists, corporate leaders and sports person as long as they are willing to live a lie. With their capabilities and talent, they can earn power, fame, and money. However, they don’t have the right to hold hands of a person they love. The heterosexuals have taken their right to live a happy and fulfilling life.

Heterosexuals don’t need to put homosexuals behind bars as criminals. They have already chained them for life and prescribed them extreme psychological torture. In desperation, they join social groups, religious orders and change countries to get social acceptance and a well-defined identity. Some fervently pray to God for mercy, some turn atheists. Others in anger wish to punish heterosexuals in the same way. They want to hurt the opposite gender for making them feel inadequate. The ultimate revengeful desire would be to make heterosexuals face social rejection and isolation, to show them the torturous lives homosexuals have to live.

Unfortunately, humans are geared towards blaming the victim. In rape cases, the woman is blamed – why did she go out, why was she walking alone of the road, why was she wearing a revealing dress? Humans tend to blame others for their misfortunes, because they wish to live in a predictable world and protect themselves from feeling personally threatened. The idea behind is to tell ourselves that if we take care of ourselves, things will work out reasonably well and our world will be safe. Another woman can’t accept the fact that she escaped being a rape victim by sheer luck and she has no control on the external threat. Similarly, heterosexuals can’t accept that they are so because of sheer luck, and they could easily be homosexuals. There is still no concrete evidence that nature or nurture turns a person into a homosexual.

As we say in case of women equality, that we need men to come forward and change the thinking of other men, women alone can’t fight for equality. We need to take a similar stance for LGBTs. Heterosexuals need to come forward and embrace the cause of LGBTs equality. All that LGBTs are looking for is social acceptance. Why not give it to them?

3.   Organizations role

A decade back, I was working in Intel. One day my boss asked me to check LGBT policies as she needed to find a solution to a small issue. Stunned, I asked – “Which policies?” I had never read an organization’s LGBT policies in my career. Amused at my cluelessness, she gave me the intranet site name.

I was impressed with the site. Intel as usual had dealt with a difficult topic humanely, sensitively, openly and constructively. The introduction of the site was written by one of the heads of chip design division, a lesbian lady. She narrated her story of coming out, the stigma and social rejection she faced in her life, and what heterosexuals need to do the make LGBTs feel part of the organization. There were other similar mind-blowing stories. Additionally, a lot of reading material, policies, and guidance notes were available on the site to educate the employees.

Think would a customer refuse to purchase an Intel laptop because a division headed by a lesbian developed the processing speed. Our response would be – “Who gives a f##k, we want fast machines”. Exactly, we shouldn’t be concerned!

Closing thoughts

Indian Government and politicians need to move out of the bedroom of consenting adults. The Indian police are unable to manage and solve rape cases, and now it wishes to deal with the whole LGBT population as criminals. Hitler and Stalin ordered the death of millions to cleanse the population. Is the stance of government to treat LGBTs as criminals any better? Intolerance and disrespect are the main reasons for anger, hatred, and violence in the world. Heterosexuals show intolerance and disrespect every day to LGBTs. Let us collectively weave them in the social fabric of our lives and culture.

India’s Political Risks in 2014

A fortnight back Aam Admi Party’s (AAP) magnificent political debut in Delhi pulled the rug under the feet of seasoned politicians. Old established politicians with dynastic lineage are scanning the environment to see which young inexperienced common person will oust them from their plush leather chairs. The AAP victory is a game changer, injecting fresh blood in Indian democracy. The citizens, sick and tired of corruption are demanding good governance. With national elections coming up in May 2014, the political risks of the country are changing.

A.      AAP’s Applecart

Arvind Kejriwal - The New Hero

Arvind Kejriwal – The New Hero

Gen X arrived on the political arena and won the first battle. The victorious 28 AAP MLAs are 26-49 years old. They do not have a political background, family connections, or money. They are regular middle class people who took their first baby steps in activism in the Anna Hazare Anti-Corruption Movement.

AAPs symbol, the broom, stands for cleaning the corrupt system. In one stroke, it has swept the old political system and established rules. Within a week, anti-corruption Lok Pal Bill was passed with Congress spearheading the passage of the bill. The bill had been pending for over five decades. While Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan were the brains behind the moment, Rahul Gandhi was quick to take the credit.

The AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, by taking public referendum to form the government, out manoeuvred BJP and Congress. By announcing that AAP will participate in national elections, Kejriwal has become a national leader with mass appeal. With people demanding change and a corruption free government, AAPs is a significant threat to established parties.

From business perspective, in AAP governed states cronyism and corruption will decrease. However, the number of raids and investigations might increase. One is likely to see some high level prosecutions with the implementation of Lok Pal bill. Hence, it will pay to keep high business ethics, and reduce illicit money transactions and bribes.

B.     BJP’s Bandwagon

 BJP Prime Ministerial candidate, showed his leadership mettle in the state elections. BJP win in four of the five states clearly showed that the tide is in its favour.  Modi is riding on the propagated success of Gujarat Model, Hindu middle class and business support.

Narendra Modi - The Callenger

Narendra Modi – The Callenger

However, though Modi is projecting himself as an agent of change, Kejriwal is outshining him in that sphere. In addition, AAP voters come from all income groups, religions, and regions. Hence, Modi presently has a smaller pie of the vote bank.

BJP is also showing that it is unable to walk the talk of change. It is entering into alliances with candidates and parties with a criminal track record. Secondly, to connect the youth across India, it has started the project to build Sardar Patel statue by organizing runs and collecting iron pieces across India. It is trying to attack Kejriwal’s youth following obtained through social activism reputation by this initiative. The Gen Y does not connect with freedom fighters; it wants the current issues addressed.

Hence, it will be an interesting battle to watch. Businesses in BJP ruled states could expect some speedy action on pending proposals, a superficial reduction in corruption, and a significant focus on business growth. BJP isn’t positively aligned towards US; hence, some tensions are envisaged. Moreover, if it comes to power at national level it is expected to gun for Congress leaders and the corruption cases.

 C.      Congress’s Circus

COngress - In Better Times

Congress – In Better Times

In the state elections, the Congress politicians came out looking like a pack of jokers. The Congress hubris, corruption cases, and Rahul Gandhi’s ill preparedness to don the leadership mantle resulted in its downfall.

Suddenly, the Gandhis’ are putting on the activist’s cloak. In the Supreme Court ruling of LGBT cases, they were on the forefront fighting for LGBT rights. After letting US walk all over for last ten years, in Khobragade case, it is drawing blood. At the last moment, support to pass the bill for allowing politicians with criminal records to contest was withdrawn. An attempt to change image and control reputation damage in the last six months isn’t going to work.

The Congress Prime Ministerial candidate is still unknown. A feeler was sent out about Nandan Nilekani being the Prime Ministerial candidate. He might sail through with business tycoons, but will appear as a US supported candidate. The US governments attempt to play big brother’s role in Indian democracy doesn’t go down well with Indian voters. Rahul Gandhi isn’t a people’s magnet. He has not proved his leadership capabilities. Hence, Congress might be facing some dilemmas in selecting a candidate with national appeal. Finally, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called it a day and isn’t seeking a third term.

Congress most probably is going to take a beating. In the states it survives, corruption is going to continue and it is going to take a while for them to introduce good governance. Leaders are going to be scrambling for cover, as AAP and BJP are both interested in investigating them to get mileage. In the states it loses, a few projects permissions might be withdrawn or closed. These are the states where business sector will face maximum political risks.

Closing Thoughts

The ABC of Indian politics is changing. It will be enthralling and heart-warming to watch the 2014 elections. Indian democracy is finally coming of age and voters have tasted their power to overthrow established models. With multi-party environment and many more parties in the ring, the competition is going to be keen.

However, a few messages are clearly coming out. Those aligning with corrupt leaders or leaders with criminal records are going to lose the public backing. Political battle plans and strategies need to be redrawn, as the old isn’t going to work. Fighting on religion and caste won’t ensure victory. The parties manifesto focus must be on good governance, economic and business growth, corruption free environment and empowerment of the masses.  The economy is expected to pick up only after the elections near the last quarter of 2014. Hence, be prepared for a slow year in business.

2014 Business Predictions Based On Bollywood Movies

In the age of big data, data mining, social media, market studies and customer feedback, it may sound surreal to analyse business trends from Bollywood movies. Strange as it may seem, Bollywood movies provide a wealth of information on cultural change, latest fads, and customer tastes. Agree, the movies aren’t intellectually stimulating or sensible; most of them are over the top but let us not be scornful about the hyperbole and read the real picture. Tell me what you make out this analysis.

1.      Women Rule

The male bastion crumbled this year;  in most of the movies the actress portrayed a strong character, frequently superior than the actor. In Ramleela, the heroine was a gun wielding female don’s daughter capable of pulling the trigger on betrayal. In Yeh Jiwani Hai Diwani, the female character, a nerd, beat the male character in academics. In Ashiqui 2, the female protagonist, a singer outperforms the male protagonist. Leading ladies are taking centre stage, they are no longer willing to play second fiddle and be decorative while the hero steals the show.

Ramleela

In business parlance, do not ignore the female customer or the female employees. Indian women are making the buying decisions, therefore ensure that the advertising pitch appeals to them and the sales process is women centric.

Additionally, after the changes in sexual harassment act and the companies act, women are gearing for a stronger role in corporate world. The Companies Act requires at least one woman to be on the board, hence develop the top talent. The sexual harassment act has empowered women and cases are making headlines. Change the work culture to ensure equality, educate staff on sexual harassment, and form legal recourse systems. Insure senior staff from sexual harassment claims and do a background check to determine propensity for sexual harassment.

2.      Think Local

Top actors and actresses made a beeline for roles with stories in rural villages and small towns. A few years back they would have turned up their noses on a project that wasn’t with a foreign country backdrop. Most of the blockbuster’s set in small towns – Chennai Express, Ramleela, Gori Tere Pyaar Mein, Ranjhana, Phata Poster Nikla Hero, etc. – had tremendous box office success.

The Indian directors’ cultural understanding of customers is excellent. The trend shows Indian customers awe for foreign brands and products is reducing. The customers want products Indianized to their taste. The burger and pizza sales give ample evidence. Over 50% of the revenues of multinational fast food chains are coming from vegetarian products. For instance, McDonald’s highest grosser, Aloo (Potato) Tikki Burger recipe was made in India.

Customize products to cater to small town customers rather than the metros to get higher turnovers. In local markets, value for money concept works and not fancy brand names.

Astoundingly, employees working in metros are moving to small towns for better work-life balance. The craze for big cities, fast life is disappearing due to high cost of living, traffic and infrastructure problems, and superficial social relationships.

3.      Complete India Story

Northern India and Southern India directors and stories intersected this year. Within India, state borders are reducing in meaning. For instance, in Chennai Express the hero is from Delhi, the heroine is from Chennai. In Gori Teri Pyaar Mein, the male protagonist is from Bangalore and female protagonist is from Delhi. Bollywood is no longer targeting just North Indian customers; they are making headway in South India. A few Hindi movies were remakes of South Indian movies . Astonishingly, South Indian directors are making Hindi movies.

In the last decade, Indians are crossing inter-state borders frequently. Caste, region, and religion differences are diminishing. Business needs to rethink the marketing strategy. Products made for North Indian customers may do well in South India and vis-a-versa. Tastes are changing and acceptability levels for different products are improving. For instance, previously consumer durable major market was in North India. However, the latest survey shows the top states are– Punjab, Kerala, Haryana, Karnataka and Tamil Naidu.

4.      Focus on Gen-Y

Sweet and nice, stereotypical and rehash doesn’t sell with Gen-Y. Unique, controversial, adventurous, and nonconformist sails through. In Ranjhana, the female protagonist organizes the death of a childhood admirer to avenge the death of her adult lover. In Gori Tere Pyaar Mein, the heroine is a social activist, older than the hero, working in a remote village. In Lunchbox, the male character is a 50-year-old man falling in love with a married woman he has never seen. In Krissh 3, super heroes and villains, half human-half animal battle it out. Sporting legends biopic (Bhaag Mikka Bhaag)  and historical political drama (Madras Café) entered the arena. The conventional isn’t making its mark.

krissh 3

Indian Gen Y have information of international products on the tips of their fingers. Secondly, their tastes are similar across country. Previously, there was a vast difference in tastes of the younger generation in metros and smaller towns due to limited information. Now Google Translate has removed those barriers.

Hence, business sector needs to invest in research and innovation, an area they haven’t focused on earlier. The products must be of international quality, fresh and new, at local prices. The business that has the courage to differentiate, leave traditional thinking behind will get massive returns. Businesses centering on adventure sports, exclusive hobbies, social entrepreneurship, video games, and technology apps are expected to do well.

Moreover, organizations to attract and retain Gen Y need to transform the bureaucratic and hierarchical culture. Build a culture on openness, transparency, creativity, risk taking, and empowerment.

 5.      Foray Globally

The top grosser of the year – Dhoom 3 did good business in the international market. Now the Indian movies have rap music with Hindi lyrics, use latest technology (Krissh 3), and have glitzy action. Indian award shows have built Bollywood brand abroad. A few Indian actors and directors have gained international repute.

According to a McKinsey report, 30% of the revenues of top 100 companies in India is coming from international business. Indian companies are either taking over foreign companies or establishing their own in other countries. Hence, time has come to venture abroad keeping in mind the international tastes. Don’t sell the Indian product in its standard form. Customize it according to the international tastes by using their knowledge and technology.

Closing Thoughts

Risk managers’ check out the business strategy and plans for 2014. If the products pipeline, advertisements, sales processes, customer interactions, research and development, and talent management, isn’t considering the above-mentioned aspects, there might be some risks. Lastly, be adventurous and try out new approaches.

Wishing all my readers a very happy and prosperous new year.

Impact of Power Styles on Organization Risks

Power, we all want it. If we don’t have it, we associate with the powerful in the hope some of it rubs down to us. Being in the upper echelons of corporate world or the political corridors of the country’s parliamentary houses ensures that you are exempt from the rules applicable to the common person.

However, the way a person gets power and uses it reflects the person’s character, and its influence on others. In the corporate world, the power styles used by senior managers directly influence the risk levels of the organization. Unsurprisingly,  power and politics are undiscussable topics in the corporate world; hence, when risk managers do risk assessments, they ignore the two.

I personally recommend risk managers to understand the individual power styles of the senior managers and overall organization power style. To appreciate the connection between power and risk, let us first look at the power styles and their impact on the organization.

Power Sttyles

Depending on the situation, a leader needs to use various power styles. However, if a leader uses coercive style even when it is not required, then something is wrong. Leaders frequently use power styles of reward and punishment for fulfilling illegitimate requirements. Hence, the probability of followers being involved in unethical activities requiring compromise of personal values is higher. On the other hand, the expert style ensures that followers make informed judgments as the leader attempts to enhance their ethical values and knowledge level. The reward is not in the form of a bribe and is implicit; the leader is dedicated to improving the organization.

Another aspect that requires understanding is the need for creating perception of power. When a leader is undertaking illegitimate activities (watch any Hindi movie to see the underworld Don) he needs to create a strong perception of power by using threat and punishment. Else, his coercive tactics will be ineffective, as people will not cooperate. Therefore, he makes some sacrificial goats to demonstrate that he is above the law and normal rules don’t apply to him. Another tactic is to break the social norms, and not behave rationally and predictably. Both these methods focus on creating fear to ensure compliance. Without the perception of power and fear, the leader becomes vulnerable to revolt from the common person. The only way for him to retain his power is by increasing the number of sacrificial goats, threats, and punishments.

1.   Impact on Legal and Reputation Risks

A coercive leader is usually riding a tiger. The organization risks continue multiplying as more and more people become aware of the unethical practices. An elastic can be stretched up to a limit. Eventually, the concocted environment cocoon will burst and all hell will break loose. The leader cannot trust anyone after a point. Hence, his fear increases in direct proportion to his vulnerability. The leader takes more and more risks to protect his personal fiefdom. The organizations reputation risks and legal risks increase proportionately.

2.   Impact on Human Resource Risks

Overtime, the leader’s charisma wears off. As the layers peel off, disillusion sets in. Employees realize that the leader doesn’t behave with integrity and honesty. Even the loyalists recognize that whenever it suits the leader’s personal agenda, they can face the bullet without any fault of their own. This creates disquiet among employees, and employee disengagement increases. The human resource risks increase manifold with disengaged employees.

3.   Impact on Operational and Financial Risks

The disengagement starts effecting productivity and performance as everyone grasps that meritocracy has no links with rewards. This in turn impacts the bottom line as leader fails to deliver on targets. Failure to show profitability and results makes the leader’s position precarious. The leader starts feeling pressure from the top. As he is unable to improve productivity, he attempts to manipulate results and financial statements. In nutshell, leader’s power style influences operational risks and financial risks of the organization.

Closing Thoughts

No one can deny that success in life depends quite significantly on a person’s power and influence. The general opinion is that means to the end do not matter when we strive for power. On the contrary, how we get power and maintain power, is crucial for longevity in the powerful position. For a coercive leader, the end is tragic, as the hunter becomes the hunted. Moreover, if a leader gets power by paying bribes or giving rewards, his power ends when he stops doing so. His loyalists disappear with speed. Abusing power is no longer safe in the present world, as it increases the personal risks of the leader and the organization risks. Therefore, risk managers need to ensure for continued prosperity of the organization, that leaders get power by the rights means and use it for the right purposes.

Cultural Complexities and Conflicts

Two weeks back I had given my laptop for repair. The computer guy first said that he would repair it in a day for Rs 1500. Then he called up and said it will take two days. Then he called up and said it will take Rs 2500. I asked him to return the laptop without repairing and ended up paying Rs 350 as service charges as he had identified the problem. Last week I asked a person to recharge my TV subscription and I am still waiting for the same. Why am I ranting on the blog?

Reason is these things happen in India. Based on these experiences the foreigners visiting India formulate an opinion on India. Secondly, the foreigners either formulate opinions on Indians from media reports or base it on their experiences of Indians living abroad. Media thrives on negative information and hardly report on positive aspects. Indians living abroad are just a small slice of the country and they do not completely represent the culture at home.

Some westerners visit India to understand it better as it is a growing economic power. However, whenever I have read their views, I feel they have a superficial picture and do not really understand the cultural complexities of India. They attempt to dissect each part independently and try to fix the jigsaw puzzle. However, Indian culture is akin to a seven-layered cake. The multitudes of flavours need to be tasted as a whole.

In India, there is a saying. To understand the water flowing in Ganga check the origin from Gangotri. To understand the culture of the country and the behaviour of the people, one needs to see the history of at least 100 years. I know in this age we believe world is changing so fast that people change quickly. However, I was reading Gandhi ji’s autobiographies and was surprised that most of the causes of conflict and misunderstandings between western people and Indians remain the same. For example, I understand what is being said by a westerner but sometimes I don’t get the logic behind the behaviour. From an Indian context, it just doesn’t make sense.

1)     The Western Civilization

The difference lies in the approach to life. The western civilization conquered the world in past centuries with the primary motive of getting richer. Though they entered as traders in countries, they soon became rulers. Establishing supremacy by war, brute force, aggression and breaking the spirit of locals were considered good tactics. The morality of their decisions and the suffering caused to human race wasn’t an aspect that got importance. The enemy had to be destroyed by whatever means possible.

So even today, the western corporates mostly have an aggressive organization culture with profit motive. Money is still the primary driver for most activities. The star performers are aggressive men who achieve their positions by cutthroat completion in the dog eat dog world. Ethical competition was until the last few decades an alien concept. Deception, cunning, and breaking the rules are valued traits for winning the game. There are few women at the top, as feminine traits were never respected. They are considered too soft.

2)     The Indian Civilization

In contrast, the Indian civilization since ancient times valued simplicity and the focus was on progress of the soul. In young age, a person was required to set up family, have a career and earn sufficient amount to keep the family in comfort. In old age, an Indian gave up all attachments and desires to focus on purifying the soul. Hence, during their lifetime Indians were required to develop virtues of truthfulness, simplicity, humility, patience, perseverance, frugality, and  other worldliness.

Cunning, aggression and deception were looked down. As Gandhi said – “a thing secured by a particular weapon can be retained only by that weapon” hence enemies weren’t destroyed but converted to friends wherever possible. That is why Indians used non-violence in the struggle for independence. Even when wars were fought, rules were to be followed and the person breaking the rules was considered unprincipled and cowardly. Breaching trust was shameful, contrary to the western opinion where the person whose trust is broken is considered a fool for trusting.

In respect of leadership also, since centuries India has propagated servant leadership and not that of arrogance and supremacy.

3)     The Global Organization

With globalization, one can see these two divergent approaches to life in close quarters interacting daily. I have heard many of my western colleagues comment about a mild-mannered Indian – “X is not aggressive enough, will he get the job done?” Whereas the Indian colleagues say – “What is wrong with this person, why do we need to fight? We can cooperate and get the work done peacefully.”  Team workers are always more valued than star performers. Cooperation is encouraged than competitive behaviour.

Each group doesn’t get the motives and thought process behind the other group’s behaviour. Westerners can’t figure out how Indians succeed in business with all these traits and attributes. They predict failure, and see success in the long run. Quite a few Indians considered unemployable by western standards (unassertive, weak, too humble, or polite) have successful careers in India.

While both groups now attempt to understand the behaviour of other, it is quite impossible to change it in a short time. A person brings to an organization the culture s/he has been raised in. The personal values and attributes can’t disappear on joining and neither can they be left at home during office hours. Respecting the person’s culture and giving space is the best approach.

Closing thoughts

The oriental nations – India and China – are the biggest emerging markets. The western world can’t ignore it and neither can they change it. Hence, they have to understand it and learn to survive in the oriental culture. It is among the biggest opportunities today to bring peace and prosperity in the world. In my view, to reduce the cultural risks and related conflicts more Indians should educate the western population about their historical and social culture. This will give deeper understanding and remove prejudices. The 21st century is bringing change; it is up to us on how we manage it.

Power With The Powerless

Might is Right?

Might is Right?

Durga Shakti Nagpal honoured the goddess she is named after. The 29-year-old IAS officer is in eye of the storm as she took on the sand mafia in Utter Pradesh. It was said the political party got benefits from the sand mafia. The Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav suspended her on the grounds that she ordered demolition of a mosque wall. Her actions could have created riots.

The Muslim community hasn’t taken kindly for being used as an excuse. They have denied any such action and stood by Durga, stating that she is a great officer. Punjab State Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal has invited her to join back her own state. He said that Punjab state appreciates honest officers and the government will stand behind them.

So why has Akilesh Yadav’s carefully planned manoeuvre to show his political might fallen flat. It is because he still has old school ideas of power. He literally inherited power from his father, and though young is still using old tactics based on incorrect assumptions.

1.      Witch Hunting is Not an Acceptable Game

The ancient tactic of using a woman as a sacrificial goat to quiet everyone by creating fear and terror is no longer working. The number of Indian women crusading against corruption and crime is increasing manifold. Women are clearly saying they don’t get weak kneed by power and money. They hold ground and fight back from a higher moral standing. They show the powerful in their true character. The public nowadays doesn’t support witch-hunts and stands by strong women. The educated public is capable of identifying the true heroes and leaders.

2.      Attempts to Divide & Rule on Race & Religion Backfire

Using religion and race to divide people and rule isn’t an effective strategy anymore. With a black half-Christian-half-Muslim man as American President, and a white Italian Catholic woman as party president of Indian congress, the message is clear. Race, gender, age, and colour don’t matter in leadership positions. People follow the leader with the best ideas and capability. Belonging to a certain community may not get any followers now from the educated masses.

3.      Absolutely Impossible to Curb Public Opinion

Technology and globalization has put everyone on an equal footing. Previously a few could control public opinion as they had the contacts and money to influence media. However, social media has given a voice to the public. The general population forms its own opinion. It has also made the old media houses more honest as they lose circulation with carefully planted stories and politically motivated views. With social media, anything can go viral; there are no safe zones to hide dirty deeds. The transparency makes corrupt powerless.

4.      Autocracies are Dead

The changing perceptions of power have made old strategies useless. Earlier leaders could say my way or highway. Some said my way and my way, they wouldn’t even allow a person to take the highway. However, autocracy is no longer a popular leadership style. In the last decade, the number of countries with autocratic regimes has decreased and democratic governments have increased. Business and political leaders need to show democratic and consensus building styles. Surveys show that autocratic leaders – business and political – are losing their jobs at a higher rate than democratic leaders. Hence, a display of muscle power in public domain shows the leader in poor light. Using dictatorship styles will get the dictators in soup rather than the targets.

Closing Thoughts

Power has shifted to the powerless. With the changing society, technology, and economic order, one is likely to see new forms of political power structures in governments and organizations. We are at the threshold of a new era of power dynamics. From a risk management perspective, any risk mitigation policies developed based on old power structures are likely to fail. Hence, risk managers need to look at leadership strategies and related risks from a different lens.

Here is to new beginnings with power in the hands of the people. We can hope the 21st century will bring glory to the masses. Finally, each person can say that wish to live their life on their own terms. I am dedicating to my readers one of my favorite songs – My Way by Frank Sinatra. It beautifully conveys the message.

Guiding Principles of Nelson Mandela

Wishing Mr. Mandela A Very Happy 95th Birthday.

nelson young Mr Mandela inspired South Africans to fight against apartheid and the world population to strive for equality. He led a life of meaning and broke all the chains that imprisoned him and his community. To free his people, he walked over landmines, made prison his political playground and sacrificed his personal life. In his own words –

It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life-loving man to live like a monk. I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor and limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free.”

His life message is clear –  Life is not about whether one lived on bed of roses. It is about how one plucked all the thorns that were hurting and cleared the road ahead for others.

There are very few leaders of his calibre in the world. His autobiography – Long Road to Freedom – draws the essence of the man and his guiding principles.

1)    Privileges by bloodline – I maintain that nurture, rather than nature, is the primary mould of personality

As a child Mr. Mandela was neither the most intelligent or talented in his school. He was average in studies, sports and arts. As a young man he initially didn’t understand the magnitude of racial discrimination and wished just to have a job to support his family. Though he belonged to an esteemed South African family, he realized that wasn’t sufficient. As he said –

“No one knew or even cared that I was a descendant of the illustrious Ngubengcuka. The boarding master received me without a blowing of trumpets and my fellow students did not bow and scrape before me. At Clarkebury, plenty of the boys had distinguished lineages, and I was no longer unique. This was an important lesson, for I suspect I was a bit stuck up in those days. I quickly realized that I had to make my way on the basis of my ability, not my heritage. Most of my classmates could outrun me on the playing field and outthink me in the classroom, and I had a good deal of catching up to do.”

His commitment to the political cause grew over time. He learnt the ropes from his mentors and colleagues. He became a great leader after many trial and errors, failed miserably repeatedly and continued on the journey. His choices made him a great leader. Leaders grow and mature. They are  not born.

2)     Leadership – A leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind

Mr Mandela learnt that leader has to be like a shepherd when he attended his regent’s gatherings as a child. He realized that in the  tribal hearings, after explaining the nature of the meeting, the chief listened to everyone and didn’t utter a word.  Some speakers vocally disagreed with him and criticized him, but still their views were valued. Consensus approach was followed and the minority concerns weren’t overlooked in favour of the majority.

He said – “A minority was not to be crushed by majority.” He displayed these principles throughout his leadership. During the freedom struggle he formed alliances with the communists and Indians. On obtaining freedom, he assured the fights that he didn’t want them to take to the sea. They would retain their place and rights in South Africa. They had nothing to be scared of. South Africa was for all people who lived there -white and black.

3)     Dealing with the enemy – Even as a boy, I defeated my opponents without dishonoring them.

Nelson Mandela maintained the dignity of his opponents even while they humiliated him at every turn. He learnt the lesson in childhood when he attempted to ride a donkey in front of his friends. The donkey threw him off, he became the butt of the jokes of his friends and lost face. When he regained his freedom after 27 years of captivity, he didn’t hate the white people, he hated the system which dehumanized people. His deep understanding of human nature is narrated below:

“Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me. It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”

4)    Impact of inequality – It was not lack of ability that limited my people, but lack of opportunity.

Around the world, inequalities in income have resulted in the poor and underprivileged struggling for food, clothing, shelter and an education. The blacks were denied fundamental human rights that even took away the option to dream of a glorious life.  His poignant words describe the plight of the people:

“They will cough their lungs out deep in the bowels of the white man’s mines, destroying their health, never seeing the sun, so that the white man can live a life of unequaled prosperity. Among these young men are chiefs who will never rule because we have no power to govern ourselves; soldiers who will never fight for we have no weapons to fight with; scholars who will never teach because we have no place for them to study. The abilities, the intelligence, the promise of these young men will be squandered in their attempt to eke out a living doing the simplest, most mindless chores for the white man.”

Unfortunately, nearly 25% of the world population still is in dire straits because money measures the success of a man. A skyscraper built in a man’s name makes him feel on the top of the world when he just needs to lie on the grass at night and see the stars shining brightly in the sky.

5)      Moral Dilemmas — I thought what I was doing was morally right, I was still uncertain as to whether it was the correct.

A unique attribute of Mr. Mandela’s personality is that he often questioned himself whether he was taking the right decision. He saw both sides of the coin and realized that sometimes there were no easy answers.

One such instance was in his college life. He was on night watch to see that other students followed the rules. However, he saw another student who had similar responsibilities misusing his privileges. He then thought –  Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (Who will guard the guardians themselves?). He wondered whether it was right to report the other students when the one in authority was misusing his?  In another situation he was putting his life on the line and he questioned himself –

“Was I sabotaging my academic career over an abstract moral principle that mattered very little? I found it difficult to swallow the idea that I would sacrifice what I regarded as my obligation to the students for my own selfish interests. I had taken a stand, and I did not want to appear to be a fraud in the eyes of my fellow students. At the same time, I did not want to throw away my career at Fort Hare.”

 6)     Love and family – I do not mean to suggest that the freedom struggle is of a higher moral order than taking care of one’s family. It is not; they are merely different.

Another aspect that he continually questioned was whether he was right in sacrificing his family obligations for the freedom of South African people.

“I wondered — not for the first time — whether one was ever justified in neglecting the welfare of one’s own family in order to fight for the welfare of others. Can there be anything more important than looking after one’s aging mother? Is politics merely a pretext for shirking one’s responsibilities, an excuse for not being able to provide in the way one wanted?”

 Mr. Mandela gave up the joy of living at his home with his wife and children. He never saw his children grow up. He became the father of the nation without being able to enjoy the simple pleasure of being a father to his children.

Closing Thoughts

nelson oldI think all of us wonder how a person can live 27 years in prison, face indignities and humiliations and come out of it with such a remarkable and generous spirit. So I am closing with his inspiring words:

“I never lost hope that this great transformation would occur. Not only because of the great heroes I have already cited, but because of the courage of the ordinary men and women of my country. I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”

References:

Long Road to Freedom – Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Malala Yousafzai – The Youngest World Leader

A kid can take on terrorists of the world. This isn’t a joke. Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old education activist from Pakistan did just that. Last year Taliban shot her in the head and killed most of her friends. She recovered after a brain surgery and gave a speech at  the United Nations. She can teach  adults about leadership. . She has shown courage under fire. She has become an inspiration for young children and women to fight for equal rights. She is battling adversity non-violently with determination and persistence for the grater good of humanity.  She has become the voice of the young, has put their cause above her safety and life. Now this is a leader worth following. Below is the speech she gave at United Nations.

We need more youngsters to lead the world. Their idealistic thought process, commitment and courage can change the world. Unfortunately, age has only taught us to be so-called practical realist where the focus is on earning money, building a career and looking after our immediate family. We consider ourselves mature when we are able to put our own selfish interests first and foremost at the cost of harming the world. The old cannot change since the thought process and habits are ingrained in them. They have become jaded and cynical as life has dealt them with many wounds. They didn’t have the courage and character to stop being victims.

The young can build a better world for themselves without relying on the older generation. Take the torch in your own hands to  lead the world. Become an inspiration.

Strategy For Funding Risk Management Departments

Organizations want risk managers to focus on reducing costs of doing business, especially the regulatory costs. However, when risk managers ask for resources and budgets for running the department, they have to compromise. Lack of budget is generally the main cause for not implementing enterprise risk management, doing strategic risk management, building a risk management culture and providing consulting.

Generally, the budgeting process starts in the last quarter of the year. When the budget committee is approving other revenue earning departments budgets, risk management department heads present a cost budget. This does not go down well with the budget approval committee. They cut ten to thirty per cent of the budget despite risk managers giving valid justifications.

After budget approval, risk managers spend the year trying to squeeze in as much as they can. Sometimes it results in limited coverage and high stress levels for risk managers. With the increasing focus on risk management, the heads of risk management departments need to form a strategy to obtain the required funding. Look at the tips below to navigate the tricky budget approval process.

1. Start at beginning of current year

Start preparing for next year at the beginning of the current year. Identify the long-term and short-term projects. Commence influencing the key stakeholders of the long-term projects from the first quarter of the current year. If risk managers are the last one to submit their budget, they are unlikely to get heard.

2. Analyse the reasons for past failures

Assess the reasons for non-approval of the budget in previous years. Was it because the management thinks risk management is unimportant, is concerned about costs or it harms the interests of the key political players in the organization. After determining the reason, formulate strategies to change the mind-set for next year’s project approval.

3. Build relationships with key political players

Chances are that risk managers focus on the budget committee members for approval. Instead, identify the key power holders within the organization. Identify their relationships with the budget committee members. Before influencing the budget committee members, build relationships with key power holders. Get their support for the risk management function by understanding their drivers and motives.

4. Participate in business strategy formation

Involve yourself with the business strategy group. Identify various risks of the changes in business strategy and recommend the mitigation costs for the same. Attempt to incorporate the risk management budget in the strategy implementation costs. Align risk management budget with corporate goals and strategy.

5. Calculate the Return on Investment (ROI) for various projects.

Robert Biskup wrote an excellent article on Corporate Compliance Insights – “Making the Bottom Line Case for Compliance: The ROI of a Robust Compliance Department”. The nine points give superb ways of calculating ROI. Use the methods to negotiate with the business teams as the department can give a clear demonstration of cost savings or profit earnings. Do ROI calculations for previous years’ projects to demonstrate the value that risk management departments brought to the table.

6. Make business teams bear the cost of the project

For the projects, identify the stakeholders in the business teams. Categorize the projects as critical, necessary and optional from risk management perspective. Sometimes, risk managers spend time doing optional projects at the expense of critical projects, as they cannot refuse powerful business heads. In such cases, present the advantages of getting the assignment done. If possible, check whether business team will merge the cost of desirable projects in its budget next year rather than have it in risk management budget.

7. Build flexibility in budgets

The budgets go haywire when unexpected risks arise or regulations change. Suddenly risk management departments are in fire fighting mode and regular work is ignored. That is bad for business, since other critical risks remain un-monitored. Hence, estimate different cost budgets with probability of various risks and disasters occurring. Present these as contingency budgets to the management and take advance approval for the same. Risk mitigation efforts are delayed when risk managers take approval after a disaster has occurred. Revise the budgets quarterly as the business budget changes.

Closing thoughts

 Generally, risk managers have a financial background so they are outstanding at preparing the budgets. However, problem occurs when they do not have the negotiation skills and political strategy in place. Last quarter efforts do not work because everyone is on the same bandwagon. Gain a head start by starting in the first quarter itself. Be the first one to get the required approvals, so that the function gets what it wants.

Related article: Political Strategy for Risk Management

 

Political Strategy For Risk Management

A recent report published on Harvard Law School blog stated that in 81.2% of manufacturing and 73.6% of the non-financial sector companies have not appointed Chief Risk Officers (CRO). Interestingly, 83.3% of the financial services organizations have appointed a CRO with direct reporting to the CEO. This indicates, that unless mandatory, the risk managers do not have high visibility. Though their role is important in all sectors, they are unable to leverage themselves among the senior management. This issue is not new, and most complain at not getting a seat at the table.

 1.     Develop Political Skills

We need to look this issue from another lens. We need to develop a political strategy for the risk management department. Reason being, technical expertise on a subject takes one up only to the senior middle-management level. At senior management level organization politics dominates decision-making. Hence, risk managers need to develop political skills and astuteness to survive and thrive at that level.

However, the challenge is that though risk management job requires high political skills, very few work at developing them. According to an organizational study, ~ 65-80% employees avoid politics, ~15-25% indulge in negative politics and ~5-10% participate in positive politics.  Risk managers need to develop skills in positive politics to influence senior management.

The positive politics players have win-win, ethical, organization focus, enlightened self-interest, collaborative and best interests of the business mindset. Indulging in negative politics will be harmful as the group has  win-lose, non-ethical, upward focus, self-interest, competitive and personal gain mind-set. Viewing politics as dirty and avoiding it, isn’t an option. Politics prevails in organization DNA and one has to choose how to play it.

 2.     Implement a Political Strategy

Another aspect to look into is that risk managers have to influence the organization to build a risk culture. The concerns of the junior managers differ from those of middle managers and senior managers. Moreover, different business units have clashing interests and priorities. Stumbling from one person to the other and trying to influence them on a random basis will not benefit the organization or the department. Therefore, to influence each sub-group positively, risk management departments need a political strategy.

After developing the political strategy, risk managers need to implement and run with it consistently over time to reap success. It will involve getting supporters, appointing campaign managers, forming coalitions and doing some secret handshakes. Risk managers of course have to walk a fine line of maintaining independence and objectivity while implementing the political strategy.

 Closing Thoughts

Success in organizations depends on how well a person manages their own expectations by understanding the political game. Corporate world is a jungle. One cannot expect that people will make rational and logical decisions in the best interest of the organization. Risk managers will remain on the side lines unless they learn to trapeze the political web. The good news is one can learn political skills.

References:

  1. Risks in the Boardroom – Harvard Law School
  2. Investigations in Organizational Politics