Quality: Ownership and Getting Better

Helsinki Lutherian Cathedral, Finland Photo By: Tanmay Vora

Quality you deliver has everything to do with how much you own your work, your actions and its respective impact on the other parts of the system you operate in. When you produce work that is useful, qualitative and something that others find valuable, it feeds your self-esteem and makes you a better individual. By consistently delivering better than you did last time, you raise the bar and grow.

It is a cyclic process and the one that starts with an intention to do better, not with just having better or superior skills. It is the same intention that drives the thing we call “ownership”. This means, unless you own your work, you will never be able to deliver better than you did last time. And when you do that, work becomes a part of your identity and you value it higher. You do well in things that you value more. In a knowledge world, your work carries your fingerprints. It tells a story about you. This is even more so if you are a leader at any level.

Downed by things like organizational hierarchy, our fear of failure, lack of trust with superiors, micromanagement and poor management, we often treat our work as a transaction. I do this and I get this. You do only that which is required by the job. Work like this for a few months and you will be indifferent, uninspired and if you are ambitious, stressed. Quality of your work will plummet down and growth will be stalled. Not a great way to work and live, particularly when this is the only life you (and we all) have!

Better alternative is to take charge from where you are. Acknowledge the problems, evaluate possible solutions and work your way out. This may not be easy, but on a long run, compromising on quality of your work because of these external factors and not growing through your work can be both painful and costly!

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In 100 Words: Catch That Ostrich

Photo Courtesy: National Geographic

It is easy for us to get into denial mode when faced with a change, challenge or impending danger. People call this “ostrich effect” because there is a common (and false) legend about ostriches burying their heads in the sand to avoid danger.

We often see humans behaving like ostriches in families, teams and in leadership positions. They lack courage to address apparent problems or do important work. When they are driven by fear, they expose their weaker side even more.

Here’s the catch: You blind yourself as much to the opportunity as to the fear of confronting the problem.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Interesting Stuff: There is a new magazine on personal branding titled “Me Inc.” and I am glad to have contributed to the first edition in form of my article “The Passion Equation” (read web version or read full article in magazine, page 24).

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Photo Courtesy: National Geographic

In 100 Words: Perils of Blind Conformance

In one of the TED talks, James Surowiecki shares:

“If army ants are wandering around and they get lost, they start to follow a simple rule: Just do what the ant in front of you does. The ants eventually end up in a circle. There’s this famous example of one that was 1,200 feet long and lasted for two days; the ants just kept marching around and around in a circle until they died.”

Blind conformance to rules and beliefs without internalizing them can be as dangerous. It hinders your growth.

If you walk in another’s tracks, you leave no footprints.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Interesting Stuff: There is a new magazine on personal branding titled “Me Inc.” and I am glad to have contributed to the first edition in form of my article “The Passion Equation” (read web version or read full article in magazine, page 24).

Understanding Quality: Duty Towards Self

Core of a Kiwi Fruit : Photograph By Tanmay Vora

Gross definition of quality is externally oriented – meeting and exceeding customer expectations, satisfying their implicit and explicit requirements, the degree of excellence, and conformance to specifications. They all refer to something outside of us.

At a subtle level, quality stems from what is inside of us. More than deliverance to others, it is deliverance to our own selves. If what we do makes us happy, it will make them happy too.

In his timeless classic “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, Robert M. Pirzig captures the cultural correlation between ancient Greek and Hindu mythologies and quality.

Consider this snippet:

“What moves the Greek warriors to deeds of heroism is not the sense of duty as we understand it – duty towards others; it is rather duty towards himself. He strives after that which we translate ‘virtue’ but is in Greek arête, excellence. …. Phaedrus was fascinated too by the description of the motive of “duty towards self” which is an almost exact translation of the Sanskrit word dharma.”

A lot of self-help material talk about “living up to one’s full potential” – in Greek mythology, that is exactly what arête or excellence means. And it starts from an intense desire to do whatever you do in the best possible manner – not for someone else, but for the self.

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.” – Robert M. Pirzig

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My other attempts to understand Quality from a different lens:

1) Quality is Human. Quality is Love.
2) Quality? Excellence? What?
3) Quality is Happiness
4) Quality and Quantity – Compliance and Excellence

In 100 Words: Don’t Let the Horse Decide

There is an old Zen story about a man riding a horse, galloping frantically down a path. His friend, who is sitting by the side of the road, calls out "Where are you going?" The man replies: "I don’t know. Ask the horse!"

We either lead our lives through the center of our existence or by simply responding to all external expectations; proactively or reactively; as a flame with its own light or as a mirror that only reflects.

Our goals when derived purely based on external expectations can become our horses. Don’t let them decide where you will go!

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

In 100 Words: The Art of Seeing Possibilities

Benjamin Zander’s book “The Art of Possibility” starts with this story:

A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business.

One sends back a telegram saying, SITUATION HOPELESS. STOP. NO ONE WEARS SHOES.


How often does fear win over our hopes and dreams? We constantly keep thinking about our frustrations but not about the potential that we still have in us. Don’t let your failures so far interfere with what is still possible for you to do.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Bonus: See Benjamin Zander in action in this Pop!Tech 2008 Video where he shows what it means to live in a world of possibilities.

Bite Sized Insights on Personal Branding #IndiaHRChat

For the first time, I participated in a Twitter Chat (#IndiaHRChat) on the topic “Personal Branding for HR Professionals“. People from diverse backgrounds shared their views on personal branding in presence of special guest Mr. Anand Pillai, Chief Learning Officer of Reliance Industries.

It was fun to share my insights on personal branding and they were well received. Gautam Ghosh, an eminent blogger and HR Professional, storified the entire chat where you can read all the ideas shared by others. Here are the bite sized ideas on personal branding that I shared.

On definition of personal branding

Personal Branding: a unique perception that marketplace associates with you based on your work/results you deliver.#indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Real accomplishments are a starting point of creating a personal brand. Establishing thought leadership is a way to grow it. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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When you begin the journey of creating a personal brand, it has to be a pro-active effort to differentiate yourself. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Proactive means thinking about what sets you apart, identify critical intersections with gaps and then execute. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Personal Brand happens when what you think, say and do are aligned with consistent set of values as reflected in the outcomes. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

On pre-requisites for creating a personal brand

Pre-requisite for creating a personal brand: A history of ‘real’ accomplishments’ and thought leadership. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Blogs, social tools are just ways to create personal brand. It is important to be intentional and have a unique voice. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Thought leaders are the ones who disrupt established thinking/habits about issues that concern organizations. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Personal branding, in my experience, happens at the intersections. Small areas where two important things intersect. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Mainstreams are crowded and noisy. Intersections are opportunities to dig deeper and differentiate. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Strong brand happens when you are deeply interested/curious abt your work and explore possibilities that others cannot see. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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To create a personal brand, you need to see nuances of your work, the subtle part of it. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Most professionals grow by staying on top of the explicit knowledge. Personal brands, almost always, focus on the implicit. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Personal brand is created when you focus on your contribution more than getting something out of it. It’s a selfless pursuit. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Also, if you have to declare that you are a brand, you are not. It is something others bestow on you! #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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The question is whether you have built it by default or by design. RT @_Kavi: EVERYBODY has a personal brand. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Personal branding, just for sake of branding may not help in long run, if it does not provoke a meaningful change. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

On How to Create Personal Brand

For #HR, every single interaction with other people is an opportunity to build a personal brand. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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To create a reliable and strong personal brand, be focused on real accomplishments. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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@_Kavi: Our quest to be should stem from our understanding of who we are. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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The world needs your ideas, understanding of nuances & insights. Be authentic in sharing them & you start building a brand. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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No shortcuts in life & no shortcuts in building a brand. It takes time & discipline. It is a journey, not a destination. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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Use social media wisely to provide maximum value.Focus on what you can “contribute” not what you can “extract”. #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

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If personal branding is a journey, passion for work and learning are the fuel! #indiahrchat (Link to Tweet)

Ability to differentiate yourself and build a strong personal brand is important to grow and flourish in a competitive environment. More than that, the journey of differentiating yourself is deeply fulfilling and enriching.

BONUS: If you are someone who is interested in differentiating yourself, you might like the free PDF ebook titled “Personal Branding for Technology Professionals” by Rajesh Setty and his super-useful series on Differentiating Yourself.

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In 100 words: Finding a Way Out of Forest

A blind man, wandering lost in a jungle, tripped and fell over a cripple. The blind man said, “I have been wandering since long in this jungle and cannot find my way out!”

The cripple replied, “I have been lying here since long and cannot get up to walk.”

Suddenly, the cripple cried out, “I’ve got it. You hoist me up onto your shoulders. I will tell you where to walk. Together, we’ll find a way.”

The blind man symbolizes rationality and cripple symbolizes intuition. We will not find our way out until we learn how to integrate the two.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Posts

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Story Reference: The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge

How to Establish Thought Leadership? Interview With Dr. Liz Alexander

Thought leadership is important for building careers and for building organizations. It is the most important tool we have as professionals to build our personal brand and establish credibility. What is thought leadership? How does one build thought leadership in his/her area of work?

Let’s find out from Dr. Liz Alexander who recently co-authored a book titled ThoughtLeadership Tweet. In the following interview, Liz shares her ideas on how authentic thought leadership is established.

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[Tanmay Vora] Liz, when I started my own blog in 2006, I had no idea about the concept of thought leadership. But our world is getting hyper-connected and hyper-competitive and clearly, building thought leadership is the best way to attract opportunities. For the benefit of readers of this blog, how would you define a thought leader?

[Liz Alexander] I consider true thought leaders—not content curators, subject matter experts, or trusted advisors who frequently adopt the label—as those who disrupt others’ habitual approaches to issues that concern organizations, industries, or society at large. My co-author Craig Badings and I describe them as advancing the marketplace of ideas by positing actionable, relevant, research-backed, new points of view.
My rule of thumb? If you’re calling yourself a thought leader, likely you’re not. It’s a term bestowed on you by others because of your recognized ability to shift their thinking; it’s not something you get to adopt.

[Tanmay Vora] Most people think that having a blog and sending out tweets is a way to build thought leadership. What all goes into making a thought leader?
[Liz Alexander]
While undoubtedly it’s important to channel your contributions out into the world, thought leaders require three things: the right environment in which to think (consider that for a moment; how rarely do today’s organizations provide this?), a strategic focus for those thoughts (again, how many organizations consider up front what they want their thought leadership to achieve?), and the courage to explore possibilities that the vast majority of people never see.

Let me say a little more about that. Natural thought leaders foster their curiosity, are brave enough to challenge established points of view and willing to explore approaches that may appear controversial, at least at first. Wipro’s concept of Intelligent Terminals; Blue Dart Express’ championing of corporate social responsibility in India through their “Living Corporate Responsibility” campaign; the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation’s AMUL model that champions farmer empowerment– these are all examples of organizations who looked broader, thought deeper, reached higher. True thought leadership in action!

[Tanmay Vora] What is the role of “real accomplishments” in being a thought leader? I mean, when we talk about “thought leadership”, is there something called “act leadership” or leadership by doing things?
[Liz Alexander]
I was struck by an analogy I read that described thought leaders as people who sold you tickets for the bus tour, but weren’t necessarily driving the bus. That is, they are doing the thinking that intrigues, inspires and incites others to take the necessary tactical action, such as the three examples given above. They innovate conversations rather than offer up cookie-cutter tactics.

Thought leadership, in order to have any value, must provoke meaningful change. One of the most important “acts” that thought leaders inspire in others is to get them to think through the practical, personalized implications of adopting a new perspective or way of perceiving their industry, organization, or customer base.

[Tanmay Vora] What are the key lessons individuals can take away from your book #THOUGHT LEADERSHIP tweet?
[Liz Alexander]
That there is more to designing and executing a successful, effective thought leadership campaign than most people realize. We’ve done the preliminary thinking for readers by compiling 140 tweet-sized prompts with which organizations can review their existing culture (Tweet # 14: Is your environment supportive of a culture of innovation? How have you demonstrated that in the past?); determine their strategic focus (Tweet #34: What is it you want your target audience to do when they receive or interact with your thought leadership point of view?); and ensure the right people are campaign champions (Tweet #109: Who will be involved and how in the design, development, and execution of your thought leadership campaign? Why did you choose those people?).

[Tanmay Vora] Thank you Liz, for sharing your ideas and book with the readers of this blog. I am sure they will pick some important clues to build their own thought leadership.
[Liz Alexander]
I’m grateful for the opportunity, Tanmay. Thank you!

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Get the book on: Amazon | Flipkart.com (if you are in India)

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Bio: Dr. Liz Alexander is a business book strategist and consulting co-author who works with executives and consultants in the US and India, providing the questions (and solutions) to help them discover and communicate their unique thought leadership space. Her 14th book #Thought Leadership Tweet: 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign is designed to ensure aspiring thought leaders consider all aspects of a successful thought leadership campaign before investing time, money, and effort. One of her favorite words is “why?”

Everyday Resolutions

New year brings with it a lot of excitement. It is always fun when people extend new year wishes followed by a very predictable question, “So, what are your new year resolutions?”. It makes me think.

If you are on a journey of self-improvement, you cannot afford to have once-in-a-year resolutions that fade away with time. Each day has to start with a resolve. Resolve to manage your attitude and behavior on a daily basis. Resolve to make a difference. Resolve to help people grow. Resolve to lead. Resolve to take one small step everyday in the direction of your dreams. It is a daily challenge and not a yearly one.

In her post at HBR, Whitney Johnson says, “Instead of Making Resolutions, Dream”. She suggests,

While resolutions are about "shoulds," dreaming is about hope — and who we may become. Dreaming is at the heart of disruption — it is only when we dream that we can hope to create something truly new, something that will overtake old habits, old customs, and old ways of thinking and being.

So, as you start your new year, see the possibilities of where life can take you. Then give a life to those possibilities by doing something about it every single day. That is the way to bring about a revolution through resolutions, as Nicholas Bate rightly puts it.

All the Best!

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The Other Side of Appreciation

[Note: This post is a continuation of thoughts from my earlier post “Building Engaged Teams with Power of Appreciation”]

Yes, appreciation is the fuel that drives people forward and leaders need to learn the art of genuinely appreciating the behaviors they value. On the other side of this equation is the person who is being appreciated, the professional whose inner desire is to be accepted, appreciated and understood. The challenge in creating a culture of appreciation is to ensure that people don’t just do things for the sake of being appreciated.

Human beings have an obsession to decode success. The first time they do something new, it is a creative act, the magic. If it works, they try to decode the act, look for patterns and create formulas. Formulas rob us of the the creative fun involved in doing our work.

If you are a high performer who is blessed with a lot of appreciation from your leaders and peers, here are a few points to note:

  1. Don’t let it go to your head. Sachin Tendulkar is one of the greatest cricketers world has ever produced. Recently when he was asked about the secret of his humility, his response was simple, “I don’t let success, records and adulation go into my head”. Appreciation should catalyze our creativity.
  2. Appreciation is a by-product. Treat it accordingly. When you do your work with a constant expectation of appreciation, you are working for something which is not in your control. You become too dependent on an external validation to let others decide if your work was good. Focus on inner satisfaction of doing your work in the best possible way and let appreciation be a by-product.
  3. The work you are appreciated for should meet the goal. What if you shined but the team lost? The joy of being appreciated when your efforts helped the team win is very different from being appreciated when you shined but the team failed.

These pointers are important to consider, else appreciation is a double-edged sword that can go either way. Make sure the appreciation you receive helps you elevate yourself.

Join in the conversation: How do you deal with all the appreciation you receive? Does it go to your head or heart?

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Comfortable With Chaos 15

Your career (and your business) is not a 6 lane highway where you can keep speeding in a single direction.

It is a curvy road that throws up a lot of unexpected situations. Economic downturns, changes in demand/supply and such uncertainties.

You cannot control any of these situations, but how you respond to them is totally in your control.

One thing is clear: We need to get comfortable with chaos.

Comfortable doesn’t mean that you let chaos happen around you and choose not to respond.

Being comfortable with chaos means being more responsive to chaos and creative in spotting opportunities around.

Being flexible. Attentive. Nimble-footed.

It is important to see your career as a journey and not a destination.

It evolves and emerges, presenting new avenues and challenges as you march forward. You can seize them or leave them.

Things like past success, experience and position can sometimes bind and blind us from seeing new opportunities.

But we only learn new things when we do new things. And chaos/uncertainty is the best time to attempt something new.

To initiate. To start.

In fact, chaos is an integral part of doing anything creative – be it writing a piece, painting a picture or building an organization. They call it “creative tension”. In fact, it is a fuel for creative juices to flow.

Uncertainty is ubiquitous and how to respond to uncertainty is a choice we have to make. It is an opportunity.

It is this choice that makes all the difference to your learning and growth.

Graceful Leadership 101: Free PDF Book

People are promoted to lead others based on their seniority in technical areas. Others become managers after getting a management degree from a b-school that never taught them the fundamentals of dealing with people. They end up putting off people through their behavior and set a wrong example for their subordinates to follow.

In a business setting, the cost of having such leaders is invisible, but often huge. When they try to “drive” others through their narrow views and focus too much on “monitor and control”, they kill initiative. Over time, this builds culture where people don’t own things up, pass the buck, blame others and cruise along the status-quo – exactly opposite of what we need in an initiative-led and innovation-oriented business environment.

Leadership is a privilege, a huge responsibility and a glorious opportunity to add value – to business, to team members and customers. In my view, many competent and well-intentioned managers today can elevate their team performance only if they become a little more graceful. More considerate and kind.

Graceful Leadership 101 (Free PDF Download) is a running list of simple (and common-sense) ideas that can help leaders become more graceful. You can call them “managerial manners” or “leadership etiquette”, these are 101 simplest ways to add remarkability and result-orientation to your leadership style.

How can you use this list?

  1. Share this list with all your senior managers, middle managers and technical leaders. This should serve as a good starting point for focusing on the “human” aspect of work. Use this as a part of “new manager induction”.

  2. Hand this over to any one you know who aspires to be a manager/leader. Share this with MBA students you know.

  3. Tweet about it, share it on Facebook for the benefit of people in your network.

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Usman Riaz and Attitude of Self-Directed Learning

One of the most critical skills for modern day students and professionals is ability to learn beyond the confines of a class room. We are fortunate that so much of profound learning is available for free – why do we not learn then?

There is a saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. One can have presence on all sorts of social media channels but that does not ensure learning. Because learning starts with an intent, an inner force to know more, dig deeper and understand. It expands as we internalize what we learn and then do something about it. Learning is not one-time-4-year-degree-course, but a lifelong commitment. Degree may be a launch pad, but ability to learn beyond the classroom, self-directed effort to learn and do are wings!

Consider the story of 21 years old Usman Riaz, a Pakistani music composer and an ace acoustic guitar player. Usman grew up learning the art of percussive guitar by watching videos on YouTube.

Usman recently played onstage at TEDGlobal 2012 followed by a brilliant solo performance from the master of percussive guitar, Preston Reed. These two guitarists then took on a very spur-of-the-moment improvisation to stamp their mastery.

Watch this demonstration of what wonders self-directed learning can do.

In an interview, Usman Riaz says (emphasis added),

I think my generation is one of the luckiest generations of people because up until the Internet became such an integral part of our lives (for me it was around 7 or 8 ) I had seen how the world functioned without the Internet, which just made me appreciate it even more and not take it for granted.

We have so much knowledge available to us at our fingertips. I try to use it to the best of my ability. I want to get better everyday. You can never stop learning.

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You may also like reading:

  1. Lifelong Learning: Lesson From A Cab Driver

  2. On Personal Mastery and Commitment to Learning

  3. Lifelong Learning – 20 Lessons

Social Media and Leadership Success: A Few Parallels

When I first learned playing Guitar, I focused too much on notes, specifics and techniques. The more I practiced, the more I realized that notes, specifics and techniques are important for producing good music, but not sufficient.

So what was missing? The starting point of becoming a good artist is to have an emotion, an intent. Once you can touch the emotion and are intentional about it, tools and techniques are generally not difficult to master. Music played with technique may entertain us at the best but music played with emotion can move us.

In casual conversations, a lot of friends express a desire to start a blog. This desire is mostly fueled by success of others. They seek help in starting a blog, in creating a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account. Here’s what I tell them:

The intent of connecting with others meaningfully is at the heart of social media (and leadership) success. With intent comes emotion which leads to difference. It is about liking people, interacting with them, learning from them and contributing back.

It is not about being like someone else, not about ability to use tools but about being your authentic and credible self. Once you are intentional and have right emotion to feel the content (be it music, writing, social media, programming, whatever), tools and techniques are easy to learn.

Unfortunately, most people do the inverse. They first focus on tricks and techniques and then search for emotional connect. Even before they start doing something, they want to measure their success. They end up spreading themselves thin on various social channels and often create noise.

Finally, like any other successful journeys, social media is a process and not a destination. Here again, intent and emotion fuels us through the road. I have seen companies hiring a social media marketing lead and expecting immediate business leads. It seldom happens.

Once you understand the four aspects below, you will do better, not only in social media but in other areas of life as well:

  • Be intentional. Develop an internal need to do something before attempting it.
  • Fuel it with emotion. Understand the impact of what you say and do. Be passionate.
  • In the beginning, don’t measure. Focus on contribution, not on results. Later, measure right things.
  • Enjoy the journey. Seek out new avenues. Connect meaningfully with others. Make a difference.

Join in the conversation: How do you use social media? What parallels can you draw that can help us in other areas of life and work?

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Note: This ideas in this post emerged while talking to Becky Robinson at Weaving Influence – as the name of her blog suggests, she uses social media to connect authors with online audiences, weave an influence and make a difference. Thanks Becky!

On Creativity: SRK and Seth Godin!

Two personalities from two diverse nations; One is an Indian mega-star Shahrukh Khan (SRK) and the other is a relentless instigator (and my hero) Seth Godin. Both live a creative life and express themselves fully through their work. Both have a significant impact on large number of people. Recently, both expressed their views on creativity.

At his recent talk as Chubb Fellow at Yale University, SRK shared his view on creativity and said,

Creativity is your gift to the world. It was never meant to be barter for anything, not even appreciation. You have to believe, that you create only because this is the biggest gift you have to give to your world. Maybe that’s why we even say God is a creator. It’s not about the cars or houses…it never was… those are peripherals. They never come about because of your talent or your creative outpourings… they come out of a business that people around you do. Those people are in the business of barter — not you. Yours is the business of giving and learning. Your work of art may never be complete in your lifetime. Your fulfillment will always lie in your creative expression not in its products.

In his usual provocative style, Seth Godin urges us not to expect applause. He says,

But when you expect applause, when you do your work in order (and because of) applause, you have sold yourself short. That’s because your work is depending on something out of your control. You have given away part of your art. If your work is filled with the hope and longing for applause, it’s no longer your work–the dependence on approval has corrupted it, turned it into a process where you are striving for ever more approval.

These insights led me to think and following lessons emerged:

  1. Don’t barter your originality and expression with external drivers, and rewards. When recognitions or rewards happen, cherish them. Treat them as by-products. But don’t let that get into your head, because once it does, logic rules. And when logic is a dominant force over emotion, creativity quickly eludes us.
  2. The pre-requisite of being creative is to first be yourself. If we are not true to our authentic selves, if we are not aware about our inherent interests, it is hard to be creative.
  3. Being true to your self means that you might need to break some rules, re-invent some and create a few. Non-conformance is good for creative diversity.

Also read: 5 Insights on Creativity from Osho

Leadership, Self-Awareness and A Story

Last week, I delivered a talk at a leading b-school and interacted with final year MBA students who are now ready for their first jobs. Their faces radiated hope and aspiration. To me, they seemed like caterpillars who are changing into butterflies, ready to break the cocoon of academics and enter into the world of work.

My talk started with the topic of self-awareness (also called ‘intra-personal intelligence’) and I emphasized that businesses today need more people who are aware about their strengths (inherent and acquired) and are passionate about what they are doing. In the process, I told them a story of my friend named Nish.

After schooling, when Nish was at the cross road of career selection, he told his father, “Give me an inch of space in electronics and I will make a whole world out of it”. These words came from someone who seemed to be an average student then, but extremely passionate about electronics.

I remember his room with a lot of books, used printed circuit boards and some soldering guns hanging out of the wall. In school days,  when most students remain too busy (and often anxious) doing their assignments and tests, he assembled transistors and explored electronics. His father allowed him and he first took a diploma course in electronics. His grades in diploma allowed him to get a lateral entry into Bachelor of Engineering course. He went on to do his M.S in Satellite Electronics and then a Ph.D. in communication technologies from UK. This long academic journey was fuelled by only one thing: his passion for electronics.

Nish is a successful entrepreneur, a hands-on technologist and a creative human being who also teaches. He identified his strengths early on and built on it.

The journey of building a career is nothing but a quest to seek our strengths and then utilize those strengths fully to make a positive difference. If our goal as students, professionals and seekers is to express ourselves fully in our chosen area of pursuit, all recognitions and extrinsic rewards become a by-product.

The story resonated well with the students and I wish they take clues from it as they embark on the road to professional excellence.

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Similar stories at QAspire:

– Passion in Work: What’s Your Ice-Cream?

Actualizing with the self

Great Quote: Vincent Van Gogh on Profession and Passion

Lifelong Learning: Lesson From A Cab Driver

There was a sparkle in that cab driver’s eyes. A slim, young and enthusiastic fellow who drove me from airport to home while returning from a business travel. His greeting was cheerful and conduct, professional. As the wheels started moving, he initiated a conversation with me about economy, the state of jobs and why he loves driving cabs. He sounded like he carried a unique perspective. His enthusiasm was almost contagious and I was dragged into the conversation without even realizing it!

At one point in the conversation which covered range of topics from jobs to sales, he pulled out his cell phone and played a video recording of what seemed to me like a motivational video. He handed over the phone to me so that I could see/listen to the speech. He later revealed that he spent about 30% of his monthly income to attend this day long seminar by a leading motivational/sales speaker and urged me to find the video somewhere on YouTube.

This guy was amazing because he did not see his background, his job or lack of qualifications as a limitation. Because he taught me that learning has no boundaries. That only pre-requisite to learn new things is to have an open, willing, receptive and curious frame of mind. That you learn the best when you learn it for yourself, not for a degree or an external certification.

I once heard Tom Peters saying that if you are a business traveler, you learn the most not from the corporate executives but from the cab drivers. You really get a perspective about life. I experienced it first-hand.

The next time I need a cab, I know who to call!

Getting Ahead: Interview with Joel Garfinkle

I had a pleasure of reading a new book titled Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level by Joel Garfinkle (@workcoach4you). Joel is the founder of Garfinkle Executive Coaching, author and one of the top 50 coaches in America. Joel was kind enough to share his book with me, which focuses on perception, visibility and influence as key tools for advancing our career.

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[Tanmay Vora] Joel, it is a pleasure interviewing you. "Getting Ahead’ is essentially a career oriented book. Why did you write this book now and how is it different from a lot of other career books out there?

[Joel Garfinkle] I spent the last 16 years working with thousands of executives, senior managers, directors and employees at the world’s leading companies. I realized that when a business professional works on only these 3 areas (Perception, Visibility and Influence) they will be successful. It is guaranteed. My research showed that it didn’t matter what a person’s title, background, location or responsibility. The most successful utilized the PVI model better than anyone else.

Getting Ahead is different than a lot of other career books because it provides immediate benefit, reward and easy implementation. You have only 3 concepts (PVI model) to work on and implement. With less content and concepts to be focused upon, what the reader needs to learn from this book becomes easily known, applied and implemented.

[Tanmay Vora] What does the book broadly cover?

[Joel Garfinkle] While some people leave the fate of their careers in someone else’s hands, others determine their future using these three critical skills (1) improve your perception, (2) increase your visibility, and (3) exert your influence. This book will teach you the PVI-model of professional advancement. Through practical advice, true-to-life examples, and action-oriented tips, you will learn how to:

– Create the right image
– Increase your profile across the organization
– Exert influence by driving change and inspiring people
– Identify and recruit advocates who will speak up on their behalf
– Become a known, valued and desired at your company
– Get effective tools to implement immediately so you can become an invaluable–and noticeable–resource for their company.

[Tanmay Vora] In the book, you talk about improving perception to grow in your career. Perception is a very subjective thing and while we can always be conscious about how we are being perceived, it is very challenging to always manage the perceptions of others. What advice would you share with readers of this blog about managing perception?

[Joel Garfinkle] If you don’t take control of how others see you, you will undermine both your career and your future success. People form opinions about you without any input from you. You can’t leave the fate of your career in someone else’s hands. Here’s how to manage your perception:

1. Notice how your behavior affects others. When interacting with people at work, how do they respond to you? What do they say and do? Document the patterns you notice based on your daily interactions. Learn to take the negative reactions and find specific ways to improve upon them. At the same time, it’s important to identify behaviors that cause positive perceptions and engage in them more frequently.

2. Gain advocates who speak positively about you. You can directly change others’ perceptions of you by having people express their enthusiasm for the impressive work you are doing. Whether it’s your success on the projects you are leading, the accomplishments you achieve, or the recognition you receive from others, it’s vital that you have people in your company singing your praise and promoting your value.

[Tanmay Vora] If you had to summarize three key messages from the book to readers of this blog, what would those be?

[Joel Garfinkle] Here they go:

1. The most successful leaders have gotten to where they are by leveraging and applying perception, visibility, and influence better than anyone else.

2. The reality you face at work is that talent, results, and competence alone simply will not allow you to attain the success you deserve.

3. The PVI model is your guiding light throughout your entire career, so you can maximize your potential and realize your professional greatness.

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You can also find out more and download a free chapter of getting ahead. http://www.garfinkleexecutivecoaching.com/getting-ahead-book.html. View his books and FREE articles at Garfinkle Executive Coaching.

Enjoy the Process – 2

In 2010, I wrote a post titled “Enjoy the Process”. The central idea of the post was:

“My point is – if we constantly keep our goal in perspective (and get overwhelmed by it), we become less efficient. Anxiousness (and sometimes fear) kills creativity. We rush through the process to see if our efforts are delivering results. Quest for instant gratification can result in sub-optimal outcomes. Focusing on the moment, on task currently on our hands enables us to fully express ourselves. One of the best gifts we can give ourselves is to enjoy the work while we are doing it (being in the moment) – and expressing our skills fully. It is both gratifying and satisfying.”

In his recent post “The Fruits of our Labors”, the awesome Steve Pressfield nailed it with a story of Cole Porter:

“I read a story about Cole Porter when he was writing songs for the movies. Sometimes the producers would shoot him down. He’d play them his newest tune and they’d reject it. They’d kick him out of the office. I loved his reaction:

“I got a million of ‘em.”

Cole Porter was a pro. He knew he didn’t have just one song, or ten songs, or a hundred and ten songs. He had a lifetime supply.

In other words, music wasn’t Cole Porter’s job, it was his career. It was his calling. It was his love. He was in it for the long haul, come rain or come shine (wait, that was Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer). He was in it for the process, not the product.”

Steve further concludes:

“Where is the joy in writing, dancing, film-making, or any art or entrepreneurial venture? It’s not in the praise; it’s not in a paycheck. (Though there’s nothing wrong with praise or paychecks.) It’s in the work itself. The sweat of it and the grind of it and the happy moments when it gets rolling all by itself. Krishna said that’s all we have a right to, and he hit the nail on the head. The joy is private and silent.”

Read Steve’s full post here.