Three things that I learnt about Leadership — Episode 3

Three things that I learnt at my very first job and from the same person, which shaped the way I think of leadership.

Episode 3:

Let me start this with a story of a typical office that you find. There was a Boss and there were a lot of employees. Let us consider one of the employees as ‘The One’. The One was good at doing some things and not good at doing some other aspects of the work (just like all of us). We have our own strengths and our own weaknesses. So ‘The One’ used to come to office each day and work hard and try to deliver an output that ‘Boss’ expected.

Unfortunately, for ‘The One’, the things he was not good at, were the things in which Boss was really good at. Let me give an example, ‘The One’ was good at reading data, understanding the data and providing very good analysis. But he was really poor at making presentations. Now, his Boss was really good at making presentations and could really beautify even the worst of them all. As a result of which, the Boss never liked The One’s work.

All of us can gauge what would happen to ‘the one’ each day in office. He used to get scolded virtually everyday in office. This was so regular that everyday at around 5:00 PM, The One and the entire team would know that he is up for his regular thrashing.

While this routine was very normal, I saw something odd. ‘The One’ would come back from his meeting, he would be cheerful as usual, chat with us, may be go for a tea break with us and behave as if nothing had happened. So we asked him how did he manage to remain so calm and cool post such ‘sessions’.

He said, ‘Have you guys ever played a video game? In a video game, if you fight, you hit some, you get hit at times and may be even get killed. However, are you worried after the game is over that you very badly punched and hit in the video game?’. Our answer was obvious, none of us obviously felt bad that we were bashed up in a game. Then came his reply, ‘I do the same thing, I imagine that I was in a video game being punched badly and thrashed, but when I come out of the room; the game is over! So, I resume my work.’

While some may disagree with the approach that ‘the one’ took, but the fact is that people take their way out.

This incident took my back to again my initial days in corporate. I was again sitting with my boss and I was worried. It was a monthly review of what had happened in sales over the last month and I knew I had goofed up and missed an opportunity for a big tender (it was a clear oversight from my side and I knew it). I was waiting to be scolded and shouted at, but it never happened.

Later, I gathered the courage to ask my boss, so I went up to him and asked ‘Why did you not scold me for missing the obvious tender?’. His reply sums up again one of the finest learnings. ‘As a leader, I need to have an understanding of people. When I met you, I automatically realised that you knew about your mistake and were keen that you should not repeat it. The reason for feedback is only one, ‘improvement’ and when you already know that you need to improve, what is the point of me repeating the same thing?

The second part of his response was even more important. He said, ‘Raising your voice is like a nuclear weapon in your arsenal. You cannot use a nuclear weapon everyday and every time. When you start raising your voice frequently, the impact of it diminishes very fast. It is just like a mosquito coil, when you use the mosquito coil for a very long time, you would see that the mosquitos are getting used to it and are no longer deterred by the smoke. Do not let your high pitch become the mosquito coil of your team!

When we give feedback to people, there are two very important things to remember.

1) Why are you giving the feedback? The only reason to give a feedback is to bring improvement. Therefore, if you already see that the improvement area has been realised, there is no point to give feedback.

2) How are you giving feedback? With the above objective in place, your mode of communication should be in a manner that hits the person with a note that makes an impact. When you raise your voice or accuse of a miss, the person automatically goes on a defensive mode. When a person is in a defensive mode, the chances of assimilating your feedback is much lower.

Ideally when a person goes out of a meeting room, you would want him or her to work with 200% passion rather than 50% of it.

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