This is the key to building a successful career.

When is it ok to be abrasive at work, to ride roughshod over people’s feelings and to hold the view of my way or the highway? The answer is never.

The early years of my career (and some later as well) were punctuated with incidents that showcased me as an aggressive pushy professional, keen to make his mark. My approach at work was to ensure my viewpoint carried through to the other, his or her feelings be damned. I was brusque in my attitude and said what was needed to be said, regardless of the audience. 

The end result was on expected lines. I was typecast as an abrasive person who while good at his work, was lacking inter personal skills. This of course impacted my appraisals as well.

After spending more than half my life in the corporate world, here’s what I have realised – this is not a make believe world where anything goes. It consists of real people who have real feelings and are just trying to make their mark while making a living. So it always helps to realise the human core at the heart of everything we do at work. 

To understand that all our actions at work would impact our colleagues in some way or another. This realisation requires that we be sensitive to them, in the way we interact – assertive yet respectful, honest yet tactful and professional yet with an inherent understanding and empathy towards their behaviour and actions.

This approach was amply demonstrated by quite a few SVP/ Directors that I have had the good fortune to work with. The more senior the person, the more sensitive he is towards interactions with colleagues, and towards making sure that work is accomplished in a collaborative manner. Sure there would be disagreements and different points of view. But the disagreement is always channelled in a constructive manner, away from the person and towards finding an amicable yet workable solution that meets corporate objectives.

This then is the core learning experience of my career; one that has changed my outlook both as a professional and as an individual.

Do you think this perspective is useful? What has been your biggest learning from the corporate world?  

3 Traits that will propel you to becoming a Super Achiever

I recently watched Bohemian Rhapsody (the movie) and was once again swept away by the sheer genius of Freddie Mercury and his band – Queen. It remains one of the most versatile rock bands of the eighties and each band member displayed oodles of talent that came to the fore with every album that they recorded. While reminiscing later about what I love about Freddie, I reflected that there were 3 traits of the Queen frontman that truly inspired me and are great takeaways for all of us.

The young Farroukh (Freddie’s real name) was supremely confident of his talent. His Self-belief was unshakeable – he knew he was destined for greatness. It didn’t matter that he got rejected by producers or other musicians. Freddie knew he had it in him to succeed.

In one scene within the movie, Freddie and the band are at an introductory meeting with EMI records. When the music company manager suggests that “if everything turns out right, you could get some airplay” Freddie instead of looking perturbed, states with a quiet confidence that he expects more, much more.

That’s self-belief which actually transforms your destiny because you are already visualising your success. And once you can visualise it and live it in your mind, the same success manifests itself in your physical reality. Believe in yourself and your uniqueness. Create your own destiny by believing and trusting your inner voice and your deepest desires.

The second hallmark of Freddie was Passion for his music. He always invested 100% of himself into every song. An indelible image in my mind remains Freddie’s face while he belted out his foot stomping hits or crooned a ballad – eyes closed, veins popping, a sweating face taut with the intensity and passion that was his forte and which gave Queen’s music that cutting edge. Freddie lived his music with a fanatical passion that ultimately propelled him to becoming a Legend in the annals of Rock music.

If you are a diehard fan of Queen (like me) you would have heard all their songs. And what impresses me most is the sheer Creativity of their repertoire. While the other band members did contribute to this aspect, it was Freddie’s creative brilliance that stood out in their best work. His indefatigable thirst to create unceasingly, without caring for censure or praise, was a testament to his work ethic. And the more he wrote and sang, the more the creativity flowed. 

A simple way to become creative is to create – do whatever moves you. Draw, paint, write, sculpt, write code, invent, discover – do whatever it takes to create your best version of who you are. The more you dive in and forget yourself while pursuing your own creative path, the richer would be the end product that you finally hold up to the world.

Find your passion, something that you love doing. Then just do it, over and over again. Passion gives you the edge, the reason for your existence and imbues your existence with vivacity.  

An unwavering Self-belief, relentless Passion to make the best music and a Creative outpouring that continues to astound fans even today. These then, were the cornerstones of Freddie Mercury’s greatness as a musician par excellence, one who was feted by his peers from the rock music genre as well as the classical elite and of course millions of fans.

As you may rightly observe, these traits are not confined to him or the music industry. These are the prerequisites for anyone who seeks to be Excellent at what he or she does.

Believe in yourself, fuel the Passion and keep Creating. That’s what I truly believe. 

But don’t take my word for it. Take a look around you and identify the achievers, the truly successful. Do they exhibit the qualities that we have discussed above?  What do you think ?

picture credit: by Frederico Birchal, via Behance

Five steps to achieving greater Teamwork

Recently, I was entrusted with leading a new team at work. The team’s previous manager had recently resigned and I was asked by my boss to step in and fill the gap.

As I was introduced to the eight-member team, I recognised the classic signs of team dynamics being played out. The team was clearly sceptical of me as the new leader and I could see the doubt in their faces. In some instances, I saw a marked indifference, as though the person couldn’t care less that I was now in charge. This was quite exasperating since whenever I would call the team together for our daily huddle, this person would sit with his laptop, pretending to be busy and hence not paying me the slightest attention. Of course, I made my intentions clear by pointedly requesting him to shut the laptop and participate. But the fact of the matter was that he did not consider me worthy of being his leader.

Now, two months into the team, I feel confident that the team is truly working with me rather than for me. As I introspect on what went right for me, I found the following factors enabled me to gain a foothold into the team and become one of them, thus commanding their respect. These then are the 5 steps that led my team to greater Teamwork:

#1 Roll up your sleeves

The number one rule I have learnt that governs all team interactions is this. The team want their leader to be in the trenches with them – getting his or her hands dirty. It is the single biggest motivator for them to realise that their leader is right there with them, grappling with issues, listening to problems and offering solutions. Being a team leader is all about working with the team. Never mind whether your team comprises 5 or 50 members.

The basic fact is that a leader needs to be seen as someone working side by side, shoulder to shoulder with the team. This gives them the assurance that their leader is not someone who sits in an ivory tower and barks instructions. Instead, he goes out there, sits beside them (this is another must do) and starts pulling the team together.

#2 Take notes and remember action items

The next important factor that engages a team into action is to ensure that the leader takes notes and remembers action items. Diarising the tasks to be done and then following up to check their status on a daily basis, demonstrates to the team that you are tracking the important deliverables and making sure that everyone knows and sees that. Besides the obvious benefit of tracking several action items to ensure nothing is missed, noting and remembering also shows the team that you are keenly involved in your work. Hence your fate is tied to theirs and success or failure affects the team as a whole, including yourself.

#3 Appreciate good work, even if it comes from the person who is resisting you.

Appreciation if sincere and given at the right time (immediately upon completion of the task/project) does wonders to the morale of the team. Members begin to realise that you appreciate their efforts and this makes them feel good. After all, who doesn’t feel the need to be appreciated?

So once an important mini project came to a satisfactory conclusion, I made it a point of congratulating the two team members at their desk, thus ensuring that others also heard me lauding their efforts. And yes, one of the two members was the same individual who was studiously ignoring me in earlier meetings.

I think it was Dale Carnegie who summed it up best – Praise in public but give feedback in private.

#4 Volunteer to take up part of the team agenda

This point is strongly correlated to the first one. Take up part of the team’s workload thus enabling them to focus on what they can do best. Initially, the team would give me numerous reasons why a particular piece of work could not be done. Sometimes it was merely to pass on the buck but mostly it was because the team felt overwhelmed with their priorities and could not decide what to tackle first.

I started volunteering to pick up certain actionables (corporate jargon for things to be done). This showed them that I was willing to shoulder some of their workload. And it really helped to break down the perceived barriers and helped me gel with the team.

It showed them that I was not above taking up part of the workload and pitching in when required. This also aided me in getting a handle on the work myself and pretty soon the team started sharing updates on a daily basis, helping everyone to move forward and achieve shared objectives.

#5 Identify individual strengths and assign tasks.

Not everyone in a team is the same. To revisit the cliché – not all the five fingers of your hand are the same. So the team leader needs to understand each individual’s strength and assign responsibilities accordingly, which will enable the person to shine by doing the things she does best.

This becomes all the more crucial when the team is faced with a multitude of tasks, all of which have to be completed in the shortest possible time. Assessing the individual’s flair and ability enables the leader to assign particular tasks to each person who would then complete the same with high quality and in the quickest turnaround time.

These then are the vital gleanings from my new assignment which have helped me to bond with the team and earn their respect .

As Henry Ford put it so simply – “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

5 Traits that define great Leaders

Great Leadership is a cliched phrase today. Managers keep harping on why it is essential that we grow out of being good managers and become Great Leaders.

During my career spanning 26 years, I have had the good fortune of working with and observing some of my senior managers and leaders. These individuals have shaped my perception of what a good leader is and more importantly, how he interacts with his teams or people at work. What signals does she emanate to her team? How does he respond and react to a subordinate’s request?

I would like to call out some of the traits that I consider as being vital towards great Leadership. These are qualities which I greatly admire and have experienced first hand from my bosses.

# 1       A great Leader shows respect

This is the single, most vital characteristic of senior leadership that has shone through in my dealings with some of my senior colleagues. A good leader respects you, regardless of the seniority of his or her position and your standing in the organisation. Or rather, the leader goes out of his way to make sure that he interacts with you in a way that makes you feel respected.

If you were to meet your senior leader in a hallway, she would acknowledge your presence with a cheerful hello and a smile. This would make you feel good, that you are a part of the organisation and that the leader knows you and respects you. This can be done even if the leader does not know you personally. After all, when the layers of corporate culture are stripped away, are we not at a fundamental level – all human beings? And do we not as humans, crave mutual respect?

#2        Politeness is his forte

Another singular trait that seems very old school in today’s super connected, real time world is the habit of being polite. But is being polite mutually exclusive with being a great leader? I believe that the opposite is true and essential. How can someone who is impolite and rude be recognised as a great leader? A true leader recognises that politeness is acknowledging the human being facing you in the one on one meeting. She understands that politeness costs nothing, yet it is the hallmark of an evolved leader.

A polite leader is one who would speak to you in a professional yet gentle manner. She would enquire about your well being and be genuinely interested in you. A leader who is polite is acknowledging your presence again at a fundamental level – you as a person and an individual and not concerned whether you are a General Manager or a peon.

Politeness also extends to the simple courtesy of acknowledging emails and phone calls. A senior leader who responds promptly to an email enquiry, that you sent out with butterflies in your stomach, is displaying a keen sense of politeness and empathy. Responding to the electronic communication is again not mandatory but shows maturity and class from a senior leader whose behaviour is often looked upon as an example to be followed.

# 3       Positivity is the hallmark of a great leader

A true leader exudes positive vibes. I am not referring to global icons, whose behaviour and mannerisms are already in the public domain, but to the few shining examples that I have been fortunate enough to interact with, in my career.

A good leader is one who has a positive outlook towards life and the workspace. For him nothing is too depressing or unworkable. As managers, we often tend to look at the gloomy side of things, at the constraints that we face and the challenges that loom like huge boulders on a turbulent sea shore. The leader remains cheerful in the face of all challenges and his optimism and energy rub off on you. He remains energetic and active and you soon realise that things can’t be all that bad and that the rough spots would even out soon.

# 4       True Leaders are responsive

A truly effective leader is responsive to your needs. This applies to her behaviour at the minutest level. From responding to a text message that you send to picking up that phone call, a good leader acknowledges your request and reverts, even if it’s to tell you that she is busy for the day and will call back later in the evening.

Being responsive as a leader is further accentuated when the leader hears your proposal and agrees with the same, even if it disrupts the organisation flow in the short term. I remember my enthusiasm, when having secured migration rights to Canada, I was all charged up and met with my Operations Head to ask for extended leave. He didn’t have to agree to that and in fact could have denied my request at face value, since this would have caused the company short term inconvenience to him and his managers. Rather, he adopted a very responsive and flexible stand and allowed me to explore the new frontiers that were open to me at that time in my life.

#5        A great leader is constantly sharing her life lessons 

An astute leader is one who is well versed with coaching her team members. A team is an assortment of individuals and as such they all come from varied backgrounds and with a rainbow of differences in opinion and approach. A good leader understands this and engages in coaching his team on an individual, one on one basis. A person in need of direction in his career or a young lady looking to tie the knot while at the ascendant in her profession, both call for a high degree of empathy and an underlying approach of coaching from the boss.

A true leader is one who readily dispenses with his or her wisdom and guides the team member to taking an informed decision.

In conclusion, the litmus test of a true leader is not that she commands respect or is the most competent person in the organisation. Rather, a strong and effective leader is one who is respectful of his team members and is polite and responsive to the varied needs of his team members.

A true leader strives to maintain a personal connect with each individual, and in doing so reinforces the basic truth that we are all flawed human beings, striving to make a living. She is also keenly appreciative of the fact that all individuals seek mutual respect, recognition and understanding while growing in their careers just as much as they need these in their personal lives.

It is in imbibing and practicing these traits that we too can hone our people skills and aim to become competent leaders.