The #1 Secret to moving past midlife roadblock – Taking a Step Back!

midlife

Victor Hugo once said, “Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age.” If there is one thing Gen X is battling with today, it is midlife crisis. There are many real-life stories, tips, and blogs out there on dealing with midlife crisis or stagnation in life.

The Speed Breaker

As I see my daughter stepping into her career, I remember how heady and excited I was about getting started my career during my twenties.  Our life in the twenties is all about rushing headlong into our careers. Little do we worry about stuff like power struggles, office politics, or abysmally low salaries! Our ignorance gives us that confidence to tread into unknown waters and we go along with the flow. Thereafter, we step into our thirties, by the time which most of us get married, have kids, and focus on what we really want in our careers. Income, position, role, status, and promotions keep us busy and our priorities are clear where salary and growth is concerned. As we are busy careening into our careers, there’s suddenly a rude BUMP! We realize we’ve hit a speed breaker, which is usually by the time we touch our forties.

Truly the “Mid” Life

Besides our metabolism that slows down (and fat that settles comfortably around the middle), our career progression slows down considerably. Although we are aware that an organizational structure is a pyramid, little do we realize that the number of positions too taper out. Worse, we are caught in the dreaded M word – Monotony! Your title changes from Manager to Senior Manager to Director to VP, but your job more or less remains the same. All that you do is manage 2000 people instead of 20! To top that, if you are part of a humungous organization, you realize you are that insignificant bit that can easily get cut out one fine day. Some resort to politics or cliques to hang on to their jobs while others sink into despair. Ironically, forties are also a time when our kids become teenagers, and our parents, septuagenarians. Caught in the middle, did you say?! Expenses too mount to an alarming degree. College fees, medical bills, taxes and everything that seems to need maintenance. Forties is also when we get prone to malaise like hypertension, diabetes, depression, anxiety and heart problems. You have that sinking feeling in your gut that has suddenly become sensitive to what you eat.

Caught in the Middle

One overpowering feeling that I felt a few years ago was the claustrophobic feeling of “stuckness”. The endless possibilities of my twenties and thirties morphed into stumbling blocks where I realized it was too late to switch careers, especially once I began to find my career stagnating. I have had to take a 3 year career break in my thirties to take care of my kids in the past, which already set back my career behind by a decade. So by the time I was well into my forties, I was looking forward to catching up on that gap by putting my entire focus on my career. I realized how naïve I was when I hit my midlife speed bump all too soon, barely 6 years after I resumed work. Besides being passed over for someone younger, more qualified and not necessarily experienced, the other painful pill to swallow is to report to someone not competent enough. As though the generation gap at home wasn’t enough, there was the gap at work too. So there I was in my mid-forties caught between angst-y teenagers and ailing elderly, and a flatlining career. The cruel mirror started showing the signs of aging on my face, right from crow’s feet, under-eye bags, graying and thinning hair, droopy stress lines around the mouth, and the dreaded middle-age glasses! No matter what I did, I was looking old all of a sudden. Not a very happy feeling for sure.

Getting Unstuck

Midlife has also been a period of other losses – of those good old days, of people from your parents’ generation, and loss of certain beliefs in which I had lived my life till then. Everything reached a head when I lost my elderly parents-in-law to sickness within months of each other. Between the frequent trips to the hospital to the crematory to bickering teenagers and hormonal overdrives, this questioned suddenly appeared seemingly out of nowhere. “What is the purpose of my existence? Where am I going to go from here?”

I decided to take a couple of certification courses to further my career. On an impulse, I Googled the word, “coaching”. Believe it or not, an email found its way to my mailbox promoting a coaching certification program. I decided to take that up and explore where it took me.

Coaching has been a fantastic experience for me. I found the inward journey into the recesses of my thoughts and feelings very insightful, painful, yet liberating. I was able to acknowledge what was holding me back from moving forward.  It was a journey towards the unknown, for I uncovered negative behaviors inside me that were the true roadblocks.

Separating Behavior from Judgment

“Middle age is when your broad mind and narrow waist begin to change places”, said E Joseph Cossmann. Nothing could be truer, at least in my case! I had very definite ideas about people that affected my behavior towards them. As I consciously began to separate the behavior from the person, I was able to empathize with people from different generations, ethnicities, personalities and preferences and at least begin to understand there could be a point of view other than mine.

Becoming more self-aware

Overthinking and speaking without thinking – I was known for both these contradictory qualities! One of the tools I learnt during coaching is meditation. As I learnt how to focus only on my breathing, my tangle of thoughts loosened over a period of time. This incredible mindfulness exercise helped me become more aware of my health, my chaotic thoughts and my speech. Rather than the immediate need to react, I became cognizant of the need to pause, reflect, and respond.

Facing Fears

During my midlife challenge period, I changed from a cheerful and optimistic individual to someone with anxiety and low self-esteem issues. I began to doubt my capabilities and started to lose confidence in myself. Talking to good friends, having fun, pro bono coaching and mentoring, writing, networking – all of these helped tremendously in restoring my belief in myself.

Prioritizing on what I really want

One fine day it so happened that I had to walk out of my job. There was a growing feeling of discontent and unsettled feeling prior to that, and I had already started looking out for another job, but I had the usual wants of title, designation, salary, company, and other trappings. I had the belief that I absolutely need these to be happy in my career. In my solo year as a freelance consultant, as I reflected on this, I realized how narrowly I was viewing my future. I was so brainwashed into thinking that I needed that fancy title next to my name. One day when my teenager impulsively hugged me saying how happy she felt having me as her mother, I felt a deep sense of gratitude and inner calm.  I became conscious that I am more than my title or designation. My happiness need not be compartmentalized within just a career. It’s the fulfillment of having achieved milestones in my personal, family, health, and other aspects of my life that truly mattered. Today when I look at a job, it’s THE job content that I’m looking at. I need to know what meaning and “value” I’m going to add. The toppings or garnishes like title, designation and salary are not unimportant, but rather secondary.

Letting Go

Perhaps the most profound lesson I learnt during my introspective path was Surrender. Letting go of unconstructive and self-limiting beliefs, relinquishing the need to have control over every outcome, giving up my inner insecurities, and submitting to the future without overly worrying – these are some of the things I have been constantly trying to let go. I still struggle with anxiety and overthinking. Letting go is easier said than done, after all.

Moving Forward

As I took those steps back to pause, reflect and respond, I was finally able to reveal the roadblocks that were impeding my progress. It was a painful process as I had to battle with a lifetime of strongly held beliefs, unhealthy habits, and raw feelings. I really had to lay open my emotions and learn to accept without expectations. “Accept and Don’t Expect” became my life’s new philosophy.

Midlife is also a lot to do with change management. It is all about battling against all that is to discover what could be. The resistance is all within. And the solution also is all within.

I’m not saying that this process suddenly brought magic to my life. What is brought is a much clearer view of where I want to go and I what I want to do. Most importantly, I have realized that midlife is a beautiful stage when you can look forward to a richer life without pretenses. It’s similar to climbing a mountain. It is tiring, but offers a great view and perspective.

What has been your experience with midlife crisis? I would be happy to hear your story of how you made your midlife an enriching experience.

If you liked my article, please feel free to share it in your network. I look forward to your comments and feedback too! You could also follow my blog and tweets.

Here are some of my other related posts on LinkedIn that you might like to read:

Overcoming Workplace Stress

Who Are You Without Your Job Title/Designation?

Are You Being Judged?

Job Satisfaction – Is it Possible?

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.

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

#RoadNotTaken #ProfessionalWomen #Leadership #Women #Homemaker #Motherhood #WhatInspiresMe #Careers

The Leader’s New Clothes

(Posted on LinkedIn on Nov 8, 2014)

As a child, I thrived on an endless supply of fables, legends, and stories. Many of them have stood the test of time, and are amazingly profound in their relevance to human behaviour even today. One such short story is Hans Christian Andersen’sThe Emperor’s New Clothes. If you haven’t read it already, I would recommend that you do! It’s a brilliant story about an emperor and his people who are worried about keeping pretences at all costs, even at the cost of denying the obvious that even a child could see through. (Pun unintended!)

As I read this story once again today, I realize we all behave like the emperor and his minister, or his subjects. We look for outward traits and behaviors in leaders and when we don’t find those traits or behaviors, we assume that we are unfit and that something is wrong in ourselves. Overt negative behavior like shouting or abusing is obvious to everyone. But how do you recognize the signs of implicit negative leadership?

We assume that an individual’s title, designation, qualification, or outward appearance or mannerisms indicate his character. We live in a visual world where food is delicious because of the way it is presented, or a woman is beautiful because of the way she looks. Like the emperor and his subjects, when we see something in that individual that does not resonate with leadership behavior, we ignore our inner voice and believe our perception to be incorrect.

How do we become like the child in that story who can clearly see the truth? Like the proof of the pudding is in its taste, here are a few examples of unsavoury behaviours that makes the child in us see the truth.

Expressing helplessness

Leaders are humans, and all of us do feel helpless or powerless during certain situations. But throwing up our hands in despair and shrugging hopelessly when our teams look up to us for a solution, is an extremely disappointing behaviour. There is always something that can be done to improve the situation. The very least a leader could do, is show some signs of optimism and demonstrate willingness to listen and resolve the situation.

Badmouthing

As leaders we represent the company to our teams. We all definitely have our moments of frustration with upper management, but it’s pretty uncool when a leader constantly keeps complaining about “the deplorable state of affairs” before his or her team. Similarly, maligning or ridiculing clients or other employees especially behind their backs, is another sign of a chink in the armour. It is always preferable discussing issues objectively with a view to find a solution.

Making inappropriate or unethical requests

Over and above requests that can trigger a sexual harassment complaint, there are other inappropriate requests from a leader that can ring loud warning bells. One of my friends during a coaching session talked about how a high level leader in the company asked for his personal bills to be entered as official bills in the system. My friend who worked in the Accounting department politely declined the request. The leader joked about it, but my friend was afraid about being fired. Of course that didn’t happen, but I did feel sad because the leader in question was very highly respected and admired in the company.

Self-centered or opportunistic behaviour

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

I think this describes perfectly what I’m talking about! There are managers who don’t even respond to emails unless you copy someone from the higher rank. Speaks volumes about their character, doesn’t it?

Conflicting messaging

The leadership talks about non-tolerance towards certain behaviour but does not take action when their employees complain. The company boasts of an open culture, but the HR team never proactively reaches out to frontline teams to get their feedback and check whether everything is okay. And so on.

Insensitive processes

We expect leaders to be humane and capable of cutting through the red tape where it comes to employee policies. Layoffs are an unfortunate reality in today’s corporate scenario, but there is always a way of doing it that makes an employee walk out with his or her dignity intact. Your company may have a prolific leader at the helm, but if the exit process is not handled sensitively with empathy, then there are others watching and judging the leadership! These are the employees that the company still needs after all.

Poor response during calamity

I have already discussed this in a previous article “Leadership during Adversity”. Like they say, when the going gets tough, the tough hide!

“But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”

Like the child in the story, we must be able to see things the way they are. There are plenty of clear signs of a mediocre or poor leader if we only look and trust our own discernment. However, rather than passing judgment or worse, getting disillusioned, spotting these behaviors makes us conscious about what we shouldn’t do. There is a moral in every story after all.

#leadership #behaviour #behavior #exit #selfish #opportunistic #leader #topmanagement #integrity #ethics #mediocre

Let Go! Five ways to feel lighter and empowered

(This article was published on AVTAR I-WIN’s The Future of Work publication in September 2013)

free womn

As Indian women, most of us are brought up to become superwomen. Look at the matrimonial section of your local newspaper to get an idea: Wanted: A fair, tall, traditional, homely, highly qualified working girl who can cook. Okay. I have exaggerated a bit, but I’m sure you get the drift!

Over the past three decades, the Indian woman has been playing a dual role in carrying on with the traditional role of home-maker besides making significant progress in bringing the bread to the table. Of course taking on the additional responsibilities are not without their share of problems. Let’s face it. We are not superwomen. We are human beings with limited capacities that we need to translate to infinite possibilities. As women, we walk a thin rope where we balance several items to ensure we give our best to our family and career. In the process, we tend to carry several traits and attitudes that tend to bog us down, rather than propel us towards our goals. The only way we can hope to run freely forward and taste success is by lightening our load.

Here are some of the top five loads that we Indian women could let go to win that race without compromise.

Guilt

Nothing can crush our confidence as much as guilt. The guilt of not being able to take care of your children. The guilt of not being able to serve hot meals at home. The guilt of not being able to stay back in the office late to complete the assignment. The guilt of not being able to exercise. We need to pause and breathe and realize that guilt is just an empty feeling that carries the maximum weight. Do your children really need you 24/7? So long as your family gets healthy food, does it really matter who cooks it? As for work, do we really need to give 200% of ourselves to make up for not being able to stay in the office beyond 6 PM? It’s a known fact that women do get their work done without having to stretch by simply managing their time better. So how do we get rid of this colossal guilt? By being more realistic and objective about our expectations. By welcoming alternatives. Most of all, by telling yourself, “I’m doing the best I can!”

Resentment

Most of us are brought up to suppress our reactions, box in our feelings, and rein in our impulses. We are expected to fit into a stereotype of a woman who listens to everyone, gives in to everyone’s demands, and fulfils her personal needs last. We are expected to follow old-fashioned traditions without questioning. I know of highly qualified and successful women who cannot wear western clothes for fear of being criticized by their “elders”. On the other hand, our equally capable and qualified male counterparts are given more leeway and freedom. Over a period of time, this builds resentment and unvoiced frustration, leading to passive-aggressive behaviour. How could we let go of this resentment? Assertiveness is the key. Assertiveness helps us put forth our point of view objectively and confidently, without resorting to aggression. The ability to forgive and move on also helps in getting rid of resentment.

Martyrdom

There is no virtue in playing a self-sacrificing martyr. Leave that to the movie moms! We have too many things to take care of. Neglecting ourselves, our health, our appearance, benefits no one. While we love our family and our work, we have to learn to take care of ourselves first. I remember coming home from work feeling famished, and waiting for my family to get ready for dinner. By the time they all gathered, I was so angry and exhausted, I barely could smile, leave alone respond to their questions. I remember feeling undervalued and unappreciated. Over the years I have learnt to feed myself as soon as I get home. It feels so good! Do make time to go to the salon, take that 15 minute daily walk, read the newspaper. It won’t make you a bad mother or a selfish wife! On the contrary, your family will respect you. So let go of martyrdom!

Diffidence

Diffidence means to doubt oneself. We are worried about being criticized that we second-guess ourselves constantly. In fact women tend to be self-critical. Moreover, we tend to compare ourselves with other women and wonder whether we are doing the right thing. Remember, you are your own best judge. What works for you, may not work for someone else. If you make a mistake, you are only human. “Do I look fat?” “Did I sound okay in the presentation?” “What would he think?” “Should I ask for a promotion?” Celebrate being you. Self-confidence and self-acceptance is the best way to throw out diffidence.

Fear

Fear of change. Fear of losing control. Fear of criticism. Fear of failure. Fear of making mistakes. Fear of being imperfect. These fears are so drilled into us, that we often overlook opportunities to grow. We need to throw the “What would others think?” out of the window! We need to learn to anticipate and accept failure. Made an error in judgement? Learn from your mistake and move on! Fear is a debilitating burden that eats into our very core. Over a period, this makes us stressful and anxiety-ridden and prone to health problems. How can you overcome your fears? By expressing them and thinking objectively about ways to overcome them. Prayer, meditation, keeping a diary, talking to a friend, or getting coached are a few ways where you could bring your fears under control. It is okay to be afraid. Just don’t let it weigh you down.

Job satisfaction – is it possible?

bored

As I go through the host of articles available online on leadership, management, motivation, and happiness, I’m struck by the following facts about the corporate workplace today:

  • People are discontent
  • People are disinterested in their jobs
  • People feel “stuck” in the present
  • People want to feel motivated
  • People want something exciting to happen

The lure of the bubble

It happens to most of us. We graduate and want to be selected by prime organizations hoping that would be our big ticket to the great career. “And what is that great career?” No one has a clear answer. “Good pay”, “great work culture”, “growth opportunities”, “good position”, and so on goes the list. We are all those eager hopefuls that walk out of a college campus into another one that is centrally air-conditioned feeling all important and charged. The fact that we are similar to a hundred other people does not faze us. In fact we feel proud on being part of such a big company. On the surface we feel we are poised to do something exciting, whereas in reality, we know we are in that safe “job security” zone. This false sense of excitement is what lures us to the big companies.

When the bubble bursts

We are swept along with the flow in our secure life-jackets in the happy boat for the first three to five years where we learn new skills or accomplish our daily assignments without realizing that something has changed. All of a sudden, we see a few of our co-workers on a different, shinier and bigger boat, and reality strikes. These co-workers decide to do something daring like jumping into the sea and swimming to a different boat. We are left adrift in the sea of routine and think, “Oh no! I would like to be on THAT boat!”

Eventually, after the initial excitement of the new job or new role fades, routine sets in. The same safety blanket now becomes a stifling chain that has us trapped. Boredom sets in, followed by discontentment and finally, disengagement.

In our initial years, we are part of a larger group. As the organization expands, new opportunities arise and before we know it, some of our select co-workers get chosen for higher positions as team leads or managers. Some of them leave the company for better roles in other companies.

Is it possible to stay excited?

Job satisfaction is that profound yet clichéd phrase, similar to happiness. Like happiness, job satisfaction is not constant, but rather a state of mind. Is it possible to stay happy all the time? Can we ever get a role that gives us job satisfaction all throughout? Is it possible to sustain excitement? It isn’t easy and needs work, but it is possible. Here are some of the ways we could manage our expectations and understanding of what makes us happy in our jobs.

Ask yourself: What do I want?

Growing and changing is an inevitable part of our lives. The things that made us happy even a couple of years ago, may not cut it today. As circumstances change, our requirements change, and so do our wants and needs. However we need to be careful about not wanting something because someone else has it. Remember that adage about the grass being greener on the other side? You need to put yourself, your uniqueness, and your strengths into the equation.

It helps asking yourself the following questions every year:

  • What is great about my current situation?
  • What isn’t great about my current situation?
  • How do I want to see myself this year?
  • What could I do to get there?
  • What are my fears? What happens if I fail? What happens if I succeed?

These questions have helped me gain perspective on my current position and where I wanted to go at crucial junctures of my career.

Take charge

It doesn’t help getting on a career boat just to enjoy the ride. You need to keep looking at the horizon to check whether the boat is taking you to your destination. Rather than wait passively for things to happen, you need to proactively steer your career the way you want it to go. Talk to people who have done it, read articles, participate in discussions, take a few courses if required, whatever, but do something. If that doesn’t help, you may want to throw the life-jacket and jump into the sea. There is no point complaining about the boat and the life-jacket! Your needs have changed, and you need to take action and take charge of your life.

I reached my first growth plateau after I completed five years in my job. I felt unhappy and stuck in my current role. At that time I felt that I stood a better chance of reaching my sweet spot if I opted for lateral growth opportunities. I took on a role that no one had taken before. It was considered a risk at that time, but I never regretted it. While I may not have reached an executive level in these twenty years of my career, I was fortunate I got opportunities to take on new roles, new responsibilities, and getting to learn something new.

It’s your choice

Here’s a popular quote that is one of my favourites. “The 3 C’s of Life: Choices, Chances, Changes. You must make a choice to take a chance or your life will never change.” Here’s a fourth C – Courage. It takes courage to make a choice. Throwing off a life-jacket and diving into unknown waters is not going to be easy. If you find that intimidating, here’s another quote by Karen Salmansohn – “What if I told you that ten years from now, your life would be exactly the same? I doubt you would be happy. So, why are you so afraid of change?”

It is possible you might find that the risks of change outweigh the excitement, and decide to stay back in your safe boat. Don’t be too judgemental about yourself. Remember, staying back is also a choice. Once you decide to stay back, accept your choice and look at things you could do to sustain your enthusiasm.

I had to quit from a prime and prolific position in a growing start-up as I faced a dilemma in my personal life. I had to look after my children who I felt, needed me. Being a full-time home-maker was a new experience, but I’m glad I took those three years off to do the usual mom things like baking, playing with my children, and helping them with their homework. Today I have a great equation with my daughters. I believe they consider me their friend and confidante and a great sounding board. While I may have lost some ground in my career, I got a chance to invest precious time with my children during their growing years.

Create magic in the mundane

At times circumstances are such that you may not want to take risks. A baby, elderly parents, tight finances, or unplanned expenses could hold you back in your current job. Is it possible to work some magic in your mundane life? There are ways in which you could make your job more meaningful. Here are some ideas that always work for me.

Innovate

Look at your job and your responsibilities with a critical eye and ask yourself, how could I make this work more creative? Can I write a mobile app? Can I deliver the project with extra features? How can I reduce the time to deliver without impacting quality? Why don’t I initiate a series of training workshops? Once you get started, you will be surprised at the ideas that flow.

Give

The law of Karma states that you get what you give. What goes around comes around. Start contributing to your circle. You could volunteer to train new employees, conduct knowledge sharing sessions, or coordinate events. You could also pitch in for community service or volunteering activities conducted by your organization. Try doing something for someone without expecting anything in return. Well, you get more than just something in return – a sense of purpose and inner joy.

Lift

Lift your spirits and others’ around you. Energy, whether positive or negative, is contagious. It is easier sliding back to negativity about your boss or your job, but takes effort to lift yourself above the negative pattern you’re languishing in. If you have decided you are going to have to continue in your current job, then look at your situation positively. Ask yourself – what am I benefitting by continuing here? If you can’t see any benefits, don’t kid yourself. Get off the boat, but don’t weigh others down with your negativity. Lifting your spirits isn’t difficult just a physical effort. The effort is psychological, spiritual, and mental as well. Indulge in humour, or some recreational activity like games or exercise. Spiritual activities like meditation, yoga, prayer, or soul music can work wonders on your sense of balance.

Rediscover yourself

When was the last time you used your talent? It could be cooking, photography, dancing, music, drama, or painting. If it has been ages since you last picked up the brush, try. The first stroke is possibly the toughest, but once you get past it, the sense of liberation is pretty exhilarating to say the least. I was a singer during my college days, and somehow over the years, I lost the habit. I have attempted to practice singing again; although I may not sound very great, I feel wonderful. It’s all about fulfilling the gaps in other aspects of your life. We dedicate a huge chunk of our lives to our careers and families forgetting that we need to nurture other aspects of our selves too.