Leader


So what does it take to be leader?

There are enough books on the shelves that promise to make you a great leader.

On LinkedIn, there are enough and more posts like “10 effective habits of a leader” etc.

There are articles that map lives of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and many others to drive home the point of how to be a leader.

Articles on how leadership is inherent or acquired skill.

But really, what does it take to be a leader?

Is it that you start an organisation (akin to “I have the bat, I will be the captain), naturally you will be the leader. You will hire people and they will look up to you since you own the business and own them.

You join an organisation and rise through the hierarchy basis your performance to the top spot. Keep in mind, you have been promoted to that leadership position purely because you were a performer. It is a given that you were performing because you were leading a team and made them perform. But the people who report to you, do they consider you a leader or they accept the fact that you are the boss? Will they follow you to hell and back? And if they do, are they doing it because they believe in YOU or have they tied their fortunes to your growth and hence they will do anything.

I am sure many of you will tell me that am wrong. Leaders are also the ones who have empathy, they care for the people “who work for them”, they have heart. Leaders lead by example… so on and so forth.

All this will just be a distinction between a dictator and a benevolent dictator.

It is all about leading and following. Leadership is always about being the alpha (no gender discrimination here) in the group. Being an alpha comes from the position you have. Plain and simple. You take on a position and get others to follow you.

It’s true in corporate world, in politics, in sports and even in relationships. So let’s just cut the bull@&*% and accept that you became a leader because you were better than others – your performance, your knowledge, your manipulation skills, your rhetoric, your ability to know the pulse of the people. It has nothing to do with inherent or acquired skills. You are leading because you WANT to. There is always a motive.

From kings to politicians to social activists to armies to sports captains, there has always been a desire to lead which helped them manipulate things in their favour.

I guess all this flies in the face of what people believe about leaders. Nobody becomes a leader even though he/she had no desire. (That’s a lot of…)

We lead because we want to. And we will do everything to attain that.

I haven’t ever read any of the so called leadership guides. I haven’t read or followed habits of a true leader. Guess I will never be a leader in the way world looks at it. I always called myself a benevolent dictator 🙂

And I am ok with that!

Law of Unintended Consequences


There actually is a law like this and the definition is:

In the social sciences, unintended consequences (sometimes unanticipated consequences or unforeseen consequences) are outcomes that are not the ones foreseen or intended by a purposeful action.” The term was popularised by American Socialogist Robert K. Merton.

It is interesting right? And what’s even more interesting is that this law is operating all the time in our lives. Whether it is work or personal life, there are always unintended consequences.

Some consequences we are aware of, and some we don’t even realise. But there are far reaching effects of some decisions we take. Not all unintended consequences are directly impacting us or even indirectly. So we don’t bother about them.

We have been taught to think in a linear fashion. No matter how much one reads about lateral thinking (and even that is in relation to us and what we do), our thinking is very linear. A to B to C and so on. Alphabets are linear so are numbers. Our verbal and numerical abilities are conditioned to think in a linear fashion.

We have faith and destiny to blame when our actions lead unintended consequences.

In business for instance, growth is the driver. All our attention is focused on growing, become bigger, becoming a market leader. So all our actions, our decisions are aimed towards growth (I won’t mention profit here since in the so called e-commerce, no one thinks profit).

Snapdeal for instance, grow, grow, grow was driving it. The founders were solely focused on growth, valuation and funding. Nobody stopped to think even for a moment as to what will happen if things go south. And things did go south. Unintended consequence? Layoffs. So many people suddenly out of job. So is the case with a whole lot of startups and the financial meltdown of 2008.

I have mentioned startups because that’s the burning issue right now but look through the history. Person who discovered all about atom, he would have been happy with the discovery. Would have gone to town talking about it. Would he have ever known that it will become a weapon?

Take politics for instance. When US was courting Osama, did they ever think that he will become a monster and turn back on them? He is gone but the turmoil remains.

The problem lies with us. While we talk about long term thinking, it never is long term. Monthly projections, quarterly projections, annual projections. Stops right there. Of course it would be foolish to think beyond a year in today’s dynamic world but still. Our actions and decisions are driven by short term impact. Long term is nice to talk about in boardrooms but it’s all about here and now.

Organisations don’t waste time in predictive models that will tell them impact of their decisions on a larger environment. Their models tell them about their business in the context of their industry, competition, economy and government regulations. They want a clear cut answers as to what will happen to their growth once they take a certain action. Doomsday scenarios are not in the interest of any strategy person or a consulting organisation. Not taking the unintended consequences into account is passed off as risk taking ability of the person or organisation.

It is our belief that we look at our decisions in the context of consequences. Never unintended consequences. It is not in our DNA. And let’s face it. We can’t keep track of every consequence of our action. Forget unintended, we can’t keep track of every single intended consequence either.

Typically, most of the unintended consequences are negative. Wonder why. I have been trying to think of examples that would show unintended consequence to be a happy one. Haven’t come across any. Would you know?

As always, I am putting this thought out there. Just a thought. To check what do people think of this topic.

Mind Manipulation Maneuver


Every indulged in it? Or been a victim of it? It happens often enough and on a regular basis.

Whether it is in corporate world, brands manipulating the consumers, politicians or even in personal relationships.

The essence of the maneuver is perception management. Create and manage a perception so well that it becomes real.

The best exponents of course are the politicians. I don’t know how many would have watched the movie “Wag the Dog” but it pretty much exemplifies how politicians play with perceptions. Think about it. Once the Cold Wad threat was over, what did the western world (specifically US) have to keep calling themselves saviours of the free world? Nothing! So bring on the battles with the oil rich belts. Even in our country, political parties have created this illusion of non Hindus and allegedly backward classes being exploited that everyone or at least the “intellectual” majority believes that is the case.

In the corporate world, there are always those individuals who create an aura around them that makes them seem like MVP in the set up. The organisations they work for, do their best to retain them and also others want to hire them. You can do average work but build a great self PR around it and people will believe. They would want to quote your quotes. You become an expert on leadership and corporate culture and pretty much everything.

When it comes to brands, Apple mastered this maneuver. Yes it’s good technology (I use it) but the hysteria that surrounds every launch, does it deserve that? Perhaps not. But it tapped into our desire to be different from the masses and rest is of course evident for everyone. Look at me, even I am quoting the brand to make a point!

Perception is something that has driven most of the communication that brands have with communication. Obscure research data to prove why brand X is better over brand Y that consumers lap up and buy. When competing on those terms become tough, indulge in social causes to sound ‘oh so holy’. Works very well when you pick a cause close to consumer’s heart.

Awards are another way of creating a perception of being superior. Works rather well in automobile category. Car of the year is a great thing to talk about.

Talking about ‘talking about’, it always helps when you get some influential writers to say nice things about you or start a negative conversation about competition or a trend that is detrimental to your cause.

Social media has become a great platform for such endeavours. Creating a reputation or destroying one, has become easy. Stayzilla is a case in point. Who really knows the truth? Truth is what you get people to perceive.

Perception either creates a reality or helps you hide the facts. You can hide your incompetence by questioning competence of someone else (great tool in organisational politics).

When we get into a relationship, we spend a lot of time to build perceptions about us. We indulge in social engineering to an extent that the other person accepts all of it and falls for you. Keep working on it long enough and it becomes reality. Most relationships, of course, turn sour when the mask slips.

We tend to spend hell of a lot of time on these manipulating maneuvers. I think as a society we have reached a point that it is very hard for us to differentiate perception from reality. More importantly we don’t want to spend time in making that differentiation. And you know why? Because that will take away time from us building a certain predisposition towards ourselves. Plus the fact that perceptions help us in keeping our sanity. Help us rationalise the choices we make.

We are living in an era where our lives are led virtually and it has made things all so easy when it comes to manipulation. But we opted for it. For our selfish gains. So we can’t blame others when we get manipulated. Someone out there was a more adept manipulator that you.

Artificial Intelligence


Short post. There is a lot of buzz about Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. Now I got nothing against technology but this sure makes me wonder.

What happens to genuine intelligence? What happens to “Real” reality?!

Is it signs of time that we are living our lives virtually so much that we cant consume anything that is real? AI has been built by real Intelligence. Virtual or Augmented Reality is just about vicariouness. Nothing beats being there for real.

I guess we are ready for technology to take over our lives in more ways than one. Be slaves to the master called technology. The bleak and desolate images shown by Hollywood may not be too far away. I do hope they don’t come true in my lifetime. 🙂

What do you say?

250


You surely would wonder about this strange title for the post. Nothing profound about it. No management lesson. No deep thought. 🙂

This is my 250th post on my blog. Back in 2009 when I had started this blog, I never expected to last this long. Attention span of a golden retriever or a gold fish.

But I lasted. Not been prolific but averaging about 30 posts a year.

The blog started of as being my view of marketing and advertising, but over a period of time, it became more than that.

I realised that there are far better experts who can make lot more sense on these subjects. I am just a humble guy plying my trade.

So posts shifted to life. Perhaps navigating life is becoming tougher by the day. We all look for a compass which can help us with the navigation. I am no Paul Coelho or Robin Sharma or others who have supposedly help millions to understand life. What I have written in my posts, largely comes from my experience. My experiences and watching people around me. The posts have also been a reflection of what is going on in my mind.

There are a handful who subscribe to my blog directly or through email. I want to thank all of you for being on this journey with me.

Vinod, I do remember what you had said about compiling the posts into a book. Will do it someday.

Valay, I saw your update on my post yesterday. I am glad you found the post thought provoking.

There are a few who had commented on my posts. Thank you for those comments.

There are quite a few who never actually commented over here but texted me their comments. That meant a lot. So thank you.

It’s taken me 8 years to hit 250. Am hoping the next 250 happens in half that time.

This blog, I want to leave as a legacy for my children as they grow up and grapple with living.

Thank you all. 🙂

(No tags for this post)

Caffeine and Nicotine


Statutory warning – this post in no way is encouraging consumption of caffiene or nicotine. The views expressed are solely of the writer and an addict 🙂

I had thought about “confessions of an addict” as the title for the post but then it would have led in all kinds of directions 🙂

Yesterday I was watching some random movie. The protagonist has a lit cigarette in his hand (bottom of the screen has the statutory warning) and is in a heated discussion with another character and the character says something to the effect ” look at you! You don’t belong to this world. Nobody smokes anymore and here you are smoking and living with so called machismo”. Made me wonder. Machismo? Surely we have gone way beyond the Marlboro Man days and yes that kind of imagery perhaps got us into the habit. For me of course it was the crumple pack with a denim feel of Charms. But once in, I doubt if everyone we take a puff, we are feeling macho about it.

So am addicted. To caffiene and nicotine. Yes go ahead and judge me. Am sure you won’t be judging me as much for caffiene as you would for nicotine. I like my addictions. I am not going to say I know they are bad and I should stop. What’s the point of life if you are not addicted to some things. It’s not like I am the only one with addictions. I have mine and you have yours. I am not going to judge you for that.

But coming back to caffiene and nicotine. Only the true addicts will relate to what I say. That sip of coffee. That long first drag of cigarette. That feeling as both go down the throats and mingle with whatever they are supposed to mingle with and do what they do to the physiology and psychology of the person.

These two are extremely individualistic. They do not have a social context or a setting. Think about it. Out of all the cups of coffee that you have or the smoking that you do, what % of it is social? Yes you could be sitting in a coffee shop full of people and be sitting alone and giving your elbow exercise every time you take a sip. Or the smoke. Every time you smoke, it is not like alcohol that you more often than not are with people. It is mostly alone. So after a point ( having got through the social setting it was peddled in) it is about you and you alone.

Caffiene and nicotine, they are there with you in happy times, sad times, stress or euphoria. They are your companion when you are sitting and thinking. About work. About life. About relationships. About what’s bothering you. They don’t talk back. Give advise. Judge you. You are not doing it for social acceptance. If anything, smokers in this world are becoming pariahs. So are the people who consume coffee for what it is and not the imagery. There is a certain bliss, momentary slowing down of everything within your immediate environment. These are the downtimes that you get in day full of pace. You are with your thoughts and eyes are staring into space. The last sip of coffee or the act of stubbing out the cigarette is either done with excitement because you got the thought in your head that you wanted or there is an inaudible sigh of the mind that the downtime is over.

Yes people talk about health issues. How we are destroying our lives with these addictions. And these voices have become vociferous. Specially about smoking. And do you know why? Smoking perhaps is the most visible of all addictions. The spiralling smoke is visible to all. So are the stubs. So what’s visible, is attacked with all the vigour. Passive smoking becomes an issue. The smell (I will call it fragrance) becomes an issue. Also perhaps there is a direct impact on non smokers so it is condemned.

Tell me which addiction does not impact people around the addicts? Perhaps the impact is not direct but there is an impact all the same.

Drinking is socially acceptable. Being on social media all the time is acceptable. Being addicted to making money is acceptable. Being addicted to work is acceptable. And please let’s not talk about corporate culture of maintaining work-life balance. It’s all lip service to act as a great corporate. Tell me which organisation would not want its employees to think about work 24X7?!

So why are most of the addictions socially acceptable? Why do we not even think they are addictions? Boils down to larger social norms and conducts of living in a society or being part of a larger world. Individualism and doing something for One’s own pleasure goes against the norms of being part of the society. Individualism vs collectivism. “How dare you be so selfish and have no consideration for people around you?!!”

Being individualistic is not good. Doing something for your own pleasure is not good. Free will, while it is talked about as a good thing, is not to be encouraged. We may strongly deny it, this world is very much Orwellian. Perhaps not as draconian or explicit but it still is. Under the garb of “it is for your own good”, we expect everyone to conform. Those who don’t, are constantly pushed into a corner or an invisible space. The best example perhaps is to be seen in pubs today. Either you smoke outside (you are an outsider) or you are on display in the small smoking room within the pub. It’s like being in a fishbowl.

These are symbols of a society. A society which says that if you don’t conform, you are an outcaste. Everyone will look at you with that derisive reproach in their eyes as you smoke.

This post is about my addiction to caffiene and nicotine. It is perhaps more about nicotine because like I said it is so visible. But it is also about questioning conformity. Cigarette is symbolic.

(Image courtesy http://www.insider.gr)

Times


Quoting yet again from a book by Stephen King. This time it is from Christine:

“…there are ” times” in human existence. That when it came to be “steam-engine time”, a dozen men invented steam engine. Maybe only one man got the patent, or the credit in the history books, but all at once there they were, all those people working on that one idea. How do you explain it? Just that it’s steam engine time.

Comes the Civil War and all at once it’s ” ironclad time”. Then it’s “machine-gun time”. Next thing you know it’s ” electricity time” and “wireless time” and finally it’s “atom bomb time”. As if those ideas come not from individuals but from some great wave of intelligence that always keeps flowing… Some wave of intelligence that is outside of humanity”.

Interesting concept right? Through the ages we have had these waves of discovery and inventions that have propelled humanity forward (or hurtled downhill).

There was a dotcom wave where everyone wanted a website that will help people do something and then there was a bust wave too. Just like it is for startups now. Everyone wants one. A 100 others want to be part of every startup that comes into existence. Of course the Malthusian theory of population is at work in corporate world too and hence we see more companies going under than stay afloat.

Not just discovery and inventions, it is also true for people, politics and religion.

Political parties stay in power or ousted depending on the wave. It is not so much the anti incumbency factor but the dying of the wave. Look at our own country. BJP rode to power on a new wave. Congress lost because their time had ebbed. Would Obama had won if he could have gone for third term? Probably not. It is time for Trump. Just the way it was time for Obama. Same goes for religion globally. Won’t discuss that. Its for everyone to see. Not to forget what happened in Germany with Hitler.

Look at history. Dynasties came into existence and then died. Why did that happen? It was their time and then it wasn’t.

Our lives too are driven by these “times”. There is never a stable continuous path to our lives. There is no constant upward movement. Or downward movement. It ebbs and flows. However, we all hope that every downward spiral when it ends, settles higher than the previous low. (Just like market shares which always settle a little higher after every sales promotion). Yes we all want that there is no downward spiral. But it is not in our hands. Time drives everything. Just the way it is said in the song by The Byrd’s… “Turn turn turn…”, there is a time for everything.

Look back at your life. Look back at history. Look back at technology. Look around what’s happening. It is time at play. We are being either buffeted by the waves or floating on serene waters. Now if only we understood this concept, will we not be less disappointed, less stressed and less distressed when it is not our time? Will we not make the most of it when it is our time?

The world around us of course doesn’t give us the luxury to think things through. We are at it constantly. We fight even harder when the times are tough (to not fight is to let the world tell us we have failed). But the fact is, we can’t fight time. I am not saying we lay low and do nothing. But it is about not creating points of resistance for time. Because sooner or later, our upward journey will begin again.

Holds true for humans and holds true for corporates. Cut, slash, burn will not help you grow. It will only make things worse. But stick around, ride out the storm, look closely for trends that you as a person or organization can use to start the next wave. We all can’t be Columbus or Einstein. We all can’t be leaders and innovators. But we surely can develop a sense for the trends. Sense for what trend will fit right in with our capabilities. Oh and before we jump on to the next trend, we must ensure that it is not just a quick passing phase that will be over sooner than you utter the word trend. Quick is always disastrous in the longer run. For individuals as well as corporates.

The key is to understand where we are on the time continuum and gear ourselves accordingly. During an impending natural calamity, we do not break down things, we shore up, we strengthen so why do we do otherwise with our lives.