God, Sex and Money

Swami Shobhan Sarkar dreamt of a 1000 tonnes of gold lying beneath King Rao Ram Bux Singh’s ancient palace. Now, in the latest dream the quantity was revised to 2500 tonnes of gold. Indian archaeology department is conducting a survey, and the story is getting rampant coverage from the media. Seriously, why doesn’t someone dream of 2500 tonnes of tetra paks and plastic bottles lying underneath a field? Recycling it would make quite a bit of money and is an environment friendly option.

Then, luxury addicted Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg spent Euro 31 million (USD 41 million) on refurbishing his house. Praying to God, following vows of celibacy and simplicity, requires that kind of expenditure! Does anyone know how much George Clooney, the most desirable bachelor in the world, the ultimate sex symbol, spends on redecorating his house? If one spends this kind of money in an Indian slum, all the slum dwellers will pray 12 hours a day without complaining.

Then, a teenaged girl has charged an Indian Godman for rape. After the disclosure, quite a few women have lodged similar complaints. The tragedy is that these dubious personalities attract many followers. These followers have to deal with moral injury. Jonathan Shay, the originator of the concept of moral injury defined it as –

Moral injury is present when (1) there has been a betrayal of what’s right (2) by someone who holds legitimate authority (3) in a high-stakes situation. Factor (2) is an instance of Shay’s concept of Leadership Malpractice.”

The religious leaders have moral authority over us. Betrayal of  trust results in cynicism and with it, faith in God, right versus wrong path, disappears. Lowering personal ethics and morals, effects business ethics. It is unrealistic to partition a person’s ethical behavior into a C drive and D drive like a computer. Hence, corruption and illegal activities flourish.

Let us look from another lens. If a child puts his textbooks on a table, draws a rangoli across, decorates it with flowers, and bows his head for five hours daily, will he gather the knowledge in the books. What a foolish thought! However, worshiping God involves the same practice. From childhood, we worship and show our commitment to God by giving money and gifts. If God gets happy with the money donated at various places of worship, then professionally, he has to be a chartered accountant or a banker.

Then, why is the public so gullible and falls for such tricks? Is it because, it is a shorter route, it makes a person feel good without much effort. Alternatively, a person doesn’t need to dwell on shortcomings and wrongdoings. Not really. Religion gives people a sense of belonging. According to psychology studies, a sense of belonging gives humans meaning in life. A person’s physical and psychological health improves when they believe life is meaningful. Unfortunately, unscrupulous people exploit the need of social belonging of human beings.

Hence, distinguish the fake from the real. A rose blooms on a thorny stem, but not every thorny stem has a rose. The sun and moon don’t publicize their worthiness; air and water don’t need to broadcast their usefulness. Choose your moral leaders wisely. Read and reflect on the scriptures to understand the deep philosophy behind it. The right learning can be achieved only through practice, be it behavior or subject matter expertise.

Closing Thoughts  

Following a culture is must for happiness, respecting other’s culture is a must for humanity, but sometimes questioning a culture becomes a necessity. Lord Buddha said – question everything. Explore an idea, experiment with it and then adopt it in daily life. Don’t let other people’s immoral behavior stop you from pursuing a moral and ethical life. A cynic is an idealist with a broken heart. Mend your broken heart, and remain an idealist.

References:

  1. Indian government digging for gold after swami dreams of buried treasure
  2. (Reuters) – A German bishop under pressure to resign for spending around 31 million euros ($42 million) on a luxurious residence said he had been heartened by a private audience with Pope Francis in Rome on Monday.
  3. Asaram Bapu: The fall of a godman
  4. Johnathan Shay
  5. Sense of Belonging Increases Meaningfulness of Life

 

Humility – The Gandhian Way

gandhi king

Gone are the days of Gandhian simplicity and unpretentiousness. The rush for materialism and economic progress has robbed Indians of their humility. Arrogance and egoism has taken centre stage.

Now, household help count is a status symbol while Gandhi preached self-service. He weaved the clothes he wore, and currently wearing high-end fashion brands is a social necessity. Whether in personal life, interviews, or jobs, we present a flawless image as drilled by the personal branding consultants. Admitting to weaknesses is a no-no. Our leaders are picture perfect till their names become media headlines for some scandal. Where are we heading with this behavior?

Mahatama Gandhi’s two autobiographies “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” and “Satyagraha in South Africa” reveal the humility of the great man.

1.  Humility in Personal Life

“The Story of My Experiments with Truth” sounds more of a confession of wrong doings and mistakes from childhood to adult life. Gandhi ji admitted to smoking cigarettes, eating meat, acting like a sex-starved teenager with his wife and visiting brothels a couple of times. He basically did what all youngsters do in the name of adventure, rebellion and growing up. However, very few leaders take the trouble of writing them down to share it with their followers,  to enable the followers to learn from the leaders mistakes.

Nowadays, doing so at the peak of the political career is considered suicidal. Our society needs a reality check. It needs to accept that failures are a part of life, no one is perfect, not even our greatest leader. Alas, others look akin to a clown, a circus joker, a pathetic beggar, a disreputable character, a corrupt greedy man, a ruthless psychopath, a loose woman, a calculating witch, but prey why do we miss seeing all these in self.

2.  Obsession With Titles

A title is the ultimate hallmark of supremacy, be it Lord, King, CEO, President. If you have an exalted designation on your visiting card, all character flaws, deficiencies and short comings are wiped clean. People must bow down in front of you and you get the right to treat them inhumanely with disrespect. Contrast this with Gandhi ji’s attitude towards the title of Mahatma bestowed on him. He mocked and ridiculed it. In the introduction of the book  “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” he wrote -

“My experiments in the political field are now known, not only in India, but to a certain extent to the ‘civilized’ world. For me, they have not much value; and the title of Mahatma that they have won for me has, therefore, even less. Often the title has deeply pained me; and there is not a moment I can recall when it may be said to have tickled me.”

About his second visit to Kashi Vishanath Temple he indulged in some good-natured self-depreciating humor –

“Since then I have twice been to Kashi Vishvanath, but that has been after I had already been afflicted with the title of Mahatma, and experiences such as I have detailed above had become impossible. People eager to have my darshan would not permit me to have a darshan of the temple. The woes of Mahatmas are known to Mahatmas alone. Otherwise the dirt and the noise were the same as before.”

Ask the question “Who am I?” If the response is a designation or a degree, then there is confusion in identity.

3.  Grandiosity of Leaders

Everyone desires to be a leader as it makes them look grand in eyes of others. Aspiring leaders avoid contemplating whether they actually inspire their followers, work on improving the world and add value to the society. The aim is to get the perks and privileges of leaders without the responsibilities. Even the spiritual leaders, swamis and yogis, the embodiment of austerity and simple living, are sitting on golden thrones. During investigations or after death, shocked followers see the display of hoarded cash and jewellery.

The servant-leadership followed by Gandhi ji showed his true leadership mettle. In the book – Satyagraha in South Africa – he described himself as servant of the public. He wrote -

“A public meeting of the Indians was called in Durban. Some friends had warned me beforehand that I would be attacked at this meeting and that I should therefore not attend it at all or at least take steps for defending myself. But neither of the two courses was open to me. If a servant when called by his master fails to respond through fear, he forfeits his title to the name of servant. Nor does he deserve the name if he is afraid of the master’s punishment. Service of the public for service’s sake is like walking on the sword’s edge. If a servant is ready enough for praise he may not flee in the face of blame. I therefore presented myself at the meeting at the appointed time.”

Further on, he expounded servant leadership in the following words -

It has been my constant experience that much can be done if the servant actually serves and does not dictate to the people. If the servant puts in body-labour himself, others will follow in his wake. And such was my experience on the present occasion. My co-workers and I never hesitated to do sweeping, scavenging and similar work, with the result that others also took it up enthusiastically. In the absence of such sensible procedure it is no good issuing orders to others. All would assume leadership and dictate to others and there would be nothing done in the end. But where the leader himself becomes a servant, there are no rival claimants for leadership.”

These are fabulous examples of role,  accountability, and responsibility of leaders. Just a handful of leaders can be so humble and fill these shoes. Autobiographies of great leaders show that leadership is a long hazardous journey requiring great deal of personal sacrifice, hard work, and vision. It is incorrect to assume business titles automatically bestow leadership traits. Queen Marie Antoinette’s immature and inconsiderate statement – “If they don’t have bread, let them eat cake” – didn’t get her dedicated followers, it is Napoleon who is respected for leadership qualities. . Earn the honor of being a leader. Ask yourself – Why should others follow you?

Closing thoughts

Wishing all my readers, a very Happy Gandhi Jayanti.  As it is a holiday in India, let me end this on a humorous note.

A donkey twisted his leg, so the owner put him in a red Ferrari to take him to the vet. On the way, the owner stopped at a car wash. The car cleaners said – “Wow, what a body, such a dazzling color.” The donkey joyously brayed. The cleaners remarked – “Sounds fabulous”. After returning to the  farm, while walking on the mud path, the donkey was extremely disappointed and thought – “Why is no one appreciating me, as the car cleaners did?”

Price of a Soul

Soul

At fourteen, I read Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” and fell in love with it. It is one of my favorites and last week I read it again. I still found it mind-blowing. This time, Toohey’s character got me thinking.

In the last few chapters of the book, Ellsworth Toohey speaks about his devious plan to portray mediocre people in the media as supremely talented to gain power over public. He planned to rule the world by ruining the thought process of the public, demolishing the careers of great thinkers, and glorifying stupidity.

His conversation with Peter Keating, who was one of his experimental puppets, reveals the crux of human behavior and our vulnerability for exploitation. He said –

“It is only about discovering the lever. If you learn to rule one single man’s soul, you can get the rest of mankind. It is the soul, Peter, the soul. Not whips or swords or fire or guns. That is why the Caesars, the Attilas, the Napoleons were fools and did not last. We will. The soul, Peter is that which can’t be ruled. It must be broken. Drive a wedge in, get your fingers on it – the man is yours. You won’t need a whip – he will bring it to you and ask to be whipped. Set him in reverse and his own mechanism will do your work for you. Use him against himself.”

Isn’t this what our education system and media done to us?

When was the last time our teachers taught us – “Lie down on the grass and let your tensions drain away. Look at the vast expanse of sea to be at peace.” They teach students – “Own a lot of land and you will be rich. Get a ship to cross the ocean with your merchandise.”

Our education system on the pretext of teaching fundamentals and preparing us for life, teaches us that conformity, obedience and pursuing a career for success are the greatest virtues. How many schools teach children that creative thinking, being different or spending extraordinary time on hobbies just for simple pleasure of life, is something worth pursuing and achieving?

By teenage, the fashion magazines decide the length of hair, size of waist and color of dress that are suitable for the season. If a teenager refuses to follow, others label the poor kid weird.

As we grow older, the competition becomes of the gadgets we have, than our thoughts and principles. The neighbor has an iPod, Mercedes and x, y and z. So I also want the same. Have we every compared ourselves to say “the neighbor has such excellent thoughts for humanity, works diligently for the benefit of humanity and always  walks the high road on principles, hence, I want to be the same.”

If we aren’t thinking in these lines, then I would say Toohey’s words are correct, our education system and media took our souls not the devil. Moreover, if we are questioning how it has happened, then the following quote of Toohey’s captures the problem though said with a different slant.

“Make man feel small. Make him feel guilty. Kill his aspiration and integrity. That’s difficult. The worst among you gropes for an ideal in his own twisted way. Kill integrity by internal corruption. Use it against itself. Direct it of a goal destructive of all integrity.”

The key is – “Kill integrity by internal corruption.” From childhood, we are taught success matters. Success is equal to money plus position. Organization position gives power. That puts you in top bracket of society. This idea of success destroys all integrity within us. For the sake of money or position, we are willing to make compromises one after another. Without it, we feel small and useless. The drive for money makes the man poor in character and principles. At the start of our careers, we willingly hand over a part of our souls for a few dollars. By the time we retire, we are uncertain whether we have a soul left.

Then we lament on lack of ethics and profess horror on breach of ethics by the people we have put on the pulpit. In most of our adult age, when we haven’t had a serious thought on ethics or made an effort to learn ethical behavior, can we really assume it will occur by itself? We want to delude ourselves into thinking we are a good people, living a principled life because not thinking in those terms will destroy our self-image. . We cannot face the fact that 99% of us have conducted some crime or the other sometime in life. We cannot afford to face reality if we want to live.

Closing thoughts  

Ayn Rand aptly put it – “Enshrine mediocrity and the shrines are erased.” By putting money as a standard for measuring success, we have enshrined mediocrity of character. Nobility of character lost its glory when money epitomized the crowned king of success. They why show surprise, anger or disgust when our much hyped heroes breach ethics. Should we punish them or the society for teaching them the wrong definition of success? Can we punish a person for doing a better sales job on selling their soul than the rest of us?

 

References: 

Free download of the book The Fountainhead.  

iGate’s Failures in Risk Management

phaneeshiGate fired its CEO Phaneesh Murthy for sexual misconduct after Araceli Roiz; an American employee accused him of sexual harassment. As per media reports she has claimed that the relationship started soon after she joined the organization in 2010 and is pregnant with his child.

Mr Phaneesh Murthy has the dubious honor of facing two similar charges while working as a senior manager in Infosys in 2002. Reka Maximovitch and Jennifer Griffith had both received huge out of court settlements previously. Now he faces the similar charges from Araceli Roiz. Mr Murthy has acknowledged that he had sexual relationships with Ms Roiz. However, it was with her consent. He has alleged he is being defamed and this is an attempt at extortion.

With the limited information available in the media, one cannot comment on the details of the personal relationship.

However, this disaster teaches a few lessons. iGate could have prevented this reputation damage and legal risks if it would have taken a few timely steps.  iGate board and senior managers failed to take due care of the following risks.

1.     Pre-employment Background Screening

Mr Murthy has an excellent academic and professional achievement record. He was credited for taking Infosys turnover from $ 2 million to $ 700 million. However, when he was hired by iGate in 2003 he was in the news for all the wrong reasons. The sexual harassment cases were all over the media.

iGate needed a CEO who could deliver results. My guess is the board looked the other way or considered Mr Murthy’s infidelities small or insignificant. However, if a junior or middle manager had the same reputation, his career would have been over. No organization would have hired him.

Hence, when generally senior managers background screening is more stringent  than junior or middle managers, iGate board took the opposite stance.  It appears that the same yardstick isn’t being applied for background screening or it is being given lip service.

2.     Failure to Monitor & Control CEO Behavioural Risks

iGate board and senior managers chose to ignore the CEO behavior  As per media reports, the relationship was known to the staff. However, it appears no action was taken to guide or coach Mr Murthy.

Read these statements of Mr Murthy from prior interviews at the time of Patni takeover.

The National – “Everyone says that M&As are about ego. I’ve been a salesperson for 10 years. For every 100 doors that you knock on, 98 get shut in your face. That has knocked away most of my ego. I have two teenage boys who whip my butt in every game. They have gone from wanting to be on my team to not wanting to be on the loser’s team. Because of that, I have no ego left.”

Livemint – “Not at all. I am basically a conservative, middle-class south Indian Brahmin. As it is, we don’t like debt, and I am very uncomfortable with a $700 million (around Rs 3,180 crore) debt.”

Ms Araceli Roiz is 31 years old and Mr Phaneesh Murthy is 53 years old. In conservative South-Indian Brahmin families “divorce” is taboo. With two teen aged boys at home, he started an affair, if Mr Roiz version is true, when she was in her late twenties.

From a psychological perspective, it is a classic case of a talented man unable to deal with his own fallibility and mortality. Mr Murthy is a competitive man and the yearly success in his career may have made him feel invincible and powerful.  He is raised on Indian middle class values that look down on promiscuous behavior  He competes with his own children in games. He was heading an Indian IT organization where the average age of employees is 25-26 years. Does it look like he was suffering from mid-life crises?

The board members and other senior managers could have identified the emotional baggage he was carrying around and addressed the issue. The question arises, when the board knew about his weakness and character problem, was he provided any coaching or mentoring? Or did the board take the view, that as long as he is delivering the numbers, everything will be tolerated.

3.     Lack of attention to work culture

The board and management knew that Mr Murthy had a marked reputation in respect to female employees. Secondly, it appears that is relationship with Ms Roiz was an open secret. From his own words, it doesn’t seem that he took sexual harassment or company policies seriously. In the interview, he stated:

“It was a personal relationship. The company policy states that any two employees having a relationship have to inform the superiors. It is a small note in an employee handbook. I did inform the company about the relationship. Though it was a question of timing from my side as I disclosed this only a few weeks ago, only after the relationship was over.”

According to him, “it is a small note” in the company handbook.  He didn’t believe in walking the talk in personal ethics or corporate code of conduct. Hence, the question arises, what attention iGate paid to maintain the corporate culture.

With previous cases of sexual harassment against the CEO and an on-going affair, did iGate management ensure that the sexual harassment policies were implemented in spirit? If a woman, as per Roiz’s claim, was forced into a sexual relationship by the CEO, what effect did it have on other female employees and work culture? Did it not set the stage for the hostile work culture where women would feel insecure to report cases of sexual harassment? Let us say, another female employee was harassed by a male senior manager, what options does she have when she knows that the CEO is doing something similar? How seriously was sexually offensive behavior taken by the management?

 The organizations pay a heavy price in respect to sexually harassing culture. The direct costs are of course legal penalties and cases, however, the indirect costs are absenteeism, disengagement, high turnover and lower productivity. The iGate management appears to have ignored these aspects while hiring Mr Murthy and during his tenure.

4.     Ineffective Crises Management

iGate public relations team issued the statement – “The investigation, which is on-going, has reached the finding that Murthy’s failure to report this relationship violated iGATE’s policy, as well as Murthy’s employment contract. The investigation has not uncovered any violation of iGATE’s harassment policy.”

It gave information on the interim CEO and search for the new CEO, to rest fears of the investors.

This appears more of an attempt to limit legal risks. According to US laws the company is responsible for sexual misconduct by its employees. Subsequent to the above news, the company has not made any statement or explanation on what it did to prevent such incidents.

According to media reports, the Indian employees received an explanation from the senior managers on the incident and were instructed not to talk to people outside and within the organization. An instruction not to communicate with the media or put comments in social media is sound. However, not to communicate with fellow employees sounds like an attempt to silence. Can management stop the discussion outside office hours between the employees?

In such instances, various stakeholder expectations need to be addressed. It is a sensitive issue that gets the attention of public, bloggers, activists, women lobbies etc. Even the employees psychological stress levels increase and they need to be managed. However, from the information available in the media, there isn’t much effort being done to manage the crises.

Closing Thoughts

Sexual harassment cases cause huge reputation damage and legal risks. I am not sure whether after Mr Murthy’s previous cases, iGate got proper insurance coverage for directors and senior manager liabilities. Implementing sexual harassment policies and holding everyone to high standards of conduct is something organizations need to concentrate on. The issue was taken lightly previously, but now women workforce is increasing and so are the cases of harassment. Unless companies wish to have their name tarnished, they need to take the right steps.

References:

  1. Read more: http://www.thenational.ae/business/technology/rise-and-fall-and-rise-again-of-it-star-phaneesh-murthy#ixzz2UBKIGikk
  2. http://www.financialexpress.com/news/phaneesh-murthy-i-will-fight-sexual-harassment-charges-vigorously/1118857/1
  3. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tech/careers/job-trends/Murthy-scandal-iGate-staff-gets-social-media-code/articleshow/20222185.cms

Risk Managers – Tone Down That Report!

This week three renowned figures – Angelina Jolie, Larry Page and Christine Quinn – disclosed their medical problems to the world. They discussed battle with breast cancer, paralysis of vocal cords, and struggles with bulimia and alcoholism. Jolie, a woman famous for her beauty bared her mastectomy details. They talked about fear of death and handicap, and frailty of human character. They risked high-profile careers by being candid. One word describes their actions – Courage.

However, the corporate world wants to hide behind lies and window dress their weaknesses. The corporate leaders sometimes threaten risk managers and auditors to tone down their reports. The messengers of bad news get shot. Risk managers face bullying, retaliation and threat to their jobs for showing courage to speak the truth. If they refuse to bow down to pressure, the business teams label them as politically dumb or difficult to deal with. Question is – should risk managers tone down their reports to please the business teams?

I want to discuss a couple of scenarios here and you decide the course of action.

Scenario 1- Don’t report correct facts to avoid giving bad news

Let us say, you are a CXO of an organization. You have a heart problem and visit a doctor who is a good friend of yours.

The doctor realizes your heart condition is bad. You require a heart surgery for four bypasses. The doctor doesn’t want to deliver the bad news to you, because he doesn’t wish to hurt your feelings.

The doctor tells you  – “You just have too much stress. You need a vacation to relax and have some fun.” He prescribes you some vitamins and discharges you.

You follow your doctor’s advice, take a vacation. You swim and jog for a couple of days and have a heart attack. You arrive at the hospital with a survival chance of 5%.

Did the doctor do the right thing by not telling you the truth?

Scenario 2 : Don’t report correctly to protect a friend

A civil engineer responsible for doing quality and inspection checks of a bridge notices that sub-standard quality of material is used. There is a high risk of bridge collapsing. However, he issues a clean report to his seniors because the engineer-in-charge of the bridge is a friend of his.

An organisation’s senior managers drive daily across the bridge to reach their office. One day all of them are on the bridge and it collapses. All die.

Would the families of the senior managers be happy with the quality control engineer’s for not disclosing the risks?

My guess is most of the corporate readers would have answered no. You would have preferred the truth when it is a question of your own life being at risk.

Corporate Scenario

So why don’t corporate citizens hesitate when they put other people’s life at risk. See the Bangladesh factory fire, Japan’s nuclear disaster or US banks home foreclosure and mortgage mess. Employees, customers and public lives or life savings were put at risk.

Wouldn’t a few honest risk management reports helped in fixing the problem in time to prevent the disasters?

The corporate world maintains double standards on reporting risks. They want full disclosure of the risks to them but not to others. Before setting these expectations, corporate citizens should answer these questions:

1) Isn’t it a risk manager’s job to identify the health problems of the organization, prescribe a cure, suggest amputation where required and nurse the organization back to health?

2) Is it right to compromise professional ethics and code of conduct to keep a few people happy?

3) Aren’t risk managers responsible for calculating the direct and indirect cost to others for non-disclosure of risks?

4) Shouldn’t risk managers hold their ground and stick to their independent advise as you will benefit from it in the long-run?

Closing Thoughts

Moral courage is one of the most difficult qualities to acquire. Larry Page, as CEO of Google fulfilled his responsibility to the investors by publicly disclosing his medical problems. Now the investors can make an informed decision. One has to admire Page for taking such a difficult call. It takes guts. Disclosing personal weakness makes one feel vulnerable, exposed and fallible. He has shown the path for corporate leaders to follow.

Justin Bieber’s Lesson For Risk Managers

Surfing through Twitter one gets deep insight of human behavior. I am sharing a couple of tweets that got me thinking on our (risk managers) approach. The hat tip goes to Justin Bieber and Mark Robinson for the post.

 1. Get a tribe

 Justin Bieber tweeted the message below and it got 119,562 retweets and 62,959 favorites at the last count.

“Live life full”

— Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) May 10, 2013

Now you might say, what is so original in this message. Nothing remarkable, except that Bieber has 39,087,920 followers.

The message for risk managers is that if we want business team to listen to us, then we need to get a tribe of followers. Sitting in a corner or a cabin, writing reports isn’t going to help us. We need to be on the floor  interacting with the business teams daily.

2. Connect with a popular leader

Then Mark Robinson tweeted this message:

“Justin Bieber got 100,000 retweets for tweeting “Live life full”. That’s just 3 random words. I’m going to try now.

Nipple squirrel ham”

— Mark Robinson (@robboma3) May 11, 2013

The message was retweeted 26,972 times and favorited 4379 times. Mark has 23,694 followers. While Bieber’s message was tweeted by just 0.3% of his followers, Mark’s message was tweeted more than the number of his followers. Isn’t that fascinating.

This is a trick which risk managers need to learn. Even the most mundane message of a popular leader will be followed more ardently than their sanest advise. People don’t follow bosses, they follow leaders whom they like. Hence, risk managers need to identify the popular figures in office, ask them to give their message or link up their own version to the popular person’s message. Risk management advise is going to spread faster then, rather than with all the technical stuff.

I am dedicating Justin’s song to all of you. We need to believe it too – “I got that power”.

Leadership of Dead Bodies, Stones and Flowers

leadership imprint1

In April, two Air India pilots handed over the controls in auto-pilot mode to two female cabin attendants to take a short nap. They decided that their sleep was more important at 33,000 feet while flying the 160-passenger flight from Bangkok to Delhi. They returned to the cockpit after 40 minutes when one of the cabin attendants accidently knocked off the auto-pilot mode.

The angry Twitterate asked for pilot’s license suspension, removal from job and legal charges for culpable homicide. Everyone questioned their work ethics and shock at their irresponsible behavior. Air India investigated the incident, suspended the pilots and sated that passengers’ safety was never compromised. Unbelievable, how can passengers be safe without any pilots at the helm?

1.     Double Standards in Evaluating Corporate Leaders

 The pilots were crucified for risking the lives of passengers. However, surprisingly the pilots of the corporate world do not suffer the same fate. The wizards and titans of the banking industry crash landed the world economy, but they didn’t lose their CXO seats.

Look from another lens. Did any senior in Supplier Company or the multinationals lose their job in the Bangladesh factory fire? In Foxconn, the Apple contractor, 11 employees committed suicide, four died in an accident and one collapsed after continuously working for 36 hours. However, Steve Jobs was rated as the second most popular leader by the CEOs in a survey conducted by Price Waterhouse Coopers. The first and third were Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi respectively.

Now this is going to rattle my readers but let me say it. Steve Jobs was a great inventor, designer, strategist and marketer. However, when it came to people, his employees considered him rude and manipulative, and his competitors found him uncivil. Though Apple achieved great heights, he paid low salaries to the employees in the Apple stores, paid no dividends to the shareholders, pushed down suppliers to manufacture at lowest possible rate and didn’t believe in charity or corporate social responsibility. His behavior and actions weren’t people centric or humanity oriented. So my question is – do we consider him a great leader because he managed to put Apple on top? That makes him a great CEO, not necessarily a great leader.

2.     Misconceptions of Leadership

 The problem arises due to the definition of leadership. Read the dictionary meaning:

Leadership is “organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal”.

- We don’t focus on how the group of people were gathered; by inspiring them or arm-twisting them.

-  We don’t focus on the nobility of the goal; was it to exploit others or liberate them.

-  We don’t focus on the method adopted to achieve the goal; was it by breaking the rules or a journey of virtue.

In the present world we see leaders leaving dead bodies in their path, walking over people as if they were stones and sucking the life out of them. Great leaders create leaders not followers, they make others blossom like flowers.

Be it a corporate leader or political leader, we don’t wish to question the leadership methods. Our thinking is, how it matters to us, we have nothing to lose. We have everything to lose, and Martin-Niemöller-Foundation words at Hitler’s time still resonate:  

“First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Our own silence will kill us and the society we live in. When humanity is at stake, can we close our eyes and say nothing is at stake.

3.     Leadership Training

The Institute of Strategic Change reported that – “the stock price of ‘well-led‘ companies grew by over 900% over 10 years, compared with 74% for poorly led companies”. Warren Bennis in 1998 said – “The Truth is that no one factor makes a company admirable. But if you were forced to pick the one that makes the most difference, you’d pick leadership.” However, how many companies train on leadership or do a performance evaluation on leadership qualities?

Quite a few would be saying we do it. So let me clarify. In organizations bosses tell the juniors what to do and how to do it. They give rave reviews to the employee who completes the task as they had stated. They promote that employee and now he becomes a boss. At best, he will be a good manager, not a leader.

Corporate world determines success rate by title and salary.  Neither guarantees leadership skills. Employees aim to become a boss, not a leader. The terms are not synonyms.

According to Malcolm Gladwell,  all outliers practiced their talent for over 10,000 hours to achieve greatness.  In the corporate world, how many hours are dedicated by each employee to learn leadership? Learning leadership is a by-product of the main job, till CEO level. Then isn’t it surprising that we do not have many great leaders in the corporate world.

 Closing Thoughts

Maximum damage in the world was caused by people who got powerful positions without good leadership qualities, be it Hitler, Jeff Skilling, Bernie Madoff or Lance Armstrong. The biggest risks in the corporate world are leadership risks. It is the leaders who make the decisions, so unless we have a system of putting the right people in leadership positions we will continue to have these disasters. Hence, our job is to develop good leaders, select good leaders and continuously monitor the leaders.

 Wishing my readers a Happy Mother’s Day. Being parents is the toughest job in the world,. They are responsible for raising the next generation of leaders.

References:

  1. Air India Pilots Story  
  2. Deaths in Foxconn
  3. Price Waterhouse Coopers report on best leaders

 

Role of Positivity in Risk Management Communication

locking horns

Can something as simple as appreciation make business teams more willing to accept a risk manager’s viewpoint?

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The Conflict

Proverbially risk managers are locking horns with business managers. Of course business managers out number risk managers, hence more often than not risk managers are licking wounds and complaining that business managers don’t listen to them. Business managers claim that they are running the show, so an interfering risk manager who is perpetually criticizing their hard work  should be shown the door.

Then risk manages lament that it is their job to high light risks which means negatives, so why go after them for being messengers of bad news. The conflict brews and sometimes reaches boiling point. No one wishes to see eye to eye because they wish to get eye for an eye. End result, the business suffers in this battle.

What is the cause of the stormy relationship? Criticism and negative feedback! No one likes it, so why blame the business managers.

What if risk managers change the approach? With the criticism they give a lot of positive reinforcement? Will the behavior of business managers change?

Research on Role of Positivity in Performance

Marcial Losada and Emily Heaphy conducted a research titled – “The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams – A Nonlinear Dynamics Model”. They studied the dynamics of team interaction in relation to approving and disapproving verbal feedback statements. Researchers coded the verbal communication among team members along three bipolar dimensions, positivity/negativity, inquiry/advocacy, and other/self. Sixty teams developing annual business strategy were analysed.

The results of the study have extremely important implications  from business performance aspect and for risk managers. The table below defines the ratios of various dimensions.

team ratio1

The positivity/ negativity ratios indicate that high performing teams give 5.6 positive comments to 1 negative comment. In contrast the low performing team give three negative comments to one positive comment. The medium performing teams give approximately two positive comments to one negative comment.

Similarly, under inquiry/advocacy ratios, the high performance teams are more balanced in their approach towards inquiry and advocacy. The team members question in an exploratory way. On the other hand, low performance teams are highly unbalanced and members advocate their own viewpoint. The medium performance teams are little bit tilted in favor of advocacy.

Again, high performance maintained a balance in discussing internal and external aspects. Whereas, low performance teams focus on internal inquiry. The medium performance are slightly more focused on internal than external aspects.

Thus, the high performance team have higher levels of connectivity, which results in better performance.

Overall, high performing teams show buoyancy throughout the meeting. They appreciate, compliment and encourage their team members. This expands the emotional space for team to function. In contrast, in low performance teams sarcasm and cynicism rules which restricts the emotional space. There is lack of mutual support, enthusiasm and a high degree of distrust.  The medium performance team don’t show distrust or cynicism but neither are they openly supportive and enthusiastic about their team members.

team dynamics

Implications for Risk Managers

The results are very important from a risk manager’s perspective. As the author states – “to do powerful inquiry, we need to put ourselves sympathetically in the place of the person to whom we are asking the question. There has to be as much interest in the question we are asking as in the answer we are receiving. If not, inquiry can be motivated by a desire to show off or to embarrass the other person, in which case it will not create a nexus with that team member.”

Hence, from the time we approach the business team, we need to ensure that we are inquiring about the business. We should not be advocating any quick recommendations based on high-level interactions.

Another point to note is that the questions should cover both the internal and external environment of the business. This would motivate the business team into a more open discussion.

The most important point is about positive feedback. In our verbal communication and written reports we focus on highlighting the negatives.

The research showed that positive comments (that is a terrific idea) create emotional space within the listener, hence the listener is more willing to take the feedback. The emotional space created by positive comments in high performing teams is twice the size of medium performing teams and three times that of low performing teams.

Negative reporting restricts the emotional space of the business team. To build a positive environment for acceptance of our views, recommendations and report, we need to give 6 positive comments for each negative comment.

The researchers have given equations to assess the emotional space based on various dimensions. It might be a good idea to calculate the same before issuing a report.

Closing thoughts

One of the incorrect assumptions that risk managers make is that there is a linear relationship between the observations and recommendations in the report. However, the study showed the impact of non-linear relationships on functioning of teams. Hence, the fault may lie in the straight forward cause and effect attitude taken by risk managers to get buy-in from business managers.

We generally discuss that in reports we should highlight the positives first to balance out the negatives. This research clearly points out the importance of doing so and the reasons why we are failing. We have to change our approach to be effective. We need to be part of the business team, develop a positive feedback system before giving any negative observations

References:

The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams: A Nonlinear Dynamics Model - Marcial Losada and Emily Heaphy

Indian Attitude Towards Time – A Strength In Future

We Indians jokingly refer arriving late for a meeting as arriving ISD (Indian Standard Time). However, if you, my reader, are an Indian, you would have heard a question from a western colleague – “Why are Indians late for meetings?” If you are a westerner, you desperately want to know the answer to bring your stress down and figure out whether the Indians actually want to do business with you. However, whether you are an Indian or a westerner, have you ever thought of Indian attitude to time as a strength in the future chaotic world?

Let me delve into a little bit of detail before I answer that. The attitude towards time divides people into two cultures – monochronic people and polychronic people. According to Wikipedia the definitions are:

Monochronic – A monochronic time system, people do things one at a time and segment time into precise, small units. Under this system, time is scheduled, arranged and managed.

Polychronic – In polychronic time system, people do several things simultaneously, and take a more fluid approach to scheduling time.

Indians follow the polychronic time system whereas most of the western countries believe in monochronic time systems. The general perception is that people following monochronic time system are better organized. Hence, monochronic system is superior.

1. Attributes of the two cultures

Below is a table of attributes the people of two cultures show with the current business buzzwords and applicability to Indians. Check it out and tell me whether Indians attitude towards time is going to be strength in future?

No Monochronic People Polychronic People Buzzwords Applicability to Indians
1 Do one thing at a time Do many things at once Single task v/s Multitasking Multitasking
2 Concentrate on the job Can be easily distracted and manage interruptions well Single task v/s Multitasking Multitasking
3 Take time commitments seriously Consider an objective to be achieved, if possible Task oriented v/s goal oriented Goal oriented
4 Are low context and need information Are high context and already have information Direct orders V/s Subtle communication Subtle communication
5 Are committed to the job Are committed to people and human relationships Task oriented v/s people oriented, People oriented
6 Adhere religiously to plans Change plans often and easily Predicted & scheduled v/s Chaotic & complex(Fixed project schedules v/s Flexible planning) Chaotic & complex
7 Are concerned about not disturbing others; follow rules of privacy and consideration Are more concerned with those who are closely related than privacy Individual V/s social communities(Privacy and security v/s social networks and internet) Social communities
8 Show great respect for private property; seldom borrow or lend Borrow and lend things often and easily Ownership v/s credit lending Credit lending
9 Emphasize promptness Base promptness on the relationship Time v/s relationship Relationship
10 Are accustomed to short-term relationships Have strong tendency to build lifetime relationships Transactional relationships v/s Long-term relationships Long-tern relationship

2. Link with current management trends

Now let us discuss the latest management mantras:

a)    Impact of  technology

Advancement in technology and telecommunications has globally connected the world with little segregation possible in work and home life. Managers do multiple tasks now and Gen Y are mentally geared to do so from childhood.

Advantage – India: Indians traditionally do multiple tasks and have a huge population of Gen Y.

b)    Effect of  globalization

Globalization and outsourcing has ensured that managers are not physically available on site to monitor tasks. Secondly, work-life balance is encouraging more people to work from home. Hence, success depends on delivering results and not on completing tasks.

Advantage – India: Indians do not have mindset for process adherence and adopt flexible approaches to achieve targets.

3)    Influence of social networking

In the age of social networking, communication is taking center stage.  Senior managers face the challenge of communicating with a global workforce of different cultures.

Advantage - India: Indian communication style is subtle, layered and non-aggressive.

4)    Demands due to complexity of business 

The space of change in the world has increased due to technology and globalization. The business environment has become complex and chaotic. The long-term planning is not possible because parameters change in a short time.

Advantage – India: Indians managers are used to dealing with adversity and chaos. They are comfortable working delivering results with minimum infrastructure and support.

5)    Finding meaning in relationships

The western organizations have realized that in the long run transactional relationships result in dysfunctional organization culture and reduce customer loyalty.

Advantage – India: Indians believe in long-term relationships even in business. They conduct business after establishing trust and respect in the relationship.

Closing thoughts

I do not know whether I am on the right track. Nevertheless, in my opinion we definitely need to relook, as the risks are high. For instance, presently the western organizations are developing their organization structure, processes and framework according to monochronic thinking. On the other hand, as the business environment requires polychronic behaviour, there is going to be clash in the system. Employees will be confused and unnecessary conflicts will occur. That results only in one thing – lower profits and higher risks.

In Indian organizations, we need to be clear that we do not adopt behavior patterns and change the culture according to our perceptions. We need data and analysis to assess the culture that will be suitable in future. It is possible, that a polychronic culture is better.

Justice Verma’s Report – A Respite for Indian Women

Justice Verma’s report besides covering sexual harassment at workplace also covers other crimes committed on women. Most of these questions were never raised or those who raised them were unheard. Nevertheless, for a civilized democratic nation, the existing social attitudes need to be challenged. India cannot become a global super power when it is the fourth unsafe country in the world for women, nearly 50% of its population. It is our duty to question existing archetypes, advocate change and bring about new thinking.

India was among the few countries that gave equal rights to women on Independence in its Constitution. Mahatma Gandhi thoughts reflected his open thinking in the following words. Let us make them a reality in this century.

“Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacities. She has the right to participate in the minutest details in the activities of man, and she has an equal right of freedom and liberty with him. She is entitled to a supreme place in her own sphere of activity as man is in his. This ought to be the natural condition of things and not as a result only of learning to read and write. By sheer force of a vicious custom, even the most ignorant and worthless men have been enjoying a superiority over woman which they do not deserve and ought not to have. Many of our movements stop half way because of the condition of our women.”

The issue is at the heart of Indian society and below are few points from the report that I wish to bring to your attention.

1.     Rape and Sexual Assault

The Indian Penal Code defines rape as:

“A man is said to commit “rape” who, except in the case hereinafter excepted, has sexual intercourse with a woman under circumstances falling under any of the six following descriptions:—

First.—Against her will.

Secondly.—Without her consent.

Thirdly.—With her consent, when her consent has been obtained by putting her or any person in whom she is interested in fear of death or of hurt.

Fourthly.—With her consent, when the man knows that he is not her husband, and that her consent is given because she believes that he is another man to whom she is or believes herself to be lawfully married.

Fifthly.—With her consent, when, at the time of giving such consent, by reason of unsoundness of mind or intoxication or the administration by him personally or through another of any stupefying or unwholesome substance, she is unable to understand the nature and consequences of that to which she gives consent.

Sixth.—With or without her consent, when she is under sixteen years of age.”

In Indian society, few women are able to exercise their right to object or say no. Men obtain consent through psychological, emotional, financial and physical coercion and threat. The popular concept is that rich men do not rape, it is only poor men who rape women. If a rich man obtains consent through coercion, the women agreed. The standard should be clear. Any man who forces himself on a woman when she has said no is attempting rape. Sex with a woman when she is opposing or resisting is rape. Consent given out of fear or criminal intimidation is rape. Period.

The situation of an Indian wife is the worst possible in the world. Every woman in the world has a right to say no, except an Indian wife. She is duty bound to have sex with her husband. For the first time Justice Verma has included marital rape. Wife is not a property of the husband and has the right to revoke her consent to sex during the course of her marriage. The report states- “A rapist remains a rapist irrespective of the relationship with the victim.” In mordern context, marriage is a relationship of equals and consent cannot be assumed as implied.

Secondly, rape victims face extreme humiliation in courts when their past personal life is dragged for discussion. The defense lawyers ruin the reputation of the victim by bringing past love affairs. In Indian society, if a woman has sex outside of her marriage she becomes characterless. The whole attitude adds insult to injury. Justice Verma has recommended that a woman’s past life cannot be a subject matter for debate in court in a rape case.

It requires extreme courage in India for a woman to report rape and most of the cases go unreported due to the social stigma a raped woman faces. She is ostracized and alienated by the society and her reputation is ruined. The abusive men proudly boast about their power and accomplishments in brow beating women into submission. This attitude needs complete revamping as it distorts the justice system. Society should view rape as a crime and not evaluate it on a shame-honor paradigm as it puts the victimized woman on trial instead of the rapist.

Sohaila Abdulali, a rape victim had succinctly put it – “Rape is horrible. But it is not horrible for all the reasons that have been drilled into the heads of Indian women. It is horrible because you are violated, you are scared, someone else takes control of your body and hurts you in the most intimate way. It is not horrible because you lose your “virtue.” It is not horrible because your father and your brother are dishonored. I reject the notion that my virtue is located in my vagina, just as I reject the notion that men’s brains are in their genitals.” This brave heart has the courage to break the rigid thinking and fight against atrocities.

2.     Eve Teasing and Stalking

The Indian Journal of Criminology and Criminalistics (January- June 1995 Edn.) has categorized eve teasing into five heads viz. (1) verbal eve teasing; (2) physical eve teasing; (3) psychological harassment; (4) sexual harassment; and (5) harassment through some objects. In India the safety of women is at risk in all public places and not just the workplace. Women are sexually harassed in public spaces by men making unwarranted comments. In some cases, the obscene words and gestures seriously impact the dignity of women.

A minor girl in India from the time of achieving puberty becomes a target of eve teasing. As India is a conservative society, she learns to suffer the indignities quietly. As such with the parental attitude that girls are a liability, Indian girls have a low self-esteem. They are trained to behave according to “what will people say”. Hence, the young unsure girl suffers psychologically and emotionally without an outlet since she cannot share her “shame”. If she does so, she will be shunned.

For men it is just an entertaining pastime to demonstrate their machismo. They generally go unpunished due to the lax implementation of criminal action in these cases. Women hardly report the cases to police though eve-teasing is a criminal offence

Justice Verma’s report gives recommendations to curtail eve-teasing. He has suggested  deputation of female police officers at public places, installation of CCTV cameras in public places, filing of police complaints by public transport and public place operators etc. These are steps in the right direction.

If a man wishes to talk to a woman, he can do so in a graceful and dignified manner without offending the sensibilities of the woman. He does not need to stalk a woman, behave in an uncouth and uncivilized manner to get attention. Moreover, if a woman has rejected his advances, he should accept that gracefully. His interest and her rejection do not give a right to harass and abuse her. The women should not adopt a defeatist attitude or try to convince themselves that the man is showing affection and liking. He is blatantly saying that he does not respect you or your wishes. Thankfully, Justice Verma’s report has included stalking as a criminal offense.

Closing Thoughts

Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is about fighting fear tooth and nail in every step we take to define a new path. The educated women and men of India need to fight this battle for their less privileged counterparts. When Indian women could fight shoulder to shoulder in the non-violent struggle for Indian Independence, they can fight now too. In life, always the crazies have brought about change. Don’t be scared to be marked as quirky or non-conformist, you are in good company. Before Independence, British thought Mahatma Gandhi as a fruitcake. The point is, no one will fight your battle for you. We need to do it for ourselves. Progress of Indian women serves India’s national interest. Hence, let us move forward with courage and conviction to redefine the status of women in Indian society

References:

Report of the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law – Justice Verma,