7 Perils of the “Survival of the Fittest” Theory…

2015/07/02

Ever since Herbert Spencer coined this term based on Darwin’s theories, it has probably been the most used excuse for anything that we would not do in a more cooperative world. Though we don’t live in what can be defined as a cooperative world, the irony is, we also want to get away from what is called the “Rat Race”. Pretty nice contradictions to live with right?

So, have you noticed people who live by the survival of the fittest theory? Irrespective of the demographics or socioeconomic background they come from, there are some commons traits and behaviors they seem to display which is not only remarkably consistent, but also clearly distinguishable. These are some I have noticed.

They cant make meaningful friendships: Forget friendships, many cant even make meaningful relationships with siblings. Since people who live by this theory always have to be better than the crowd, anyone part of it is a competition. And because of this, no one can be a true a friend. Most people they know are only accomplices that can come in handy for the pursuit of goals.

They are mostly comfortable, but highly stressed too: Again, this is a result of meaningless comparisons and pointless pursuits. Since the world can only take a “few” survivors, wanting to survive is a need that results in (mostly) pointless analysis.

They don’t trust easily: Actually, this could have been the first point. In fact, it is this trait that results in point 1.

They play their cards close to their chest: Since they hardly trust anyone, they have no choice but to play their cards close to their chest. Sometimes, it can be so apparent that even an innocuous, question like “when do you generally leave from work?” would be replied with a suspicious “why do you ask this?” question. But, at the far end, they would not mind taking favors from the same people though.

They have an apparent scarcity mindset: Try asking them to part with something they own, and you will know this. Even if they know its hardly useful, they just can’t part with what is theirs.

They just don’t mind passing the buck: Forget “not minding” passing the buck, some would have even mastered this art. In many cases, they might even take credit for what they don’t deserve, but not take responsibility for anything close to failure.

What they live by is a substitute of what they live for: Everyone has ambitions which results from life goals and we make some compromises to achieve them, but people who have the survivor mindset actually don’t seem to have any true “no-no’s” for themselves. The only no-no would probably be not compromising on their goals.

Whatever said and done, survival of the fittest mindset people also have their own moments and pursuits of happiness. But mostly, their happiness would be a derivative of what comforts they can possibly possess.

What do you think? Am I missing anything here? Or is “survival of the fittest” a natural process that we have to “adapt” to?


5 Habits of highly narcissist managers

2013/05/30

Narcissist [thesaurus] – concerned only with oneself.

Of course, there are more definitions and explanations in thesaurus to explain the word better, but let’s stick to the main definition for now.

Despite so many materials available in so many different forms, I’m really not sure why many managers can’t even pretend they are not narcissists. We always come across one manager in even a 50 member “organization” who thinks his/her word is final and no one “below” them can have any opinions that differ it. Well, more on why managers feel the need to fuel their own glorified ego’s on a daily basis in a later post, but the below are some of the habits I’ve seen many managers display consistently that earns them the right to be labeled “narcissists”, and with all due respects, I’ve probably had some of these and maybe still have some too.

There is an opinion they have formed, and that is non-negotiable – And we can only fuel it, not differ from it. I once worked with manager (peer thankfully) who carried opinions of people for more than 3 years, same opinion from the time the people joined as trainees to the time they moved on to become reviewers of others work. Sometimes, they even damn hard, real and objective results against the same.

Damn results, proximity matters – Many times, narcissist managers tend to overlook results to ensure the safety net of people in their close proximity. This happens mainly when they want to build a yes men team who would not get any smarter than them and would not be a threat to their own positions.

They generally point upwards – When managers more often tell you that something has come from upwards and we need to follow it, be rest assured that they are hinting that’s what they want you to do as well, follow their instructions since anyway it has come down the hierarchy.

Indicative behavior matters the most – Mainly the ones that satisfies their own positions in their own world. For example, do you come before them and leave after them? Do you respect them by not sitting in front of them? Do you hide your face when you meet them at the hallway to show that you are not yet prepared to meet them eye-eye? Are you sure you address them “properly” in mails?

Appreciations are hard to come by, but reprimands flow freely – Some people can hide this trait under the guise of being tough masters with sky-high expectations. Nothing wrong with that, but just that these expectations are never documented or presented to the concerned people, making them hit targets that was not shown in the first place.

So what do you think? Am I missing more from the list? Or have corporate managers really taken a turn for good and these need not apply anymore?


The worst measure of productivity

2013/05/06

Of late, I’ve been coming across a lot of people who pride in how less they sleep. So much that, when there is a discussion around how hard they work, it always hovers around how less they sleep. And I have started to get a feeling that this is a measure of productivity for many people – hope I’m wrong here though.

While common sense would concur that this is not the best (if not the worst) measure of productivity, why would someone take pride in saying how less they sleep when the discussion is how hard they work? Is it because it is the easiest way to quantify the hard work quotient? Honestly, I have not come across any successful person talking about how many hours they sleep. In fact, I have only heard them advocating the importance of a good night’s sleep.

A better way to quantify the hard work quotient is probably how many hours we can put in at work on a weekly basis. This is holistic, gives time for all roles we need to play in life, and gives enough time for sleep. For example, I have read that Ashok Soota (co-founder of Mindtree consulting) clocks 70 hours a week at work. That is less than 50% of a week, still is a lot of work, gives enough time for all roles we want to play, and of course sleep. Needless to say, I believe he has to be highly productive given that he has been holding executive positions for more than half his lifetime, has co-founded one of the most successful companies, and at 70, has founded another company. Personally, I would like to clock not less than 55 hours at work every week – I know, I am not there yet.

So, do yourself a favor, sleep well, and if possible, take a power nap in the day. Basically, enjoy a productive life!!!


8 Ways to Spot Untrustworthy People

2012/01/09

Another one on trust!!! As I said in a previous post, I’m a stickler for trust. Without that, I don’t think we can clearly distinguish ourselves from a carnivore that eats whatever it can when hungry. But still, we find untrustworthy people, who, in their late 20’s, think the best way to survive in “today’s world” is being manipulative.  I really feel the urge to ask them how many other worlds they know. I don’t, and before I digress, these are some traits I’ve noticed pretty consistently in untrustworthy people.

  • Not Sticking to Commitments – They don’t stick to their own commitments and find ways to the blame the meekest person, or the weather for that matter for not meeting them. Seriously, I had a team member who blamed sudden rains for not meeting deliverables, and he was in office that day.
  • Back Talking – They talk to you nicely, but talk about others in a, hmm, not so nice way. But if you catch them talking nicely to the same people whom they bitched about to you, don’t be surprised.
  • Seeing everyone as competition – They really can’t differentiate between a peer and a competitor. In their world, there is only one survivor at the end of each and every day, and as a result, it is imperative they should be the one. Many people can argue that is the case in reality, but it need not be – and I can write a 1500 words post on that alone.
  • Being politically right – Being nice is more important for them than being right. Such people just can’t talk anything on your face, nice or otherwise. There is always a hidden personal agenda. Sometimes, it can also be a result of the organization culture. I worked in a company that had an online training program titled Being Politically Savvy. I was not sure if it was a joke, but it reflected in the way most of the employees dealt with each other in that company.
  • Blab information – They pride in knowing information others don’t. Most times, the information might not even pertain to the conversation. It just does not matter. They know something, and even if they were not supposed to say it, they will, because they need to prove they know more than you.
  • Also, conceal information – This is also a typical trait. They believe in playing their cards close to their chest – which is not wrong – but many times, they conceal information to such extent that it even leads to failure of larger goals, if they don’t have major stakes on those results. If they do, they display traits of point 1. Sometimes, you can spot the same person showing this and the previous trait. They blab totally unrelated information, but conceal important information that leads to success of a common goal.
  • Flaunt a false sense of power – If such people are somewhere in the junior/middle management, they just don’t know what power is. Their only notion of power is – getting their subordinates to listen to them and not think. Well, do I really have to expand this further – I’m sure all of have had such bosses or even been one. Just a confession – I’ve had such bosses and also been one. But then, there are people who don’t have to be bosses to exhibit such traits.
  • Flaunt contacts they don’t have – If you know people who always know someone in anyplace, then you know what I’m talking about. The moment you utter some kind of problem or help you need, they fire all guns to tell you they know someone who can help you, but invariably that person would not be available just when you need them, though they had a conversation only the previous week. This might sound an innocuous trait, but please don’t depend on such people to get something done. And hey, I have done that many times over – to feel a false sense of pride.

These are some traits I have observed from my own experiences. I’m sure there are more, so how do you spot untrustworthy people?


Business is not a War – and can never be…

2012/01/02

I come across many articles and thoughts that directly relate business situations to a war and how business leaders are like leaders of an army, and how their subordinates fall into various ranks till the last foot soldier.

For heaven’s sake, I would vehemently oppose any such comparisons with all that I have. Please do not dis-respect people who protect our sovereignty without even knowing who we are, and are prepared to lay down their lives for intangibles. In fact, one post I came across said in a war there are bullets and in business there are deadlines. Sure, but you can’t die of deadlines, and bullets are meant to kill you. Moreover, there is always a scope for win-win solutions in business if the leader is mature enough for that, but in a war, it’s almost always a no-win situation. I hope you would agree that the gains of a war are not worth the price paid for it. I’m no M.K.Gandhi to preach non-violence here, but looking at the current economic situation and looking back on the great depression, that’s a thought hard to ignore.

By the way, I don’t know what it is to be a soldier – I have never been one and neither have any of my closest family members or friends – but I’m confident what they do is much beyond what any business leader can ever think of doing. Even the likes of Steve Jobs – RIP!!!

But in my mind, business leaders & managers can do one thing all leaders of the armed forces do – lead from the front – a phrase I’m sure was picked up from the armed forces. This, in my mind, is one of the few phrases that be used to draw parallels between a war and business – in a much diluted form though. Leading from the front in a business situation can probably mean this:

Taking accountability for failures, spreading credit during successful times, and dirtying hands when there is a need.

Beyond that, I feel any further comparison to a war is simply under-estimating what soldiers do for our respective nations. OK, maybe a few more “war” phrases can be applied to businesses too – and I’m looking forward to knowing them.

So, do you honestly believe war and business can be spoken about in parallel breaths?


Why Good Leaders Fail…

2011/12/26

The internet and even book shelves are filled with numerous articles on the traits of bad managers, and some traits of good managers too. It might sound a bit ironic, but all my time spent on reading and searching has proven this – there are more bad managerial traits than there are the good ones available in any format.

But there are those that fall in-between, ones that were good managers, got excellent results for the business through people, created a thriving environment for everybody to grow, ensured individual motivators are leveraged to achieve key results, and in the process let a few of them grow, and if possible, even over grow themselves. I know these kind of idealistic phrases are generally associated with angels and some religious representations that cannot take a human form, but I have come across a few people (very few though!!!) who are capable of this. But the moment you put them in another environment or organization, they start to break down. All parts of the phrase above reflect the exact opposite now. They miserably fail in meeting the expectations of their direct reports and managers. They lose touch with reality and sometimes it also affects the lives of people around.

So why do such managers fail in one environment, while been wildly successful in another? These are some reasons that I have come across in my experience. Please do feel free to add your thoughts too.

  • The value systems are entirely different – Weather they move from a mature to an immature value system or vice versa, there is a natural tendency to under-perform. And if they move from a non-political (trust me, there are such for-profit organizations) to a highly political environment, it becomes a turmoil.
  • Parameters for trust are entirely different – If you read my posts even irregularly, you would have guessed it by now. I’m a stickler for trust. Some of my friends even call me an old-school person. Either way, I’ve been in situations where trust means different things for different people. In fact, I’ve been in situations where trust does not hold any meaning at all. So, if what we mean by trust is entirely different, between team members, peers and our supervisors, then this is a sure-fire recipe for failure.
  • The new manager is not as mature as you – This is again a sure-fire recipe for total disaster. You have gained experience the hard way, making terrible mistakes, embarrassing yourself, doing a few right things – basically the hard way. But your new manager is, hmm, political and raw. And then the conflict of interests starts. Either way, please remember, you are never going to win a battle with such a boss. Either work around them, or just work in a different place.
  • The manager is not able to establish credibility with the new team – This is entirely up to the manager. If the manager had been working with a team for a few years, then it is more like a known devil situation. But, direct and indirect reports don’t look at new manager as an unknown angel. The sooner the manager establishes credibility, the better. This is best done by exactly defining goals, guidelines to reach them and what will happen if those goals are not met or met. This will ensure people really don’t care about the person and concentrate on results. Not being popular is much better than making people chase shadows to be liked by a few people.
  • The Manger is probably too “good” – A lot of manager fall into this trap – in fact I’ve been there too when I started out as a first line manager almost 8 years back. They take management as a popularity contest and fail on their basic responsibilities – defining goals that directly impact the business, and helping the team achieve them too. This urge for being popular becomes all the more imperative when the manager takes charge of a new team.

So what do you think? Why do leaders fail sometimes, while being wildly successful elsewhere?


12 Lessons Learnt from Failure…

2011/12/22

Learning from failure is a very important management principle that people talk about so much these days. It is a good tool no doubt, and I cannot claim that I don’t learn from them as much I can’t claim I don’t fail. So, here is a short list of my lessons from personal failures in whatever little experience I have. I definitely don’t have the breadth of experience to make a long list, so I will keep adding them as I get it.

  • Humility is an effective tool only if you have the power. If you don’t and still want to value humility, you are just a sitting duck.
  • If you think you are smarter than your boss, just shut up and find a better a job. You will not win the battle in case you decide to go for it.
  • If you do something embarrassing, own it, apologize and forget it. But beyond a point, pretend it didn’t happen. This holds true even if you have to live it up all the way.
  • Laugh at yourself. It’s much better than others laughing at you. And the chances of no one ever not laughing at you never exists.

These are lessons I learnt the hard way from other’s failures.

  • Behavior, intent & values should be consistent and complement one another. Bad behavior and good intent is pardonable. Good behavior but bad intent is a trait of the lesser being, easily identifiable, and not worth in the long run.
  • Insecurity breeds only in people who have absolutely no confidence in their skills and knowledge.
  • Having the right connections is no substitute for bad results. Even your connections will find ways of moving away if you produce bad results consistently.
  • Don’t do anything with money as the primary motivator. There is no way you will make enough money with inflation around.
  • But then, don’t pretend you don’t need money and you can survive on air and water. By the way, you need to pay your dues even for water.
  • Don’t try to work around people who deal with you honestly. You can never ever get back to them and there are not many people who do deal fairly.
  • BSing works in the short-term. Please don’t be apologetic in case you have short-term goals and BS to achieve it.
  • Kharma has its way of following you. Good and Bad!!!

So, what are your lessons from failures?


How to spot a ‘bad boss’

2011/12/14

An excellent guest post by Adi Gaskell, Content & Communities Manager at CMI, UK. You can view Adi Gaskell’s linkedin profile here and follow him on twitter here.

The movie Bad Bosses is released this week.  Stanford academic Bob Sutton has made a point over the last few years of delving into what it is exactly that makes some bosses so bad.  He first coined the phrase bosshole in his 2007 book The No Asshole Rule.  The online urban dictionary defines a bosshole as:

Bosshole “an employer of a particularly evil nature, completely devoid of empathy or concern for anyone else. the deadly hybrid of boss and asshole.”

In his subsequent book Good Boss, Bad Boss he outlined various ways you can identify a bad boss (or bosshole if you will).  Here is his 10 point checklist

1. Kisses-up and kicks-down: If your boss is sycophantic to his boss, but super tough on those beneath him there’s a strong chance he could be a bosshole.

2. Can’t take it: Dishing out criticism is second nature to this boss, but if ire is turned on him then his skin proves very thin indeed.

3. Short fuse
: Anger is fine now and then, but if it’s a permanent fixture it can quickly breed a culture of fear, which is not a good thing at all.

4. Bad credit: You do the work, they take the credit.  Sound familiar?  This is a common trait of a bosshole.  The best bosses give credit where it’s due and make stars of their team.

5. Canker sore: Your boss decides to participate in your team activities, how do they often turn out?  Is it harmonious or full of conflict?  Talent is no excuse for being a bosshole.

6. Flamer: Email provides an easy channel for venting.  Is your boss a keyboard warrior that uses poor email etiquette to flame others, blind carbon copying to cover his back and other poor email form?

7. Downer: Does your boss make you feel excited and energized about coming into work, or does he fill you with dread when you set off each morning?  Bossholes tend to suck the energy from their team.

8. Card shark: In a knowledge economy, sharing information is a no brainer, but bossholes tend to keep knowledge close to their chest for their personal gain rather than that of their team or their employer.  Co-workers aren’t competitors that you have to defeat to get ahead, but a bosshole will think they are.

9. Army of one: Think back to your school days when you pick out classmates to play on your football team.  The bosshole would be the last pick without doubt because despite their talents people avoid them like the plague.

10. Open architecture: How would the prospective boss respond if a copy of The No Asshole Rule appeared on her desk?” Be careful if the answer is, “Duck!

This is a guest post by Adi Gaskell, editor of The Management Blog for CMI.


What Every Employee Needs…

2011/11/24

Ask any fist line or second line manager what his or her biggest challenges are, there is a 8-on-10 chance that the top 3 would contain something related to motivating and aligning people to common objectives. Everyone has their own motivators and personal goals, and primary use they see of an organization or employer is to meet those goals. And many managers fail because they are either not interested in understanding this and try to push their own goals unilaterally, or try to be nice to everyone and in the process fail to meet any of the expectations – of their own managers and people they are responsible for. As a result, it’s a common conclusion that identifying the motivators of each of their employees and providing appropriate avenues for that is a futile exercise since it is so diverse and hence might not be feasible to achieve.

Though this is a very valid argument and also true in many instances, one common need I have noticed in my experience is, almost all employees want GROWTH. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that every human being has various degrees of needs at various stages.

Maslow Needs Heirarchy

In my experience, what I have noticed is, all employees want growth or evolution in whichever stage of need they are in. The true challenge for any manager is to figure out which stage the employee is in, and enable an environment of growth in the stage. Sometimes it will work, and many times it might not. This would also hold good while managing upwards. For managers to really succeed, it’s better to understand what is implied as the “need of the hour” for the organization and enable people achieve growth in that need – rather than “meeting” those needs. And personally, I have failed on this many times. In my opinion, truly successful managers are those that are able to enable an environment of constant growth for the organizational needs and the needs of people whom they work with.

And leadership maturity is having the ability to differentiate between providing “opportunities to satisfy a need” and “opportunities for growth in that need”.

What do you think? Should managers concentrate on satisfying particular needs or providing growth in a desired area?


What can you do about a culture of Mistrust…

2011/07/01

Trust is a very personal thing. Many people can believe trust should between two people and should not be confused as a culture to be followed or propagated. But in many organizations, dysfunctions and interpersonal issues are mostly (from my personal experiences) offshoot’s of an underlying thread of mistrust. Most people are not willing to see anything beyond the layer of behavior and talk at lengths about what’s wrong and more importantly, with whom. Of course an organization is only a place we spend time in to fulfill a lot of our personal aspirations, but we spend considerable amount of time there. And if it bleeds of mistrust, we just can’t get up in the morning looking forward for a day’s work, even if it means just a check list item.

Some common symptoms of organizations bleeding in a culture of mistrust could include:

  • No meaningful confrontation happens, every dialogue happens through the immediate supervisor.
  • Only tasks are delegated, not responsibilities.
  • Issues are never isolated from people. Resolving issues always means pulling up people connected to it.
  • Data is not an important aspect in operations.
  • Data provided for anything is not validated, but contended.
  • Being politically right is more important than being right.
  • Personal interests always score over team/organizational goals, at any point of time.
  • People are more interested in saving the ass, rather than resolving issues.

The list can go on, but these are some of the major symptoms I have noticed from my experience. Requesting you to add your thoughts too in case I missed any.

And sometimes, we just accept this as reality and wait for the first opportunity to move on. Though that’s not wrong, I would say we can first try a few things to see if there is something we can do to make things better for us, and honestly for people around us before taking that step. And if we work in the capacity of managers, I guess it is our responsibility to try our best to make things better for our team and other teams as well.

Resort to meaningful dialogue – Talk directly to people to whom we have question. Rather than going to the manager, its better we talk to the people directly. It might work, or might not work, but it’s worth the try. This involves a lot of courage, but we should not forget it involves some consideration as well. Being honest is not an excuse for not treating people with respect.

Make Data the primary performance parameter N. R. Narayana Murthy once famously said, “In god we believe, everyone else brings data to the table”. This should not mean we must remove the human aspect out of the equation. Alarming data points can be used as a basis to understand issues, derive action items and then arrive at people responsible for them. In many cases, issues/deviation is more a factor of the process.

Identify process issues before people issues – Again this does not mean we should neglect people issues – which is very common – but does the process itself allow for eccentricities? You cannot expect a project to be profitable if it goes through 10 review cycles by different people, and expect the primary contributor to have a keen eye for detail too. You will end up overshooting the budget, and at the end of the day, the primary contributor will not be interested in doing things the first time right, given people are anyway going to have “new ideas” over every coffee they have.

Confront mistrust with honesty – M.K. Gandhi said the worst punishment you can hand over to an untrustworthy person is treating him/her with honestly. Nothing can be farther from truth. Always be honest and forthright with people, but don’t expect that favor to be returned.

Isolate issues from people – Whenever we need to resolve issues, its better we talk about the issue rather than the person responsible for it. Again, this is not to say people don’t screw up, but at least will help in building a culture of trust. Start with the issue, and then move to the people responsible for it.

Place facts over feelings – Feelings are generally an offshoot of behaviors. People “feel” something about others based on what he/she has “done” in the past. Though this is not something we should just disregard, it will help if we ask for facts. Feelings can be subjective, facts just cannot.

Trust people conditionally, and treat them respectfully – This is from one of my favorite authors – Stephen Covey. Trusting should not mean we blindly trust whatever people say. It’s better to also place accountability to what is said. We should specifically ask for instances/data when people generally provide malicious information about others. And this does not mean we should undervalue the importance of respect just because we have evidence of deviations. By treating people with respect and trusting them conditionally, we send out a very important message – I’m prepared to deal with issues and people who deviate from specified norms that you bring up, but that does not mean I will blindly trust you into pulling people up for “allegations”.

All the above points are a reflection of what can be done for a team/organization that is at the lowest level of trust quotient. Once the trust factor is established, we can move to more mature management/leadership principles like collaboration etc. What do you think?


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