Monday, July 8, 2013

Role of a leader

Creating a course is not easy. Especially a kind of course a senior leader wants for his team.With tight deadlines.

There are two ways out there. One is tried and tested. The other, to try out something different - something you think is worth a try based on the talking to experts. The first one is a possibility sometimes, when the leader wants something, very fast, instant. The second one is worth a try when the leader gives you the freedom to try. And some time. And a little patience. Once that is done, the work begins.

To begin with it means understanding your audience, what they want, what they like, what makes them tick, what is their level of knowledge. It means, preparing.  It means, keeping your ears close to the ground.

As it progresses, it means, working with various stakeholders and making them part of the creation process as well. It means, asking questions. It means, iteration.

While delivering, it means, making the audience think. It means, respecting their intelligence. It means, co-opting them as part of the process.It means making their few hours worth it. It means, at times, taking a decision on the spot. It means, facing tough questions and still guiding them to the right answers.

All of this and much more. And doing all of this has no guarantee that the course you put together will work.

So, it means, suspension of belief at some point. Especially when you taking them away from a tried and tested concept and want them to touch new shores. And making them believe - in themselves - with a new technique.

All of this is no guarantee of success. And there are many reasons it may work or it may not work.

But one great reason it can work is when the leader of the team is with you. Right through the entire session. Without stepping out for a phone call. Standing with his team as they try. Asking questions. Pushing them to think. Making them reflect. Walking amidst the teams as they work. At times, contributing at a table as any other participant would. Applauding their effort. Goading them to take steps. Letting them be. Keeping them honest. It is a never ending list.

But you will know it when you see it. Leading from the front...

(More on this to come - have seen the fantastic effect of leaders in many an intervention. Makes a difference on how the audience absorbs it.)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Everybody is a baker

A few weeks ago, I walked into a cup cake shop and since the little one was with me, we decided to take a look at the kitchen. And I was a little surprised. There was hardly anything hi-tech in there. I mean, the equipment was what one would find in a standard urban kitchen of today. And the shop boy assured me all the baking was done there itself. Perhaps I am missing something.

But while on the one hand, there is a lot of discussion on how the internet has democratized information - to some extent microwave ovens have done the same in India. Baking is one of those home-industries that has taken off after the introduction of microwave ovens and the easy availability of recipes and ingredients on the internet. Today one can find baking stuff like silicone moulds and other assorted items at almost any shop. There are practically no entry barriers. And by the way, cake making is now so easy that every neighbourhood has a cake shop that bakes its cakes right there - it has still not got cheap enough to enter every home, but who knows.

Everybody and their aunt is a baker today. Atleast at a cupcake, muffin, brownie and cookie level. There are some who are bakers even at a bread level (but right now, that requires a slightly complicated machine, afaik). And I am not saying this in a disparaging way - some of these bakers (including my better half) bake stuff that is way beyond the mass manufactured stuff that we get in the shops. For one, there are no preservatives. For another, the ingredients are great. And then there is satisfaction of having created something that is priceless. And if the kids are engaged in baking, that takes it to another level. 

But the bakers are not complaining, atleast not that I know of. For one, the market is huge and the home bakers caters only to homes. But, on the other hand, there are many premium bakers who are creating more and more artisanal stuff and charging a premium to do so.

We often face this challenge as part of learning and development. Everybody has an opinion on it.

So, how does one get better?

There are two choices, close down and protest that it is our job. Or Respond, exactly like the bakers. Create better trainings. Curate better content. Facilitate better. Design better. Do such great work that they come to you, because you have spent time honing your skills and getting better at it that when they think of training, they think of you...

Business Sutra and thoughts

I recently had the privilege of reading Business Sutra.

The book is a thought provoking read to say the least. As any creative mind would say, in order for the mind to be creative, it is important for the mind to open, expand, gather in a greater range - this book does that by using Indic (mostly Hindu, but smattering of Jain and Buddhist) line of thought to explain some of the 'sutras' of business and management. It comes across a little different - because mostly we would not have encountered anything along these lines of thought. 

Throughout business school, business is from seen from a mostly western perspectives (and the only Indian companies that we referred to are used to mostly as Lalaji businesses - with barely any good thing heard about them except perhaps the 'parta' system of accounting).

Through many pages as I read it, I realize that Human Resources in India has much to harness from Indian Itihasa and Purana which it has not – with the result that our entire Human Resources education is from an almost exclusively Western perspective. I could be wrong here, given that I am very new to Human Resources from an education perspective but from what I see around me  - basic organizational behaviour text books, assessments, analysis, studies, bodies of work - are by and large 'Western'.

The leadership, learning and development part for me, really hit home – Nara as opposed to Narayana which is our unrealized potential versus realized potential. Devdutt Pattnaik uses an example of a lotus as presented in both Hindu and Buddhist schools of thought as an example of the mind opening up.

And then again Management theory – which is really about self actualization (and beyond) of every individual so that businesses can take off – he uses the example of the yajaman and how it is not easy to get there. 

There were quite a few aha moments, process versus creativity (using Yama and Kama as examples), tactics versus strategy, about creating leaders within the organizations, villains who follow rules versus heroes who break rules. 

All in all a very interesting book to read from a leadership and business perspective. And I hope I see more writings/books of this kind that taps into our vast knowledge system to create more indigenous human resource, leadership systems and methodologies.

Learning to Cycle

The little one has been at it for the last few weeks. Off and on, she wants to learn to cycle. As a learner, there was a clear motivation to learn. There have been moments of frustration, of despair, of wanting to give up and of the feeling that this is not going to work.

Aside: The 8 psychosocial stages: At this age, between 5 and 12, they want reassurance that they can 'make it in the world of people and things'. So, the frustrations can have deeper ramifications - and there, there were small successes that she was able to notch up, but it was not adding up (in her mind).

But the motivation kept her going, trying time and again - over a few weeks a few minutes and there, but not sustained effort.

As a teacher/parent, what can one do - provide the scaffolding, words of encouragement, show them the path and put in corrective techniques, among other things.

Today, it all fell in place. First getting the starting power right (one needs a push to get started - and sometimes the teacher gives that initial push). This is usually the toughest part of bicycling in the initial stages - starting off.

Once that technique was absorbed, then it was about looking straight ahead - and not down, as children often tend to do.

Two pieces done, it was then about maintaining balance (which was almost there, but alongwith a fear of what if i fall). This was accomplished by running behind and adjusting the balance a little bit.

The next part was to tackle, what-if-I-fall? So, we tried a simple experiment with the standing bicycle where she realized that she cannot fall  - her legs always seemed to stop her from falling. So, why not try that while riding, by adding the brake element. That seemed to work as well.

So, then the next time, as she learnt to 'take off', she was gliding and able to stop (not exactly at perfect 10 stop, but a wobbly, violent stop). And then we went a step further, she was allowed to 'take off' and go around. And that pushed her confidence and giggling and disbelief to an uncontrollable level - that she can do it. A video was taken as 'proof' that she can cycle. And then she became more and more confident shouts of 'I know you are you not holding' started.

So, the only part was the take off on her own which was done too.

The feeling of a learning accomplishment is such a great feeling - the post event debrief did not work well as the little one went on to downplay the entire learning as a 'neither happy nor sad', but of equanimous acceptance, so that part did not work.

All in all, one of the great joys is seeing your student learn to break free. As I often say, in my hang glider analogy - the running with the glider happens, but what when the cliff ends - will the glider stay afloat or fall - when the support or scaffolding ends, does the rider continue to glide or soar? And learning to bicycle continues to be one of the best examples of learning...