Tag Archives: Work Life Balance

Six leadership lessons highly worth learning from psychology of a physician

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Be your own physician?

We all know that medical practice in any field is a noble profession; but what is little known are unique lessons that we should learn from the mindset of a medical practitioner. We are talking about just a good physician, leave alone successful ones.

Let us look at what does psychology of a physician teach us:

  1. Managing conflict of interest
    Getting into medical profession entails lot of efforts, time and money worldwide. It is natural that motto of getting into this field for most is earning name, fame and wealth.
    It is also clear that every visit to or by a physician fetches a fee for him/her.
    Now, a physician is faced with conflict of interest – treat his/her patients or customers for self-interest or serve them selflessly. Good doctors would always manage this conflict by rising above self and greed, and serve customers keeping in mind their interests. They prescribe minimum medicines and pathological tests and discourage patients to make frequent visits. Many have grace to charge less fees from those, who can’t afford.
    Let us draw a parallel to above the stock options scheme in corporates for employees and top management. Such options have a singular motive of driving employees to perform well, so that company profitability improves, which in turn would reward employees with more options. But, when it comes to top management, conflict of interest creeps in – should company performance improve to increase value of his/her substantial stocks or should it improve to increase values for customers and employees, even if it means slight dent in company’s profitability? Many CEOs allegedly and subtly act in favor of the former – serving self-interest.
  2. Maximum availability
    A physician is available 24×7 to his/her patients, at least in India. Their work-life balance is heavily tilted towards work.
    I am not suggesting that it is good for them, although it is good for their customers. What is more significant lesson is that they don’t make any excuse for non-availability. Their dedication for duties is total.
  3. Memory management
    Did you notice that a good doctor’s memory is very good. He/she would remember history of his/her patients correctly, correct medicines’ name, spelling (usually complex), potency and names of manufacturers for innumerable number of ailments and case histories of other patients.
    What is the key – inbuilt sharper brain or they pop up some pills to sharpen their memory? Not any of these. It is registering the information without any conflict in mind and recalling it without any stress.
  4. Motto of service to customers
    A physician’s actions are completely oriented towards his/her customers and obtaining the results for which they have approached him/her. They never compromise their attitude to serve.
  5. Maximum confidence and concentration
    Successful practitioners give their advice or prescription with total confidence and rarely side or back track. Their focus on duties is deep.
    They are never shaken by patient’s condition, however adverse and do maintain their composure effortlessly. They are attached to their duties but detached from their customers while serving them unflinchingly.
  6. Marvelous understanding of their own body
    In leadership programs or schools, reference to this quality is by and large missing. It is extremely important to understand how you or your body would react to different situations, what triggers your emotions and how to manage the same.
    Doctors do very well on above count and hence, rarely fall sick or fall prey to sickening situations.
    A good leader needs to understand his/her body (including mind) well in order to be robust, consistent and persistent in his/her pursuits.

So, a good physician is a great case study at business schools and organizations!

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Most casual but serious mistake we commit – confusing Seriousness as Sincerity!

Reflection of sincerity! Source: http://www.flickr.com/

It is normally difficult to comprehend colossal difference it can make, when one is serious as opposed to being sincere, though dividing line between the two is very fine even by dictionary meaning!

I had a colleague in a German multinational company in which I had worked, who specialized in X-ray spectrometry. He was too passionate about his work. He showed highest degree of sensitiveness to customers. He would sit late in office and come early in the morning to make sure that he replied to each and every letter and enquiries from his regional sales office counterparts and customers. If anyone pointed out shortcoming in his replies or work, he would be hyperactive and take great deal of time to prove that he had not committed a flaw. He used to be right most of the times. During appraisals year after years, his boss used to give him always highest marks for his sincerity. One morning he reported sick and did not come for few weeks. He was diagnosed for having had high blood pressure, which he neglected for too long and that had affected his heart.

Few years down the line, I figured out real difference between seriousness and sincerity and I felt in retrospect that boss of my above colleague should have appraised him for being too serious, rather than being very sincere and issued him warning about long term impact on his health! Unfortunately like this boss, most of us in professional and personal lives hardly care to understand fine dividing lines, which eventually turn fatal or cause our failures!

I can now identify hundreds of employees in organizations I have served, who failed to grow commensurate with their efforts since their focus was on being serious and not sincere!

Drawing a distinction between Seriousness and Sincerity

Reflection of seriousness! Source: http://www.flickr.com/

Earnestness is the only attribute, which is common for seriousness and sincerity. Following would clarify how these 2 words make a world of difference:

  1. Seriousness makes you sensitive; whereas sincerity makes you savvy!
  2. Seriousness brings worries; on other hand, sincerity banks on wisdom!
  3. Former makes you prone to errors; but latter promotes accuracy.
  4. Former has shades of obsession; but latter swears by ownership.
  5. When you are serious, you tend to work to please others; whereas you work because it pleases you, if you are sincere!
    Therefore, serious people are serious to show off their work and talk a lot about it!!
  6. Seriousness elicits emotions; but sincerity evokes inspiration!
    It is for this reason that seriousness prompts people to make their fascination or frustration, pleasure or displeasure very explicit!!
  7. Seriousness makes you anxious; whereas sincerity makes you conscious or aware!
  8. Although serious people are intense in their work, it is sincerity that accentuates innovativeness!
  9. Seriousness makes you restless; sincerity, instead, molds you to be relaxed!

Above makes it amply clear that seriousness and sincerity are look-alike but their outlook is nearly opposite. Paradox is that both kinds of people, who are serious or sincere, appear to be fully evolved and engage in their work or duties. As a matter of fact, serious people are seen vociferously dedicated. Real challenge for serious people is that they believe they are doing it right and refuse to accept there is something missing in their approach. They keep wondering why they are less productive and often fail to get good results. On other hand, sincere people appear sober and always score high!

Sincerity signifies balanced state of mind!

There is very subtle difference in doing same thing in 2 or more alternative ways, which we term as fine dividing line. It this difference or dividing line, which separates winning and losing, blessing and bane, effective and defective!

Let us understand how such subtlety comes.

We start to do it right and we don’t notice or sometimes don’t even comprehend how wrong creeps in. To cite some examples:

  • You have a close relative ailing and it is right to attend to her/him. But, when you start taking care of the relative, ignoring your health and other duties, it starts hurting you.
  • Your loyalty to your employer and customers is strong to an extent that skews your work-life balance.
  • You are humble and hence, hesitate to tell your boss where it hurts you, even when you are ill-treated or ill-rewarded for your efforts!
  • You are eagerly waiting for your spouse to return home in evening, which is a good sign; but beyond a time you become anxious and even frustrated. When he finally arrives, you would not like to hear him why he got delayed but would like to be heard how you have been hassled!

It is also a fact that sincerity is a highly misunderstood quality, though it is one among the most significant ones! Sincerity symbolizes balanced state of your mind – neither right nor left; just the center. When you are sincere, you are genuine. You start to do things, because that is obvious, not an option. You don’t do it for anyone’s sake. You do not see any other alternative but to do it. You don’t get obsessed to single thing or thought but view all aspects with same genuine feeling. This is when your efforts fructify and you start to reap rewards.

So, it solidly pays to be sincere, but not being serious!

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Why bosses need to believe in balancing!

I need balancing! Source: http://www.flickr.com/

How often do you come across bosses or top management, whose approach is highly balanced? I am afraid that answer would most probably be – “Seldom”!

Whole environment, in which bosses or managers evolve, develop and operate, is highly skewed towards running year’s business figures. It is almost like a doctrine drilled in their mind that success has to come at any cost, business slowdown is a shame and cost has to be ruthlessly controlled to secure healthy bottom line. Yet, some years are exciting by performance and bosses get rewarded; some are disappointing and employees get reprimanded! Do cycles of good and bad years teach a lesson? Rarely, since there are standard explanations available to them from leadership discourses!

Coming to management or leadership development programs, comprehensive or concise, all are structured around single sided stories. These glamorize failures and then, swear by successes! These programs do serve a good purpose albeit limited, as the same do not bring out why successful persons and businesses fail, and how to prevent or delay that. These simply pass on advisories – be a visionary, be in driver’s seat, lead from front, be focused, be strategist and analytical, have managerial courage….; but do not stipulate how to be. It presupposes that everyone can and will get there. This is what a gross gaffe is!

Both managers and management programs need to consider one very vital aspect – when you are focused on one side of the story, you would also commit flaw to comprehend other side of the same. This is where balancing acts or views acquire substantial significance.

Biases of bosses!

Bane of too much focus is the bias! You can see how problems creep in corporate life, if more focus is directed at left part of following points:

  1. Higher quantity can only come at the cost of quality!
  2. Increased speed decreases accuracy.
  3. Higher throughput or output would lower productivity.
    Often, it goes unnoticed and managers then cry for more man power for more output.
  4. If you chase figures, you would compromise values.
  5. High business growth is often accompanied with lower time and money available for personnel development.
  6. Put more structure and material to measure performances of personnel, you would spoil the beauty behind spirit!
  7. Hold hands of strong performers, lose helping hands of majority and middle order.
  8. Set stretched targets, upset work-life balance!
  9. Banking on long hours of working, beating down smart way of working!

Above clearly indicates adverse implications of one sided view or approach, which is widely practiced in corporates. This is one of the main reasons, why you witness cycles of ups and downs.

Bet not on brilliant but on balanced bosses!

This may not go down easily in the brains of many; but then brainy things are always simple but difficult to believe!

Are you not witnessing sudden spurt in articles on social and print media on how to hire, hire the best, spotting the talent and so on. It sounds as a very sound idea! But, hold on a bit.

A boss or a future leader has to be fair, flexible, forthright, punctual, healthy, communicative, sincere, honest, kind, courageous, generous and more! This elevates her/him next to the God!! Is not it? How do you develop leadership pipeline aligned to the God? I do not believe that current business schools, management development programs or leadership coaching is geared up handle this. These all narrow down to hire or develop the most brilliant or intelligent. How many most brilliant people do you think you can get in the market place? And to spot such talent, you need more talented people on panel! Do you have such people on board?

Few would admit it, but blatant fact is that popularity of a program is directly proportional to its ability to create dreams that are difficult to achieve! 

Most organizations or managements commit blunder in putting too much faith on –

  1. Strong personalities
    Bosses or managers having strong personalities would polarize company environments – a divide between right and wrong, strong and weak and wreak havoc in longer term.
  2. Intelligent class
    2 or more intelligent people put together can only give birth to insanity!

My advice would be to encourage balanced personalities. Mentor, harness and cultivate center of each qualitative attribute in employees. That alone can bring fairness, flexibility, sincerity and all what is needed for long term sound health of an organization.

In above, we would create bosses, who are more of buddies than bête noire, more rational than emotional!

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Mediocrity is an essential evil, as it works as a great equalizer!

Ordinary could have extraordinary appeal! Source: http://www.flickr.com/

Truth is often bitter! When we know it at heart, many of us hesitate to speak it!! Same seems to be true of relevance of mediocrity in companies and societies.

Leaders and preachers alike are often engaged in bashing and banishing mediocrity or mediocre persons to earn ovations from their followers, completely forgetting that the survival their status depends upon them. Fact is a leader comes in limelight only when the audience applauds him/her, though the audience by itself may constitute of mainly mediocre! So, mediocrity merits due respect!!

Let us face the facts – at micro level, for every positive (charge), a negative (charge) is necessarily created. The combination of two becomes neutral and that is why every atom is neutral. At macro level, every good creates its opposite i.e. bad; extremely good would create its mirror image i.e. extremely bad. Either the two would come close to make a deadly combination or conflict to damage each other or they can be kept away by neutral people, who are classically mediocre.

If you lock 2 strong leaders in a room and give them a topic to discuss, they would rarely reach a consensus, even if one happens to be spouse of another! Leaders of leading companies like GE, Exxon Mobil, Microsoft, Apple, Siemens etc. may claim that their organizations are leadership factories; but reality may be very different! There is a threshold on % of leaders depending upon nature and structure of an organization, beyond which it can only become a laggard! This threshold is not more than 10 % of total employees. So, if an organization has more than 10% leaders, it is likely to be unstable and chaotic; it would witness high turnover of leaders! It also implies that 90% or more employees are average or mediocre with some being above average and some below. It would be interesting to know that more than 55% of employees, whom companies declare as their present or future leaders on an average are not real leaders. They are either blue eyed boys/girls of bosses or it is number filling game to please top management!

If you look at closely, you would discover that through process of evolution, nature continuously strikes balances. Mediocrity or average quality plays a very important role in such balancing to avert major upheavals!

On the face of it, many may not agree; but fact is that modern technologies are churning out more mediocre than before! 

Why mediocrity is an essential evil in companies and societies!

  1. Meritocracy actually survives on mediocrity!
    Imagine if we do not have mediocre to compare with, how would merit look like! Merit would lose its sheen. Extraordinary lose its meaning without ordinary!!
  2. It is expensive and futile to develop big number of people with big merit. They would not survive together!
  3. Mediocrity encourages competitive spirit.
  4. It makes changes in organizations an imperative.
  5. Mediocre people are back bone of an organization. They are loyal to their job and hence horses of long race in company’s history.
  6. They represent continuity.
  7. They are less ambitious and hence least controversial.
    Their expectations can be managed easily.
  8. They may not be very smart; but are sincere and hardworking.
  9. They have much better work life balance and hence, level headed!
  10. They dampen polarization, if an organization, community or even country has higher number of stronger personalities or high headed people.
    So, they do stimulate state of equilibrium, which is indispensable for continuous growth!

So, it is a blunder to write off or give a raw deal to mediocre people.

Managing Mediocrity or mediocre people

Above analysis does not mean that we should glamorize mediocrity; need is to give a good look and guide it towards merit!

  1. First and foremost is to embrace and empathize with mediocrity.
    Remember that the biggest merit of mediocrity is that it does not have its “negative opposite” and hence, always harmless!
    This would create acceptance of the fact that it exists, had existed and would always be present, that too in majority!
  2. Institute a continuous development program, which they can digest easily.
  3. Set your expectations and guide them how to meet same, if not exceed.
    But, never make a mistake to penalize them for under performance. Instead, make them aware where they slipped and help them to salvage.
  4. Raise the bar of your expectations, once current ones are met.
    The best thing an organization can do is to systematically raise performance bar for merit and mediocre alike! This would help mediocrity to inch up to a new normal!!

To conclude, a right balance between mediocre and meritorious people (90 to 10 or less) would bring startling results for organizations or their leaders. Then, raising performance bar systematically for both would add sparkle and pride for mediocre people!

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Sure signs, if long term health of organization you serve is not sound!

When Organization is in sound health! Source: http://www.flickr.com/

Is not it a sound idea to check time to time how sound is the long term health of the organization, you are serving or managing? If yes, top management as well as employees could do well to make following reality checks and then seek a change or solution:

  1. Top rated performers leave organization earlier than 10 years for better prospects or serve it for more than 10 years in same unit or hierarchy.
    If an organization can’t offer challenging and attractive roles to its top performers and can’t retain them for at least 10 years, either its management lacks sparks or policies are not solid!
    But the problem could be much more serious, if top performers continue to serve in the same unit or hierarchy beyond 10 years! Either top performers are not truly top ones and it is a faulty appraisal system or they were top rated in earlier years and have got into comfort zones or become lax in recent years!! If someone is a strong performer, it is unlikely that he/she would not seek a change within or outside of the company.
    Every organization’s dynamics demand that role of their high performers remain dynamic!
  2. Under-performers have not improved in max. of 5 years.
    If such employees do not better their performance within 5 years, then company is heavily short of leaders and strong human resource manager. It also shows lackadaisical practices of the organization to accept under-performers (with no sign of change) and less effective bosses or supervisors, who are unable to inspire improvements!
  3. In good times, organization is growing only vertically.
    In boom time of sales or profit or both, if a company confines its growth in same business segment or product range and does not carve out forays into adjacent areas or horizontal growth, it spells faulty business strategy. It is bound to become vulnerable and top heavy in the ensuing years, only to get toppled!
  4. In bad times, company does not or has constraints to invest in inorganic growth.
    A well-managed company has to have contrarian or opportunistic approach. Be bold when going is bad! Grow when time is grim!!
    In a bad economy, bargain buys are possible. If companies do not convert challenges into opportunities, it signifies lack of foresight by management or weak financial muscles even after having had good times.
  5. Management cadre does not visit customers, who don’t have currently new projects or business proposals.
    Most company executives chase fruit of business, when it is ripe, rather than investing time and efforts to sow seeds of business, when ground is fertile and customer would plan to plough his profit. Such companies miss competitive advantage and lose firm feet to walk away with business.
  6. CEO or head of unit is not among first few to come to work in morning.
    Top bosses are trend setters for their employees. If they do not practice what they preach, employees are unlikely to take them seriously.
    So, organizations, where bosses do not lead by examples, do become laggards!
  7. Human Resource Manager (HR) believes in penalizing rather than promoting employee values.
    In many companies, what HR advocates, it does not administer, especially when it comes to empathy, addressing grievances or development of weaker performers.
    It is important for HR to act like a promoter of compliances, rather than administrator of rules and regulations. Its primary focus should be to develop employees, rather than making efforts to retain. Will it not serve as a terrific tonic for company’s health?
  8. More than 10% of employees on an average work for 2 hours beyond normal work hours on any day.
    Does not it imply that company rewards extra work hours more than smart work? It is also an indicator of skewed work-life balance of employees.
  9. More than 5% of supervisors perennially evoke their position or lung power to get things done rather than encouraging employees to be passionate in discharging their duties.
    Practically speaking, even 5% supervisors in this category can make company’s water muddy; but it is hoped that they can be mentored to change their style.
  10. More than 20% of employees do not wear natural smiles on their faces!
    Natural smile reflects satisfaction level among employees and enviable environments of company!!
  11. Management has no bent of mind to ensure that company premises and utilities are kept up-to-date.
  12. Ex-employees do not feel enthusiastic to pay visit to company; nor management shows any care or concern about them.

Good news is that above indicators are fully reversible. It is imperative for management and employees to comprehend these in time and have courage to make corrections! This would then raise company’s credibility and make it a happy and healthy family like!!

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