As President Barrack Obama gave his farewell address at Chicago on January 10, 2017, the curtain came down on an extraordinary presidency. It is well likely that history will judge Obama as one of the greatest presidents of the United States. As he attempted to begin his farewell address, the long standing ovation refused to die down, making him jocularly remark that he was lame-duck as the crowd was not listening. In a speech that stretched for more than an hour, he used his trademark hand gestures to effect yet another display of rhetoric and oratory. Without resorting to any dramatic inflexion of the voice, he effortlessly transported the audience back and forth between the history and the future. He held people’s attention when he slowed down his words, lowered the volume or paused for impact. He was in the flow as with quiet compassion he evoked images of the proud heritage and with “jealous anxiety” invoked the youth to steer the future with their own hands. At the end, there were many teary eyes, his included, and nostalgia was almost palpable in the air of the assembly.
Charisma is never easy to define. Obama’s charisma lies not just in his oratory or youthful looks. It actually springs from deep within him, as charisma always does. Charisma is never a garb than can be donned and taken off. It is something more permanent that gets ingrained over the years. It nearly always begins to emanate when larger causes overtake self-interests. It finds its expression in the confidence on that person that is inspired in others as someone who can bring change. To understand where Obama’s charisma springs from and to know the recipe of the secret sauce of his successes, let us look at some of the core principles that he addressed in his farewell:
- Unity and Diversity. Obama frequently invoked the concept of Unity in Diversity in his speech. Nothing can be more motivating for ordinary people to reach extraordinary heights than ‘equality for all’ and ‘equal opportunity for all in pursuit of happiness’. Progress is not a zero-sum game. When progress embraces all, even the luckier ones avoid the risk of upending their good run. Diversity is not just about race, region or religion. It is also about the acceptance that those that don’t fit into our opinions only enrich us.
- Yes, we can. The reality of life is that progress is neither constant nor predictable. It is normal for every step of progress to be challenged by a step backwards. But with the optimism ‘Yes, we can’, the long sweep of time will be defined by forward motion.
- The dynamics of change. Change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to drive it.
- Make life better for those who follow. This is the purpose that drives people to brave challenges and break new ground.
- Boundless capacity for risk and reinvention. Only those bold experiments that are untainted by affiliations or particular interest will ensure that the future remains with us.
- We all have more work to do. If we decline to invest in the future, we diminish its prospects.
- Hearts must change. Laws and rules alone won’t be enough. Might cannot replace the willingness to do right. In the battle of ideas, openness to admit new information and creation of common ground and compromise are essential for going forward.
By putting together this blueprint for the future, Barrack Obama showed how charisma is the confidence that creates hope and drives us into action.
So it has been goodbye to year 2016 and welcome to 2017. The beginning of a new year, like the start of any new phase, is always pregnant with hope: hope of a good life. But unlike the start of most other new phases, the onset of a new year has a more personal involvement. Many of us begin the new year with new or renewed resolutions (because most resolutions stay unfulfilled year after year!). But someone said that it is easier to change ourselves than to change the world. Changing ourselves is certainly under our control whereas changing the world may not be. So, here are 7 things (and they are the new game changers) that we can do to change ourselves so that we are on a roll in 2017, no matter what happens around us in the world.
- Caring. Being caring is the best way we can be happy. Kind behaviour raises our oxytocin levels, and that makes us feel fulfilled, eventually increasing our productivity and effectiveness. Being caring is not that easy however. Constantly buffeted by the changes in our hormones and the pressures of the environments, the mind hurtles us up and down the emotional roller coaster. Devilish emotions, such as anger, irritation and jealousy, are always sitting in our nervous system waiting for a chance to catch us unawares. One wrong word, sight, taste, smell or touch is enough to trigger them and cause the damage before we realize. Only by consciously working on our egos, mood swings and expectations can we increase our caring behaviour.
- Smaller meals. So what diet is to be followed? Atkins, Paleo, Bulletproof, LCHF or Sugar impact? Like carbohydrates, excessive proteins and fats can also be harmful. If it is all very confusing, let’s KISS (keep it simple sweetheart!). Just junk aside all the theories, and try out small meals. Eat what is available, but eat in small meals, whenever and only when hungry. Pretty soon, you will notice amazing health benefits and improvements in emotional state.
- Deep breathing. Studies have established links between respiratory health and other diseases including those of skin, digestion and mind. If you are trained in Pranayama, keep at it. If not, try deep diaphragmatic breathing every day for at least 15 minutes. You will be amazed by the health and emotional benefits that follow. Deep breathing is more beneficial than one has realized. It is going to be the new game changer. So, be with it, and stay ahead of the curve.
- Curb the cravings. It is now very clear that happiness is not really linked to what you have. Rather it is linked to what you think. Happiness is not just in achieving great feats. Happiness lies in doing everything we do, no matter how insignificant or routine, with best efforts and in mindfulness. Happiness is in savouring every moment of the present, just as in every sip of exquisite wine rolling over the tongue and lingering in the mouth. You can have all the wonderful things in life and still feel miserable. Of course, you need to have certain things in life, but beyond a point, obsessing over what we don’t have never helps. Cutting down on the tendency to accumulate or keep acquiring more things in our life is a sure-fire way to be happier and less stressed. Less luggage makes the journey enjoyable. Do it, and you will see what I mean.
- Walk. The easiest way to be healthier and happier is to walk at least 30 minutes on most days. So, keep walking. But walking with the head sunk in thought is losing half the benefits. So, make sure you walk in mindfulness for added benefits. The past is beyond our control, and the future is unpredictable. What’s in our control is only the present. So, let’s give the present our best shot!
- Cut those extras. Smoking affects respiratory health, which is the key to the health of the autonomic nervous system. Surprising as it may sound, kicking the butt has more benefits than we can imagine, apart from increasing longevity. Less known is that it can dramatically improve digestive, skin, respiratory and joints health. There is increasing evidence that alcohol has more deleterious consequences than we thought. The harm is not just for the body but also for the mind. Limiting the alcohol does not mean the thrill of life is lost. On the contrary, the improved emotional state makes us happier. Studies are showing increasing evidence of link between alcohol and depression, poor quality of sleep (unbelievable but true), and even cancer. Going by the same token, let us minimize processed food and increase our intake of fresh food with no or minimal cooking.
- Enjoy the journey. Over the years, there has been an increasing fixation over results. Nothing could have been more detrimental to our happiness. It is time to shift the focus from the results to the process. Perfect the process, and the results will follow on their own. Enjoy the journey with mindfulness without dwelling on the destination. In the process, if we lose the rat race then so be it, because who wants to be a rat anyway? This shift will make a dramatic difference to our emotional well-being, and in the long run make us more effective and fulfilled.
Follow these 7 steps, and let the good times roll in 2017.
With companies like Google and Ernst & Young dropping degree qualification as a criterion for an entry into the organization, skills like problem solving are becoming increasingly important. What makes some people better at problem solving than others? Most problems entail multiple attempts and iterations. It is unusual for a problem to get resolved in the first shot. People who are good at problem solving innately recognize this process. And that makes them more open to the universe of possibilities.
A hurdle to such openness is an over-attachment to self-glory. Self-aggrandizement is a natural trait and is sometimes essential for survival. Unfortunately, when it grows into a predominant thought process, it becomes blinkers that restrict our vision. Aspirants of high performance will, therefore, have to work ruthlessly towards the elimination of ego; ruthlessly because the hydra-headed ego is so tough that it springs up from somewhere else each time you try to cut it off.
Truth has a better chance to get discovered when there is quiescence. Newton discovered Gravitation while sitting under an apple tree. Archimedes had his Eureka while taking a bath. Kekule discovered the Benzene ring while dreaming. A quiet and contented mind, that comes with a ceiling on the ego, becomes a receptacle for solutions. Shedding the ego is, therefore, a step towards creativity.
Experts are telling us that Optimism is a major, if not the most important, ingredient in the secret sauce of success. The ability to look at a difficulty as an opportunity for problem-solving, rather than viewing it as due to a personal flaw that cannot be corrected, is an important trait in those who transform setbacks into platforms on which to showcase turnaround capabilities. Yet we know of missions that unraveled because an overzealous generalissimo failed to read the risks adequately. This is especially true in the high-tech industry where not recognizing early the inroads made by competition is ignorance at one’s peril.
The success-time curve of a mission typically has a sinuous beginning, often nose-diving after the initial surge. Optimism helps in making those course-corrections that are necessary for the falling curve to pick up again, eventually leading to success. When optimism is missing, the ball gets dropped, and the mission fails. So, it can be seen that springing up from setbacks is a dominant capability in the winners. At the same time, an excessive bout of optimism can make one insensitive to the winds of change. Retaining the swagger even whilst being buffeted by the headwind is not the same as staying cool in the face of adversity. A winner has to recognize the signals before the wind is out of the sails, and the ship has begun to sink. The ancient philosopher Adi Shankara used a four-pronged method to interpret complex scriptures. The method was so effective that no one could ever vanquish him in a debate on the Vedanta. Let us see how this method and an analogy can be useful for analyzing scenarios and interpreting complex information:
- Knowledge: Knowledge should not be from a single source. There are different layers to reality, all of which could be true in certain contexts. Therefore, knowing and reading a situation from different perspectives help in getting a better cover for the risks.
- Reasoning: But which source of information should be relied on the most then? It is the one that you can validate with actual experiences; the one that can stand the test of reason.
- Experiential Knowledge: This is the knowledge that we acquire with our experiences, and it forms our internal memory. Such internal repositories get built up primarily from our experiences out of the comfort zone. That’s why people who did challenging assignments, such as a stint abroad in a new culture, tend to handle complex situations well. They do so by testing things in the light of such knowledge.
- Expertise: Some things look the same on paper. Apply all available yardsticks, and yet they appear identical in performance. But only the expert knows that the actual performance is different for different things, though she may not be able to lay a finger on the cause for the variation. This is not necessarily a failure of theory, it could well be a limitation of existing knowledge. That’s why the input of the experts becomes crucial in deciphering a complexity.
Root-causes can be quite contrary to perceptions. The dynamics at the micro level can be completely different from what appear on the surface. As consultants, we have seen that when people apply the above four aspects in interpreting new dynamics, results are along desired lines. Optimism is essential during execution. But cautious optimism is necessary before drawing up the plans.
In the Summer Olympics of 1988 at Seoul, Matt Biondi was expected to claim seven golds in Swimming. He came a cropper in the first two events, missing the gold. After these setbacks, people began to speculate on how Biondi would fare in the remaining events. Yet there was a psychologist named Dr Seligman who expected Biondi to do better than ever. And he was right: Matt Biondi claimed five gold medals in the remaining events.
Dr Seligman had studied Biondi’s personality in an experiment that he conducted along with the latter’s coach. Unlike most others, Biondi had the explanatory style or the ‘internal talk’ that could turn the course of events when the chips were down. In simple terms, he was ‘Optimistic’. For most people, a failure leads to an internal talk that blames themselves or casts limitations on themselves, such as, “I am not good enough …” But people like Biondi analyse failures more objectively, and they can do so because they are not passionate about winning. What! Yes, they are not as passionate about winning as they are about perfecting their craft. It is their passion for their craft or the ‘process’ that works for them.
Emotions can be self-perpetuating and can become habits. The blues after the lows lead to a vicious circle of blues and lows, each feeding on the other. A passion for the craft, on the other hand, is one high that is without a low. Every learning brings a kick and since learning is continuous, it becomes one incessant labour of love pegging away to perfection. And, hey presto, before long you slip into the zone or flow, reaching peak performance! Just as Brendon McCullum did when he slammed the fastest ton in test cricket. All that the man who helped put bums on seats, as Viv Richards himself said, wanted to do was hit every ball for a four or six and enjoy his last test. And before he knew, he had broken the record.
It was going to be 8 am, and I came out from an exhilarating bath when the mobile jangled. My hair was still wet and tousled, and beads of water glistened on my hand as I raised the phone to my ear.
“Good morning, Coach. Can you see me in my office this morning, please?” It was Mr Rathore, the CEO of a client company. He sounded urgent and worried.
I said, “Sure. I will be there by 10 am. Is that fine?” He agreed, and we hung up.
As I dressed and adjusted my tie, I wondered what could have gone so wrong that he should sound so worked up. In my mind’s eye, I ran through last week’s sessions with the functional heads and tried to hazard some guesses.
It was a swanky modern office that I walked into at 10 am.
“Come in,” called Mr Rathore, as I politely knocked on the etched glass door.
He rushed straight to the point. He never much believed in the niceties anyway, being the alpha male that he was. “Rejections are going through the roof. Do something about it urgently,” he ordered.
I gathered the concerned Heads for a brainstorming and group coaching session. I now knew each of them like the back of my hand, having spent many one-to-one coaching sessions with each of them in the past six months. They were all highly qualified, brilliant people. And that was also part of their problem: their early successes had made them set in their ways. It took me nearly three hard months to open up their minds to a broader range of possibilities. But the hard work was beginning to pay off. In place of the tyrannical consultant, they now saw in me a friend to whom they warmed up and in whom they could now confide and have a sounding board. The paradigm shift was visible: from a “Why me?” they had now come round to the view that all executives need a coach.
It took us a full three hours to get a handle on the problem. The pain-areas were identified, and the game plans were drawn out. As I left for lunch and turned on the ignition of my car, I wondered how much potential lies untapped in people. At the end, the crux of the problem was that the process had remained inefficient because people never gave enough thought to it, caught up as they were in the daily issues. It needed someone to ask those questions for them to probe into their subconscious and look at the issues from 360 degrees.
The soft light from the cluster of tiny LED lamps in the roof was the only thing that was cool at that moment when a pregnant pause fell in the small meeting room. The frustration in the air was almost palpable. The company had experienced a double-digit growth year after year, in spite of a sluggish economy. It was now a proper-mid-sized organization, poised to move into a different league. But the simmering doubts had begun to surface openly. People at the company began to wonder if the days of easy sailing are over. Customer dissatisfaction was rising, and some customers had already migrated to competition.
‘We all need to realise,’ said the Vice-President, clearing his throat to bring in extra seriousness into his soft and almost feminine voice, ‘that we are losing exisiting business faster than we are gaining new business.’
People were tired of hearing these sermons. A year of blame-games had already passed. They had been going round in circles with no solutions in sight for the recurring issues. The morale was down. They had been working extra hard to fend off the criticism. In spite of it, the problems were mounting. No one seemed to understand the others’ pain.
‘Try something different,’ said the CEO to the VP, as they sat late evening in the corner office. The CEO’s eyes were wistful as he looked out through the large, clear glass. The greenery was always soothing when the soul ached with the growth pains of the company.
‘This is our story,’ said the VP, summarizing the state of affairs to the executive coach, who sat across the desk. ‘I personally feel my people are incompetent. We need to replace a few of our key people.’
The coach set about his task with clinical detachment. He was unfazed by the pessimism that permeated the company air. He knew that with his skillful questions the team would be able to nail down the process that was not working.
A year later, the VP was looking into the cocktail glass as the stem rolled slowly in his fingers. The coach was sitting beside him. The clinking of glasses added to the bonhomie in the ballroom of the swanky hotel, as the team celebrated another year of high growth. The doubts were now gone and a quiet confidence was evident in the air.
‘How did you pull it off?’ asked the VP, trying to keep his face straight lest the coach should discern his concealed anxiety to learn the ropes. Who knows—a few years down the line he might it call it time and become a consultant or a coach himself.
The coach checked himself as his mind tended to gloat on the recent victories. As a coach, a sense of detachment to both success and failure was very important. And he must practise what he preached.
‘Elementary, my dear Vice-President. I did virtually nothing. I just helped your team to see that the people were organized around tasks and not around outcomes. Many people were responsible for the same outcome with the result that the issues were nobody’s babies. The buck did not stop. People were dependent on others for certain processes. Due to this, they couldn’t schedule their tasks. And people lose focus when they can’t plan. This is the key. By reorganizing, we made specific people accountable for specific results. By enabling them to draw up their schedules, we made our processes efficient.’
When we were young, we thought we would be better partners than others were to each other, we would be better parents, or quite simply, we would have better relationships than others seem to manage. And when we grew up, we found ourselves getting sucked into the same morass. Issues with partners, children, parents, siblings, colleagues and even friends at times have left a bitter taste in the mouth. Sometimes, our self-esteem takes a beating, and we are left wondering about what’s wrong with ourselves. The sad part is that many beautiful moments had been missed and many wonderful memories had gone wasted. The good part is that it doesn’t have to be like that any more. Managing relationships is not so difficult if we knew what makes people tick. Here are a few tips to help you keep your dear ones around you:
- It is important to understand that place, time, season and situation has an impact on our moods and outlook. Most people find it difficult to be at their best all the time. In fact, the best actually comes out rarely. Without a lot of conscious effort and practice, it is hard to stay positive for longish spells.
- We are all made differently. Human clones don’t yet exist. Even when they will, it is likely that they may still think differently. Diversity is a good thing. We need to encourage our people to think on their own and be themselves. We all complement each other. If we respect the differences, we learn and grow. Eventually, we will be happier.
- It is easy to get worked up about what people say or do. But taking it easy actually makes life less messy. This is easier said than done, but it is possible. Being aware helps to stay calm and relaxed in our daily routines. And this, in turn, can be a buffer when we are buffeted by unkind behavior. Affirmations, self-talk directed to the heart in a meditative posture, and meditation can help to strengthen our resolve. In the beginning, it may appear insurmountable, but with practice, we can become what we want to be.
- The best method to reform adults is through example. Adults hate being told or preached. But they are deeply touched by positive behavior. That’s why some people are deeply indebted to their partners, who had single-handedly kept the relationship going through turbulent times with their positivity and inner strength. So, the next time you are troubled by others’ behavior, look into yourself to see what you can do more positively to make them veer round. Then, see the magic unfold.
- Food has an impact on how we feel and behave. Eating simple natural foods as much as possible and eating small (and more frequent, if needed) meals helps to feel light and fresh throughout the day, making us more relaxed and compassionate.
- Staying happy helps to build happy relationships. Staying happy does not need any prerequisites or preconditions. It is an art, and you can choose to be continually happy right from this moment. Period.
If all these don’t work, take the help of a Life Coach. A good coach can change your life.
Recently, Accenture announced that it was doing away with the bell curve appraisals for its employees. The bell curve or normal distribution of employees’ performance has never been a favourite with employees because it implies mandatory grading of people into the lowest category. It also implies that some good performers are downgraded because there are ‘no slots’ left. Here is an example of logic being overridden by system or rule. And this is actually self-defeating because it causes fear. Fear creeps in when there is something irrational. Fear leads to poor performance. In effect, a sytem that was designed to foster performance actually undermines it. It is not that the bell curve is pure evil. It is good for the few rated at the highest. But it is disheartening for most and even devastating for a few. Moreover, evaluation systems invariably leave room for errors and biases.
Good performance is directly related to enthusiasm. Driving people to perform without generating enthusiasm is not a sustainable process. It will collapse at the first hint of stress. Enthusiasm has a unique ability to cushion the blows. While happiness may not lead to enthusiasm, enthusiasm is killed when happiness goes kaput. If enthusiasm cannot be fostered, at least happiness should not get killed. Personalised mentoring and coaching are better ways to keep employees engaged. A good coach can easily generate enthusiasm in a happy employee, making him or her engaged.
When customers gave the feedback that people at Infosys should learn to speak up at work and be proactive, it made Vishal Sikka, the CEO, sad. He said that in Indian companies, youngsters were trained to solve problems and were not trained to find problems (read the full atricle at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tech/tech-news/Infosys-CEO-Vishal-Sikka-Indians-dont-speak-up-just-follow-orders/articleshow/45379207.cms).
Speaking up is essential to keep an open mind, to question the status quo, and to push the frontiers so that innovation happens and great products are produced. You need confidence to be able to speak up. And you get confidence when you speak up. For confidence comes from discovery, from knowing. Chicken and egg story, eh? But that’s what it always is about. The trick is to start early. And, as with all skills and all habits, the more you do, the more you get. That’s where a culture is needed—to set you up to start early.
Boundaries are just that—barriers to the creativity engines. Vishal Sikka has opened up Facebook and Twitter to his employees, as part of the efforts to simplify things at Infosys and drum up creativity. Simplification sets you up to think through things deeply. The best way to keep those creative juices flowing is to think through, keep at it, and stay with it.