I Went To Learn Football, Instead I Learnt …

From this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered – we few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me. …” ~ William ShakespeareHenry V

A group of people who come together for a common cause becomes a group, a band, a gang, or a team. Every member of the team has his unique capability and has a role to play, even if it to stay at the side lines and boost the morale of others. Every member gets involved and can be rated individually but the end result or the performance is collectively measured.

Since my childhood days, I was actively involved in sports and played various sports. Football was one of my favourite sport. At the time, I didn’t know much about it or the different leagues which were played around the world. The only names I knew were the likes of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Beckham, and other famous players. The football world cup was the sporting event we all waited for and watched with all the enthusiasm. While playing football at my school, all we did was run behind the ball without any plan or formation. Gradually, I started understanding the game, the positions, the tactics, and other related fundamentals.

Playing and following the game for quite some time now made me realise it was not just about learning the game, it was about learning important lessons before you could learn the game.

Importance of a Good Coach – It takes a lot of practice, learning, and experience. A person who has been there and seen it all knows the nitty-gritty of the game. And, no one can coach you better but a person who has seen the highs and lows. Moreover, not every coach is or can be good. Nonetheless, the significance of a good coach is nonpareil.

Coming Together as a Team – A coach will do everything in his capacity to train you, give apt feedback, present opportunities to you, and make pertinent strategies. But, the end result lies in the way the team plays individually and collectively. Every member should understand the basic of a team play; supporting each other, looking out for potential threats, covering the weak links in the team, and working towards common goal. One can only grow if the team grows. After all, there is no “I” in the team rather “am” which means I’m part of the team too.  Things don’t change overnight, consistency and persistence will lead you forward, one step at a time.

Need for Creativity & the Burning Desire – One idea may have worked for a team. It may work couple more times, however it’ll not work forever. Failure to bring in creativity would eventually bring downfall. Whether it’s the coaching methods or the individual player’s style of playing – both need to be flexible to learn new ways and open to change when required.  Ever wonder why a team has an unbeatable run? It’s because every person on the team has the passion to go for the kill, the itch to succeed, and give a performance better than previous day. If you are not hungry for more, you may sit out than giving a mediocre performance. Once you start something, prepare yourself to see it out till the end, no matter what challenges yous face or if your personal aspirations are not met along the way. Always remember, best transfers happen at the end of the season. If you get the gist of it!

Nothing Works Without Planning – The formation in any game is as important as deploying personnel for a battle. If the analysis of opponents’ behaviour and playing pattern is not done, a plan of play is not put on the board, or the right formation is not prepared then you leave your team exposed. Every situation forces you to be dynamic and keep you on your toes. Who plays where, how the play should be made, when to be on the offensive and when to defend, and similar things need to be planned well in advance. Like any other work, for instance software development, planning is the first stage before any play (execution) is made.

Every Player has the Potential to be a Star – Every person has a role, a designation, and skills to perform with in the team. While it is important to be good at what you are responsible for, it does not hamper you from honing new skill. You may have a liking towards one role, but you don’t know your true potential till you try something else and are able to compare with. Never be shy to learn. There are defenders in every team, but not everyone plays for best teams. They all have a distinguishing factor than the rest of the lot.

Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.” ~ Heraclitus

Nothing is Over Till the Whistle Goes Off – Ever seen Manchester United play on their home turf? How Sir Alex used to tap his watch and the playing time was extended. Likewise, there are many teams who have made a difference in those closing seconds. Similarly, nothing is over till the clock is ticking. Don’t lose hope if things are not going your way, it’s a matter of time before things will turn around. Every bit of effort you put in will be rewarded. Often, we work very hard throughout but become complacent towards the end. Your approach and your attitude in those crucial moments towards the end make all the difference between winning and losing.

It’s not just about the game, some things don’t change and remain applicable to everything you do in life. Hope there was a learning for you in this too!

It is fatal to enter a war without the will to win it.” ~ Douglas MacArthur

 

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How To Influence Without Authority

What comes to your mind when you think about Influencing without authority?

It can be thought of as either you don’t have an authority to influence other or you don’t exercise your authority while influencing others. Either ways, why do you think you need an authority to influence someone, of course for better things? Influencing or being able to convince others is a hard skill to learn, takes a lot of experience. Moreover, person capable of influencing others can be your most trusted friend or your worst nightmares, as the person would be able to convince others for better or for worse; which can have a strong impact on you.

Ever seen a child talking about his school friends and trying to convince you that he did nothing wrong and yet he was punished. You being closely associated with the child will be inclined towards him. Similarly, to be able to convince others, the foremost step is, you let go of your ego. Your desire to control others can become evident over time. It does not need you to be a manager or be senior to the person, rather it becomes difficult for people at later stages of their careers as they are perceived to be control freaks.

As a common notion goes, respect others (first) to be respected by others. You need to be able to demonstrate that your role has nothing to do with what you are saying. You mean what you say. The expression of interest, care, well being, and similar form the basis of this capability (influencing) and adds to your credibility. A bad manager resort to forced influence and creates an environment of hostility.

Ever wonder why friends are able to convince you better than others? It’s because they understand you and are there to help you, whenever you need them. They put aside any ill-thoughts and guide you to set right goals, will gather information for you, and help you make an educated decision. They stand with you when everyone else lets you down.

Praising others is one thing, praising them in public gives them a greater sense of appreciation and social acceptance. So, never by shy of admiring and thanking other out in the open. And when you do that, be genuine! You would be surprised to know how your mind, body, and words you speak can tell a lot about your feelings. When you don’t really mean to say good things, your choice of words will give it up for you.

The art of influencing should not be used for the wrong reasons. After all, there is a growth for you when you help others grow, even if you don’t realise it. Nonetheless, you don’t need an authority to influence others, you only need a genuine desire to help others. Just be careful of your actions and its impact in the long run, because there may be other people associated with the person (whom you influence) who can be affected by it.

“The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.” ~ Kenneth H. Blanchard

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Most Projects Fail At The Onset

It took you years to reach a stage where you could start realising your dreams. You worked hard, planned your savings, and kept abreast with latest trends and market situation. The layout, the designs, the colour shades, and every other minute detail have crossed your mind a zillion times. And before you know it, you meet an architect to get 3D layout and discuss other things. With the blueprint ready the team of builders start constructing the house. Over the course of this development there are changes to you design, which result in adjusting financials, layout, and time-lines. You take a call whether to go-ahead with initial plan or turn out your pockets for better modifications.

Now, analyse the situation, when being a manager or project sponsor, you are tasked to get a new website launched; perhaps a product, new function, or new section within the site. The success or failure of the project can be gauged at the beginning. Most of the times, it’s the client (the project provider) who is at fault but seldom agrees; while the vendor gets more blame than he should be entitled to. I could almost sense the thoughts running in your mind, “You know nothing Jon Snow!” (Taken from a popular tele-series Game of Thrones).

How could I blame the clients? How could I know what it’s like to engage such a big project?

To reach a level of a project sponsor, you would need years of experience or born rich. A project, very much like constructing a house, needs a blueprint; filled with thoughts of your own. It’s not like you walk in to architect’s office and say, “Build me a house”. And then, leave the rest to his better judgement to ask questions to you: like “How many floors”, “How many rooms”, “Who all will be living”, so on … It’s your car, you drive it the way you want; unless you don’t care about the maintenance cost, time or fuel. You, along with your team, should decide upon the basic needs, the purpose, and what you envision. Take scrambled notes, write on walls, or prepare documents; the importance of well documented requirements is nonpareil.

How often do you move away from these importance aspects and spend time on the nitty-gritty of things: like the time-lines, the costing, and other resources?

Almost always!

The discovery phase or the workshops to close on the scope of project is like the stepping stone. The more you sweat it out during this stage, the less the blood will spill towards the end. For a sponsor, the project should be close to heart like his own and his involvement plays a vital role towards its success. While for the vendor (and every member of his team), the project should be a platform to showcase their skills. Don’t just build a project, build a long term relationship: which will benefit you in times to come, whether directly (giving more business) or indirectly (referring others to you). Is it only the sponsor who would be using the site? Think about a banking site, which you might be associated with someday; wouldn’t you prefer a better version of it than what you might be inclined to give. Reasons may be aplenty, but always choose to do the right thing (for the client) than choosing the easy way out (for you).

Whether it’s a flexible approach (agile) or a more structured process (waterfall or v-model), there has to be an initial plan: a list of building blocks. Construct a house, one room (or a wall) at a time or have different teams working in parallel, but everyone should know what it has to look like, in the end. The process should be a hybrid one, a mix of both. The involvement of client at each step of the development is important. Consider a scenario where he would like to extend a room size or have an open kitchen, because he has seen it somewhere and liked the idea. Would it be easy for both parties to make changes once it’s under development or once the project is complete?

Being a client, you are at your best when you are able to steer the project with focus, clear and crisp guidance, and limited changes. While being a consultant, you are at you best when you present the pros and cons or suggest an alternative; and not when you start negotiating on the cost, time-lines, or if you could cater the change request.

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Leadership as a Service (LaaS): The New _aaS

Long before I joined my peers at client site, there was this guy who had written a big mail complaining about the processes, management, and what not – or that’s how the story goes. Anyway, no one actually knew what happened or, perhaps, they were afraid to share the details, but it created room for assumptions, gossips, and a BAD name for the vendor organisation. How? Well … while he was leaving the (vendor) organisation he sent that mail to the clients instead. In spite repeated efforts to re-gain the trust and make thing better, the scar never disappeared. There was an evident shift in attitude, perception, and dealings by client.

Even if the person was not dealing with the clients directly, it would have been a matter of just sending the email. Of course, the person would not have got a job with either, but the damage was a multitude for the vendor organisation. It was a bad example set by the employee, however it was a bigger failure on part of the leadership – who created such circumstances where the person had to go to such extremes. In times like today: where we are selling software as a service (SaaS), IT as a service (ITaaS), or almost anything as a service (XaaS); should we not be promoting leadership as a service (LaaS)?

Every organisation has large number of people in leadership role, but not everyone is capable to lead: it’s not everyone’s cuppa. To be a good leader, one needs to be considerate of other’s needs before his own. To guide others to do the right thing, one must do the right thing. A great leader, who understands the philosophy and set of practices of the leadership, offering his service to others can be related to being a servant leader. Unlike traditional leaders, one at the top who exercised all the powers, servant leaders share powers with other, perform their duties while nurturing other leaders. After all, the servant leader is a servant first. He is paid like others and works under the same set of rules and policies which are applicable to other employees.

According to Skip Prichard, a servant leader should possess certain qualities or attributes which stands him out from any other manager or leader. A person offering Leadership as a Service, should be humble in nature and respectful to other, irrespective of career stage other are at. Only then can you be receptive to diverse opinions and think from a wider perception. Being mindful of other’s needs before his own, the servant leader should be able to encourage others, mentor them – to become better leaders, and create an environment of trust all around. Another way to develop the respect and trust is to involve others in decision making and convincing them on the best approach, rather than ordering them. Once this trust is developed, the person should (wherever possible) help others with personal life issues, apart from professional ones.

Leadership can be offered as a service while being in an official capacity, as a professional coach, an independent mentor, or any other way. However, the journey from just a leader to a great leader (or a servant leader) is a hard one – it takes lot of practice, self-control, and an act of selflessness. It’s like becoming a monk or a pope, giving back to the community. You may or may not earn a lot of money, but surely will be rewarded with loads of goodwill and following.

“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.” ~ Dolly Parton

 

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What’s The Best Way To Learn?

­­­­­I recently read a story where a pottery teacher put his class in two groups, and asks one group to go through the formal phases of learning: planning, analysis, and so on, while the other group is asked to learn the hard way: learning while applying. In the end, the products from latter are deemed better of the lot. The idea (how I see it) was simple, the more you spend time on doing something practically, the more you learn. When you’re left to do things on your own, you feel competitive, you feel creative, and a sense of achievement runs through you when you accomplish a task on your own. Then again, the formal training gives you that cutting edge, broadens your horizon (knowledge), and increases the scope of your perception.

So… Which is the best way to learn?

Imagine you are taught how to swim at a remote location or somewhere away from the pool, but you wouldn’t be able to swim unless you try it out for yourself. You should be able to feel the water, its pressure, the amount of work you need to put in, and you watch others to learn if you are doing it right or if there is a better way to do it. Then there are people (let’s say bunch of trainees), and they are taught the same things. But, not all of them or even one of them gets it right the first time. Not completely, at least. They only get a hang of it once they start applying it, over and over again. It’s our initial fear which hold us from making that initial step. Information can prepare us for what’s out there, however, it’s limited to factors which the informant has faced or is aware of. There are external factors which are beyond one’s control, are often not well thought of, but have great impact on one’s (practical) learnings; something like knowing when to apply break, how much force to apply, or how to manoeuvre in heavy traffic.

Either you start learning about it or you jump straight in to doing it, the focus should be on continuous improvement. There are different ways of doing things, likewise there are different ways of learning. You do something and have a look at it (analyse or self-assess), if you are convinced then others may be. Then you can discuss with other people and get their opinion (feedback). Self-assessment and feedback can serve the basis of any learning. Most important thing is to take one bit at a time. You lose track of it when you try to over load yourself with information, perhaps while multi-tasking or overzealous learning. Have patience, learn in smaller bits, and let your mind absorb the information; then practice your learnings in routine.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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Mentoring or Coaching, What’s Your Vogue?

“Son… Listen to me. I’m telling you this for you­­r own good. After all, I have more experience than you!” Doesn’t this statement reminds you of your adolescent age, or perhaps early 20s; where your parents or a senior member of the project would have said this to convey something to you, while (in your head) you were fuming with your own theories about how that thing should be done. At the time, you wouldn’t realise that they have been in similar situation or they have seen others, and they only wanted to guide you: mentor you. Any informal exchange of thoughts by a person: who has been in a difficult situation (life experience), or knows more about a specific work (professional experience), or is able to motivate people with his actions in general (role model), to another (less knowledgeable) person is Mentoring.

Mentoring could be well planned of or could arise based on a situation, but the purpose should be clear. Being there with you at every step and telling you what to do is a way of mentoring, putting you in a situation and let you deal with it, leading from the front and showcasing how to deal with a situation, and once the situation has passed then discussing about your learnings and sharing a feedback; all these are techniques which a mentor can use. This process need not necessarily mean transfer of knowledge from an older person to a younger person, it could be other way round as well. For instance, a business manager grooming an associate to become a successful (data) presenter, on the other hand a teenager helping his mother to learn to use a smartphone; both these situations are of mentoring.

Mentoring is a two-way street, it allows to mentee to learn technicalities, ways to deal with situations, and progress in career; while it allows the mentor to grow by imparting his knowledge and experience, and gaining a new perspective (from every mentee). A mentor should be able to offer (morale) support and invest (social) capital in this relation oriented process; as mentoring is a long term, and development driven. Mentoring is often confused with Coaching. Unlike mentoring, coaching can be initiated in an instance, without any plan, but on a specific topic. Coaching is generally short term and is goal oriented, measured by the performance of the mentee. Any form of learning or sharing of ideas, pertaining to a situation or task with an end result in mind, between a person and his immediate boss: falls under coaching.

In most of the organisation, respective teams have team leaders or managers coaching the associates for a specific type of work. Even if the team lead tries to best-pick an associate and grooms him, it’s because he (the lead) has to get a person ready to take his place, so he can move up the hierarchy. Thus, organisations should have a mentoring programme, open to all, to improve the productivity overall. Senior managers and above should make some time to mentor junior members within the organisation, of course in a carefully planned and organised manner. The involvement of human resource department becomes more important, as the size of the organisation increases, for making such program a success. And almost impossible as it may seem, every senior member should indulge in (unconditional) mentoring of others. Earn some goodwill while you are at it. After all, respect can never be demanded, but earned!

“Leaders… should influence others… in such a way that it builds people up, encourages and edifies them so they can duplicate this attitude in others.” ~ Bob Goshen

 

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11 Management Lessons From Pablo Escobar

Amidst the chaos and the political unrest in the country, a child was born to a poor family; who was soon to become the most wanted person of the time – of course for all the wrong reasons. His was a life which could inspire you, whether you are with him or against him. And, series like Narcos (on Netflix) made sure people get to know the story (well, snippets actually) and never forget this man, who some (in his circle) regarded him as a legend, yet maniac – Pablo Escobar.

There were many factors which provided a cushion for his rise and everything he did. Be it the political environment, the social behaviour of the area, or the natural cover which could have been exploited and used to one’s advantage. Even then, you need someone daring and capable to take the risks and make best use of every resource and opportunity available. Personally, after watching the series, I was taken aback at the audacity and ruthlessness with which he acted and offered “Plata O Plomo” i.e. Silver or Lead to anyone who came in his way.

The DEA agent, Steve Murphy, at one point said, “The bad guys need to get lucky every time. The good guys just need to get lucky once.” He may have been a bad person, because of his illegal activities and un-humanitarian acts, but he did manage to run such a huge empire for so long. At times, his approach was way ahead of anyone’s imagination: it was just wizardly. He impacted so many lives, in good and bad ways, and forced one of the most powerful country like USA to change its policies.

As they say, everyone whom you come across has something to teach you, and in spite of all the wrong doings the man had some lessons which he unknowingly taught us.

  1. Be Bold – Even when he was a small timer and was making a name for himself (you may remember from the initial episodes), he walks up to the police office and tells him that he pays money to every police office in the town and he will be safe … even if he was bluffing, he had the boldness and confidence which would make you think twice before doubting him.
  2. Never Play All Your Cards or Give More Options – All the negotiations started with a Silver or Lead, if the person was too afraid then he would join him or would face the ugly side of it. Rarely, there were times when either of these did not work. And when this happened, you re-assess the situation and act accordingly.
  3. Outline Goals and Work on Them – Since an early age, Escobar wanted to be a rich man and had a goal of accumulating 100 million local currency by the time he was 22. He did manage to accumulate, perhaps more, by the time he was 26. Slipping up or delays are not under your control, but setting up goals and working towards them is. “Imagine you were born in a poor family, in a poor city, in a poor country, and by the time you were 28 years old, you have so much money you can’t even count it. What do you do? You make your dreams come true.” ~ Steve Murphy. Even if you don’t follow it, the importance of planning is unaccounted. Every unplanned or unthought-of action will find its way to come back and bite you when you least expected it.
  4. Tap Into Any Opportunity Early – Every opportunity comes knocking on your door once, we have heard that before and it might be true to some extent. To recognise the emergence of a potential and take the risk to grab it early, makes all the difference between 0 and 100.
  5. Hire People for Their Loyalty, Skills They Will Learn on the Way – Hire people with integrity, who share your vision, and have a desire to work and grow with you. Every person who brings information to you, manages your work, or advices you has a place and value. Never treat them badly. It’s hard to find dedicated people, so keeping them loyal to you would be less expensive when you train them once, rather than training new people every now and then. A great leader is able to identify the individual potential, trains him well, and keeps him close always. One needs to be transparent to people close to him.
  6. Keep Your Team Motivated and Well Rewarded – You only grow when you have people who would put themselves to protect you. But everything comes at a price, even loyalty. If you treat your peers, your subordinates, and people who work with you well, motivate them, and reward them accordingly you would never have to worry about your work or anything else. It’s not the product or machinery who creates wealth and grows business, it’s the people who are responsible for their bit. A single person can’t do it all by himself, and it would be the dumbest thing to think.
  7. Protect Your Family from Harm’s Way – No matter how ruthless you are, you always have a weak spot. Whether it’s your own family or your co-workers, they are all your responsibility. When the going gets tough, you don’t put your family under the bus. A great leader will ensure their safety at every cost. He will stand by his people and not run away to protect himself first. Moreover, he will not let the blame fall on any other person than himself.
  8. Know When to Back-Off and Live on Your Own Terms – Violence or intimidation will not always work. The 1% time when it doesn’t work will be more expensive and problematic than the 99% times it may way or may’ve worked. There are times when external pressure is too much and you are out of options. It’s not advisable to take the bull by the horns, at all times. A great leader knows when it’s time to take a step back and re-assess everything. This is not an act of defeat, this is for the welfare of everyone associated with you. Moreover, it gives you the much needed time to re-plan things, the way you want, with less pressure and distractions, rather than being held hostage to others’ demands.
  9. Never Make Unwanted Enemies, Just to Prove You Are More Powerful – Yes, you have the money, the power, and the people to get things done. Still, keep a tap on whom you are supporting or not supporting. There have been great examples of people who were led to their downfall by people whom they groomed or supported. A great leader does not go around sunk in his pride and arrogance to offend others. Respect, is hardly bought, and is earned through your deeds. Never underestimate others or offend someone to a level where they make it their sole mission to come after you.
  10. Never Give Up – I almost admired Pablo Escobar for the courage he had. At times, he knew his end was near but he never let his fear show up. Just when you thought he was done, he would conjure a trick and disappear to safety. His approach of taking the problem head-on and causing ripples all around had his rivals sweat their pants, for decades. No matter what the situation was, no matter his options, and no matter where he was caught up or what he was left with – he just never gave up!
  11. No One Is Invincible – The moment your position and power gets in to your head, the clock to your downfall starts ticking! Your actions impact others, and you don’t want to be at the other end of the stick when Newton’s third law kicks in hard.

“Geniuses are always branded as crazy.” ~ Pablo Escobar

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6 Ways To Get Better At Soft Skills

According to Harvard Business School, an individual’s technical skills account for (nearly) 15% of his growth, whereas the remaining 85% (or so) is determined by his soft skills. While the technical skills define the type of work you do, the soft skills define the kind of person you are. Every non-technical work, to its simplest form, like the way you talk or the way you walk can be thought of as a soft skill. Few of the commonly used soft skills are time management, communication, presentation, and team work. There are many more which you can find on a job descriptions, speaking with a HR, or on the internet.

Every year, millions of students graduate from their respective universities; but not everyone is able to get a job. Various researchers have found that around 15-20% of the students (globally) graduating every year are employable.

So… what makes a handful of them tick while the others fuse?

Having studied from the same college, the batch of students graduating would have same information or skills. Of course, some of them would have a natural ability to perform well, but what makes them better is the ability to do more than what they have learnt technically. Think of a job like sales or marketing where you have the knowledge to collect data, but people who are able to connect with clients and present their data in a better way will be appreciated.

Is there any way I can learn or improve?

Definitely! And the best thing is you don’t need to go back to school or college. Naturally, these wouldn’t be easy, at times, or within your comfort zone. And, the first and foremost thing would need is an intent or willingness to learn and change. There are trainings provided by most of the organisations, if not then you can find incredible amount of study material online. But, before you search for course material you should be aware of areas which you want to improve upon. A good to way to do that is self-assessment and taking feedback from your peers and supervisors.

Trying to gulp it all at once could lead to a lost cause. Define certain goals around the skills you want to hone, and repeatedly practice them in your daily routine. Always remember, it’s not about changing others but you and you only. So, don’t force this upon others, however, finding a partner would put it on a fast track. Things we learn since childhood days are difficult to let go, and learning a new skill pushes us to do that. It’s like changing your behaviour, the way you perceive things, and the way you deal with a situation.

There would be times when you would want to quit, the easy way out; but remember it’s a need rather than a want. In order to progress in your career you need to get better at these. Any new skill would start with learning to self-manage.

“Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

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