Creativity and Appetite for Risk – Is Jeff Bezos a fool or a leader?

As I read about the octocopter drones in the newspaper yesterday morning, I thought I was watching a science fiction movie in my dream. After pinching myself to reality, I raced to the Internet and watched Jeff Bezos of Amazon being interviewed on 60 minutes.

I was entranced by the octocopter but even more mesmerized by Jeff Bezos who has the courage to take such a huge risk. Bezos stated that the time between receiving the request from the customer and delivering the product to the customer is shortening everyday and if the innovations are not targeted in this area, the business dies. In his quest to keep his business fresh and listening to the voice of the customer, he has revealed that Amazon has invested in the research and development of the octocopter which is a GPRS driven electrical device that will deliver packages (of maximum weight of 5 pounds) within a 10-mile radius in a window of 30 minutes. The description of ‘fast’ needs to be rewritten in the dictionary!

“A ship is always safe at the shore – but that is NOT what it is built for.”― Albert Einstein

As a leadership trainer, people who push the limit and are willing to take the fall always fascinate me. Managers who are conservative and cautious are becoming obsolete in today’s market. The ability to explore unexplored paths and make imagination a reality are core competencies of a leader today. In the 19th century, business encouraged people to be risk-averse but today people have to risk-hungry. Situations that are risky are seen as an opportunity for creative thinking and growth.

Corporates that focus on leadership development should be asking themselves some key questions – Are we encouraging creativity, innovation and risk-taking in our people? Are we rewarding these qualities and is it a part of performance management? Are we talking about these qualities only for the top management or are we creating this environment for people as soon as they join the company?

The leadership programs conducted by MMM Training Solutions focuses on the core competencies of a leader that are essential for success in the 21st century. Some of the distinguishing features of our program are – duration of 3 to 6 months, combination of individual coaching and group training and individual assignments that help the participants to put the learning into practice.

Courage – A Leadership Essential

‘I’ve had my ups and downs,’ he says. ‘My fair share of bumpy roads and heavy winds. That’s what made me what I am today. Now I stand here before you. What you see is a body crafted to perfection.  A pair of legs engineered to defy the laws of physics and a mindset to master the most epic of splits.’Jean-Claude Van Damme

Volvo released a commercial ‘The Epic Split’  on Nov 14th, 2013, in which Jean Claude does an amazing feat – does a split between two Volvo trucks. The commercial brings out the precision of the Volvo trucks with perfect clarity. But to me, as an Executive Coach, what was even more fascinating is the feat done by Jean Claude.

As I studied about his life, the two values that he embraced from age 11 were Consistency and Courage. At the age of 11, his father took Jean Claude for martial arts lessons because he was physically weak. At the age of 15, Van Damme started his competitive karate career in Belgium. From 1976-1980, Van Damme compiled a record of 44 victories and 4 defeats in matches.The application and dedication to the sport has contributed significantly to an enviable Hollywood film career for him.

Jean-Claude  has struggled with substance abuse and mental illness for a significant period in his life. He had reached a point when he had strong suicidal tendencies. 1997 was a turning point in his life when started to pull things back to normalcy in his life.

As I read about Jean Claude’s life, I was impressed with the way he kept his singular focus on martial arts through his difficult times. This focus gave him the ability to deal with the other circumstances.

As leaders, do you have a purpose, which gives you direction in your life? “A man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder.” Rudder is the smallest part of a ship without which a ship is directionless. It takes courage to have a purpose and even more courage to hold on to this purpose through challenging times by consistently altering our mindsets. May we have more leaders like Jean-Claude!

Understanding Empathy: Lessons from Cyclone Phailin

“My shop has been badly damaged in the showers and the wind, but I had promised my customers I would serve them food from today itself. Hence, I have opened my shop,” stated Rahul Kant, an entrepreneur, one day after Cyclone Phailin. Rahul runs a south Indian eatery on the beach in Gopalpur, which was the epicenter of the cyclone.

I was amazed to hear about the attitude and commitment of this man who wanted to open his shop a day after a major cyclone had struck.

As a training consultant, I am always asked the question, “Can you provide a training program on ‘Fostering Ownership’?” Sounds easy on the surface, however, we all know that one training program is not enough to do so. Ownership and Accountability are what we term assoft skills, which, put simply, are the skills paramount for effectual interpersonal relationships.

Where does ownership come from? I keep looking at the statement made by Rahul Kant and I ask myself the question – “What within him is driving him to overlook his safety and focus on the needs of others and open his store to provide food for his community?” I think the answer is empathy, a soft skill that is a key part of Emotional Intelligence. Empathy helped him to prioritize the ‘need of his community’. Empathy enabled him to take ownership for the recovery of his people.

I believe the key to fostering ownership is giving people a cause to believe in. One that is bigger than themselves, and connecting it to how they play a role in contributing to that cause i.e. the ‘bigger picture’. This clearly explains why enhancing soft skills is a major focus of leadership programs today. The ability of a leader to see the bigger clarity and lead his/her people there is imperative to the success of an organization.

The cyclone Phailin that hit Orissa in India brought out some wonderful examples of people suspending their personal agendas and working together to contribute to the ‘bigger picture’. The Hindustan Times reported that 30,000 electricity workers in state of Andhra Pradesh, who had been on a strike to protest the division of the state (the Telengana issue), came back to work to deal with the emergency situation. Rediff.com also reported that Hindu and Muslim communities in Orissa joined together in offering prayers for the safety of the people of the state.

There is nothing better to bind people together than a common goal. The disaster prevention efforts for Cyclone Phailin have been termed a success because everyone saw the ‘bigger picture’ and took ownership to make a contribution in the roles that they could play. I believe the key in corporate business is the same. People need to see the ‘bigger picture’. That is why in leadership training programs today, leaders are encouraged to answer these questions:

• What is the ‘bigger picture’ that our organisation is contributing towards?
• How do we enable employees to understand the ‘bigger picture’ and their contribution towards it?
• How do we connect their ‘inner picture’ to the ‘bigger picture’ of our organisation?

Cyclone Phailin has left a lot of devastation in its wake but it has also given us the opportunity to witness the goodness and courage in people like Rahul Kant. I am proud to be an Indian!

Interviewing Skills Training is the Master Key to Move from Good to Great

To become a great company is the dream of many good companies. This movement is possible only if you have employees with, both, excellent skills as well as attitude. The first and the most crucial step in the movement towards this direction is to have excellent interviewing skills so that your company picks out the best talent possible. It’s just like mining for gold; finding an ounce of gold you need to move tons of things that are not gold.

Companies who have understood this are spending a lot of time and money in training their people in the cutting edge techniques of conducting effective interviews. They know that the lack of interviewing skills will lead to attrition and all the issues related to it.

Successful interviewing is not a hit-or-miss phenomena but something that has a concrete framework, a certain steps, and a certain way of doing things that yield you the same results, if done properly, time and time again.

The key focus areas in Interviewing Skills training are:

  • Identifying the core competencies needed for the job
  • Writing a Job Description that captures these competencies
  • Scanning the candidate to ensure that they possess these competencies

This blog is going to focus on two key skills that are needed to scan the candidate’s competencies:

  1. Listening Intently
  2. Framing apt questions

1. Listening Intently:

“I don’t talk a lot when I interview. My job is to get out of the way.” – Anna Deavere Smith

When you commit to listening more than talking, it gives you the ability to understand the candidate at a deeper level. It allows you to stay in the present and observe keenly the interviewee’s body language and communication; thus understanding the authenticity of the responses. It also reinforces to the interviewee that you are genuinely interested and creates an environment conducive for an honest exchange.

2. Framing apt questions:

“Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers.” – Robert Half

Asking open-ended questions gives the candidate the room to give innovative and unusual answers. Questions then give the interviewer the opportunity to explore this unfamiliar space to a deeper level and thus understand the feasibility of relating the core competencies needed for the job to the expressed capabilities. Well-framed and well-timed questions create an environment of powerful communication giving both the interviewer and the interviewee the ability to connect untapped abilities to known competencies.

As the global market is changing so rapidly, job responsibilities are also being impacted by continuous innovative technology. So it is important to update Job Descriptions and core competencies needed for the positions. Equally important is for the team to undergo interviewing skills training at least once in 6 months. This training should be of an experiential nature where they conduct simulations of interviews and are given immediate feedback by the trainer. Key stakeholders should be invited to be on a panel that also assists the trainer in giving organization specific feedback. We, at MMM Training Solutions, have had immense success in using this format for interviewing skills training. Organizations for whom we have conducted this training have documented immediate impact.

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Should Presentation Training be a Key Component of Coaching?

“When we are dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bustling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.” – Dale Carnegie

Executive Coaching is a privilege that only senior management of companies are privy to. Hence their ability to impact people is a key focus area of the coaching. Presentations are an everyday activity for these people and their ability to create an impact during these presentations are critical. Hence Presentation Training is a key focus during Executive Coaching.

During the Presentation Training the attention is on three areas: Preparation, Design and Delivery.  Of these three areas, the one that is deemed most important by MMM is Preparation.

“The commander must decide how he will fight the battle before it begins. He must then decide who he will use the military effort at his disposal to force the battle to swing the way he wishes it to go; he must make the enemy dance to his tune from the beginning and not vice versa.” – Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

The success of a presentation is purely dependent on the extent of the preparation. This includes understanding the audience, defining the objectives with the stakeholders, planning the duration, practicing the presentation in front of a mirror and observing ones body language, preparing for the uncertainties and most of all being passionate and knowledgeable about the subject. Hence these are our focus areas during the Executive Coaching.

The success experienced by our coaches has provoked us to include in our leadership programs for middle management also. The effectiveness of the presentations of senior management has raised the bar in the organization. This together with the global nature of multi national companies has impelled us to augment our focus on enhancing presentations.

Is Communication Skills a part of Soft Skills Training?

“Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are — chaff and grain together — certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”
― Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, A Life for a Life

Often we are asked how soft skills training impact a person’s life. This quote gives me an incredible way to describe it – communication skills helps to ‘pour it all out’ but soft skills training helps you to decipher what is worth keeping and what needs to be blown away. It is the deeper ability to sense what is not being said and to understand the wisdom in what is being said even if it does not agree with your senses. It is the ability to understand that there is a reality that is different from one’s own and that is still real to the other person.

“It’s okay to disagree with the thoughts or opinions expressed by other people. That doesn’t give you the right to deny any sense they might make. Nor does it give you a right to accuse someone of poorly expressing their beliefs just because you don’t like what they are saying. Learn to recognize good writing when you read it, even if it means overcoming your pride and opening your mind beyond what is comfortable.” ― Ashly Lorenzana

Soft skills training helps you to understand that communication is not only about what is being said but it is also about that which is not being expressed. This comes through observing the body language and listening for feelings in the message. This enables you to comprehend both the tangible and the intangible. This is truly what creates effective two-way communication – the only way to develop good communication skills.

Presentation skills-A Vital Tool for Succeeding in Professional Life

Presentation training has become an integral part of personality development courses, these days.  Delivering presentations form a vital part of a business process and can never be deleted from the same. All kinds of professions require sharing knowledge and also keeping different teams well informed about the status of various kinds of projects that have been undertaken by the company or business house. The better a person is at giving presentations, the chances of their career enhancement increases dramatically. But, many people perform poorly while delivering a presentation because of the lack of skills and confidence that it requires. Mastering the art of delivering effective business presentation requires significant knowledge, guidance and practice. Presentation skills training helps to face and conquer all fears related to speaking in public and make you emerge as a confident speaker, who conveys ideas effectively and captivate the audience. Training programs that also provide individual coaching are the most effective as ongoing guidance is a critical component contributing to the success. So, if you want to swap from being an anxious speaker to a captivating speaker, then enrolling for a presentation training program will be imperative.

Thought Leadership

 

Gautama Buddha, SriSri Ravishankar, BabaRamdev, JKrishnamurti, Paramahansa Yogananda, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Osho Rajneesh, Sathya Sai Baba, Srila Prabhupada of ISCKON fame – What common thread binds all of these big names – yes they are all spiritual gurus revered and followed by millions all over the world. Apart from this they have another amazing quality – their power to influence the thoughts of their followers – these are spiritual gurus whose kingdom far outreaches the geographical influence of any king or government stretching as they do from one corner of the world to the other. Their followers hail from diverse backgrounds – the common man, artists, politicians, world leaders, homemakers, children, drug addicts, the conscientious working man – the spectrum is really all encompassing.

As early as the 1920’s saw J Krishnamurti urging people to “reject authority particularly one that instructs you on thought”. The promise of freedom from thought instructing authority had thousands eating out of his hand!

These pied pipers of spirituality recognized many years ago the power of establishing the value of a thought or an idea in the minds of their followers. Vedanta, meditation, yoga, kriya, karma and dharma were tied together with the firm thread of “Thought Leadership”. Spiritual Gurus come and go, much like the flavor of the day, they remain in the minds of people for a while – what lives on is their power to influence the thoughts of their followers.

So what is “Thought Leadership”? It is the ability to sell an idea to a group of people – one does not necessarily have to have power, position or authority to display thought leadership. And the changes may not be initiated at the organizational level. The changes can be small scale at the team or group level. Thought leaders can demonstrate using a prototype or use logic and evidence to persuade people.

To be a thought leader a person must be the king of content – the stronger the content the lesser the effort to sell the idea – content, evidence and demonstrated usage will speak for itself. The credibility of their idea is the key to its acceptability. Thought Leadership is radically different from traditional top down leadership.

Let’s compare this to a journey – Traditional leaders define the destination, lay down the road map and sell tickets to reach there as well. Thought leaders on the other hand merely sell the tickets for the journey and allow people to get there on their own or with the help of facilitators, coaches and managers. They just promote a better way to get to the destination.

Thought Leadership ends when the target group accepts the idea. This is where the thought leader becomes a manager and starts to manage the implementation of the idea either on his own or with the help of other managers.

Thought Leadership requires a youthful rebellion and tremendous courage, bravery and conviction to charter new paths. Once a part of an organization’s culture Thought Leadership can add to the sustainability in the long term perspective. Folks go out there and break the mould..yet again!

Creating Leadership Readiness Through Animated Movies

 Where do the best learning’s take place – in schools? In colleges? At home? At work??

Well the best learning takes place in a movie hall – specially when we watch movies of the animated kind – have you ever noticed how these creatures we call animals so beautifully mirror thoughts, actions, behavior, attitudes and morals as recorded in different faiths – they are perfect teachers – from whom we can glean a wealth of insights on human behavior.

Animals for centuries have been used to depict life’s lessons and the inevitable truths in a magical way. For many decades now we have experiences this magic through animated films. These films inspire charm and teach in ways that live -people films, limited by shackles of reality, struggle to do.

Let’s talk about Cinderella – Once the magic of the fairy tale wears off what life lessons are we left with to ponder over?

Cinderella had a step mom who made the devil scurry home to finish his housework before he dared any devilry – what did she do about it? Did we ever hear her complain – not one whimper from those pretty lips. It is so commonplace to complain, lament and lash out at the world for our miseries – Cinderella was the epitome of quiet strength and beauty. Harsh treatment and harsher words did not deter her commitment to her responsibilities – heck she even made the most of her adversity by daring to dream.

Cinderella teaches us an invaluable lesson – persist with the cards life has dealt you with and you will find gold at the end of the rainbow. It also teaches us the priceless worth of forgiveness – Beauty is a treasure but graciousness is truly priceless. If she could forgive her step sisters and step mother at the end of the story, we can surely try to forgive to build and further relationships.

Persist..One day a prince will appear who will help us flourish into the princess we always were.

Lots of hard work, a little patience and the clock striking twelve will definitely not turn our carriage back into a pumpkin!

Leaders – How Clean is Your Window?

It was raining very heavily and the little restaurant where I was having dinner was very crowded. All the tables were occupied and some hungry customers were waiting for their turn. Some children were crying as they had to wait and the harassed waiters were hurrying to serve the diners.

Amidst all this confusion there was one waiter called Chandran who was serving everyone with a smile. His communication skills were fairly advanced. He was serving each customer according to their need, carefully listening to each order, checking his understanding and then executing the order. But Chandran’s smile was short lived as very soon there was a huge commotion at one end of the restaurant. One angry diner had flung his plate across the room and was screaming at him.

All eyes turned to that part of the room. It was surprising to see that Chandran was involved in this situation. As a regular diner I had always admired Chandran for his skill at customer service. Always polite and quick to serve the customers, he was indeed very popular with everyone. In fact he had also very recently received the “Employee of the Month” award from his employers. So what was going wrong?

The customer was actually accusing Chandran of physically assaulting his little son. The manager rushed to the spot and, after pacifying the customer, got to the bottom of the issue. Most of the people around also had seen Chandran drag the little boy across the room but what was Chandran’s version?

Then we came to the final truth. Unnoticed by the parents the little boy was playing with a fan that was kept nearby. As Chandran was passing by he noticed that the child was pushing his fingers dangerously close to the fan. Chandran quickly dragged him away from danger. A moment’s delay would have had dire consequences. Instead of thanking him these parents were shouting at him!

The attitude displayed in this situation reminded me of something that I had recently read:

“And so it is with life. What we see when watching others depends on the purity of the window through which we look.” – Author Unknown

When we look through a dirty window the world outside looks dirty and when we clean the window and look through it, the world outside is a beautiful world. The window we look through is really the perception we have of people and situations.

If only those parents could clean their window and look at the situation. Instead of shouting at him they would be thanking him for saving their little boy!

“We see the world not as is but as we are. By improving, refining, and defining who we are, we see the world from the highest, most enlightened perspective”.

– Robin Sharma in Leadership Wisdom