5 things the new age leaders must do to stay relevant

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The present day workplace is changing at a rapid pace. The traditional set up of a few years back that comprised of a set of organized and structured physical work area routines along with the well laid out organization interaction and process norms, have become archaic. In some cases, even ceased to exist.

In its place, is rapidly emerging a workplace structure that is everything but structure. With bombardment of information and ideas from all directions, an external marketplace that is evolving at an unthinkable pace and most importantly a workforce that is energized with chaos and clutter, the key values that are revered today are agility, nimbleness, adaptability, multi-dimensional etc.

How does Leadership operate in these times? After all many leaders (at least majority), belong to an structured era of the past – that was structured, organized, hierarchical, orderly and are desperately trying to cope up with the new era. How do they stay relevant?

As I think of it more & more, I figure there are these 5 must do’s (IMHO), that leaders can do, for starters:

  1. Not judge the new era from a distance. Dive in. Seek help and internalize: The way of this new era is that of being continuously alive to multiple dimensions at any point of time. The millennials (the key players of this era) like more energy, conversations, ideas, collaborative environment, doing more. When all of this happen at the same time, it may look immensely disorganized and disoriented to leaders (or anyone who likes a bit of planning and order). While the urge to bring in a more organized way of doing things would be high, the advisable approach would be to learn the new way. Understand how the new flock do things. Roll up their sleeves and participate in conversations (as much as possible). Listen and observe intently to figure out what’s going on. Appoint mentors from the new generation to help decipher their thinking and ideologies.
  2. Embrace Technology: This is oxygen. The world is driven by technology (Devices, apps etc.). More and more technology seeping in at an unthinkable pace into our workplace to make our lives more connected, collaborative and portable. Apathy for technology will only affect one’s personal brand adversely, as that will carry the risk of the leader being perceived as a derailer or roadblock to the Future of the Workplace. With the world moving towards the cloud & mobility, it’s imperative for leaders to be proactive in understanding and learning how their worlds will change. While being tech savvy wasn’t a “must have” till some years back, it is so now.
  3. Being Social: Let’s face it. Social ecosystem is here to stay. While it was just another place to showcase oneself till sometime back, now it’s the space to create global communities to accelerate learning, business, collective intelligence and collaborative thinking. For today’s workforce, it as mandatory to be on top of what’s happening around the word in their domain, real time. These ideas and information, seamlessly flow into conversations and aid the collective intelligence Leaders who aren’t aligned to this world, find it (or may find it), difficult (and intimidating, at times) to comprehend the energy and context. On the contrary, a more socially active leader, has the advantage of not only being aligned to this world, but also being a proponent to the new age thinking. It does create an inspired climate.
  4. Being patient and tolerant: In my experience, I find a lot of leaders being restless trying to cope with the pace, the multi-dimensional thinking, the seemingly disorganized way of operations, the constant buzz of conversations, the seemingly lack of focus and deep thinking moments. It is and will be challenging. It’s a transformation – more of an adaptive one, where leaders have to almost discard their existing core and build another one. While the primary accountability of the leadership still remains the same – making critical strategic decisions, the environment surrounding it has changed. It will require a lot of patience and tolerance, to adapt to this changed world that may not align to one’s personal beliefs. For example: Simple transformative instances of adjusting to modern open and flexible workplaces, or getting used to people doing multiple things during meetings over multiple devices (responding to mails, tweeting, etc.), or warming up to meeting conversations with a flurry of energetic and fast paced ideas being thrown,… can be demanding for leaders who are used to having an agenda and an organized routine to their meetings. Instead of thrusting order, the key will be to embrace the chaos – with patience and tolerance.
  5. Ask & Listen: This is an era of conversations. Leaders need to be conversation creators, providing opportunities for the energetic minds buzzing with ideas to constantly express their thoughts. This isn’t a generation that will warm up to the “one-way tell and direct” style. This is an era where hacking is the way to do things – pose a question, let the minds around storm and hack a solution. A leader’s role is to Ask the most relevant and pertinent question (or pose the most burning problem), and allow the system to work on it. It will be critical for the leaders to push themselves into suspending their POV’s and ideas, and patiently listen to the multitudes of thoughts and solutions. It will be critical to divorce the “it doesn’t work that way” mindset. This will be the single biggest trait of a leader that can energize, inspire and galvanize a modern organization to do unthinkable stuff.

The modern day workplace or as T.A.McCann, founder of gist.com puts it in this short video, the Future of the Workplace is a fascinating evolving landscape. Concepts like multiple jobs across a working lifetime, having fun @ work, work life balance no longer there, retirement would no longer exist, do your best effort at all times, connecting and reaching out to others who share a common passion on a particular topic / goal with you, learning as a key driver of working together effectively, etc. etc. would be helping redefine how we view AND live our workplace(s). And all of that thanks to the emergence of culture, tools and technologies within the enterprise and beyond!

Leaders must be at the forefront to enable this change. As McCann puts it – the future of work is Learning and doing something for someone else and not for oneself alone. Onus lies with the leaders to role model that. Cheers!


Visualization – a useful technique to prepare

424792-matthew-haydenSome of the greatest professionals (in any field) have always underlined the importance of preparation. How thinking about their work in advance helped them get in the right frame of mind and state of readiness. And one of the key techniques that many of them leveraged more often, was of Visualization. Cricket followers would recall the familiar sight of Australian legend Matthew Hayden sitting barefoot on the Wicket a day prior to the game (in the pic) and visualize the environment, the proceedings, the match, his game, his shots, his vulnerabilities. Rahul Dravid, the India cricketing great, was known to think and visualize his game in depth as he prepared for a batting stint in the middle. Many sports personalities (Golfers, Tennis players etc.) have over the years resorted to this method, to get “in the zone”.

So, what is Visualization?

It is the process of “proactively” creating a mental image of an impending activity or state – in which a player plays out the actual moment in its entirety in their mind. This helps them get into the “zone” of the game in advance and cut out surprises that may occur on the day of the game. Mind and body is warmed up to the climate of high intensity and once the reality kicks in, the readiness is heightened.

Importance of “proactive” is enormous. It helps the player to think about all eventualities in advance, thus figuring out a game plan for tackling the same. It helps is bringing a lot of composure to one’s approach, thus a healthier way to approach a rigorous task at hand.

Experts have long underlined the importance of Visualization as a method to create positive thinking. A lot of this is by thinking about the end state of success – How the world will be when we finally arrive there? How wonderful and energizing will that state be? And try and leverage that energy in influencing the process of achieving that goal.

Over the years, this practice has evolved and has been used by many practitioners in thinking about the process (to the end state) too – visualizing every step of the process, minutely detailed play out of actions, surroundings, mindset, climate etc. Aakash Chopra (Former Indian Cricketer) writes about it in this useful article about Visualization.

Is this applicable in business/organizations?

Absolutely. For any professional situation that has a lot at stake, one can leverage this. I have been leveraging Visualization (for some years now) to get myself psyched up before an important professional event – Presentation, Training, Facilitation, Conversation, Talk, Interview etc. Some of the key points that I have learnt over the years w.r.to Visualization are:

  1. Quiet moment with self: It is my moment of quietude with myself. In these times of myriad distractions, this is that sanctum sanctorum that helps me think, plan, visualize and get comfortable.  It works best if I can sit quietly and let the impending event play out fully – reaching the venue, getting settled, the start, the advocacy, the enquiry, the moments of vulnerability/disequilibrium, the silence, the dialogue, the climate etc. The vividness of the image helps me to get in to the moment better. It also, helps proactively realize elements that need a bit more preparation, fine tuning or work.
  2. Focus on both Result & the process: As much as visualizing the desired end state creates a positive energy, it’s important to visualize the process as well. It’s the imagery of the pauses I take between two pertinent points for the receiver to process the information, or the intent I demonstrate when listening to a counter opinion or alternate POV or the willingness to accept and acknowledge a feedback / suggestion from the audience – these intricacies go a long way to eradicate the nervous energy from my system and get ready for the moment. It helps me immensely to bring in Authenticity to my presence and performance.
  3. Getting used to the environment: Environment is essential. Where is the venue, how is the set up, who will be there, how am I going to be placed, whats the climate going to be like in the venue, etc. are some of the important ingredients to imagine & visualize to “be there” fully.  While in majority of the occasions I am aware of the physical environment (as these are meetings or gatherings in the office), there are times when I am not. However, that doesn’t stop me from visualizing a fictitious environment, stage and set up (from my past experience). This helps. I haven’t had many occasions when my visual has been too deviated from the actual setting. This is one of the most important part of the process, as this helps me get that “been there, done that” feeling on the big day.
  4. Breathe: Moments with a lot at stake, do have an impact on our physical, mental and physiological self. It’s these moments that architect and define our career & success paths. They are, what I call the “Clutch” moments. Our state of mind defines our approach. A calmer approach and presence goes a long way in negotiating the moment and bringing out the best in me. Visualization helps me be aware of this fact, and builds in the act of deep breathing in the overall visual. This awareness goes a long way in the way I become “comfortable” in a “Clutch” moment.
  5. Handling Disappointments: Not every clutch moment or meeting or presentation is a success. Several times, in spite of all the prep and practice, things do go southwards. It’s here I have found the real value of visualization. I have actively visualized failure – My ideas being rejected, proposals being trashed, thoughts being opposed or challenged vehemently, push backs. These have helped me in two ways:
    1. To prepare better / more to counter them – That helps with more ammunition in my arsenal.
    2. To prepare being more balanced & authentic in the moment of failure/rejection – This is a sentimental & emotional moment. And visualization helps me play out the philosophy of “its my idea that’s rejected, not me”. I am less defensive, more open to feedback, suggestions and the art of “inquiry” to explore alternate POVs. Afterall, I would have played out this part intricately the day before and I am ready.

These are interesting times. Majority of our time goes in influencing others with our thoughts, ideas, POVs. Yet, the least amount of time is spent in preparing for the same. I see professionals ill-prepared for such “clutch” moments solely relying on their reactive instincts to come good at the right moment. A few people land it well – they are the geniuses. For the rest, it helps to do a little more. Visualization can do wonders, to “get in the zone” and hit the ball out of the park.

Does your feedback get rejected? Look at your mental model…


Recently I was speaking to a leader and discussing her feedback style. She was highly self-critical as she reflected on the same. Off late, she had been getting into too many conflict situations amounting to her feedback being rejected. As we spoke, we went over a few instances and she replayed the mental video tapes of those.

While listening I noted that she used expressions like “you were rude”, “what’s wrong with you”, “you need be show more technical depth”, “you never talk on calls”, “You have been a poor role model of being punctual to meetings” etc.… to surface all that was wrong. What followed these expressions were a bunch of refutations or negations, from the other end, as the recipients expressed their vehement disagreements. Majority of these conversations weren’t leading to any constructive result and ended adding to the increasingly deteriorating team dynamics and diminishing leadership credibility woes.

Present state:

As we sat reflecting over this situation at hand, I scribbled a diagram (being the visual person I am) on the board to depict the visual depiction of the conversation.

Feedback From

The diagram showed that the information flow was between A (feedback giver) to B (recipient), with A identifying B as the issue – the overt use of the term “you” in the above statements. While from A’s Point of view, she has expressed her displeasure clearly, from B’s point of view, what’s coming is a barrage of personal attacks. And true to human psyche when there’s an attack there needs to be a defense. Thus, the refutations and negations.

Couple of things happen here:

  1. This mental model, certainly doesn’t create a safe climate of reflecting over a developmental opportunity and operates one the foundation of A trying let their steam off on B (B is the issue).
  2. Backward focused, almost with the objective of putting the blame on the table and circling around that

Proposed Future state:

As we discussed more on how we can approach it differently and make the environment safe, I made a slight change to the above diagram by adding a third circle C.

Feedbact to

The diagram shows a third circle – the Issue. So in this state both A and B stand together on one side of the table and look at the issue with the same lens. So instead of a statement like “You have been a poor role model of being punctual…” it may sound like “last 4 meetings/calls there was a delay in your joining in. How can we ensure you are there on time?”.

Couple of things happen:

  1. This mental model clearly operates on the principle of a safe environment and respect – nothing wrong with B, however there is a situation at hand which needs attention (Issue)
  2. Forward looking – putting the issue on the table and figuring out a solution to overcome the same
  3. The high respect allows both individuals to listen more, thereby resulting in a constructive confrontation

Majority of the feedback that happens, isn’t one as there isn’t anything being fed. Most of the time the “giver” ends up expressing their dissatisfaction or anger (thinking they are delivering a feedback). A slight shift in the mental model and preparing the right language that separates issue from the person, can go a long way in boosting an inspiring culture of learning, listening and being respectful.


#Leadership by Fred Kofman


Fred Kofman is co-founder and president of Axialent, a consulting company devoted t helping organizations succeed through effectiveness, solidarity and integrity. Fed holds a doctorate in economics from the University of California at Berkeley.

He is author of “Conscious Business” – How to Build Vale Through Values , one the most Influential books That I have read in the Subject of #Leadership.

I have been fortunate to partner with Axialent in one of the deepest Organization Culture Transformation work adopting the “Conscious Business” philosophy, and certainly recommend this a remarkable for building Leadership Effectiveness, living Organization Values and Building a strong Cultural foundation.

What does it take to be a thought leader?

Let's thinkBeing a “Thought Leader” is a common phrase exchanged in the Corporate environment in the modern times. Especially in the modern social ecosystem context everyone has a POV. Sometimes just having an idea or POV is perceived or misconstrued to being a thought leader in the concerned space. In the space that I work, I often tend to get invited or my opinion / POV is sought at a certain recurring regularity, and I do hear the phrase “Thought Leader” being used (sometimes too liberally), as a prefix to my name. I have struggled understanding what it really means – What it takes to be a true Thought Leader? What correlation does it have to the concept of Personal Branding? Is there an investment that one needs to make to keep the Thought Leader brand alive…..

While browsing through Glenn Llopis’s blog I got an opportunity to download an e-book on this, and it a fascinating read.

<Excerpts from the e-book, Why a Personal Employee Brand will save your career – and your workplace, by Glenn Llopis>

1. Define and Manage How Other People Experience Your Personal Brand.

Before you can become a recognized thought leader, you must define and manage how other people will experience the following four characteristics of your personal employee brand:

a)     What is your brand’s enduring idea?

b)     How will your brand best differentiate itself?

c)     What is the primary experience your brand will deliver? d. Who will your brand serve?

2. Identify the Methodology that Defines the Problems Your Personal Employee Brand Solves.

You may be knowledgeable about a particular subject matter, but have your experience and insights given you enough breadth and depth to earn the right to propose solutions to a wide array of problems in your area of expertise? As a thought leader, your personal employee brand must support a proven step-by-step methodology that defines the approach for the problems your brand solves. Your methodology must be able to show how to overcome the most challenging set of circumstances.

3. Manage Your Thought Leadership Profile.
A thought leadership profile is your management tool that keeps your personal employee brand, methodology and subject matter expertise updated, fresh and relevant. This profile should be a living document that you update on an ongoing basis. If your thought leadership profile becomes outdated, your content begins to lose its momentum and your community will lose interest. Your thought leadership profile is the tool that helps you start relevant, timely and sought-after conversations with your community.
The following are the primary elements to include in your thought leadership profile:

  • Subject matter expertise/specialization
  • Problems that my thought leadership solves
  • My methodology
  • Target audience
  • Industry pain points
  • Industry opportunities/ROI outcomes
  • What my audience needs to hear
  • Targeted media outreach
  • Conversations and topic ideas for articles, blogs, tweets and video blogs.

4. Write it Down! ShareYour Ideas and Experiences.

Seasoned thought leaders know that writing and sharing of experiences is a natural extension of their leadership role and responsibility. Convert concepts into practical applications that support your methodology. Be innovative in your thinking, yet simple in your writing style. Don’t limit your audience.
Be provocative, yet objective. Your responsibility is to start a conversation and propel a dialogue that will continue inside and beyond your community of readers.

Your writings should consist of blogs (250-600 words), articles (1200- 1400 words), white papers and case studies (2500-3500 words).

In your thought leadership profile, prepare a list of topics of conversation that you would like to share with your audience. Create a list of useful resources to support your writings. Demonstrate that you can articulate complex issues in terms that a broad audience can understand and apply. Show your audience that you care about the problems that it is trying to solve. Assemble a “knowledge vault” of materials that support your writings to further demonstrate your commitment to solve your audiences’ problems.

Finally, allow your community to connect with you personally in your writings. Share personal stories that support your content themes. People want to connect with your voice in ways they can relate to personally. Sharing your personal identity (within reason) allows for a more purposeful and meaningful relationship to blossom.

5. Speak and Speak Some More.

Writing is your starting point to speaking and articulating your thought leadership ideas and ideals. Identify trade shows and conferences that customers and industry influencers are attending and participate on panels or lead workshops. Find out about the local associations that host speaking events and offer to give a keynote or sit on a discussion panel.

Your ability to remain active as a speaker is critical to becoming a sustainable thought leader.

When speaking, focus on providing useful information. No one wants to listen to you pitching your product. You are there to inform and educate, to provide a unique perspective. Again, it must support your methodology and you must manage the experience you want others to have of your personal employee brand.

6. Create a Blog and Activate Your Social Media Tools.

Create your own blog and activate your favorite social media tools (ie. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.) to make it easy for your community/audience to follow your writings, upcoming speaking engagements, trade interviews, media appearances,

etc. As a selected voice that represents your organization, your blog and social media tools must be a prominent and visually appealing outlet that supports an interactive exchange of knowledge and ideas with your community.

Your thought leadership blog and social media presence increases in value the more people know about it and link to it. The more social media ready you are, the more visitors you will have and you will multiply the reach for your content. Your blog should feature all of your content to include:

  • Articles/blogs
  • Video blogs
  • White papers
  • Case studies
  • Podcasts
  • eBooks
  • Media interviews
  • Access to your social media tools.

7. Share Your Secrets and Build Trust with Your Community.

Make it simple for people to access your content. In the end, thought leadership is about building a trustworthy relationship with your community. You begin to lose that trust once you appear to be holding something back. No secrets allowed!

Though your community may not always be responding (in the form of commentary), they are reading and listening to your words carefully. Your content (regardless of format) is generating a two-way communication stream of thought, ideas and trust.

As you provide more content, they begin to expect certain things from you as they experience your personal employee brand. Don’t disappoint them. Share freely and encourage them to respond and provide feedback.

Empower your community through crowdsourcing. Share your voice and allow them to share theirs. You want as many people to know about you as possible. Create a reputation for being transparent and open. Share the harvest of your knowledge and be generous with your subject matter expertise. If not, the market will favor someone else who is.

8. Cultivate Relationships with the Media.

Don’t leave it solely to your PR agency. As a thought leader, you should have a list of 15 writers and editors who regularly report on your industry market. Journalists are very busy people, always on a deadline. So, when you call you need to give them something that they can use to make their life better and easier – a lead, a story, some insight, a quote, customers to whom they can talk for quotes.

Points 1 – 7 will help you earn respect and the opportunity to be covered by the media. Remember that the media’s job is to find relevant content that will appeal to their audience. The more relevant and time-sensitive your voice is, the faster you will be discovered and the media will find you. If you deliver when called upon, they will continue asking for more.

Don’t wait for the media to find you. You must be proactive in building relationships with the media. Research media outlets and key contacts that would benefit from your subject matter expertise. You can always hire a PR agency, but when getting started it’s best to get your hands dirty and learn how the media really works yourself.

9. Control Your Google Identity and Relevancy.

In today’s business world, people initially experience your personal brand identity and its relevancy as defined by Google. When you Google a person’s name you immediately create an impression of that person based on what you read
and its context.

So who is controlling your Google identity and relevancy? Is it Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Twitter? Or, is it your blog and its articles, video blogs, white papers and all of your original content that supports your methodology and what defines the experience of your personal brand?

As a thought leader, you must become best friends with Google. You must be accountable to manage how Google positions your personal employee brand and subject matter expertise. This inherent responsibility is important not only for your own personal benefit, but more so for your community.

How do you control your Google identity and relevancy? Follow points 1 – 8!

10. Make a Commitment to Thought Leadership!

The sharing of ideas and insights do not require your organization to have market share dominance or millions of dollars. In today’s new normal, content is a commodity and readily available. Thought leadership is a difference maker. Your generosity and transparency can help you outsell your competitor. It can lead to higher margins. In a world in search of trust, it’s all about people and your thought leadership will expand the breadth and depth of who you are as a person and how others interact with you.

We are transitioning from a knowledge-based economy to a wisdom-based economy. It’s no longer just about what you know, but what you do with what you know. It’s about trust, transparency, opening up your heart and leading with kindness.

Thought leadership is another form of corporate social responsibility. It’s about leaving a legacy and earning the respect of your community.

Talent or Attitude or Both?

Quite a bit has been said and written about this subject, and yet it keeps coming up in various forums as topic of discussion and thought. My sense is people have an idea but they want to get more scientific around which one is more important. Get more perspectives and examples that will help them make better Talent or Capability decisions.

Before we move forward its critical to define Talent. There are several definitions of talent. The simplest one, being – “Skills or abilities”. Some people like to add the expression “innate” as a prefix to that definition. The one definition that really stuck with me was “A recurring display of a skill or behavior or ability” is Talent. That kind of makes sense, because the term Recurring rules out the “flash in the pan” factor and underlines a degree of expertise “displayed over a period of time” in a certain skill/ability/behavior.

If that is the definition we hang on to, then we do realize there are several examples in our ecosystem where people tend to exhibit recurrence in display of skills or abilities, which make them talented in those disciplines. Several of these, abilities are inborn. For example, an infant starts walking and all of sudden surprises people around with the speed at which she can move from one point to another. That Inborn Attribute of speed, which as the little one grows up tend to get displayed on a recurring basis in various informal or formal events and thus get recognized as a talent. Similarly, we all demonstrate our innate talents at various stages of life. The question is, what do we make out of it?

When I was growing up I had a natural talent to run in and bowl fast or hit the ball hard with bat. I did exhibit this talent fairly regularly amongst my friends (Picking wickets or hitting sixes in the neighborhood park), yet I never achieved excellence. Many young people are blessed with the gift of language i.e. they have a way with words. Not all of them are accomplished writers or orators. So what is it that is between Talent and Excellence / Peak Performance?

Harsha Bhogle, is his recent book The Winning Way describes this under a sub-heading “Resources vs Resourcefulness”. Many individuals have the penchant of collecting books on Leadership and Management. (I do!). Their bookracks certainly resemble a treasure chest of deep knowledge. One look at that rack and one would wonder, how well read the person is and how much knowledge the person would have. Yet, not every Leadership Book collector is a Good leader, let alone Great. This is the physical manifestation of the Resources vs Resourcefulness debate. You may have all the talent / promise in the world – the question is what did you DO with it?

The curious case of Vinod Kambli will be a great lesson in this topic, for generations to come. A splendid talent (even better than Tendulkar – as per their coach), had a glorious future ahead of him. Got his breaks at the right time, arrived at the international scene making the right noises, and then calamity struck. Success brings along with it many distractions and at the top level apart from talent, one requires the ability & attitude of self control, composure, determination and an impeccable work ethic. If that’s compromised, its dooms day! Kambli will probably be the most talented “has been” of World Cricket. As Harsha points out “Talent can open the first door of opportunity, in some cases the second. But by the third if its only talent it starts getting difficult”.

Conversely what do champions do? Lets take Sachin Tendulkar. Kambli’s mate. Growing up together, playing for the same school, training under the same coach. Similar or slightly less talented. Gets his break and has a modest beginning. But with every passing day works harder at his game, his focus, determination, discipline, dedication, work ethic, hunger to reduce his flaws etc. add to his overall profile making him the champion he is. Had it been only for talent Tendulkar wouldn’t have lasted 22 years.

When we think about the 2 stories above, and connect back to our professional lives, we will see there are several successful individuals – Sales, Service, Engineers, Software developers, Accountants etc. who did not succeed just because they were good at their work. They had that something else – the right attitude to go with their talent. A Sales person with outstanding ability to pitch, negotiate and close, without the attitude of hard work or relationship creation may just be a great closer but will never be the champion sales person. A developer with greatest of coding skills, and negligible attitude to be a team player will always find it difficult to work as a team and contributing to a larger project charter. A good leadership talent, will never be a great leader if she doesn’t have the attitude to listen, include and respect others.

In the movie clip below 1980 USA IceHockey coach drills this message into the bunch training to represent US in the 1980 winter olympics. This is one of the best depiction of “how for being a champion, one needs to rise way above the threshold of Talent and bring out that “Something Else”.

So, what is Attitude? Out of the several definitions doing the round the one that I found interesting is “A predisposition or a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, object, person, or situation”. I like this definition because it captures the choice that an individual makes w.r.to the positive or negative response in a given situation. And this choice separates the Mortals from the Immortals. Did you see the recent movie 127 hours (Starring: James Franc0, Directed by: Danny Boyle)? The film is a simple story of an adventure freak suffering a freak accident and getting stuck in the ravines with his right hand stuck between a boulder and a rocky wall. And what starts as a minor incident gradually unfolds in its enormity with the protagonist stuck in the position for 127 hours. Without divulging much there, all I want to point out is the Talent-Attitude interplay. While he had all the talent in the world to conquer those ravines, that situation needed him to bring out the right attitudes, which will make him think clearly and do the right things. For example: not to panic, which will help him regulate body heat, he will thus perspire less and he will consume less of the limited water. At no point does the thought of NOT returning home cross his mind. Its this positivity that keeps him going, making him try creative outrageous ways to get out of that hole.

Between 2000 – 2008 Australian cricket team never thought about “what if we loose”. The only question that occupied their mind was “How do we win from here”. Even in the most hopeless situations they were known to talk of winning ..not even a draw. It wasn’t a surprise that they were the invincibles.

Once in my school days, I was approached by my house-captain to participate in the Hindi debate competition. I dreaded Hindi and hence was reluctant in accepting it. I went home and told my father about my reservations and he quite coolly looked at me and asked me “why not?”. He said if you don’t do it, you will never have an experience to look back and if you do it, you will have a lesson – good or bad. And that to me was one of the simplest lessons of developing attitudes. “Why not?” Two simple words – just two words – yet have the ability to convert thick walls of pessimism into blue skies of optimism. I have used this “Why not?” at significant inflection points of my career – moving from sales to Marketing to HR, were all moments of powerful “Why nots”.

So attitude is a choice that one makes. And this choice is an exponent of our beliefs that we derive from our life experiences. A kid standing on top of the bed eyeing the ground for a leap for the first time, will have many thoughts and fears. He makes a choice and jumps. If he hurts himself badly, there is a tape that gets recorded in his brain. Next time he faces the similar plight, promptly the Tape plays in his mind – now if the words of the tape is “Why not go ahead…” – he does. That’s a Winner tape aka Positive Attitude. And if the Tape says “No, don’t! Don’t you remember what happened last time?” well, that’s a loser tape. Life experiences tend to get recorded in tapes in our mind and over a period of time have considerable effect on our belief system. It is this belief system that we can work on to impact our attitudes. And for that to happen we need the right people/environment/habits around us who/which can help us experience the right experiences that will alter our belief to positivity.

A Person with all the talent in the world without the right attitude will not be a winner in the long run (We do see instances of very talented individuals not very successful with a lot of arrogance or ego whining about the life in general). On the contrary a person with less talent but loads of the right attitude can achieve unthinkable heights of excellence, because the attitude will push the person to overcome the talent gaps, with the right work ethic and dedication. Who better than Mahendra Singh Dhoni to exemplify that point? A player with very limited talent in terms cricketing skills, but very high application mindset, and attitude to use his limitations to maximum effectiveness. It is no surprise that he is so successful as a Captain, Batsman, Wicket-Keeper and most importantly team man, in all formats of the game. You never see him going through a bad form, because he works hard to get the best out of whatever he can manage. That is hallmark of a champion.

Talent can be acquired, but it is difficult to do so to a drastically high level. For example: A person with limited design skills while making presentations can work hard and enhance the ability to some extent. But the innate sense of design and aesthetics, requires certain natural inclination, to have the required proficiency. So figuratively a person with 50% talent in something can work hard and make it 70% but not 100%. However, attitude can be built quite drastically. As we established the correlation with belief, it implies that if belief is changed using right experiences attitudes can be changed drastically, almost 100%.

To put this argument into a scientific framework, here is an easy expression that will help us look at the Talent vs Attitude argument more in the right perspective:

(IA + AA) X A = PPP

IA = Inborn Attributes
AA = Acquired Attributes
A = Attitude
PPP = Predictable Peak Performance

IA : are the innate / inborn skills or abilities or qualities that we possess. For eg: ability to run fast, write well (handwriting), sense of colors and art, singing, love for numbers etc.

AA : are those experiences that we gain as we grow, which add to our arsenal of abilities for example: Good Excel skills (to go with love for numbers), mastery in various types of music (to go with love for singing) etc.

(IA+AA) = Together the Inborn and Acquired Attributes represent the overall talent profile of an individual. A Talent decision made only on the basis of this two will give a lot of “What” they can do i.e. Promise on Paper. (How many times have we looked a agreat resume and said, wow! This person is a surefire rock star! Chances are we may just land up with Rocks !!).

A: are the “Hows”. How have they used their talent to deliver great work? How did they make the difference? How did the deal with failure? How did they come out of tough corners? How did they plan for stiff targets, and how dis they conquer those? Its these “Hows” which bring the hidden “X-Factor” of the individual and differentiate the “Can Do-s” from the rest. Hence the usage of Multiplication instead of addition, as the presence of right attitude at the right time can have a multiplier effect.

PPP: When right attitude combines with the talent, the possibility of Peak Performance is highest and when this happens consistently, one can predict peak performance with a considerable degree of consistency. (Again Indian Cricket in the 90s vs the last 3 years – the Predictable Peak Performance is higher than ever. No wonder we consistently figure in the top 1/2 in all formats).

Talent decisions, are increasingly becoming the most crucial set of activities in the Organization decision making agenda. Post the financial meltdown, organizations are investing in more and more quality systems and processes to make these decisions more effective. The world is gradually making the shift from pure Talent based selection to a more balanced Talent + Attitude based selection. Its becoming imperative by the day to focus not on “Whom we have” but to focus on “What can they do? And How?”.

“WHY” not!

One of the perennial complaints Sr. Leaders (read “Clients”) have with their “Consultants” (Internal), in Organizations, has been – there are too many questions and some of them aren’t even necessary. I don’t even know if theres any light at the end of the tunnel after all that questionsing. Jeez, what’s he? My wife?

On close inspection one would find that the real questions causing the above acidity are specifically the ones that begin with “Why”. And humans have been tuned since the moment they start putting words to their thoughts (In the prime of their Toddler-ship days), to ask a bunch of “Whys”. These habits of asking “why’s” become full blown and fairly hard-coded in our behavior, as we grow. And mostly remain in the “Unconscious Competence” stage where without any effort it slips out and end up causing unnecessary situations which with a bit of awareness could be so very different.

Lets examine, whats the pitfall of “Why”. Lets take an example, one that I keep taking with many new managers. New managers are very enthusiastic of their new found position of power, and sometimes tend to exercise this at inpopportune moments. One such person (whom I had the priviledge to work closely as a short-term coach), once in his prime enthusiasm of being a new manager asked on of his team members who arrived at the office late, “Why are you late?”. Well, the recipient of that power wasn’t particluarly having a great day – a flat tyre, rains et al, his patience was thin as a wafer. And the consequence was a showdown that was epic by all standards and required external interventions for sanity to prevail. Nevertheless, there was a lot of bad breath in the team that was caused due to this incident and many  similar ones where there were too many “Why’s” from this particular manager. During my coaching we went over several such instances and reflected upon – what could have been done differently, and my client realized that those “Why’s” in some unconscious manner pointed a finger at the other person and the response was inevitbaly either strong defense or in some case Offence,

In case of a consultant – client relationship too, too many “whys” might create a climate of Defence where the client would be overtly defending the situation / action – in question, or sometimes come back hard to overcome the so called accusatory finger. Lets take this example – Recently during one of my conversations with a certain leader, i committed the sin of “Why”. The issue at hand was a decision the leader was sticking to, which was causing a bit of a turbulance in the ecosystem around her, and my question came out as “Why are you holding onto this, so strongly” and she did come back hard defending this. For a moment there wasnt much progressive rational discussion – only Regressive Defensive emotional rant. i realised my mistake and rephrased it as “Ok, What’s on your mind? what’s the plan with this decision? What and how do you intend to do with this?” and what came out was a white board full of Fact, plan, diagrams with a concrete depiction of the future in mind of the leader, and what ensued was a much productive discussion around – what and how we can take this forward, what would be the possible challenges, Who would be our promoters and who the detractors, How can we make more alliances to ensure we can make this happen etc etc.

So when i think back, the Why question  makes the other person the “Issue” (Why are YOU late – YOU are the problem – Hence YOU defends). And the moment we change that to What Happenned  it becomes – You Me and there is an issue, i.e. What. In this case a similar question would have brought out a response like “Oh ! bad day…flat tyre, rians, I am drenched, I am just too worked up at the moment”, that would have given so many facts for the manager to “Behave” in a manner that would have made the other person feel “better”. And an accumulation of such small incidents only add to the cumulative reputation / respect counter of the manager.

Many managers feel they have done all good things for their teams yet have difficulty connecting wiht their teams. They cant figure out What is wrong with their teams – because they keep asking “Why” and keep defending themselves. If they think “what” they would probably go with an open mind and take 360 degree feedback from their ecosystem.

Its always very productive to be conscious during any dialogues (Manager – Subordinate, Consultant – Client, Parent – child, Teacher – Student etc.) to stop before asking a “Why” and replace it with the other 5 Ws & 1 H (What/Who/Which/Where/When/How).

These effective questioning would:

  • Bring out many facts, that would aid a much well informed decision making
  • Aid a progressive forward looking discussion instead of Regressive Being stuck in the past situation

So, Happy Questioning !