Monday, January 31, 2011

Tips for budding talent

Recently, I was aksed to write something from my personal experience for the young entering worklife. I thought of 6 points as below.
1.       Life is a mix of pressures and pleasures. With responsibility, come turning points in life as we respond to demands others have of us, so many of them without precedent. In early stages of career, explore as much variety as your responsibility will provide. In early stages of career, especially the first 3-5 years, skill acquisition and competence building takes prominence. Much later, towards the latter half of the decade your Purpose in life and sense of Specialization seem to converge better.  A worldly knowing from the depth of concrete experience and a sense of adventure in accomplishing significant contribution takes time. It does not arrive pre-arranged. It is in the ways of the world, that youth are expected to take on more than the rest can!
2.       Soak yourself in what you get to do. Immersive experiences are what gives you advantage in relating to the world around you. Like a child learns, absorb early tasks and make your mark in attitude. While that helps signal confidence in your team and superiors in the short-term; long-term benefits may seem removed in those moments. Later in life, interdisciplinary approaches to complex problems spring from vivid recall of such immersion. In short, value everything, discount nothing when it comes to experience you are offered at your doorstep in early career!
3.       Seek out learning that others go through. Seek association with multiple generations of people, and watch your perspectives evolve. Keep a mix of online virtual networks, and real-time face to face social interactions on your schedule. Develop a set of questions that get others to share from their experience. Acknowledge learning from others so that they reciprocate their own. Blog or note such without compromising the dignity of people who share their learning with you. Recognize that human beings act in their own interest, and that even in the most stressful times, they have a positive intent beneath their behaviors. Uncover that intent with questions to know more about what makes people who they are. Strike rapport with them that makes them respond without fear of being judged or evaluated. Without pretence or resentment, consider yourself enough to deal with others and get through life, even if you may not get what you want early on in life.
4.       Respond to requests for help and seek help when required. Let yourself be seen for your vulnerable areas too. Let not knowing prevent you from knowing what you may not have known before. A supple mind is a mark of resilience. When you are perceived as an ‘open’ person, it adds to your credibility. As social beings, we become more accessible and grow through learning when we spend time listening to the needs of others. You will find yourself sensing subtle signs in others that respond to your offer for time, perspective and assistance. Enjoy contributing when you are seen for who you are. However, watch yourself from being overbearing or prescriptive. They say a customer sold against his will – will be of the same opinion still!
5.       Learn one more language in your twenties than you already know. A global world requires that you comprehend the fluid mix of meaning, culture and philosophy.  Maybe Russian, Mandarin, Swahili or Afrikaans emerge as languages that give you a complementary edge in employability and worldly understanding. Maybe, Tamil, Bengali or Telugu are languages you can learn more easily. Explore the one language you will learn through various dimensions – dialects, poetry, film, literature, theater and news channels. The real benefit comes in alternate worldviews to your own. At the very least we broaden our minds and become tolerant of the world and human beings around us. 
6.       If you’ve not thought of a Career in a Profession, it may not be a spot of bother for many in this information intensive world. However, if you have not thought of a Purpose for your life, it is time to start thinking about it . Responsibility comes with a job, a role or a calling. Purpose sets you up for life in meaningful ways. It lets you know what your career is meant for. Purpose is about who you become in life, and what is the calling within that will most satisfy you. It is what you bring to your situation from your learning. Purpose is closely linked to your identity, and reflects your innermost values and the image in which others respond most to you. It is a period of restlessness that yields in an awakening at times, when your Purpose becomes clearer to you. Genuinely explore uncomfortable questions that relate to your purpose in life. None will own up to such answers but yourself. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Resets are Perceptual Wonders

This post has taken time in my mind for a complexity that spans a time-scale, if you will. It spans my childhood, adolescence, youth and middle-age. And then it relates to another’s too. That another is Dr. Zafar Iqbal, a most liked teacher of Marketing on the DePaul campus in Chicago. ( ). An interaction in December 2010 in Pune, India prompts such a post. We were both reminiscing the times since we schooled and went into our tribulations of the rat race. I was the more determined of the two, stepping out of the conformist ‘engineer’ or ‘doctor’ moulds parents of our generations desired we become. I took to the Humanities – Sociology, Political Science and Settlement Geography and Geo-Politics being my favorite subjects. Also remember how the University of Pune granted me 106 on 100 for a paper in Logic and Epistemology! Zafar took to a regular ‘engineering’ course, only to realize mid-stream that he had to resolve what Karl Albrecht may today describe as the Popeye Point. ( “A "Popeye experience" is a sudden decision to break out of a troublesome life situation and start doing what's best for you. It usually involves some period of continuing dissatisfaction, and a feeling of being stuck and unable to muster up the determination to make the change.”

“The BPO ship is sailing fast…so fast that it is not worth the hassle for foreign companies to come to India . And real innovation in India has yet to happen…” said Zafar who visits India every 6 months over the last few years. Pride and anger are the two strongest perceptions he experiences with the variety of people he meets in India as part of his teacher role. Pride in the way certain things are progressing in India - airports, road-dividers, foot-paths, coffee-chains; frustration over the scams and corruption all over India. “Economic agenda, Rural agenda, Secular visions– potent for the long-term and mediators of economic progress”, he says – “I feel a sense of confidence, a sense of can-do that has never happened in independent India”. I said “A sociological trend is happening too – you’ve come from Chicago, yesterday a junior from school dropped in from Singapore, my TISS batch-mate dropped in from new Jersey. What went right that we do this today?” “It is the social network need” he says. That prompted me to recall “Well, let me tell you of a family that came up to dine in a restaurant in Goa the other day. Seeing me and my son Allan dine in a corner, they ask – have you dined here before?” …a little later “Are you from Sri Lanka?” I ask, sensing such an accent as I may've heard on the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) in childhood. “No, we’re from South Africa”, said the family who wanted to visit Puttuparthi, a place for spiritual solace, not too far from Bangalore. That to me was another genre of migrants, making the long trip after generations of settlement in South Africa.  

Reminded me of another migrant scholar, Sheena Iyengar, a name that surprisingly was not known to Zafar.  ( So why do we make the choices we do? Huh? Resets – we experience them differently at our personal levels than the large scale at which Richard Florida experiences them as a phenomenon of rising from economic depressions ( ).  Looking toward the future, Florida identifies the patterns that will drive the next Great Reset and simultaneously reshape virtually every aspect of our lives—from how and where we live to how we work to how we invest in individuals and infrastructure, and how we shape our cities and regions. Florida shows how these core elements, when taken together, will spur a fresh era of growth and prosperity, define a new geography of progress, and stimulate surprising opportunities for each of us. These forces include:
  • new consumption patterns and new assumptions about “ownership” that are less centered around houses and cars,
  • new forms of infrastructure that speed the movement of people, goods and ideas
  • a radically altered and much denser economic landscape organized around megaregions that will drive the development of new industries, jobs and a whole new way of life.
We’ve weathered tough times before. They are a necessary part of economic cycles, giving us a chance to see clearly what’s working and what’s not. Societies can be reborn in such crises, emerging fresh, strong and refocused. Now is our chance to anticipate what that brighter future will look like, and take the steps that will get us there faster.

In all of this we figured, the normal citizen in India gives up his or her identity for the sake of keeping up with others’ expectations. One sixth of humanity that are in India alone could inflict such lasting impacts on their progeny, that sure sources of originality and contribution are probably kept suppressed. Another classmate whom I visited asked my son just two days before I met Zafar “Why don’t you take up sports? Next time I see you I want you to take up some sport, like your father and me. I still take my son for a run”…Then he says ”We’re going to give all exams for medical college entrance next year 2011. We’ll be busy with that”… "Excuse me, did you say we?” “Yes, we (father and son) prepare together”. And I saw his teen-aged son and defensive mother squirm as if waiting on me to pounce on the overbearing father. “In my profession” I told Zafar, “I tend to come to terms with such after-effects, of suppressed ‘wills’ and lack of ‘inspiration' as if stuck on the road to life at the workplace”. Zafar reciprocated with recent learning from many others that went like this - “When I was twenty years old I always worried of what other people thought about me. Now that I am forty, I don’t give a damn of what others think of me, and like I heard from a sixty year old ‘Others don’t even care about me”. That is when you realize others were not thinking of you all along!” Some perceptive angle this one!

So what happens to the student generations of today who’re exposed to the media that precipitates the effects of the scams and the exposes? “They’re going to spill out from such repression and take on the world... If you’re engaged, you can’t fear it. If you fear it, you had it…” We agreed too that there’s a whole range of migrants from rural India taking to urban retail and mall jobs oozing with optimism about their own abilities. They’re not exposed to the trials and sacrifice of their earlier generations and their reality is startlingly different. Perception again!

I reflected “What happens to the entrepreneurial generations today is the challenge of job creation, business modeling, identifying future leadership talent and sustainable economic development”. Zafar responded “A tripod of forces is at play. One is supply-side infrastructure that spurs local demand like in China. Then there’s Japan and Korea that are export led manufacturing models. India’s recent spurt has been Information Technology led. Its real problem is the rural 700 million, where the current 200 million have to scale their contributions to. That is the tipping point. Rural credit got to be managed well.”

And what about USA? Zafar seemed to touch a passionate theme “Never underestimate USA. They’ve always reinvented themselves. India is only learning to do so. American children think more globally today than they ever did. Indian children need to do so soon..”. And so it went until I seemed to come to a Popeye point most companies face in India. “How do companies plan for the long-term?” Zafar quickly summarized what his wise students surmise when they visit India “Indian success is premised on short-term deal-making. They’re not thinking beyond 2-3 years. If you notice, everyone wants to exploit you as if tomorrow would never come. The porter, the shop-keeper, the real-estate agent..." Maturation on that front is a question mark today. “The concern is that even sustainability is not more than a few measures on environment friendliness. Sustainability of corporations themselves is eclipsed by short-termism?”

I recall mentioning that none of us imagined the India we live in today, when we were in school! Conscious leadership is probably the reset awaiting us into the future. Institutions that reflect second and third-order learning will have the edge. Or so we thought 25 years after schooling from Pune.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What are those Helping Hands? All Heart and No Head?

Recently a colleague asked me to differentiate something she thought was essential to her understanding of how employees may be assisted. She wished to know how we could distinguish between a coach, a counselor and a mentor. I mentioned "You have challenged a lot in our identities." That need for clarity is the happier part of the anxiety. From that comes a knowing that is of experiential growth. Here’s my take as below….First  - a backdrop from a Coach position perspective to frame the rest…

Coaching : A coach is a facilitator of development whose specific act is to facilitate conversations aimed at stimulating a coachee’s thinking about transformation. A coach does so by qualifying the demand of his/her client by distinguishing motives of self-reliant personal growth, external dependency and mere curiosity.  The coach thus begins with rapport building and closes each conversation with support and appreciation for the coachee’s commitment to the process of reaching identified development goals.
If the client demand for facilitation is based on needs of self-reliance, the coach proceeds to establish a contractual process which can trigger the client’s self-renewal. This is through the coach's powerful questioning aimed at the client’s thinking and corresponding actions on self-development. In doing so, the coach addresses old attitudes by disrupting problem frames, affects ways of thinking by holding up effective beliefs and develops an outcome-frame with the client that instills relevant method to the act of choosing directions in development.
Essentially therefore coaching is a series of conversations over time, that make a transformative difference to the mind-body-emotive system in terms a range of choices that are generated in the inner dialogue that the coachee engages within himself/herself.
How is the coach approach to working with people different from:
a.    Training?
Training is generally job or role specific. It is skill focussed and information intensive; whereas coaching is more generic across life-situations and personal growth oriented that spurs development for relatively future focused responses. Therefore, coaching is a position of relative detachment from the coachee’s problems; as the process is for the coachee to develop a solution using his/her own resources. The Trainer by contrast ‘tells’ the client how he/she may develop the solution. A coach asks pertinent questions for the coachee to think in terms of effective Solutioning.
 b.    Consulting?
Consultation is relatively problem centered in that the client offers the ‘consultant’ a scenario of dependency where a ‘problem’ forms the basis of the relationship. Coaching by contrast is a ‘solution’ focussed relationship, where the client can expect to develop the solution using the coach’s process expertise in thinking systemically around outcome frames. While the ‘consultant’ is viewed as an ‘expert’ on the problem, the coach is regarded as a ‘process’ support who can be the person who asks the questions that guide the development of the solution.
c.    Counselling?
Counseling is a relationship that is centered on the client’s problem, and requires the counselor to be close and proximate to the client in emotional frames. Therapeutic effectiveness notwithstanding, there is an overwhelming sensation of client detail, that is likely to prevent the helper from seeing the bigger picture beyond the problem. Coaching on the other hand is assistance at a distance that is solution-oriented in outcome and detached from the sensory engulfment that the therapist counselor will entertain. Coaching therefore is likely to be more generative about future possibilities than counseling. Counseling when effectively done is likely to assume completion of business with the past problem, without necessarily developing outcome frames for effective actions for the client's future.
The search for patterns in the client’s thinking with non-judgment awareness describes a critical factor that distinguishes coaching from counseling or therapy. The coach requires different ego strength from that of a counselor to engage in the coaching relationship.
How is coaching distinct from:
d.    Mentorship?
Mentorship is more often a role related skill oriented support that the mentor provides from core experience in the target role; whereas Coaching is a more person specific value-laden and identity focused self-development; that often views skill acquisition as incidental to and not instrumental to one’s core development. While both Mentoring and Coaching are solution oriented, the position of the Mentor is in a “tell’ mode, distinct from the ‘ask’ mode that the coach will assume.
e.    Friendship?
A friend is prone to offering advice, which a coach will not. Advice defeats the self-reliance principle of the coaching process. The coach aims at getting the client to draw on his/her own inner resources. Friendship could derail the coaching process through unconscious and unintentional co-dependency wherein parties to the friendship would find it difficult to ask confrontational questions that challenge each other to development. Such interpersonal dynamics in friendship seek to ‘preserve’ the comfortable aspects of the relationship, and thus views conflict as a risk not worth taking. A coach knows in contrast aspects of rapport and challenge that engages the client to the solution.