Missing The Old Nail Clipper!
Something interesting happened last week.
I was looking to clip my nails on Sunday morning. After my shower, I went to pull out my nail clipper. It’s a rather old one — but it’s the best! I wouldn’t exchange it for any other cutter in the world. It has been with me for several years, and I have held on to it even as the wife and the kids have tempted me with new-fangled alternatives. I have often felt that my nail clipper has built a special relationship with my hands and feet, and it is almost like it knows my fingers and toes very well.
As I looked around in the drawer that Sunday morning, I couldn’t find the nail clipper. That trusted old favourite was nowhere to be found. The wife offered a shining new one — the one she used — but I was in no mood to give it a try. The hunt for the old nail clipper continued for the next couple of days — but by now, I really needed to clip my nails. Desperately.
Left with no choice, I reluctantly took up the wife’s offer and decided to use the new nail clipper. I was apprehensive — and was bracing myself for an uncomfortable clipping session — and a painful couple of days thereafter.
But surprise, surprise. I discovered that the new nail clipper did a fabulous job. I must admit, it was a whole lot better than my old faithful. In that moment I knew I was hooked and was unlikely to go back to the old nail clipper. My fingers and toes never felt so good!
And that set me thinking.
Maybe we all have our own versions of an old favourite nail clipper. Something we cling on to — and refuse to let go of — even though a better alternative may be available. It may be a habit, a process or a way of working. We are convinced our methods are the best in the world — and are reluctant to look at new ways. We resist change. And as a result, we stay content with the old way and miss out on what could have been a significantly better alternative.
Without even giving a new idea a fair chance, we conclude that our existing method is better. We rationalise that it is the best, or that it’s the only one that works for us.
And we are not always lucky. The old nail clipper doesn’t go missing — so we don’t get to experience the newer, better alternative. Or sometimes, by the time it goes missing, it’s already too late.
Maybe a good idea then to throw away the old nail clipper. Embrace the new. Don’t get emotionally attached to an idea, or a way of working. Be willing to experiment. Look out for new ways to solve old problems. Your methods may have served you well for a long time — but that does not mean it’s still the best way to do it. The world is changing. Technology is changing the way everything gets done. And individuals and organisations need to be ready to change too. As Marshall Goldsmith likes to say, “What got you here, won’t get you there.”
Sometimes, losing the old nail clipper could just be the best thing to happen. Better still, don’t wait. Do yourself a favour. Throw away the old nail clipper.
The Three Monkeys On A Tree
Small acts, simple gestures can sometimes remind us of powerful lessons. Like it happened with me last month.
We had got back home after a week-long celebration of a wedding in the family. We reached late in the night and as you might expect, we were tired. When we woke up — rather late — next morning, we were delighted to find that a kind old friend had sent us a nice, hot breakfast! The maid wasn’t back at work, the refrigerator was bare, and we weren’t really up to making our own breakfast. So, you can understand our sense of delight and gratitude at this wonderful gesture from a friend. She made our day.
And she set me thinking. How come we miss out on opportunities to create delight for other people in our lives? It was a lovely gesture from a friend. And I wished I had done that more often for others too. I am sure if the friend had called and asked if we needed help (like many of us thoughtfully do), we would have said, “No, thanks”. But she didn’t ask. She just sent it over. And that made all the difference.
I thought of the many times I might have offered to help a friend — and how each time they had politely declined. I thought of how we routinely make an offer to help — but don’t really do anything because very few people actually respond with a specific request for help. As a result, we miss a trick. We ask other people, ‘How can I help?’ when, in fact, we should be asking that question to ourselves — and then, doing something about it. It is ever so rare that we proactively do something to help! Maybe we all should.
The friend’s gesture reminded me of an old quiz question:
There are three little monkeys sitting on a tree, above a pond. One of those monkeys decides to jump into the pond. How many monkeys left on the tree? Come on, take a guess.
Two, did you say? Or was your response ‘zero’ since you figured that if one monkey jumps, the others would follow too? Or did you say three?
If your answer was three, congratulations. You are right. The monkey only decided to jump. It didn’t actually jump. Aren’t we all a bit like that?
We plan. We decide. We think. But we don’t take action. Have you decided to lose weight? Yes? And you are probably wondering why you haven’t lost weight although you decided three months ago. Success in life comes not from deciding to do things — but from doing them. Results are born out of action, not intent.
The Nike guys were right. ‘Just do it’ they said. We could all benefit by building a strong bias for action. Become someone who doesn’t just think about it or talk about it —but does it.
So, the next time you want to help friends who have come back after a long and tiring trip, don’t ask if you can help. If you have been thinking of calling that old aunt you haven’t spoken to in years, stop thinking about it. If you have been meaning to help that friend who is desperately looking for a job, do something about it. Today.
Take that first step. Don’t just think about it. Do it. Now!
Get An Alteration Tailor For Yourself
Looking good never goes out of fashion. Just the other day I was reading a style guru talk about her ‘Five tips to help people look their very best’. One tip on that list caught my attention. It was this: Get yourself an alteration tailor. Rather unusual advice, I thought. And it made me wonder. How many of us have an alteration tailor? Do you have one?
The logic as she explained it was simple. You can buy expensive new clothes. You can fill your wardrobe with trendy fashion statements. But for them to look really good on you, you often need to make minor alterations. Like adjusting that length a bit. Or loosening it up a little near the waist. Teeny-weeny changes that can make a big difference.
As I thought about what an alteration tailor does, it struck me that this is great advice not just for style, but for our lives too. An alteration tailor can help us not just look good — but be the best we can be. What we all need in our lives is an alteration tailor. A friend, partner, mentor or coach — just someone who can point out those little adjustments that we need to make to get better. Because at the end of the day looking good is not about having fancy brands or large wardrobes. It’s about having comfortable, well-fitting clothes that show off our strengths and make us feel good. An alteration tailor can be a powerful ally in your personal leadership journey. Here’s how:
An alteration tailor prepares you for change. We change, our worlds change. What worked yesterday may not work today — and the alteration tailor ensures you are not force-fitting outdated models. The reassuring presence of an alteration tailor on your side can help you embrace change.
The alteration tailor also tells us the value of paying attention to little details, and making sure you get it just right. That’s a terrific leadership trait. You might have a well-fitting blazer, but if one of those buttons on the cuff is missing, it just won’t feel right wearing it. It’s not about whether anyone else will even notice the missing button. You will. An alteration tailor can help fix that.
We all have new unused clothes in our wardrobes. Something that once caught your fancy and you picked up in a moment of temptation, only to discover that it doesn’t quite fit too well. Instead of just letting it lie there, and instead of constantly adding to your wardrobe, the alteration tailor helps you to make the most of what you already have. It’s probably a good metaphor for our lives. We’ve got all it takes to succeed. What we need is someone who can tweak it a little bit, who can tell us where we might be going wrong and help us get it right.
Rather than worry about acquiring new skills, we would all do well to put our core strengths — our real assets — to better, fuller use. We don’t really need one more qualification. Or one more Ivy League training programme. What we really need is someone who points to our short temper and helps fix it. Or nudges us to let go of our diffidence and become more assertive. Or reminds us to look for and appreciate the good in other people — and helps us become better team players. Small alterations that can potentially lead to big impact.
Alteration tailors can also help us discover the keys to happier, more enduring relationships. A difference of opinion does not have to mean the end of a friendship. A temporary performance issue at work does not mean you need to change jobs. An alteration tailor helps ensure you don’t throw away a trouser just because a button has gone missing. Minor hiccups can be — and must be — fixed.
Many of us complain that there are no alteration tailors. We seldom hear about them. Truth is, they exist. They are just a bit harder to find. Look for one, and you are certain to find one. Usually, very close to you. You only need to look.
What’s true for alteration tailors is true for life. Seek, and you shall find. Go find yourself an alteration tailor today. And become the best you can be.
The Leader In The Queue
Long queues at the airport security check can be frustrating. But as I discovered at Bengaluru airport the other day, sometimes the queue can throw up interesting lessons too.
The airport was crowded, so despite several X-ray machines being operational, there were multiple queues out there. I picked a queue and as it invariably happens, it seemed to be the one moving slowest. As we neared the X-ray machine, I noticed there were very few trays left for people to deposit their laptops into – while the adjacent machine had a huge pile of trays.
I did a quick count of the trays lying in front and there were seven. And then, instinctively, I counted the number of people ahead of me and was delighted to discover that there were exactly six people in front. Seven trays. And I was the seventh guy. Lucky me, I said to myself even as a smile escaped my lips. I knew it was no big deal, but who wants to get to the front and then have to wait, and shout out to the security guy and request him for trays, and wait till someone comes along and piles them up again.
And yes, I couldn’t help but look at the man behind me in the queue. The unlucky guy. The man who would have to wait for a tray!
Each of the folks in front picked up a tray and I watched intently as they put their laptops and their phones and wallets away. And when my turn came, there it was. The last tray! I picked it up with a sense of triumph, and put my laptop onto it and pushed it on the conveyor. And then I turned for one last look at what the man behind me might be feeling.
And guess what he did?
The man behind me – that unlucky guy – quietly walked across to pick up a tray from the large pile of trays at the adjacent X-ray machine. And with both hands, he picked up not one – but about a dozen trays – and brought them to where our queue was! He was sorted. As were several of the people behind him.
What a guy, I thought to myself. I knew I had just seen a demonstration of true leadership in action. In that instant, I got a masterclass in what great leaders are really all about. Their instinctive focus is not on themselves and their own needs, but on other people and what they might need. They have a desire to care for – and help – the people around them.
As I cleared security, I couldn’t help think how we tend to get too caught up in ourselves. We want to get ahead in the queue. We want that last tray. We don’t want to be left behind.
Maybe we should all pause and take a leaf out of that young man’s book. Focus on others. Help other people. Care.
Long queues at airports can be boring. But as I discovered, sometimes they can teach us lessons that will stay with us forever.
And yes, if you were the man behind me in the queue that day, thank you stranger for the lesson in what leadership is really all about.
Leadership is not about me. It’s about them. Always was. Always will be.
Five Tips To Nail Your Next Town Hall Speech
Imagine. It’s three years since you took over the reins of the company. And you are planning a meeting to address the entire organization. What should you say – or not say – to make sure you rally the troops, inspire confidence, and reassure the team that the organization is indeed on the right track and making progress?
Well, here then are five tips to help leaders nail their next town hall address.
1. “It’s not about me. It’s about them!” Remember that. Resist the temptation to make your speech all about you, about what you did, and your heroics. Instead, focus on the employees, on the organization. Tell them how they are now in a better place. Talk about why every employee has reason to feel good about her or his future. And talk about the contribution other people and other leaders have made to help the organization win. You don’t have to bother about taking credit. If you don’t try too hard for it, they’ll happily give it to you anyway. Don’t make your speech a report card of your performance. Make it a progress report of their progress.
2. Be vulnerable. Vulnerability builds trust. Every speech, every interaction, is an opportunity to build trust. Or to destroy it. And saying ‘Trust me’ is a very poor way of trying to build trust. Instead, be vulnerable. Say you are no superman. Get comfortable talking about a weakness or a failure. It’s amazing how acknowledging a failure makes all the other achievements more believable. People will begin to see you as real, as a human being. And trust will grow. When you have the courage to say you are not perfect, people see your strengths. Tell them you know it all, and can do it all, and they begin to look for chinks. Don’t build a façade of perfection. Build a window of vulnerability instead.
3. Some of us were here long before you came in. You might want to talk about all the changes in the three years since you moved in to the corner office. And you might want to contrast what’s happening now with the bad old days. Tread carefully. Remember, some of the folks who’ve helped you create the wonderful present were also around before you came in. Don’t make them feel they were up to nothing, or were doing everything wrong before you came in. It hurts. Remember, our world, our lives, didn’t begin the day you came in as our leader. Acknowledge that there was some good, we were trying our best – and are now getting better. Ah, that feels better already!
4. Don’t just speak to your supporters. Acknowledge the disbelievers and fence-sitters too. As a new leader, you probably sought out allies, the believers who quickly aligned with you to drive change. That’s ok. Every leader needs a few early adopters. But as you now stand in front of the organization, don’t speak to only those folks nodding their heads in agreement. Think of this as a chance to win over the entire organization. A new leader can initiate change with the support of a few people, but if progress is to be sustainable, if a new culture needs to be created, you need the entire rank and file to buy in. When you see disbelievers as your enemies, you start to disregard them. You ignore them. And that widens the divide. Instead, remind yourself that you are not the only one worried about the business. They care too. Maybe they just think there’s another way to achieve our goals. Are you even willing to look into their eyes?
5. Inspire hope. We all live for a better tomorrow. We want to create a better world. For ourselves, and for our children. Amidst the challenges and the miseries and the hits and the misses, we all want to believe that our world will be a better place. Irrespective of where we may have come from. Don’t just tell us how far we’ve come. Show us where we are going!
These tips will hopefully help you nail your next town hall address – notwithstanding whether you are the head of a small team, or the leader of a large organization. Or even the leader of a country! Go for it!
Leadership: How To Select A Coach
It was around this time last year that one of India’s all-time cricketing greats became the coach of the Indian cricket team. Everyone cheered. In the 12 months that followed, the team won almost everything and became the No. 1 test team. And then, from out of the blue, came the news that all was not well and the coach’s contract was not being renewed.
How did this come to pass? A great cricketer as coach, a talismanic new captain and a successful team – and then this mess? How did we let this happen?
If you are a corporate looking to appoint a coach for a high-performer, here are four lessons you can take away from the Kumble saga. Lessons you must keep in mind when appointing the next coach! Here goes:
You are looking for a good coach. Not for a great player. As companies search for a coach, the first list of potential candidates often includes industry veterans and former CEOs. They are very knowledgeable, and well-respected – but that may not automatically make them great coaches. Coaching is a somewhat specialised skill. It helps to look for some formal training and certification in the art and science of coaching. And some prior coaching experience can be invaluable too. Don’t compromise on that. How is the candidate’s track record as a coach? Great professional managers do not necessarily good coaches make. Pravin Amre – one of the most sought-after batting coaches today was an under-performer as a batsman at the international level. Maybe there’s a lesson in there for corporates too.
Don’t forget the reference check.
Speak to other people who have experienced the candidate in his coaching avatar. The worst reason to pick a guy as a coach is because ‘he is the CEO’s buddy’. Or because ‘some of the board members have worked with him in the past’. In the narrow corridor of sound logic, don’t allow the argument of ‘I know him, he’s a great guy!’ to win. The better choice as coach is often someone you may not have known – but is very much a great guy! Contemporaries might recall the potential coach as a wonderful chap – but check for how subordinates and foot soldiers view him. The view from the bottom is often different, very different. Coaching requires the coach to get down to the coachee’s level – and be comfortable doing that!
Selecting a good coach is not just about finding the best guy. It’s about finding the right guy. It’s important to ensure there is adequate comfort between both parties. And trust too. Even if you have a fabulous coach, if the chemistry is not right, the results will usually disappoint. No chemistry, no go. Should a coachee have a say in the appointment of the coach? Absolutely. The CEO and the selection committee can help suggest options who they think might fit the bill. Let the two parties meet. And if the coachee has reservations, or doesn’t feel comfortable, respect his word. Foisting a mismatched coach on an unwilling coachee is a recipe for disaster.
Is the coach up for the millennials challenge?
Coaching young, ambitious, self-driven millennials poses its own set of challenges. Make sure the coach is someone with a willingness to adapt, and the agility to work with a generation that has a mind of its own. Good coaches don’t look at the differences and bemoan the good old days. It’s easy to think that in our time we came to work at 8 am, and swiped attendance cards – and if we were ten minutes late we’d lose half a day’s pay. It just doesn’t work anymore. And not coming in at 8 am does not make this generation less disciplined. Their idea of discipline is different, that’s all. Good coaches respect that, and work with it. Find a coach who is willing to adapt to them. Don’t expect them to adapt to him!
That’s it then. Selecting the right coach is at the heart of a successful coaching engagement. Choose with care. You have a coachee to take care of. And a coach too. And remember, you may not have the luxury of a decision review system!
Have A Plan B? Junk It!
Every morning at 6 am, my wife and I step out for a walk. The intent is to walk for an hour, get our quota of physical activity, and catch up on conversation. As we step out of our home, we have a choice of two alternative routes we can take for the hour long walk.
The first option – let’s call it ‘the long road’ – is to take a circuitous 6 km walk around the area we live in. It’s a path that circumnavigates the entire neighbourhood, going past an assortment of villas, apartments, then around the office buildings and the local shopping complex, and past a temple and a school, finally bringing us back home after completing one long loop. A full 60-minute walk it is.
The other option – let’s call it ’round and round’- is for us to walk from home to a circular garden that’s about six minutes away and then do four rounds of the garden – each of which takes about twelve minutes – and then walk back home along the same path, completing the hour long morning ritual. Both the routes have their own charms, but I’ve noticed something interesting about the two choices.
On days when we take the long road – we are quickly lost in conversation, and don’t really think too much about the walk itself, or the time or the distance. Once we decide to take that circumnavigation route, we know that it will be an hour before we are back home. There’s no other way out.
But when we take the option of doing four rounds of the garden, something strange seems to happen. After completing the first round, one of us will feel a slight tightening of the calf muscle. After the second round, I swear I can magically sense the aroma of the home-made filter coffee beckoning – and I can’t wait to go home! Sometimes as we complete round two, the wife will say “I am feeling tired today’ (‘ah, didn’t really sleep too well last night, I think’) – and then look longingly at the road that will take us back home. Often, after the third round, I am convinced that it was in fact round four we just completed – and not round three – so it’s time to head back! Result? Most days when we go round and round the garden, we actually end up walking for less than an hour! The intent is always the same. Walk for an hour. But the presence of an option to walk for less than an hour actually means that the outcomes are different. We take the soft option!
And that set me thinking. Maybe this happens to us in other walks of life too. The existence of an option – an alternative – often makes us deviate from our chosen path, leading to sub-optimal outcomes. Success comes through grit, through sticking it out, and staying the course, even when the going gets tough. Giving up is easy. And when you have an option, it gets easier.
Businesses and leaders love having a Plan B. That’s the alternative that they can resort to when the preferred path – plan A – appears to be a tough, long haul. The consequence? At the first hint of trouble, we give up on our stated strategy. In fact, forget the first hint of trouble, we imagine there’s trouble, and almost seek out trouble when there’s a tempting Plan B in sight! Choice then isn’t always a good thing.
Reminds me of what happened several years ago, in the third century BC. General Xiang Yu sent some troops across the Yangtze river – to fight the Qin dynasty. And once they landed across the river, General Yu ordered the ships to be set ablaze. He then told his soldiers the hard truth: “You have a choice, young men. Either you fight to win the war. Or you die.”
Maybe a good idea for us to burn our ships too. We cling on to our escape routes, and our plan B’s – because we treasure the safety of retreat to the risks of progress and the challenge of achievement.
Take the long road. Burn the ships. Have a plan B? Junk it. And you’ll suddenly discover new ways – and new energy – to make Plan A work!
Be a Nagesh. Help people with their bags!
If I told you that Nagesh Kolte was my hero of the week, you’d be forgiven for asking Nagesh, who?
Nagesh is actually a driver at Uber and I had the pleasure of driving with him this morning as I went to the airport in Pune. As I sat down in that seat I saw a little certificate hanging behind the headrests of the seat in front of me and it said certificate of achievement .Nagesh apparently is a gold partner at Uber .He has had over a thousand rides where passengers have given him five stars. Clearly he’s a star in his own right.
What I really loved about this though is that that certificate went on to inform me that what riders love about Nagesh is the fact that he helps them with their luggage.
Just imagine, I think there’s a message in that for all of us. Success in our life is not just about doing all that you’re expected to do but about doing just a little bit more!
It’s just not enough to be saying ‘I have done my job’, it’s really about how do you go the extra mile to do a little bit more. In Nagesh’s case, he’s a good driver, he’s courteous, he knows his road map pretty well but that’s not all, people love him because he helps them with their luggage.
Maybe there’s a message in it for all of us. We should aim to be that kind of a person. Not just someone who does everything that’s expected of him / her but does a little bit more.
Let’s become that kind of person who helps other people with their bags and when you do that, remember to thank Nagesh for a lesson well learnt!
My 17 for 2017
It’s that time of the year when we make new year resolutions.
Research shows that on top of most lists are resolutions relating to weight loss (diet / fitness), finances (spend less / save more), work-life balance (spend more time with loved ones) and the pursuit of a passion /hobby. Have you made your resolutions for 2017?
Here’s my list of 17 slightly off-beat resolutions for 2017. Which of these do you think are the most interesting? Which one would you adopt?
1. Digital detox: Keep the cellphone away from the bedroom from 10 pm to 6 am. And never keep the phone within eyesight during a meeting — or a meal.
2. Phone-a-friend. Reach out — every day — to one old friend (or new) — or a colleague or relative. Every day. For no other reason than to say hello, and and to check how they are doing. Takes less than 3 minutes. Did I say where’s the time?
3. Give away those extra clothes / shoes that I seldom wear. And make sure every time a new one in gets in — and old one goes out.
4. Speak to the kids — at least once every day. No matter which part of the world they are in. Truth is, they are never too far away.
5. Watch 52 movies — one movie a week — with the wife. Not because I love them, but because I love her.
6. Learn to cook. And make a meal at least once a week. (eggs and cereals don’t count as meals. Dosas do!)
7. Finish the 3 volume set of the Bhagwad Gita that my aunt gifted me. And then try and finish more of those waiting-to-be-read books on my bookshelf. And on my Kindle.
8. Write. Every day. Work on the next book. And the next. Or a column. Or a blog. But write. Shobha De once told me she writes 3000 words every day. What’s my excuse?
9. Break 90 in Golf. Consistently. And maybe the best way to do that would be to play more often — which would mean getting the wife to play too.
10. Be there. If it’s a celebration — make the effort to be there. A friend’s birthday, a marriage in the family, be there. No excuses. The pain of the trip will be long forgotten. The remorse of missing out will linger.
11. Have a meal (or a cup of coffee) once a month with someone I don’t know too well — but want to get to know.
12. Learn the tricks of stand up comedy. Watch standups perform. Create and put out a 5 minute stand-up comedy gig of my own.
13. Send Thank you notes. Always. Acknowledge little things other people do. And if someone asks for a favour, try my damnedest to help. Yes, damnedest.
14. Check email only when I am in a position to respond. And respond immediately. See an email only once. And respond within 24 hours.
15. Pick up that old Nikon D3100. Take lots of pictures. Learn. And become a better photographer. (Owning a camera does not make you a photographer!)
16. Never plan a second visit to the same restaurant. Discover new places. Try new cuisines. Explore.
17. Holiday with the wife. Often. Pick a place in the countryside — and spend a week there. And not try and do five cities in 6 days.
What’s on your list? Keen to hear!
Five Lessons for the New Leader
On the occasion of Navroz, we could all learn a lesson or two from Dastur Neryosang Dhaval, the leader of the first group of Zoroastrians that came into India. It all happened in 755 AD in the small Gujarati town called Sanjan. About five hundred Parsi families landed on Indian shores, having fled from Persia. They reached Sanjan, a prosperous little town ruled by a benevolent Hindu king called Jadi Rana. Dastur, the chief of the Parsis, went to the king’s court to request him for refuge. Being somewhat apprehensive of the tall, fair warrior-like tribe and unsure of his little kingdom’s ability to absorb and provide for the immigrants, the king called for a bowl of milk, filled to the brim. He showed it to the Parsi chief, to symbolize the fact that the kingdom was full. There was no room for more people! But Dastur was not to about to give up so easily. He asked one of the attendants to get him some sugar. He took a spoonful of the sugar and mixed it in the bowl, letting it dissolve—signifying that the Zoroastrians would mingle with the people in Sanjan and sweeten their lives. Impressed, the king allowed the Parsis to settle in his kingdom. The rest, as they say, is history.
Several valuable lessons in leadership flow from that bowl of milk and sugar.
First, leaders moving into a new team or organization must remember that, in most cases, the bowl is almost always perceived to be full to the brim.
Second, like the sugar itself, leaders must learn to mingle with the team and be willing to let their identity, and their ego, become subservient to the needs of the team.
Third, it also helps to remember that once the sugar dissolves in the milk, it sweetens the last drop of milk. The sugar’s impact is not confined merely to the drops of milk that come in direct contact with it.
Fourth, it’s most important to understand what’s inside the bowl. Is it milk? Or water? Or soda? Understanding the people and the organization has to be the first step in the leader’s journey.
And finally, once the sugar dissolves in the team, you want people to exclaim how sweet the milk is. Not how good the sugar was.