Greed, in my opinion, is one of humankind’s most basic drivers of behaviour. It reflects itself in many ways, at all ages, some in a good sort of way, and some not so good.

My 6 year old’s crying for more iPad time, or a few more candies is the most innocent expression of greed. As we get older, it takes on larger manifestations, and our childhood learning of maternal manipulation is leveraged. The desire to run that extra mile on Sunday morning, to work harder to get the highest increment, are positive expressions of greed. However, greed combined with the scarcity mindset is when the shades become more grey. Now, for me to get a chocolate, the other child should not get one. For me to get an A, my coworker has to get a B. This is when behaviour begins to change, to become more manipulative, behaviour is as much to grab more as it is to prevent the other from grabbing the same. Perhaps that’s why many companies have stopped relative ratings in appraisals. Infact, some have even done away with appraisals.

That Greed can have negative consequences, we all know. But when does Greed overtake one’s morals, one’s values ? Corporate corruption at the highest level has been written about extensively in the past few weeks. These have not been instances of greed driven by necessity. Not even greed due to scarcity. These are cases of greed, driven, simply by greed.

When Greed lacks a counter balancing force, it becomes dangerous. But, what is this counter balancing force ? Our Value system? Religion and God ? Fear ?

Fear of what. Fear of censure ? Fear of punishment ? Generally, fear of consequences ? Does this mean that Fear is a more powerful driver of human behaviour than Greed ?

The other side of the Greed coin seems to be Fear. But, we don’t know how to make the coin stand on its edge. Till then, some will continue to live a life of Greed, with no fear. The Haves. The rest will live in Fear, suppressing their Greed. The Have Nots.

Who will win this battle of life ? For now, the Haves are winning over the Have Nots. But, maybe, just maybe, the future will be different.

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Being Alone. Being Human

Being Alone

I am sitting here, in a restaurant full of people, and yet I feel alone. Many times, I have been sitting around with friends, everyone indulging in loud laughter and merriment, and yet the only company I had was the chip-and-dip in my hand.

What makes me feel alone, despite the din and chatter around? Some attribute it to the lack of alcohol in my blood. I dont. These are just two discrete and independent events occurring together by an act of providence.

My loneliness is not defined by the fact that I am having dinner by myself. I have had many a dinner on a table with only the candle or the wine glass as company, and yet nevet felt alone. Loneliness is not a physical state, it is a mental state.

Why is the mind so restless, so troubled? Or sometimes it is numbed into not being able to think at all? If I was writer, I could claim inspiration and a writers’ block at the same time.

Being alone for me is a state where I have too many things twisting and turning like a tornado in my head. The numbness is the silence like in the eye of the tornado. I can’t, or won’t share what is inside.

In this state of being alone, I reach out to others, for friendship, for small talk, to share, to forget, to bury, to run away…..all these are but escape mechanisms. Being alone feels like a black hole where nothing comes out, despite all the attempts that might be made. In this state of being alone, I become more aware of myself, I try to find the real me that has been lost somewhere, at sometime. My heightened emotional phase makes me more touchy, more sensitive, and ironically, may be a better boss at work. My lack of frailty was probably the most intimidating at work. Suddenly, I am human again. There is indeed light even in this black hole.

Why do I feel I am alone ? There has been no event, no incident that has brought me to these crossroads. How did I then get here ? Did I just drop down, from the sky, like a dead pigeon, in this yellow circle on the road ?

My writing sounds as confused as my thinking. And that actually maybe good. Atleast the mind, the heart, and my fingers are moving together ! The chip-and-dip are all that I have.

Being alone, Being human.

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Questions of Paradox

“You are strong because you are imperfect

You are wise because you have doubts”

– so said Winston Churchill’s wife to him, at the beginning of WW II

And so this begs a few questions ….

Are we strong because we can’t be defeated, or because we know how to taste failure ?

Does our wisdom come from what we know, or from what we know we don’t know?

Is our knowledge derived from knowing the answers or in asking the questions ?

Is leadership built on being in front or in people being behind ?

Is there courage in not being afraid or in living with your fear?

Do we achieve victory by defeating the enemy or by the enemy losing ?

Do we find God in our prayers or God finds us in our deeds ?

Do we value life in living or in death ?

In each of these questions, I am pursuing a seeming paradox. And in that paradox I believe we can find the true meaning of life.

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Relationships … idle musings …

Some relationships are easy to give a name to …. husband, wife, son, daughter, mother-in-law, etc. Even though a relationship is more than a title, we always find the simplest route and define these relationships by titles. In these familial titles, we ignore the true meaning of the relationship. We simply take the most convenient route, probably the most publicly acceptable route. As someone was telling me, in a marwari family, the daughter-in-law has to call even her 5 yr old sister-in-law “didi”. When we are not bound by the dogmas of society, titles to a relationship can be more difficult to give. When does an acquaintance become a friend ? When does a friend who is a girl become a girlfriend ? When does a friend become a “best friend” ? The adjective ‘best’  suggests in the english language a comparison and only one person. But do we have only one ‘best’ friend ?

This confusion in my head on how to give my friendships a title began with a simple can of coke. Earlier, deep thoughts of mine were stirred not shaken over a martini but 2018 is different,  the no alcohol promise has changed me. Anyway, I have been asked who is my “bff” ? Letters honestly I didn’t even know the full form of till probably a year ago ! I know my wife has one, or two, or a few ….. not sure. She has found it possible to give this title. Why do I struggle ? Is it because I am more reserved in what I share with my friends? Have I created slots for my friends, and thus there isn’t one person who fits into all encompassing category as “bff” ? Are my relationships not as deep ? …..

Friendships are tough to build, and I find it even tougher. I have lots of friends, but few that I have found deep meaning with. I know I will lend a hand to a friend in need, and not expect one back. I will engage in small talk and share a drink, but is this true friendship ? I know I have friends I have not met for years, I may not even have spoken to for a year but I can still count on them for anything I need. Are these my bff’s ? Is friendship defined by being there when I need help ? Or is a bff one with whom i can share my joys, my pains, my insecurities ?

I am probably afraid to share, afraid to talk about my inner feelings. Afraid that opening up will make me weaker. Afraid to drop the mask of invincibility. When I overcome my fear, I will find my bff !

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Musings on Leadership

I was sitting and chatting with one of my unit leaders today, and I was trying to understand what leadership really meant. She is focused, high on achievement orientation, knows what has to be done and  puts in a lot of effort. The centre has begun to improve in performance after she took over 8 months ago. But then why was I discussing leadership with her?

I am picking up feedback from the ground that her team is scared of her, the doctors feel she tries to do everything herself. I found out that her new Ops manager has only been given part of her role responsibility even after 2 months.  And hence my conversation on leadership with her.

Some questions I posed to her:
– is leadership about achievement alone?
– is leadership about being perfect?
– is leadership about getting the work down, even at the cost of doing it oneself?
– is leadership about making sure your team never fails ?

As we explored these questions, some interesting ideas emerged. Leadership is about letting your team make mistakes, but being there to ensure they don’t make the same mistake repeatedly. Leadership is about being the safety net when your team fails. Leadership is about trusting your team, and giving them the space to perform and grow, even the space to make mistakes. Leadership is about ensuring your team achieves, not that you achieve alone.

The other interesting aspect that emerged was that she was surprised by the feedback I was picking up. Do we as leaders have our ears to the ground? Do we listen to our employees as much as we listen to our customers ? I picked up signals when I interacted with her team that people would look at her before answering a question posed at them. Why did she not notice? Are leaders using all their senses to pick up signals ?

The last interesting concept  that emerged was her own desire to be infallible. She was afraid to reach out and ask for help when in doubt. She was afraid to show that she did not know what to do. Like she did not want her team to fail, she was scared of failing herself. Is leadership about being vulnerable? Is leadership about being human?

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The Call

Many years ago, living in Africa, when there were no phones at home and one had to book a trunk call to speak to family at home, we would wait eagerly, looking forward to the phone ring at the tcom office. Speaking to relatives in India was a major event, which happened perhaps once or twice a year. These were days when The Call was eagerly awaited. As time flew past, and the mtnl phone, with its crackling sound and rotary dials, become more common, The Call was still eagerly awaited. After all, it could be that girl in school who had a crush on me, and would call me at home but not acknowledge me in school.

At some point in time, not sure exactly when, the mtnl phone was replaced by a Motorola mobile phone. I always treated my Motorola phone as a weapon of defense, it was the heaviest thing in my bag after the laptop. Suddenly The Calls become less welcome. The voice on the other end was typically my boss expressing disappointment with me ; missed my targets again ! Fortunately, at Rs 16 a minute, he restricted his words to 4 letter ones….they took less time and had greater impact.

Over the years, cellphones became cheaper, airtime practically free and the ringer never stopped. The Call became a pain. I began to keep my phone on silent for 10 hours a day….and wondered why did I carry a phone, for others? or for myself?

The Call got new meaning a little over a year ago, when the call on a Friday morning changed my life. And till today, when I get a call from a friend who needs help with the hospital or Dr, it makes me shiver. I would now go out of the way to try and do something, personally keep track even while in important meetings. I don’t know whether I do this out of a sense of duty (work in healthcare afterall), or because I care for the friend, or because of The Call which changed my life.

The Call has become the preferred means to communicate, but do we really communicate on it ? Aren’t we simply sharing news? Indulging in small talk? Do we really share now on the phone? Do we really speak our heart out ? Or have our lives been so taken over by the 160 character text that communication happens in monosyllables ?

I speak for myself, but I still find the written word a more powerful means of communication. I still remember those letters I used to write to my parents and friends when I was in sales, dotted with small sketches of what I had seen or done in the day. That was when feelings were truly shared. Nothing was said, but everything was communicated.

In The Call, I miss that emotion, that touch. Perhaps, when we learn to read each others’ mind, we will go back to using the phone only once or twice a year.

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The Tata of the East

I spent the last 2 days in Kolkata, the land of the fiery Mamata, the land of Kali and Durga maa. It is perhaps the only city where one can still see the good ole Hindustan Motors Amby on the road. But I am not writing due to nostalgia for the city that I lived in, 20 years ago.

I met a woman yesterday that blew me away. I was meeting entrepreneurs who had applied to become Apollo Clinic franchisees, and I was scheduled to meet Mrs Mukherjee, from a small district HQ that is 3 hrs from Kol. I had been briefed that she runs her own business in the town and is a single mother, but that did not prepare me for what was to happen next.

A middle aged woman walks in, wearing jeans and a shirt. She has already caught my attention. She begins her story. She left her husband in Mumbai and returned to her hometown, Birbum, a small town not too far away from Kolkata. She began by setting up an artisan workshop to supply handicrafts to Government emporiums. Wanting to grow, 5 years ago, she took a motorcycle dealership. She is the sole dealer of the district now, does revenue of 25 crs and has grown the company’s business from 50 motorcycles per month in the district to 750 ! A few years later she setup a hotel. And now she wants to setup a clinic, with an investment of 3-4 crs.

Handicrafts, auto dealership, hotel and now healthcare,……I asked her why she was diversifying so much ? She said: “Arent the Tatas a diversified company, so why not me?”. She added, “I need to put managers in each of my businesses, which I do, but I have to keep growing”.

We talked about the investment and the profitability of the Clinics model. I explained to her that it could take 2 years to break even. She said she will do it in 3 months ! And she added, “I don’t do business to make a loss. I am very clear that I will make it profitable in 3, max 6 months”. Her tone was not boastful. And she wasn’t speaking out of ignorance either. I quizzed her enough on the model and economics to figure out she knew what she was talking about.

Here was a woman, who could speak passable Hindi, practically no English but had the self confidence that is rarely seen. She was not intimidated by who I was. She gave me a firm handshake, spoke without hesitation and was not fidgety when I probed her. She was the Indira India needs more of.

Three things stood out – empowerment, self-confidence and economic independence. I don’t know which sequence they came in, and hence, what is the cause or the effect. Circumstance clearly played a role.

She is the empowered Hindustani woman we need in this country. Can’t we do something, in our own small locus of control, to be the trigger that creates more such empowered women? Can we create the circumstance that enables women to empower themselves ? How do we give women the self confidence that they can do what they dream and aspire to ? How do we give them the courage to dream, without forcing circumstance to make them do it ? I am still seeking answers to these questions.

Till then, Mrs Mukherjee, you are the Tata of the East for me !

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