What is Heard and What is Felt

This may sound very simple but communication is all about transferring emotion and energy. Words are simply carriers of that emotion. Yes, choice of words matter, but that is not communication.

Consider this example.

The new sales director was on boarded with a lot of frenzy. In his first address to all the team members, he delivered a well crafted introduction. He spoke about himself, his past projects and then about how he intends to take this organization to new heights. If a transcript was created out of his speech, it would be a perfectly worded one. Yet, he was not able to establish the connection in this first address. At water-cooler conversations, people expressed skepticism. Even when everything he said was right, something was not right!

Clearly, there was a lot of focus on delivery and content and less on emotion, energy, intensity and conviction. His overall demeanor suggested that he was putting his own agendas first before focusing on others. He expressed his goals and desires without focusing on the need to understand the current context. He said it, but people felt that he did not mean it. 

Bottom line: As a leader, you talk to people more clearly through experiences you extend, not just through well-crafted words. Your words may be heard, but your attitude, emotion and intent are always felt.

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Photo Courtesy: KrossBow’s Flickr Photostream

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Other Related Posts at QAspire:

Clearing the Fog in Communication

Our communication at workplace needs a lot of simplification. Have you seen leaders who throw jargons and so called “hot words” that leave people more confused?

When a boss says, “We need to get this done soon”, people are left to wonder what soon actually means. I once observed a senior leader who was approached by his team member for some help on an issue. After thinking aloud for a while, the leader ended up saying, “You need to somehow close this ASAP.”  For a struggling team member who needed direction, words like “somehow” and “ASAP” added ambiguity and needless urgency leading to frustration.

In one instance, a manager delegated a report creation task to his team member with a note of “urgent and important”. The team member worked hard to deliver the report created the report in shortest possible time but then received no response from the manager for days. Was it really important? If not, how can it be urgent at all?

I have seen managers who request “quick calls” that go on for hours together. Meetings to “touch base” end up being meetings that “drill down”.

I see a huge need to simplify our communication – our words and our actions have to convey very specific (and congruent) messages. Jargons and hot words break the communication, creates barriers, robs understanding, adds clutter and leaves people guessing. “I need to get this report by 12:00 PM tomorrow so that I can review and send it across to customer by 4:00 PM” is much better than “I need it ASAP”. Next time you call something as “important”, make sure your subsequent actions also demonstrate the importance.

What if we stop using jargons where we need to be specific? If we clarify expectations relentlessly? Our work will be free of foggy messages and hence simpler. Clarity and congruence in thoughts, words and actions are first pre-requisites of being excellent at anything – more so if you are a leader.

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Photo Courtesy: Gavin Liewellyn’s Flickr

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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Great Story: A Manager’s Function

I recently re-read a fantastic book “Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams” by Tom Demarco and Timothy Lister.

The book is filled with hard-won wisdom about executing projects and managing people for highest productivity.

Here is a real-life story from the book that underlines importance of the “human aspect” of our work; especially creative work that requires significant emotional involvement too.

In my early years as a developer, I was privileged to work on a project managed by Sharon Weinberg, now president of the Codd and Date Consulting Group. She was a walking example of much of what I now think of as enlightened management. One snowy day, I dragged myself out of a sickbed to pull together our shaky system for a user demo. Sharon came in and found me propped up at the console. She disappeared and came back a few minutes later with a container of soup. After she’d poured it into me and buoyed up my spirits, I asked her how she found time for such things with all the management work she had to do. She gave me her patented grin and said, Tom, this is management.”

Sharon knew what all good instinctive managers know: The manager’s function is not to make people work, but to make it possible for people to work.

Peopleware was first published some 25 years ago, and updated once since then. With such remarkable wisdom available to us, it is unfortunate to see many organizations and leaders still not getting the very essence of leading a knowledge-oriented and creative enterprise. Either they don’t read enough (which is dangerous) or they don’t practice what they already know.

It is all about people. As the book nicely puts it,

“The major problems of our work are not so much technological as sociological in nature.”

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Hansei and 6 Pitfalls to Avoid in Reflective Exercises

As individuals, teams and organizations, how much we learn from our past is critical for our improvement and future success.

Hansei (meaning self-reflection) is an important part of Japanese culture – an exercise undertaken to look at past mistakes, outline the lessons and pledge to act on those lessons. According to Wikipedia, “Han" means to change, turn over, or turn upside down. "Sei" means to look back upon, review, and examine oneself. This may sound like common-sense but how many organizations/teams really do Hansei effectively? By effectively, I mean not just identifying lessons and feeling good about it, but putting those lessons into actions the next time.

Here are some common pitfalls that should be avoided in any form of reflective exercise:

No Actions, No Results: In many other methodologies and cultures, Hansei is termed differently, like retrospectives in Scrum and After Action Reviews in American Culture (developed by US Army). But the essence remains the same – unless you act on your lessons learned, no improvement can happen. In such meetings, people often end up providing views, cite examples from the past, outline the lessons learned. All this is only helpful when it results into a meaningful change. Kaizen complements Hansei and ensures that lessons are executed.

Not Focusing on Emotion: True reflection is not about looking outwards but about looking inwards. It is not just an intellectual exercise but also an emotional one. It is only when our emotions are channeled that real improvement and meaningful change takes place.

Not Starting with You: As a leader, it all starts with one’s own willingness to look at shortcomings objectively. You can never expect people around you to be more willing to improve than you are.

Non-participation: Reflection is a highly collaborative sport. Most people and departments know what practices are required to improve. As a facilitator of a reflective exercise, help them outline solutions by asking open-ended questions. If people keep waiting for senior leaders to drive every single change, their wait will be way longer.

Reflecting only at the end: There is little advantage if you only reflect when all damage is done. Hansei is an attitude, a way of working. If you embed reflection as a part of how your team operates, early learning will help them adapt quickly. Reflection can also be done on events and milestones.

Isolating Events: Every event has a larger impact on other interconnected parts. If people only reflect on their part without considering the whole, isolated improvement may happen. When on a team, our contributions are interwoven, so are results.

Conducting reflection without addressing these common pitfalls will mean a waste of time. It will be a feel-good exercise and nothing else. I would like to conclude with a quote from Margaret Wheatley:

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

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Also Read: Using Kaizen for Employee Engagement and Improvement

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Photograph By: Tanmay Vora

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).

In Review: Leadership and the Art of Struggle by Steven Snyder

When we look back at our careers and lives, what do we remember the most? When I asked this question to some of my friends and colleagues, most of them told me vivid stories about their struggles and how they dealt with challenges to came out victorious. One of the friends nailed it when he said, “It is our struggles that make our lives worth living. Where is the fun if everything is hunky dory.

We grow through our struggles. They shape us a great deal. They bring out the best within us. Yet, most people dread when they are facing struggle. They complain, curse, doubt their capabilities and worst: they quit.

I had an opportunity to read Steven Snyder’s new book titled “Leadership and the Art of Struggle” this week. In this terrific book, Steve has shared a wealth of knowledge that he gathered, specially during his association as an early leader at Microsoft. The book shares some very interesting real-life stories about leadership struggle along with ways to navigate these challenges and grow.

Here are some of the interesting snippets from the book:

“Change stands at the heart of leadership struggle. Every struggle is triggered by some type of change. Perhaps, a leader initiates change by envisioning a new direction for organization; struggle may emerge from forces that stand in opposition of that vision….. External change, whether desired or not, always carries with it seeds of opportunity and growth…..In still other cases, change comes from deep within a leader’s inner world. As the heart and the mind expand to take in new ideas, feelings, and perspectives, struggle comes from the process of clarifying newly emerging values and identity.”

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“As an art, leadership struggle cannot be reduced to a single sound bite or simple formula, but a key concept is this: the more self-aware you are, the more capable you will be of adaptively channeling your behavior.”

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The choices you make – large and small – are the most vivid expression of your leadership. They reflect who you are as a person. It’s one thing to talk about your values, but through the actions you take and choices you make, they become visible for the whole world to see.”

There are many books on leadership but a few talk about the struggle of leadership. This book does not attempt to provide a clear roadmap to navigate through these struggles. Instead, it outlines some key concepts that can help you in looking at your struggles differently, be adaptive, understand your leadership blind spots and grow through those struggles.

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Also read: Other Book Reviews at QAspire Blog

In 100 Words: Improvement and Tending a Garden

Improvement is never a destination, but a journey that is organic, constant and never-ending. Consider this story from Subroto Bagchi’s book “The High Performance Entrepreneur

A monk was tending to a Japanese garden and meticulously, for hours on end, he was removing dry twigs from the immaculately maintained flowering bushes.

A passer-by, who was fascinated by the complete concentration and care of the monk at work, could no longer hold himself. He asked the monk, “O holy one, when will your work be done?”

Without looking up, the monk replied, “When the last dry twig is removed from the garden.”

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Don’t Miss: Nicholas Bate’s Life Tips 101

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: Nurturing the Roots for Growth

Chinese Bamboo tree when planted watered and nurtured for an entire year doesn’t grow an inch. In second growing season, farmer takes extra care but the tree still hasn’t sprouted. So it goes as sun rises and sets for four solid years. The farmer and his wife have nothing tangible to show for all their labor so far.

Then, along comes year five when tree seed finally sprouts. Bamboo grows up to eighty feet in just one season – or so it seems…

Did the tree lay dormant for years? Or was it developing strong root system to support outward growth?

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Photo Credit: Hear and Their’s Flickr Photo

Great Quotes: Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky

I just completed reading Scott Belsky’s (Twitter: @scottbelsky) book “Making Ideas Happen – Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality”. It is a fantastic book for those who have great ideas but struggle to give those ideas a life. This book bridges gap between the spark of an idea and all that goes into turning the idea into reality.

I read the book with great interest and here are some of the quotes that I particularly liked. I hope these quotes/snippets will help you get the gist of this book and prompt you to read it:

Managing the Work

“The term ’project management’ makes most creative people cringe. Elaborate Gantt charts and byzantine procedures plague bureaucracies large and small. Depending on your approach and your mind-set, the experience of organizing and managing a project can be miserable or deeply satisfying. Nevertheless, ideas are made to happen only as the result of a well-managed workflow.”

On Progress

“The inspiration to generate ideas comes easy, but the inspiration to take action is more rare. Especially amidst heavy, burdensome projects with hundreds of Action Steps and milestones, it is emotionally invigorating to surround yourself with progress.. Why throw away the evidence of your achievements when you can create an inspiring monument to get stuff done? As you successfully reach milestones in your projects, you should celebrate and surround yourself with these achievements.”

On Our Insecurities

“Along the journey to making ideas happen, you must reduce the amount of energy you spend on stuff related to your insecurities.”

On Productivity

“…productivity is not about how efficient you are at work. Instead, your productivity is really about how well you are able to make an impact in what matters most to you.”

On “Project Approach” to Ideas

“Everything in life should be approached as a project. Every project can be broken down into just three things: Action Steps, Backburner Items, and References.”

On Managing Your Energy

“The way you organize projects, prioritize, and manage your energy is arguably more important than the quality of the ideas you wish to pursue.”

On Taking Charge

“You can’t rely on others—especially your managers and clients—to engage your strengths. In an ideal world, managers would constantly be thinking about how to best utilize their people—and clients would always unearth your greatest potential. Unfortunately, the reality is that bosses and clients are as worried about their own careers as you are about your own. You must take the task of marketing your strengths into your own hands.”

On Rewards and Status Quo

“The rewards system of the traditional workplace keeps us on track, in line with deadlines from the higher-ups. If we adhere to it, the deeply embedded rewards system of our adult lives is likely to keep us employed and secure within the status quo. . . However, these tendencies become destructive as soon as we begin to pursue long-term goals or attempt something extraordinary”

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The Series on “Traits of a Collaborative Leader” continues at All India Management Association’s Blog. Here is the second part outlining 6 key traits.

In 100 Words: Riding a Bike

Yesterday, I taught my daughter how to ride a bike. It was as good as teaching her how to lead her own life. In the process, I learned:

That you need to keep pedaling to move forward; that we build confidence as we go; that learning may not always be smooth, failing and getting up again are a part of the game; that you have to acknowledge the fear but not be immobilized by it; that you cannot move forward by looking back; that our balance depends on how we adjust; that each experience of freedom and adventure shapes us.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Posts

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Photo Courtesy: Dr. Setu Vora

Great Quotes: Focus on Experience

In a competitive world obsessed with goals, people recommend that we should periodically review our performance. Performance appraisals in organizations are almost a necessary evil. The problem with focusing excessively on our ‘performance’ is that performance is always judged by others, by some external entity. When you constantly try to align yourself to external expectations, you dilute your own expression and voice.

I read the following quote in Peter Bergman’s recent Harvard Business Review post titled “Stop Focusing on Your Performance”. He says,

When you’re performing, your success is disturbingly short-lived. As soon as you’ve achieved one milestone or received a particular standing ovation, it’s no longer relevant. Your unending question is: what’s next?

When you’re experiencing though, it’s not about the end result, it’s about the moment. You’re not pursuing a feeling after, you’re having a feeling during. You can’t be manipulated by a fickle, outside measure because you’re motivated by a stable internal one.

Here is a related quote from my 2010 post titled “Enjoy the Process”:

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.

The joy is in the work itself. Focus on experience and performance will eventually take care of itself.

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Photo Credit: Stephan Comelli’s Flickr Photostream

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Related Posts at QAspire:

Enjoy the Process

Enjoy the Process – 2

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In Review: The Outstanding Organization by Karen Martin

In quest of excellence, an organization that grows has to deal with chaos. I recently read Karen Martin’s new book “The Outstanding Organization” that offers a simple yet effective model to create organizational conditions to combat this chaos and ensure better results out of improvement efforts.

What Problem Does This Book Address?

The book starts with a simple premise: Self-inflicted chaos (internal chaos) sabotages an organization’s ability to provide value to your customers, satisfy stakeholders, and offer a work environment that doesn’t break employees’ spirit. Self-inflicted chaos comes from constantly shifting (and often conflicting) priorities, excessive focus on hierarchy, unclear direction, unstable processes, unhappy customers and disengaged employees. To deal with this chaos that cracks the very foundation on which business results are based, Karen suggests essential strategies in four broad areas: Clarity, Focus, Discipline and Engagement.

What I liked the most

I loved the simplicity with which this book is written. It is a fine balance of narrative explanation, real life examples from the world of business and specific actionable ideas.

In the very beginning, Karen emphasizes that all improvement strategies are based on “respect for people.” Karen says,

“I have never seen an outstanding organization that believes that people are interchangeable, that they are simply parts in a machine to be used when needed and discarded when they are no longer convenient. I have never seen an outstanding organization that views people as a variable cost. Organizations are not machines – they are fundamentally and irreducibly made up of people.”

This book also touches upon applicability of essential lean concepts including Gemba and Kaizen in building a high performance organization. Not only that, the book has impressive research behind it and the research sources are very generously shared.

Selected Quotes from the Book

On Engagement and Creativity: “When the need to express their creativity is consistently thwarted – whether because it’s not safe, not encouraged, or not allowed – human beings stop giving of themselves – they know they will get nothing back. Organizational performance suffers as a result.”

On Priorities: “When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority”

The bottom line

No single book can cover everything that is required to build a great organization. However, this book is a very good starting point for senior leaders within the organization to assess the current state and decide their way forward based on essential strategies outlined in the book. Every leader who is committed to excellence will find this book useful.

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Find out more about the book at Karen Martin’s website: http://www.ksmartin.com/

12 Lessons on Life and Leadership From Photography

When you take up a new passion, it is so amazing to see how things unfold. Since last few years, I have turned into a photography enthusiast, an avid learner of the art. No, I am not taking any formal photography classes but am learning it by doing in my spare time. You can view my photographic adventures at Flickr.

In Hindi, the word “Drishti” means vision. In Sanskrit, it means a focused and concentrated gaze. Photography requires both. Here are some life and leadership lessons that pursuit of photography has enriched me with:

1. Photography has shown me that life is more beautiful that we think it is; all you need is to see it through a right set of lens (attitude).

2. If you are intentional, you can notice extra-ordinary elements even in most ordinary things and people.

3. It has taught me the importance of seeing, noticing the details and appreciating the elements may not be visible but can still be felt.

4. Someone said, “To photograph a bird, you need to be a part of the silence.” Photography teaches me to remain silent and immerse myself in the current moment. Only then, the magnificent reveals itself.

5. To get your shots right, you need a lot of patience. If you don’t get the right shot, take another. The key is to keep clicking, trying and looking.

6. Sometimes, even most mundane things can extend some profound perspectives. That noticing and enjoying small things is important.

7. What is within invariably manifests itself through our work. We express ourselves with our work and this is true for photography, writing, leadership and everything else we do.

8. Preparation is the key. You have to keep your batteries charged.

9. Create memories even when moments right now may not seem very significant. But with passage of time, those moments get very precious. Life is in the moments.

10. Photography keeps me hooked to possibility thinking. Everything can be seen in multiple perspectives. There are angles and dimensions to everything, only if we are open enough to explore them and pick the right ones.

11. Getting good shots is as much serendipity as preparation. Plan for things, prepare well but never forget that most good shots have an element of serendipity into it. We need to remain open to unexpected encounters and happy accidents, for they shape a great deal of us.

12. Finally, tools and equipments only enhance the vision and are almost never a substitute of a powerful vision. That intrinsic is more powerful than extrinsic.

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Join in the Conversation: Do you engage in alternative pursuits beyond your core area of work? What do you learn from them?

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Also Recommended: Engaging in Alternative ‘Creative Pursuit’ to Be More Effective

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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?”

Great Quotes: On Expectations

“Nobody rises to low expectations.” ~ Calvin Lloyd

One of the most important qualities of a leader is to believe that they can do better. People respond to expectations and the only way to grow people is to consistently raise the bar of expectations.

If a team is not doing great, it is either because the team members are incapable or the leader has established very low expectations from them. Low expectations result in lower or mediocre performance.

To be able to set the expectations higher, a leader has to have a deep understanding of the work people do. As a leader, if you don’t understand the nuances of how work is done, you will never be able to raise the bar for others. Leader also needs ability to decide when to focus on details and when to see a broad picture.

If you are a leader at any level (yes, parents are leaders too), do keep raising your bar of expectations. You will be surprised to see how people step up and respond!

P.S: This also applies to expectations that you have from your own selves.

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In 100 Words: The End Game

In that management development program, the teacher asked participants to think deeply about how they would like to be remembered after they died and write it briefly.

One common thought that figured on the list of all 45 participants was, “I want to be remembered as a good human being.”

The teacher then extended the learning,

“We spend majority of time and energy in being successful, rich or famous and sometimes, at the cost of being good.  If the final goal of our life is to be a good human being, why not remind ourselves of that every single day?

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Posts

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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In 100 Words: Accentuate the Positive

In 1982, University of Wisconsin researchers studying the human learning pattern videotaped two bowling teams during multiple games. When these tapes were shown to team, they were edited differently. One team was shown the video of all their mistakes and the other team was shown the video of their good performances.

Both teams improved, but the team that focused on positive improved twice as much.

Excessively focusing on errors can lead to feeling of blame, fatigue and resistance. Emphasizing on what works well leads to strong emotions like passion, creativity and enthusiasm.

You get more of what you focus on.

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