What Nobody Told You About Becoming a Manager/Leader

Of the many millennial clients I coach, at least 80% of them aspire for managerial positions after completing 6 to 7 years of work experience. While it is definitely an exciting and exhilarating experience with opportunities to grow and learn, it is not without its challenging and stressful moments. There would be situations that would frustrate you so much so that you miss your glorious and carefree days of being an individual contributor! Managers by their role definition, represent their team before their management and vice versa. Being the mediator is never easy, and managerial positions are by far the most stressful roles one can take on in a corporate setup.

As a first-time manager, I was aware of what I assumed were my expected roles and responsibilities. The first three years were a revelation. There were so many aspects and challenges that nobody told me about. There were days I used to dread Mondays and then there were days I felt like going back to an individual contributor role!

Here are some truths I have attempted to list down, with a few tips on how to deal with these challenges. Some are based on personal experience while others are based on experiences shared by other managers/leaders during our coaching and other discussions.

Fact #1: You are constantly being judged

Like a laboratory specimen, you are constantly under scrutiny. While there are a few who would encourage you, the sad reality is there are many who would love to see you fail. Being a first-time manager, you are likely to make mistakes. These mistakes would be blown out of proportion or used against you.

The one way you could ensure you have more support from your team and your supervisor is to constantly communicate and share your decisions. Admit your mistakes, however do not feel shy about expressing your accomplishments no matter how small they may appear to you. Provide regular updates and most of all – make sure you are highly visible and build a strong rapport with your team, your peers, and your supervisor.

Fact #2: You cannot take people at face value

Our corporate system still follows the age-old hierarchical process where the manager’s verdict holds more than 70% weightage in the employee’s performance rating. Naturally you will fall prey to office politics. The introverts and the shy ones might fall behind while the louder ones will be more successful in attempting to influence you. Some would flatter you while others would pretend to be on their best behaviour when you are around. Being new, you might want to implement new ideas. You may find many Yes-men (or women) agreeing with you. The flipside is, the others who see you succumb to the manipulation would feel disillusioned and become easily influenced by your detractors.

You will have to find a way to have objective yet personalized one-to-one interactions with everyone reporting to you. You will eventually be able to see an emerging political pattern. While it would be tempting to rely on those who seem to be your ardent supporters, it is important that you also focus on those who appear withdrawn during meetings and discussions. If it isn’t already implemented in your organization, you might want to consult your HR department on whether you could conduct an anonymous feedback survey within your team to help them voice their concerns or observations about you. It is never easy hearing negative things about oneself, but you have to bite the bullet if you want your team fully supporting you.

Fact #3: You have to put up with whiners and naysayers

This is perhaps the most unpleasant aspect of being a leader, at least for me. Most of us, (including myself), personally enjoy having team members who bring up counter-arguments to ideas on the table. Healthy opposition and debates, besides building trust within the team, also help in implementing a plan that has everyone’s consensus. It is the whiners and constant complainers who weigh you down with their negativity. A whiner is someone who always has someone to blame for his or her own mistake. Then there are those who resent a new boss and resist any changes proposed. They may not complain, but behave in a passive-aggressive manner that clearly shows their obvious disapproval. Perhaps what is frustrating about them is not the fact that they object to your ideas or suggestions, but that they seem to take everything personally.

You might want to get to know such people and show your willingness to listen to their ideas. Lending an empathetic ear helps – especially for those who might be affected by the changes you implement. However if you find this person constantly against you at every turn, it might help having a heart-to-heart talk with the individual letting him or her know how you need his or her support. You might want to let the person vent their views and listen with an open mind. At the best you might be able to turn around the situation. At the worst, you may have to assertively let them know you are the boss and that much as you appreciate their skills and contribution, you will not put up with negativity. In any case, it is important to keep track of any insubordination and make sure you communicate any warnings to this employee in writing.

Fact #4: You are the bearer of all bad news

Once a manager, you represent the executive leadership and the organization in every way. Be it a performance appraisal review feedback, the sunset of an old technology, organizational changes, or impending layoffs or salary-cuts, you have to be the one communicating unpalatable news in a diplomatic manner. Of course the most difficult job of all is letting people go if the business situation so demands. It would take immense amount of patience, tact, sensitivity, and most of all, compassion in communicating to the people affected by the decision.

Under no circumstances should you ever communicate bad news via email. Always get everyone together and maintain eye contact when you communicate bad news. After the group meeting, set up individual face-to-face meetings to demonstrate your willingness to listen. Your team will never forget the way you handled crisis situations, and you will win their support based on how well you faced the crisis and stood up to your people.

As for performance appraisals, I personally believe in monthly reviews. This ensures that your team is provided goals and a performance update on a regular basis. Also, you get to know how your team responds to your leadership.

Fact #5: You are lonely

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Lonely is the employee who wears the leadership mantle. Wearing a mask of control and poise at all times can be quite burdensome. You can never get too pally with a team member. Even a harmless lunch with your supervisor or team member could be perceived as political by others. It is even tougher when you get promoted to a managerial position from within the same team. At least in India, it is difficult for people to separate the role from the individual. You can never be too close to people who report into you. You have to maintain a professional balance in your relationship.

It helps tremendously having a leadership mentor or coach on board, who acts as a sounding board for leaders and enables them to confidently deal with challenging situations and behaviours by coaching them on a regular basis. As a manager, you could also form a forum with other similar first-time managers where you could meet together on a monthly basis to discuss and share common areas of concern.

The Importance of Having a Coach on Board

I can never stress enough on the importance of having a mentor or coach who can be the “go to” person for all managers. Having a robust leadership development vision is not enough. It is absolutely critical for growing organizations today to implement a leadership development framework that not only develops and nurtures budding leaders, but also provides them with need-based and timely support to help them learn from the challenges that arise. Today’s leaders also need to be change agents who influence and facilitate major transitions and transformations within the organization by effectively dealing with day-to-day tactical challenges, similar to those listed above. This can be a very tough role to play. Having an experienced leadership mentor and coach on board is no longer a desirable option. It is a vital requirement for today’s organizations if they want to sustain and grow their high potential leadership talent.

Why We Need Moms to Build Our Leadership Pipeline

In my article The Road not Taken: Becoming a Full-time Mum Made Me a Better Leader, I shared my challenges as a working mother with young children. While in one article, I talked about how women can empower themselves to be considered on equal terms with men, in another I discussed the ways in which we could make our workplace more women-friendly.

In this article I would like to address a significant chunk of leadership talent that remains sadly neglected, untapped, and worse, gets rejected for corporate roles. I am talking about stay-at-home mothers who seek a corporate career during the prime of their lives.

No Takers for Moms

In several parts of the world, especially India, the responsibility of managing a home and taking care of children, falls primarily on the woman’s shoulders. Much as she would love to take up a job, she is constrained for various reasons ranging from taking care of growing children, providing care to the elderly, or relocating and adapting to newer environments. The latter is true for women whose spouses are free to seek opportunities in other cities. By the time the children are old enough, these women are in their late thirties or early forties. Age discrimination being a huge factor, at least in India, these women get criminally side-lined.

One of my friends was unfortunately widowed after 15 years of marriage. She was a fulltime home-maker and mother, and had no option but to seek a fulltime job to secure the future of her two children. She has been unsuccessful in getting permanent employment in the company where she works as a contract staff, despite being far more productive and grossly underpaid than her permanently employed peers. Her stint as a home-maker and mother has been completely disregarded, and she is being paid lower than a fresher. Moreover, she is unsure of who to approach within the organization for long-term opportunities. My friend is just one example. There are millions of women in India who are educated, enterprising, and smart, but motherhood seems to be a huge setback for them.

Mothers are Leaders

Be it the Big 5 or Strengths Finder or DISC, organizations already have an arsenal of leadership behavioural assessment tools at their disposal. Whichever way we look at it, women who have managed homes and families successfully, can easily score well on certain basic leadership competencies, which we struggle so hard to find these days.

Moms Understand the Big Picture

It is mistakenly assumed that mothers deal with routine stuff. On the contrary, mothers are expert strategists. They set long-term financial, well-being, and personal goals for the family. Besides, they are great at breaking down these goals into actions. Perhaps the most important thing they do is lend their unstinting support to every member of the family and help them achieve their goals. Mothers are also experts in keeping their ears to the ground. They are well informed about everything important that counts. Everyone knows that Mother Knows Best.

When I was a fulltime mother, one of my goals was to ensure my children took responsibility for their studies and future. I did not want to chase them or nag them about their homework. It was tough and took loads of patience and hours of listening, but eventually I am happy to say that my daughters not only excel in their academics, they are also well-read and tuned into larger causes that plague our world today.

Moms Always Find a Way

A child with an earache? Short strapped for funds? Car broke down on the freeway? A mother has to use her resources to find a solution. One of my friends talked about how she was leaving for the airport as she needed to attend this conference. Just as she was all dressed and about to leave, one of her kids threw up. He was sick and needed immediate attention. She couldn’t just leave him like that. She contacted her office and cancelled the flight. She then asked her associate to fill in the first two hours for her. She spent the next few minutes calming her child and tending to him. She then got her associate to connect her to the conference via Skype. She did a great pitch and they got the deal.
Mothers have to be enterprising problem-solvers, and make the most of every situation. No wonder we have so many successful women entrepreneurs.

Moms Are Emotionally Intelligent

In his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman says: “Self-awareness is the first component of emotional intelligence—which makes sense when one considers that the Delphic oracle gave the advice to “know thyself” thousands of years ago. Self-awareness means having a deep understanding of one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drives.”

A typical mother’s day is fraught with unexpected situations and crises. A child hurts himself and needs immediate attention, a demanding relative tests your patience, appliances conk off during the eleventh hour, the husband needs to leave for office in the next 10 minutes, and your older child needs to get ready for school.

As mothers, we constantly question our ability to serve others. We micro-analyze every situation and reflect on what could be the best way to deal with tough situations with peace and harmony. As a mother, there were days when I wanted to shout and throw a tantrum, but I had to practice deep breathing and ask myself, “What is the best way to deal with this?” Initially, there were those days when a good crying jag or screaming fit would do me in, but when I realized the adverse effects of these on my kids, I resorted to singing while cooking to help me burn off the negative energy. Mothers always find constructive and harmonious ways to tune off negativity as they are conscious about their actions and the consequences thereof.

Moms Know How to Deal with Difficult Behaviour

A hard-nosed boss, a demanding client, a difficult team-member have one thing in common. They have the advantage. We need their cooperation and need to find a way to deal with their challenging behaviour. Who better than a mother when it comes to dealing with conflict?

Whether it is adapting to a different family (most women in India live with their parents-in-law), getting a child to eat his vegetables, or dealing with conflicts, a mother faces it all constantly. Persuasive communication, negotiation, diplomacy, or assertive speaking – a mother needs to use all these skills on a daily basis.

Moms Stand Up For Their People

A father might seem all brawny and muscular but it is the mother’s steely determination and unconditional care and nurturing that truly makes a family strong and emotionally resilient. Today when we have employees leaving in large droves because of an unsupportive or uncaring supervisor, we need leaders who nurture their teams and stand up for them. Emotional support and emotional security is always assured with mothers at the helm. Mothers are also great fighters, especially when it comes to any crisis that looms ahead. Moreover, they stand calm and stable during the toughest of times.

Towards Opti-mum Leadership!

A growing number of small and mid-sized companies are investing efforts in building comeback careers for women. “Womentrepreneur” is in fact, a hot new buzzword making waves in the e-commerce scenario. Think Zivame, Infibeam, Limeroad, and Yatra. These are but a few examples of women who turned their ideas into money-spinners. Imagine having women like these in your organization as leaders.

I not only know that full-time mothers have the ability to take on technology roles, but also firmly believe they have the capability to become strong leaders. Most companies already have a talent management strategy in place to develop future leaders. Why not hire mothers and groom them as future leaders? It can be argued that women who have been out of touch as far as employment is concerned, will take a while to get their bearings in the wide wicked corporate world. However since they already possess the intrinsic leadership qualities thanks to their experience as fulltime mothers, they would just need a while to get acclimatized to the rules of the game. My sister-in-law started her own successful corporate recruitment business after 20 years of being a fulltime mother. She is a shining example of how women can make it big not despite being mothers, but because they are mothers.

Isn’t it ironic that we celebrate Mother’s Day with pride, but do little for mothers who seek an equal footing in the corporate world despite being immensely talented?

Are You Being Judged?

My friend shared an article on Facebook with me today that set me thinking on this topic. While the article talks about discrimination based on someone’s English speaking prowess in India, it addresses our intrinsic habit of being judgmental in many other areas.

When the Left tries to be Right

The left part of our brain that dominates logic and rational thinking, does so by separating and classifying information, memories, and our experiences. Which is why when we see a white-haired elderly woman, we immediately classify her as “safe” and “harmless”. This is because our left brain has associated her with a dear grandmother or an elderly aunt. On the other hand while walking through a fairly lonely street in the dark we chance upon a heavyset tall man with soiled clothes, we are careful to avoid him. Our left brain has tagged him as “dangerous”, no doubt thanks to the movies or stories that describe unsavoury characters! Our left brain is classifying and tagging facts for us so we could be safe.

Judging is a process of assessing and evaluating to understand whether something is good or bad for us. We are constantly judging when we eat, shop, dress up, work, or take care of others. Judging helps us take better decisions and make the right choices.

Are you “Judging” or “Being Judgmental”?

Several years ago, I used to work with a colleague. He was charming and friendly, and we got along fine at work. His boss was a good friend of mine, and one day my friend confided something about this colleague that changed my behaviour towards him. Apparently he was misusing expensive office resources for personal use. We all have our own little integrity radar, and mine beeped an alert hearing that. The next day when I saw him speak to a co-worker, I found him a tad patronizing. Slowly, I started putting a different spin on everything that he did, and I somehow realized that I disliked him. I stopped communicating with him unless it was absolutely necessary. I was polite of course, but he realized something was off. Eventually, he left the company and I forgot all about him.

When I evaluated his action of misusing office resources as improper, I was judging him. However when I changed my behaviour towards him, I was being judgmental. It is true that his unethical behaviour was incorrect. However he had many other good qualities that I somehow overlooked, and had this warped perspective where he was concerned.

Today when I reflect about my past, I have been pretty judgmental towards several people in my life. It was not that I only judged their behaviour. I passed judgment on them as people, and concluded and justified my behaviour with them.

The blindside of being judgmental

What happens when we obscure our own view? We don’t get the complete picture. That is exactly what happens when we are judgemental in our behaviour. Thanks to my sanctimonious judgemental high horse, I lost some good employees and friends. I was annoyed with an employee for always being late for meetings and decided that she wasn’t good enough to be a team lead although she was good in her job and had great interpersonal skills. I’m ashamed to admit I thought less of a friend because his English vocabulary was less than average. I refused to regard his enthusiasm and never-say-die attitude. I didn’t think too highly of one of my neighbours when I saw her waking up more than an hour later than her kids and making them wait for their breakfast. However this neighbour in question was a very warm-hearted and kind person.

Being judgemental blinded me in more ways than one.

  • It made me lose my objectivity and prevented me from having a holistic perspective of people and situations.
  • It lowered my emotional intelligence and my capability to respond positively.
  • I presumed I knew it all and knew it better.
  • I categorized people, generalized them, and in effect discriminated against them.

Perhaps the most insidious but lethal aspect of judgemental behaviour is the build-up of resentment and a completely distorted and negative persona we create of the other person. Ironically, the one who was negative and distorted was me!

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall!

When did I realize the source of distortion? Coaching was the mirror that showed me how warped my view was. In 2013, I decided to become a Life Coach as I wanted to do something meaningful with my life. At that point in my life I was recovering from an onslaught of negative emotions, poor health, and a depleted self-worth. The methodology I learnt was Power Coaching with Mind Kinetics (PCMK™) by CLI.

As the training progressed, I got an opportunity to practise the techniques on myself and others. I also got a chance to be coached. Being coached was huge tidal wave of self-discovery for me. As PCMK™ coaching is all about answering left-brained and right-brained questions pertaining to the goal or challenge in question, I realized that the root of over 90% of my problems was – you guessed it right – being judgmental!

During my training, I learnt about universal truths in the form of Universal Laws. There was one law that hit the nail on the head.

The Mirror Law (Like Begets Like): What you see in others, is a reflection of what you see in yourself. “When we point fingers, we have three others pointing back at us.”

I realized that just as I was being judgmental towards others, I was being judgmental with myself too. And if I could be judgmental, so could others be towards me!

As we pass judgment on others, at a subconscious level we start being judgmental with ourselves. Over a period the cross gets too heavy to bear and we are left with a highly eroded sense of confidence and self-worth.

Discernment clears the fog

Judgment and Discernment are two sides of the same coin. Discernment is what we practice when we make a wise decision by honestly weighing all possible facts.

How do we practise discernment? Ever since the time I have had success in improving my life over the past couple of years, I have been consciously working towards practising better discernment.

  • Separate the individual from the behaviour. Don’t personify a negative trait. That way we focus ourselves to consciously respect the individual, at the same time deal with the negative trait in the best possible way.
  • If you are a coach, it helps to coach yourself in the form of self-coaching. If you aren’t a coach, you could consult one. Since coaching by design is all about answering questions constructively and objectively, your coach would be able to help you look at the entire issue in a way that helps you find a solution.
  • Maintain a journal where you make daily notes of any unconstructive behaviour on your part. If you find yourself being judgmental about someone, or yourself, write down “How” you would be able to release that judgment constructively.
  • We are all part of a bigger scheme of things whether we like it or not. I believe we have answers within ourselves if we only look for it. For me, deep reflection or meditation in a quiet place has helped me become more compassionate and empathetic with people.

Release judgement, Unleash positivity

Judgmental behaviour lies at the root of so many problems we face today right from gender and ethnic imbalance, racial discrimination, toxic politics, breeding discontentment and employee disengagement, to stress. The “Us versus Them” mentality that is counterproductive and debilitating us today, is primarily because we pass judgement on people instead of respecting differences. Negative thoughts and negative behaviour create a build-up of toxic stress that further leads to ailments for which the causes seem unknown.

Releasing judgement is not only rejuvenating, it is also critical to our sense of wellbeing. There is nothing to stop us from sprinting lightfootedly towards our goals if we could just let go of this dead weight that is judgement.

Empowering and Engaging Mid-Level Leaders

A few weeks back, I met my friend (who is also a coach) for lunch where we exchanged our coaching experiences. Our topic gradually moved towards increasingly unhappy and discontent employees who also happened to be managers. These weren’t your eager and new managers, or those at the executive level, but the ones caught in the middle. At least over 70% of these managers in question were those who grew up the ranks through their commitment and high performance in their companies. Incidentally, they also happened to be those “loyal” employees who gave some of their best years and (tenure) to their companies. Here are some of the common challenges these middle managers shared during our coaching sessions. (Of course we never share our clients’ information, but only share common observations and statistics.)

“I’m caught in a rut and don’t find my job exciting anymore.”

“I’m the King of Approvals. After being a technical innovator for 10 years, all that I do is check and approve documents.”

“I’m a referee arbitrating petty disputes and conflicts within the team because our communication system sucks.”

“I attend boring meetings where everyone talks but no one decides.”

“I have no power to execute big ideas or make high impactful decisions. I was happier at the trenches. At least I could add value.”

“Change management? I’m the checklist queen! All that I do is follow up, follow up, and more follow up!”

“I am the bearer of bad news. I hate appraisal time!”

“Our top management is busy attending conferences and leadership summits, and has no time for us. Heck! They don’t even share with us what they discussed in those meetings!”

“Help! I’m trapped in a toxic shark infested sea where politics rules!”

We also observed that a majority of these concerns were voiced by people working for large companies with handsome salaries.

The hazy level

According to a recent survey conducted by Forbes, middle managers typically constitute 5% of the unhappy/disengaged workforce population. Now why should we even bother about a paltry 5%? That is because these are the people who manage bulk of the remaining workforce that comprises junior level managers and front-line team players, most of who interact directly with our customers.

If we look at this whole situation logically, a company’s top line is maintained through its marketing and revenue. While the top management drives these strategically and externally, the frontline management executes the day-to-day sales and services operations at an internal tactical level. Both these roles being very clear and well-defined, the middle management layer remains one of the haziest and fuzziest. A case in example is the key performance indicators (KPI) for top and front-line management performance. They are clear-cut and visible. What about the middle management? What are they clearly accountable for?

When we throw in the global and matrix organizational structure into this mix, the middle management is cornered between a rock and a hard place in a no-man(ager)’s land!

A middle manager’s role is pretty indirect. Not only does a middle manager report to another manager, they also have managers reporting to them. While a frontline manager has a mix of inexperienced and fairly experienced team members, and goes through a myriad of basic leadership training programs, a middle manager already has a seasoned bunch of leaders reporting into him or her. Unlike a frontline manager who has her calendar packed to the full with meetings, reviews, and reports, most middle managers barely have a concrete agenda (unless they have newbie managers who need their hand held through their initial startup period.) This is truly the dilemma of the middle manager as nicely articulated in this article.

Breeding ground for discontentment

If enthusiasm is contagious, discontentment is an epidemic! Imagine middle managers coming to work day in and day out in this state of mind. Their enthusiasm diminishes, their energy levels deplete, and over a period of time, there’s a toxic buildup of negativity that eventually gets transmitted by them (knowingly or unknowingly) to their subordinates, teams, and colleagues. What’s one of the biggest reasons for employee disengagement? Bad bosses. So now you know.

The real role of a Mid-level Leader

Perhaps the biggest bone of contention for a middle manager in most organizations is that they barely get a leadership role. After spending a minimum of 10 to 15 years of their career, all that they seem to be doing is giving approvals, attending meetings, signing forms, following up on top management mandates, mediating in discussions, moderating compensation proposals amongst others. All of these are mere tasks with little scope for leadership. So what are we missing here?

The middle layer actually acts as a channel between the strategic and tactical levels of the organization. Where the top level defines the strategy and high level objectives, the middle layer has to make it happen through the lower layers in the form of concrete goals and action plans. A mid-level leader is actually 4 roles of leadership all played by one person.

  • Change Management Champion—For companies to grow in size and adapt to the external market dynamics, they need to constantly keep evolving, creating, and changing. Here’s where mid-level leaders can take ownership by demystifying the HOWs of the change, and converting them into tangible sets of WHENs by working closely with their frontline leadership. As champions of change they would also need to kick-start and mobilize new projects and processes and see them through completion across the span of different teams under their supervision.
  • Collaboration and Cross-functional Facilitator—Matrix structures are a necessity in today’s complex multicultural work environments. Mid-level managers can help break interdepartmental silos by making cross-functional teams work together, besides keeping a bird’s eye view on the larger scheme of things. As collaborators, they also need to ensure their teams are not encumbered by red tape and naysayers.
  • Culture Evangelist—A frontline leader’s role by definition is all about keeping a close eye on the money and operations side of things. However a mid-level leader can focus on people through skip-level meetings, monthly group meetings to recognize good workers and share the bigger picture, besides planning activities to promote a better work environment. A mid-level leader could also address his group during crisis proactively to bolster their spirits and offer them encouragement.
  • Coach and Mentor—Another huge reason for employee dissatisfaction is lack of visible growth opportunities in the horizon. Succession planning is one of the key responsibilities of a mid-level leader. In fact I believe it should be the responsibility (and KPI) of every manager in a company to identify their high potential staff and build a succession plan in collaboration with HR. Mid-level managers would be the best kind of coaches and mentors to make that happen.

Strengthening the Middle

While top management is the head (and brains) of the organization and frontline level the limbs, the middle level leadership is the heart and core. If an organization wants to gear itself up to meet the market demands of customer service, technology, and innovation, they would need to empower their mid-level leaders with necessary resources, and motivate them to fulfil all four roles effectively. If mid-level leaders are expected to plan their succession, then it is top management’s responsibility to do the same and coach and mentor their mid-level staff. Ultimately, the heart and core need to be strengthened and nourished for the limbs and brain to survive!

Big Idea 2015: Coaching – the key to change and innovation

Peter Drucker once said, “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” I would like to add that, “If you want new ideas, you need to stop old practices.”

Our personal and work lives and habits are cluttered with mindless activities and rote practices. When was the last time we ignored the chime of our incoming emails or notifications? Here you are, trying to think of a new marketing plan, and “ping!” goes your smartphone! Rather than ignoring, you pick up your phone to check what it’s all about. You get sucked into yet another never-ending quagmire of responses and actions triggered by that communication. When you get back to the marketing plan, you are back to square one, struggling hard to get started. We run our lives exactly like that in the autopilot mode, dancing and reacting to external triggers and distractions. Over a period, we accumulate a whole pile of useless clutter into our brains and realize we have wasted a huge chunk of our times and lives without a second thought.

Organizational versus Organic change

While organizations struggle to introduce and implement change at a macro level, our old habits, thinking, practices, and judgement continue to remain the same at a micro subconscious level. While the organizational system wants new technologies and new processes to bring about the change, the organic system operates as a monotonic congregation of robotic actions and habits. The result? Acute discomfort leading to total rebellion against changing status quo.

Two of the top burning issues over the past few years include severe talent scarcity and lack of innovation. Could it be because we have stopped thinking too deeply and simply comply with everything around us? How do we attract the right people into our lives and our teams, and how do we attract great ideas?

2015 – A turning point

2015 would mark a significant milestone in corporate history. Baby boomers will be close to retirement, most leaders and mentors will be from Gen X, while the mainstream will be flooded with versatile, technology-savvy, and multi-talented Millennials. There will be a shift of power and roles between these generations. As the population of Millennial will be more than ever before, here’s where bulk of the talent would lie. What worked for Gen X may not work simply because the technological and economic landscape is different. The motivating factors for Millennials to stick around is different as Anne Fisher has explained in this article. It is exactly because of this reason that we need to bring about change at a fundamental in the way we think, work, and achieve results.

Why Coaching?

For successful change management, every individual part of the exercise has to consciously and willingly agree to change either their mindsets, habits, or behaviours.

For change to occur at a micro level, it is more important than ever before to dedicate exclusive time for the brain. Coaching is a unique process where an individual works with a coach to articulate, analyse, detail, and plan their future actions. The coach asks purely open ended questions and facilitates the entire process through activities and exercises to help the individual look at the situation objectively from all angles and perspectives. It is sort of an “out of body” experience where the individual is encouraged to look at problems and challenges without judgement or external influence. The individual arrives at his own ideas and solutions during this process. This makes decision-making a completely mindful exercise. As the individual gets regularly coached, she gets more insights and awareness into her behavior and becomes a willing participant in change.

Benefits of coaching for the organization

  • Promotes a culture for change—Imagine this process happening across the organization where every employee is encouraged to get coached. Rather than pushing changes down employees’ throats, coaching could be a way to get employees to embrace the change after considering all aspects and benefits. This change in mindset leads to an organizational culture that intelligently participates in the entire change process.
  • Builds synergy within all generations of workforce— As millennials take center stage in the next decade, they will need to extract the best out of the more experienced and seasoned Baby Boomer and Gen X workforce, who can be deployed as coaches and mentors.
  • Develops emotionally intelligent leadership—A large part of EQ comes out of self-awareness and mindfulness. Coaching helps leaders and managers to reflect and improve their behavior and actions by enabling them to become more empathetic people leaders and better decision-makers
  • Drives empowerment and active innovation—Innovation already exists within individuals as a tiny unexplored glimmer of an idea. This idea usually gets clouded and eclipsed by legacy processes, assumptions, and indecisiveness and as a result, dies a quick death. As coaching is all about exploring the mind and heart towards newer solutions and behaviours, it automatically helps employees manifest and expand their ideas, and gives them the courage to take first steps towards implementing new solutions. Latent skill transforms to active talent, leading to active innovation.
  • Increases employee engagement and loyalty—It is now known that employee engagement largely depends on an employee’s emotional connect with the company management, brand, and organization. Through coaching, employees not only work on their career progression, they also take responsibility for their overall well-being and self-development. Leaders and managers too demonstrate a willingness to participate in their employees’ overall development and career planning. Coaching at the executive level helps organizational leaders to think beyond quarterly business results, and outline a more holistic and people-oriented vision. Once coaching becomes an intrinsic part of the company culture, over a period of time, employees begin to see a better alignment between their individual goals and the organization’s vision, and feel more invested in the company.

If a company needs to change its strategy, it has to get buy-in from its employees and customers. Unfortunately getting stakeholders to participate in the change process is easier said than done. If questions and ideas are not encouraged at an individual level, any change management exercise becomes an expensive promotional campaign followed by a “my way or the high way” stance.
That said, developing a coaching culture is a fairly long-term strategy and involves whole-hearted commitment from the company’s top management. Merely training managers to become certified coaches is not enough. 2015 should hopefully see companies building, driving, and executing a concrete talent management strategy using coaching and mentoring as key drivers.

Be Heard and Overcome Gender Inequality

Becoming a successful professional is no mean feat. And if you are a woman, then it is all the more commendable considering the hoops you might have jumped through to get there! Being a woman in the corporate workplace is like walking a fine line. You have to strike the right balance. Underplaying your strengths may project you as being a pushover, while playing a tough nut might earn you the tag of being too aggressive. Notwithstanding our legendary capabilities in managing multiple roles and balancing expectations from multiple stakeholders from home and at work, climbing the career ladder can be quite stressful. No matter how often companies shout from the rooftops about diversity and inclusion, the gender balance is still tipped in favour of male leaders. While there are companies that appoint women in executive positions, the candidates are not necessarily the best examples for the role, thereby further increasing skepticism in men about women leaders. As a result, the truly capable women find it very tough proving their mettle.To be successful leaders, women have to battle and overcome many situations and behaviors.

Ditch that Superwoman apron!

As Sheryl Sandberg says in her book Lean In, “A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.” We are a long way off, especially in India. One of my friends once made a very perceptive observation about Indian women in the past 30 years. She said, “You know, it has taken 30 years for the Indian woman to get out of the kitchen and take her place at the boardroom. But in these 30 years, very few Indian men have gotten into the kitchen. They are still stuck in their stereotypical past!” I know of women colleagues in top positions who have to get back home in the evening to serve dinner. A significant number of working women in India return home around the same time as their spouses, only to have their spouses relax before the TV after a “long exhausting day”, while the women get busy with the kids or household chores or dinner. I’m one of the few fortunate women whose husband contributes more than his fair share of house work and considers me his equal. Ironically, some women I know (and men), judge me for that. In India, and I’m sure in many parts of our world, women are brought up to believe that if they don’t cook or do household chores, they are inept. Furthermore if they let their husbands do any of the house work, they are regarded as completely weak and incompetent. Running and managing a home needs team work. It is important for us to get it clear in our heads that we need our spouse and family to pitch in. And if you hate cooking, delegate it to someone who can do it better! Of course you will be judged. Too bad for the one who judges. I have previously written about how women can let go of behaviours that weigh them down in this article that was published in AVTAR I-WIN’s newletter The Future of Work.

Beware of underhand chauvinism

The Indian corporate workplace has many skeptics when it comes to women employees. Which is why it isn’t surprising that women in male-dominated teams are at times treated depreciatingly like delicate china dolls. “You don’t need to attend the meeting.” (What new ideas are you going to contribute?) “Don’t you have to rush home?” (It’s easy for you. You don’t have to stay up late.) “Why do you need the job?” (You have your husband or father for that. Don’t you have to take care of your home?) “I’ll take care of the project” (Don’t bother your pretty head.) It might seem shocking, but this is completely true in many teams. One of my bosses (at a very top level) advised me to hire male candidates as I could count on them to work beyond office hours. He didn’t realize he was insulting me. During our very next quarterly conference he talks about gender diversity. The point I’m trying to make is, we don’t live in an ideal world and the earlier we realize it, the better. You have to make it clear that although you need to be home on time, you are capable, and want to take on high visibility projects. And if a confrontation doesn’t seem palatable to you, take the chauvinism with a pinch of salt, but sweetly and firmly let your male colleagues know that you are tougher than you seem!

Ask assertively!

In my article Are you Visible, I had talked about practical ways to assert our ambition. We women have an ESP radar where we tend to understand unspoken requirements and find it very difficult articulating our needs. Shyness or downplaying your abilities won’t do. We need to speak up and stick our necks out! Some men will refuse to see it as assertiveness and consider it arrogance. It’s their problem. Women, when they do get promoted, the ones with a voice are considered a threat and are usually relegated to positions of lesser power or influence. It requires immense amount of courage and self-assurance for women to ask for what they want and doggedly pursue their goals. Glenn Llopis in his article, puts it beautifully.

Listen to your intuition

Like I mentioned, women are very perceptive and excellent decision makers. Traditional Indian families are a great example. While the patriarch appears to be the head of the house, the matriarch is actually the neck who decides which way the head turns! The woman communicates her views using her intuition so skillfully that the man feels it was his decision! Likewise at the workplace, many of your views may be considered emotional and lacking logic. I’m ashamed to say that I used to feel embarrassed about voicing my thoughts in a male-dominated circle at the fear of being ridiculed. Our left brain might take the logical decision, but it is strongly guided by the intuitive and emotional right brain. So if you feel something isn’t quite right, or that you have a point of view that is different, be bold and express it. You shouldn’t feel embarrassed about your gift of intuition.

Seek a balance

Yin and Yang. Left brain and right brain. Male and female. True success requires a balanced view of things. In our objective to achieve gender equality, we must not seek opportunities because we are women. We must seek success because we are capable. Gender equality or ethnic diversity is not feminism. It is all about exercising untapped prowess and thinking of ideas that have never been thought of before, in order to come up with limitless possibilities. Fortunately, times are definitely changing for the better. I see the millennial generation of men and women regarding each other in more equal terms. To see a true balance of power, we have to understand the strengths that both male and female employees bring to the table. We need to discard our stereotypical mindsets to magnify our combined power. I would like to end with these wonderful lines by Alanis Morissette: I don’t want to be your other half I believe that one and one make two

The Road not Taken: Becoming a Full-time Mum Made Me a Better Leader

(Published on LinkedIn on Nov 21, 2014)

After 13 years of a glorious career in Mumbai, when I moved to Pune with our two daughters to join my husband, little did I know what life had in store for me. Back in Mumbai, like most Indian women, I used to live with my in-laws who took care of my children. When I arrived in Pune, I was very excited at the prospect of setting up a home of our own. I had it all neatly planned. Find a home on rent, set it up, enroll our older daughter in a school, find a daycare for the younger one, and find a job.

I was fortunate to be able to check off all of these items from my list, and within six months, I got hired by a growing company as a Vice President. I was over the moon to say the least! I hired a domestic assistant to help me with my household and kitchen chores, and I was all set. My new job was very exciting. The company was getting ready for an acquisition, and they had plenty of international projects and processes that needed streamlining, and new managers who needed mentoring and direction. It was a role right up my alley, and I had tons of ideas whirring inside my head. As the clients were scattered around the globe, managing my time schedules was challenging to say the least, but I was raring to go out there and make a mark.

Everything went smoothly for a while, and then things suddenly changed. My older daughter found her new school very intimidating. She was finding it very difficult adjusting to the new study pattern, her teachers, and her new friends. Moreover she missed coming home to her grandparents (which I didn’t realize). All this resulted in her dwindling test scores. One day as I was addressing a meeting with my team, I felt a weight pressing down on my shoulders. It was Guilt rearing its ugly head, but I ignored it.

After a few weeks, I found myself watching my domestic help cooking vegetables in more oil than that was necessary. Since she had to wrap up the kitchen work before I left for work, she used to work at top speed and in the process, ended up wasting resources. More flour, more detergent, more oil. I could see the wastage, and my shoulders sagged a little more.

Having two little children is not without its own challenges, is what I slowly realized. They fall sick (especially when you have an important meeting), they need help with their homework, they need help with their art projects, they need proper nutrition and care. Mostly, they need someone to just listen.

One evening after I completed three months, I lost my temper at my younger daughter. She was barely three, and wanted to play with me. Of late, I was finding it difficult dealing with her tantrums, without realizing that she needed me to spend time with her when I got home. But there I was on my laptop, drafting apology emails to clients and reviewing some reports, all so that I could be better prepared for my next day’s meeting. So while my daughter’s little hands tugged at me, I just absent-mindedly handed her a toy, asking her to play with it while “mamma completed her office work”. My shoulders were weighing a ton, and I also started suffering from stress headaches. The Guilt meter was way up there.

When I completed six months in the job, something happened that was the turning point in my life. My older daughter had got low scores yet again and I thought of staying up late helping her with her studies. I had to get into an “urgent client email” once again. My younger one called out to me asking if I could please give her a goodnight hug. I nodded at her promising I will soon enough. It took me a stressful two hours to finally shut down my laptop, and I saw both my girls fast asleep. As I saw their innocent peaceful faces, my Guilt meter tore into me. I was finally feeling guilty about ME. I was missing out not only on their childhood, but also on the gift of parenthood.

The very next day, I handed over my resignation.

For the next three years I was a full-time mother. These years have been the most precious and humbling years for me. I acquired a deep respect for my in-laws and women who chose their kids over their careers. I discovered a new passion – cooking. I put my corporate experience into practice at home by streamlining my kitchen operations! My headaches vanished, and I joined a gym where I was able to shed off those stress tires.

I have finally gotten back to a mainstream corporate career over the past eight years, and life couldn’t be better. Besides being a mentor to women, I am also a coach for women seeking to grow in leadership positions. Assertiveness, decision-making, delegation, empathy, being a role-model – all these are leadership skills that I learnt by staying at home.

Of course, there is always a pay-off. My career trajectory took a considerable dip. And of course, there IS a glass ceiling and there IS discrimination against women. More so against women who take a sabbatical for their families.

Do I regret that decision to choose my children over my career? The company from where I had resigned, eventually got acquired by a large multinational. Had I continued I would have probably been at an executive level by now. However would I have survived the enormous guilt of not following my heart? The first thing I did after quitting my job was to tutor my older daughter. That year, she stood in the toppers list of her class. I watched her with blurred eyes as she was being felicitated by her school. Yes, I am happy I chose to be a mother.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” – Robert Brault

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