Leadership

HAIL

One of my favourite TED talks is one called “How to speak so that people want to listen” by Julian Moore. Obviously, people do want to listen to him considering its been watched almost 17 million times! He starts by talking about things which we should always avoid when speaking – things like gossip, negativity and excuses. He lists 7 such things which he terms as the “7 deadly sins of speaking”. Nicely done. But what he does next is even more interesting – to convert these ‘negative’ traits into a framework which allows us to look at this in a positive way. I think there is a learning for all of us in just this reframing – it would help to keep that in mind in all our interactions in order to build better relationships.

So, what does this framework look like? He lists 4 cornerstones which we can stand on which can make our speech more impactful. They spell a word and the word is HAIL. H for Honesty, A for Authenticity, I for Integrity and L for Love. So simple and yet so powerful. To be clear and straight, to be ourselves, to be our word and wishing others well.

I would argue that HAIL goes well beyond speech characteristics and ultimately goes to the core of what leadership and EQ is about. These traits help create trust which in turn builds a culture of empathy with mutual understanding and respect. And if I have to pick one of those four traits, my favourite is Love. People are willing to be led by someone only if they believe their leader is their well-wisher and has their best interest in mind. As Roosevelt once said “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care”.  

#FC2E #EQ #EmotionalIntelligence #SumanInsights #Communication

A leader in an autorickshaw!

Early in my career, working as a management trainee with Cadbury’s in Thane, life was good. Although I was in a factory with shifts, I did not mind the shop-floor mainly because it was chocolates that I was supervising! It did get a bit boring and routine at times, which is why any high-profile visitor to the factory was a big thing for us. One such day, we were all turned out nicely waiting to welcome our senior vice president to the factory. His visit was delayed and then we heard the story – the car which was sent to the station could not find him and our SVP took an autorickshaw to make his way to the factory! This story spread like wildfire and before long, everyone in the factory right up to the junior level workers were talking about it. 

What is fascinating is that story spread far and wide, to the Head office and offices globally, even beyond the company and I have heard people talk about it for years afterwards. What intrigues me to this day, is the amazing power of such simple storytelling. What is about such small incidents that go ‘viral’ and do wonders for organizations to convey their culture and unique identity, whereas huge sums of money spent on corporate branding and communicate seldom have that level of impact. 

While storytelling is powerful and there is science behind it, what makes these stories spread so far and wide and that too by word-of-mouth? A recent article on leadership by Harvard Business review namely, “Followers Don’t See Their Leaders as Real People” by Nathan Washburn and Benjamin Galvin, has some a very interesting insight into this. According to them, people in companies view their senior leaders as more of mental images and less as people. While these leaders may be real people to only those they interact with such as their peer group and their secretaries, but to the larger group of people outside their immediate circle, they are more imaginary than real. Employees form a mental picture of their leader based on emails, tweets, videos and town-hall speeches etc. The mental picture gets more solidified with other tidbits received mostly in the form of stories as was the case with this SVP taking an autorickshaw. 

While listening to these stories, people look for moments of honesty and sincerity in them. And because these stories come from informal channels such as friends and colleagues who are perceived to be unbiased, there is a high level of trustworthiness which could be lacking in formal channels. In other words, it is the word-of-mouth transmission itself that gives it credibility. As these stories spread “they take on a life of their own”. 
 

I would love to hear your views. Kindly post your comments and feel free to write to me at suman@inroads.co.in.

The Magic of Simplicity

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I love simplicity. Einstein said “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. If we speak in simple language, chances are more that we would be better understood. If products are simpler to use, it would make our lives easier.

Unfortunately, most often things are complex. Anyone who has gone through a contract written by a lawyer will agree with me. Try figuring out how to record a program in Tata Sky HD (I recently asked my just-turned-teenage daughter to help me record the Oscar’s!). Try calling your phone service provider’s helpdesk to understand what process complexity can be.

I have often wondered – why are things not simpler? I have come to believe the reason is simple – it is because simplicity is hard.

When we were children, our lives were simple. As we grew up, we forgot about the simplicity we grew up with. We started using jargons, big words, acronyms and almost this compulsive desire to overcomplicate things. Maybe it was to sound smart, maybe to look more credible.

Here’s a question – are today’s cars simpler than those of yesteryears? Well, technology is way more – the electronics, the anti-lock braking, active safety systems and the like. However, to a driver, it is simpler to drive a car today - easier steering (power steering), easier reversing (back camera) and no need to change gears (if it’s an automatic transmission car). So the ‘back-end’ is more complicated but the ‘frond-end’ is simpler.

This needs to be the case in organizations as well. We hear about the elevator speech. But try getting a 20 second answer from a business leader as what his company’s purpose is. Or what is he or she doing to stay ahead of competition? Or keeping his people motivated? You will hear a lot of the challenges, issues – essentially the ‘back-end’ stuff, not necessarily the distilled simpler ‘frond-end’ message which can be easily understood.

As leaders, it is our job to craft, articulate and communicate messages in simple language. 

Years ago, they ran a study of the speaking habits of three well known speakers who were all speaking at the same conference at the same time on the same afternoon. They run a survey and found that the one of the speakers, Bill Gates, speaks at a 11th grade level. The second speaker, Michael Dell of Dell computers speaks at a 9th grade level. The third speaker, Steve Jobs of Apple spoke at a 5th grade level!

True leaders understand the power of simplicity. This manifests in not only their communication, but in all facets of their organizations – the products per se, the range of products, the processes, the after-sales, the incentives, the organizational structures, the policies etc. etc. – put simply, simplicity becomes part of the culture of the organization.

I would love to hear your views. Kindly post your comments and feel free to write to me at suman@inroads.co.in. Simplicity is one of Inroads’ core values.

If you like this article, pl. check out my other posts at https://www.linkedin.com/today/author/8690991?trk=prof-sm

Emotional Connection

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 I have always thought of myself as a very rational person. Frankly, I have been quite proud of that trait. It did me a lot of good in a world where IQ and hard skills is essential for growth. When asked to describe myself, I would say I was a left-brained guy. I got interested in human behavior and mindset early on during my MBA days. I learnt that along with analytical intelligence was a need to develop something called Emotional Intelligence.

 But I had trouble embracing that idea. Being rational, I told myself that emotions should be kept aside as much as possible as it would only interfere with sound decision-making and ability to convince others. In other words, emotions always remained something of secondary importance to me. Then one interesting thing happened.

 For one of my job interviews, I underwent a pretty intensive leadership competency assessment which was required by the company for high potential hires. One of the exercises was a case-study – long and detailed and included multiple dimensions. I had to analyze the case-study and arrive at a certain decision. Then I had to do a role play wherein I was a manager and I had to convince my boss (the assessor) on why we should go ahead with the decision.

 At the end of the role-play, this is what my assessor had to say “Suman, you did an excellent job in analysing the situation but I am not convinced because the energy was missing”.  Energy, what energy? Listen to my facts! I started pondering over his response over and over again in the days and months ahead. Eventually, it left a profound impact on me and helped me finally understand this thing called EQ!

 We all have a rational side and an emotional side. How much is the rational part and how much is the emotional part? What is the ideal mix? Does the ratio vary depending on the situation? Is it ok to display emotions?

 It is not only ok but absolutely essential to bring out emotions in our interactions. Human interactions are based on emotional connection. To make conversation, we first have to make a connection. It is like dialling someone on your cellphone. You first dial (connect) and then speak. If the line drops, you redial and reconnect. The same is true of real engagement – we need to check if we are emotionally connected before exchanging information. If that connection drops, we would be talking without the other side listening!

 The ability to think is what makes humans unique in the animal kingdom. We have a thinking brain also known as the executive centre. In terms of evolution, this part is relatively new. The Emotional brain triggers first. Hence, we first feel and then think. And often, our response or behaviour is determined by how we feel even before our executive centre has processed the information! If the feelings are negative, it can hijack the thinking part. This is why we are often more emotion-driven rather than logic- driven.

 This has huge implications for leadership. For one, we need to be cautious of not just what we say but how we say it. In case how I say something brings in negative feelings in the other person, it could shut down their thinking and make them defensive and not open to my suggestions or feedback. The emotional connection would have broken!