Sketchnote: What Rebels Want From Their Boss

At the heart of a meaningful change is someone who thought beyond the boundaries. Someone who challenged the status quo. Someone who exerted emotional labor to pursue, fight for their ideas and convince others. And then they bring about change. You can call them rebels or change makers and they are inevitable for growth and positive change.

Rebels may not be a very popular lot and many bosses I’ve seen work overtime to subdue the rebels. But great leadership is about providing right channels to direct this energy, nurturing a mindset of continuous improvement and supporting people as they execute their experiments and ideas. That’s what rebels expect from their bosses.

“…it’s just another one of those things I don’t understand: everyone impresses upon you how unique you are, encouraging you to cultivate your individuality while at the same time trying to squish you and everyone else into the same ridiculous mould. It’s an artist’s right to rebel against the world’s stupidity.”
E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly

In this context, I love the work that Lois Kelly and Carmen medina do at Rebels at Work community. I have sketched their ideas here before and here’s a quick sketchnote of their recent blog post “What Rebels Want From Their Bosses”.

This may help you as a leader if you really intend to support rebels in your teams.

Related Sketchnotes/Posts at

Dr. Deming on Joy of Work, Innovation and Leadership

Having worked in Quality management role for a long time, I could not have afforded to miss insights from Dr. W. Edwards Deming whose thinking was way ahead of time. Dr. Deming is remembered for transforming Japan into a formidable business competitor through his management and leadership practices, especially Deming’s 14 principles.

In 1994, at the age of 92, Dr. Deming gave his last interview to IndustryWeek magazine which I read with great interest.

In part 1 of his interview, Deming says,

The source of innovation is freedom. All we have—new knowledge, invention—comes from freedom. Somebody responsible only to himself has the heaviest responsibility.

3M is a 100 years old company that thrives on innovation. 3M’s William McKnight first instituted a policy known as 15% rule – that engineers can use 15% of their time on whatever projects or initiatives they like. Later, Google also had a similar policy. McKnight used to tell his managers,

“If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.”

This is even more crucial when an organization grows and if you want good people, you cannot manage them traditionally. They would want to do things in their own way. Providing a conducive space for performance is one of the primary responsibilities of a leader.

In the same interview, Dr. Deming also touched upon a topic businesses are still struggling with – how can leaders enable joy at work? He suggested,

The alternative is joy on the job. To have it, people must understand what their jobs are, how their work fits in, how they could contribute. Why am I doing this? Whom do I depend on? Who depends on me? Very few people have the privilege to understand those things. Management does not tell them. The boss does not tell them. He does not know what his job is. How could he know? When people understand what their jobs are, then they may take joy in their work. Otherwise, I think they cannot.

If we keep all the glorification of leaders aside, the two fundamental tasks of a leader are to get great talent (good people who care) and then help them succeed by providing clarity, reiterating the vision, mentoring and serving to their needs with a focus on achieving business outcomes.

After reading insights by Deming in this interview, I was only wondering about the depth of Dr. Deming’s passion about better business and better leadership that kept him engaged even at 93!

I am glad I stumbled upon this interview.

#Leadership: Humanizing Our Approaches

I remember being inspired by a Maths teacher who once told me, “If you start loving the mental stimulation and excitement you get when solving a problem, mathematics is easy.” He did not try to inspire me by the grades I must achieve, but by something more deeper. That did not change the fact that I still needed to score well but now, scoring well was a by-product of chasing the stimulation and excitement.

The practice of business is driven by hard stuff. We need more revenues, better margins, higher utilization, more leads, strategic diversification, differentiation, operational efficiency, lower attrition, strategic focus, branding et al. For a business, these are crucial but..

…but on their own, they often fail to really inspire people.

That is because people’s needs are different than a businesses’ need. People often look for being a part of a larger vision. They want to be valued when they deliver value. They want to be respected for who they are. They need to constantly see the meaning of their work. They want to be understood. They look for learning and growth. They need a conducive space to perform. They need independence.  They want to be cared for before they care for the work. They need love, belongingness, trust, honor, honesty and purpose. All extra-ordinary human accomplishments have their roots in some of these virtues.

In business as well, we need more intrinsic motivation. We need to address precisely those things that inspire human beings. We need to create an environment where people can thrive.

We need to humanize our leadership approaches and communication to build a system where intrinsic motivation is more likely to happen.

Hard stuff then, is the by-product of doing the right things for right reasons.

Related Reading:

Why Managers are Catalysts in Managing and Developing Talent?


Most businesses today are talent driven businesses – skills and competence of people developing products and providing services is at the core of an organization’s differentiation strategy. Talent management and people development should be at the top of an organization’s strategic agenda given the need to improve productivity and effectiveness. Everyone agrees that people development is important, yet clear ownership of doing so is often missing.

Why is this a challenge?

Because managers look at people on their team as tools to get their tasks done. Because managers are only made accountable for generating business results only and not for developing people. Because managers excessively rely on some “training and development” department that is far away from day to day realities of how a business operates. Because leaders think that training and/or certification is the only way to develop skills of people.

The truth is: managers are the ones who communicate with people every single day, assign work in line with capabilities of people, provide the resources that people need to get the job done and guide the performance of people. This proximity with people (and their skills) makes a manager, an ideal owner for development of people within an organization. This is also true because people learn the most by working and experiencing, and less by training alone. But a 2008 research by Hewitt and Human Capital Institute reveals that less than 10% of managers are held accountable for development of people and less than 5% are competent enough to develop others.

What can be done?

I think, the first step towards building a managerial culture around people development is to start at the top. If top leadership takes active interest in developing managers at various levels, that drives one expectation clearly: that we are all responsible for developing people we lead.

The second step is to make managers accountable for people development. Developing people should be an integral part of every manager’s KRA and managers should be given the required space to develop others.

The third step is to help managers in developing people. This is where HR/Training teams can provide interventions. This can include critical areas like assigning right people to right tasks, building a team with complementary skills, improving collaboration, building trust through mentoring, providing feedback and build environment of learning and growth for everyone on the team. In fact, managers should be hired based on demonstrated skills in these areas.

The deliverable of a manager, in my view, is two sided: one is the business results and other is developing people while they deliver these results. The only way to thrive in a competitive environment is to constantly expand people’s capability to deliver and innovate. A manager’s ability to build a culture of continuous learning and develop people equals better bottom line results and higher employee engagement and retention.

Join in the conversation: Do you agree that managers should be responsible for developing people? Have you seen an exceptional manager who focused on growing others? What did you learn from that manager?

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Managing the Real

How often do we, as professionals and managers, get sucked into the whirlwind of status reports, new-initiatives-everyday, number crunching, endless meetings and presentations? Sometimes, the best management is to do simple and obvious things more effectively.

In this context, I enjoyed reading an insightful post titled “Finding more time for real management” at Business Strategy Review, London Business School. Here is an important question raised in the post.

The classic example is people management. The principles (work autonomy, knowing what you do matters, the importance of the first-line manager) are well documented, but they are frequently ignored in practice. So what would happen if we could find a way of putting some of them into practice in a dedicated way?

In this post, authors Julian Birkinshaw and Simon Caulkin report on one experiment they did with sales and service team at the Stockholm offices of a major insurance company. In this experiment, they asked a team’s manager to free up a few hours each day (delegate more effectively and excuse herself from meetings etc.) to just do the real management. The team was not aware that they are a part of experiment, just the manager knew about it. She started spending these couple of hours everyday to work directly with her group, help them do their job better, brainstorm and improve constantly. After 3 weeks, the results were dramatically different with 5% improvement in sales, improvement in team performance and increased motivation levels.

Here is the key thought:

If you are trying to help your company to improve its management processes, it is easy to get drawn towards exciting new initiatives like crowdsourcing; but the real impact is more likely to come from doing simple and obvious things more effectively. And frontline coaching is about as simple and obvious as it gets: every company needs it, and yet most do it pretty poorly.

Read the original post for more details and findings. They are definitely worth a thought (and action).

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In 100 Words: With People, Be Patient!

When you are set out to help others grow (including your own kids), you have to give them time and space to grow. People, like plants, grow organically. They learn from what you tell them, but they learn from how they feel and what they experience.

As a leader (yes, parents are leaders too!), if you are too worried about seeing immediate results from people, you may be disappointed. When you plant seeds, you don’t dig them every day to check if they are growing. They will never grow. Sometimes, less leadership is the best leadership.

With people, be patient.

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Also: Read all posts “In 100 Words”

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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Leading People? A Few Core Lessons

Yesterday, I met an experienced technologist who is also an aspiring project manager. He is getting an opportunity within his company to independently manage projects and teams. During our interaction over a cup of hot basil tea, he asked a simple question, “How should people be managed?”.

In my response, and our discussion further, a few core lessons came to the fore. If you are leading people and managing a team, you should remember that:

People have self-esteem: Each person carries a perception of his/her self worth. When leading them and dealing with performance/other issues, give important messages firmly without hurting their self-esteem.

People want to go somewhere: Team members are ambitious and they want reach a worthwhile destination. They want to work with a team that has a vision and has a roadmap of how to achieve that vision.

People want to grow: People work in a team for long time and don’t grow. Such situation demands a lot of introspection because inherently, each individual wants to expand. Are you creating right situation for individuals to expand?

People want independence: They are intellectual beings who seek fulfillment in their work. Fulfillment is only possible when they get their own space to perform and shared authority. Independence to execute their ideas and ask questions is very crucial for people to grow. Micro management is a thing of past.

Inspiration is their fuel: Once people buy in the vision, they need to see progress to remain inspired. They look for inspiration in how leaders operate, what actions they perform and how well they handle difficult situations.

Feedback is their compass: In their journey, they want to know how they are doing and what value they are adding. Periodic one-on-ones, interim reviews and casual communication done regularly goes a long way in building a high-performance team.

Trust is a currency: Trust fosters self-esteem. They way you manage people and communicate tells a lot about how much you trust them.

At the end of our conversation, we agreed that working with people, guiding a team and helping them in their quest for peak potential is one of the noblest things we can do as leaders. It is an opportunity and an obligation as well.

He looked very optimistic when we parted. I wished him all the best!

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Join in the conversation: What lessons would you share with this aspiring leader? What works for you when you lead your team? What doesn’t?

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Related Posts at QAspire

Managing Virtual Teams and Communication: 6 Pointers
10 Key Lessons On Leading Virtual Teams Effectively
10 Pointers to Build Comfort Within The Team
Connecting, Building Relationships and Team Success
25 Things Managers & Leaders Should Never Do

Fostering Peer Leadership In a Team

A few years back, I was facilitating a team that was responsible for pulling off a project in a completely new technology. This also meant that each one of the team members had to take initiative and explore new areas of the technology.

While the project had a designated project lead, we saw many team members who demonstrated “peer leadership”. Simply put, peer leadership happens when people at go beyond hierarchy and demonstrate leadership skills. It is the kind of leadership that exists among equals.

We had one particular team member who would think forward, anticipate issues and flag them to the team. He was also the one who pointed out some of the most important elements of the projects that the team missed. He was clearly a peer-leader, because the other team members started looking up to him as someone who carried higher visibility into the project (or some areas of the project).

Based on this and a few other experiences, here are a few important lessons I learned in peer leadership:

  • Peer leadership stems from an individual’s choice to do a great job. It is also a result of an individual’s know how of the subject matter.
  • Peer leadership transcends the traditional hierarchical structure where everyone on the team has an equal opportunity to lead and follow at the same time.
  • Organizations/leaders should foster peer leadership to engage and motivate people to think beyond their documented responsibilities and grow in the process.
  • Bottom-up innovation is generally a result of personal leadership from people at all levels within an organization.
  • To foster peer leadership, it is important to build a culture of empowerment where people are driven by the broad vision of the project/organization and are empowered to execute their decisions.

Peer leadership happens in a team context, and is very closely related to personal leadership at an individual level.

So here are two critical questions:

  • If you are a manager/leader, how do you foster peer leadership amongst team members where each member leads a part of the project?
  • If you are a professional, how can you elevate your work to differentiate and lead?

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Brand new and eBook on "Onboarding and New Hire Onboarding" by Ben Eubanks at UpstartHR includes my post "Train your middle managers on people management basics" as a chapter. Check out this valuable resources for business leaders and HR Pros.

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Happy Monday!

Leading, Farming And The Need To ‘Cultivate’

Many years ago, I had a chance to visit a friend’s farm on a weekend. My friend owned a huge farm on the outskirts of the city where they had employed farmers. A farmer’s outcome was quality of the crop. To ensure this, the farmer worked the soil, got the best seeds from the marketplace, sowed them all and watered them with great care. When these crops grew, he would nurture the growth of each crop. Farmers have to wait for months before seeds turn into standing crop. Certain situations (like weather, timely rain etc.) are out of their control, but farmers have to be eternally optimistic that crops will grow and yield the desired results. He did just that by extending a lot of human care to the crops.

Aren’t leaders farmers too? Leaders do to people what the farmer did to crops. Cultivate them to deliver desired outcomes. ‘Cultivate‘ is used mostly in agricultural context, but its real meaning is “foster the growth of“.

A leaders outcome is the quality of their team’s outcome. To ensure this, a leader has to get best people, work on them, understand them, share the vision, align their actions, get the best of them, communicate often and nurture their performance with great care. Leaders know that they may have to wait for long before people deliver desired outcomes. Certain situations are still out of a leader’s control, but a leader too, has to be eternally optimistic about people and their potential. I was thinking that if a farmer can extend human care to a crop, isn’t it absolutely must for leaders to see/treat their team members as ‘humans’ and not just ‘resources’?

That’s my take away for today: Great leaders are farmers – cultivators of human potential.

Training and Development – A Holistic View

In manufacturing world, improving quality of raw material was the first step to improve quality of final product. Then came manufacturing process and efficiency of assembly lines.

Ditto with knowledge world, except that raw material here is not plastic beans, but a knowledge worker’s brain. Consider that with range of other softer aspects like motivation, creativity, commitment, alignment, ability, personal preferences and general human behaviors, the equation gets even more complex.

Apart from mentoring and managing people, training plays a direct and important role in improving quality. Most organizations have a limited view on training as a means of “delivering” knowledge from the trainer to trainees. Trainings are least effective when they are “one-way” affairs. In my view, people learn the most when they are involved in stimulating conversations, when their thinking is ignited by right questions and when they are a part of defining something.

Does your training strategy also include the following (a few ideas)?

  • Managers coaching people (and learning themselves in the process)
  • Tapping passion of your people by aligning trainings with their core skills.
  • Building internal focus groups and periodic discussions that promote stimulating conversations.
  • Self learning, sharing through blogs, sites and other free resources (Good news is that now, a lot of great learning is FREE – here is just one example. Okay, here is another.)
  • Internal assimilation of organizational knowledge in form of portals. Key is to ensure participation. (Some companies in India even attach participation with employee performance)
  • Identify training needs from people’s aspirations, their performance and feedbacks from projects.
  • Extend training from core technology to address topics like management, leadership, quality consciousness, cultural alignment and personal effectiveness.
  • Design training program that helps people in thinking differently and innovating better ways to work.

The basic outcome of training is improvement in knowledge content of people. But, it just starts there. The broader goal of training is to establish knowledge, spread ideas, align people and induce behavioral change in organization. Training should help people grow – not just the content in their brains, but they as individuals.

It is important to take a holistic view on training within your organization. You have to choose between treating training as an ‘activity’ or as a ‘strategic initiative’.

I wish you a great start into the week.