Brake!

“Self-awareness” is fast becoming another buzzword that one needs to have in the pocket in the current world of ‘cool’ stuff to possess. Consider if you are a human being and alive, you are already self-aware. You don’t have to learn anything new. 

Only humans have the ability to direct their attention and thinking inwards or the ability to look at themselves. You can always increase the degree of self-awareness. 

Self-awareness can be defined as one’s ability of being aware of different aspects of the self including situations, traits, behaviours, and feelings. Essentially, it is a psychological state in which one becomes the focus of attention. 

You can enhance your self-awareness by practising the following approach. Before you go the approach, participate in this small thought experiment. 

Thoughts Experiment: “Think of your favourite car. Only one car but anything. What colour is that car?. Say that aloud.  Now observe that as you were doing that experiment, you were also aware of your thought and thought processes. The first step in developing self-awareness is noticing that you are different from your thoughts. You have these thoughts. Once you can identify your thoughts don’t try to control them but start observing them.

The approach to cultivating self-awareness starts with Observation – it is the process of noticing or perceiving (something) and registering it as being significant.

Step 1 Observe: Start with observing things around you like your laptop, phone, people around you etc. Also start observing your own thoughts as well, observe the speed at which the mind processes the information, the judgements and the continuous running commentary in your head. 

Step 2 Pause: Once you have practised observing, start the practice of PAUSE. It is a reflective practice that can be done in the midst of the action. Come to the present by falling still and connecting mind with senses. The best way to do it is when you want to pause, hold your breath, connect your mind with your senses and slowly leave your breath. 

A combination of Observe and Pause will help in developing your self-awareness. There is a huge volume of literature, numerous courses and workshops on developing self-awareness. You can further enhance your self-awareness by practising meditation and mindfulness techniques. 

In the current fast-paced world, if you are feeling overwhelmed with work and multiple priorities you need a break. Don’t be afraid that if you brake too hard and stop suddenly the vehicle behind you will come and crush you. No – it is all happening in your mind. The only way to navigate the high-speed traffic in your mind is to brake hard, take a PAUSE and start again.  Slow down if you want to go far. 

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About Raghavendra (Ragx/Raghav) Mithare is a professional coach and serves as an agility coach with an Integrated Energy company. Views expressed are his own.

He is also a trained yoga teacher, and a student of design, technology and philosophy.  

Reference

https://hbr.org/2018/01/what-self-awareness-really-is-and-how-to-cultivate-it

The Will To Lead

Published in the early 90’s, The Will To Lead – running a business with a network of leaders is an influential book by the founder of McKinsey & Company, Marvin Bower. In this book he shares his own personal journey and motivations. Prior to publications of this book most leadership studies and publications were focused on leadership in politics and government. Now leadership qualities are an essential skill in business and also in everyday life. 

Peter Drucker, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, also brought the distinction between “management” and “Leadership”. In his book, Bower mentions when an executive achieves outstanding results through the exercise of authority in a hierarchy of superiors and subordinates, it is not “leadership” but “managing”. 

He also agrees with the popular saying “Leadership can’t be taught, but can be learned”. With the popularity of Carol Dweck’s work on mindset, there is general consensus about learning new skills and behaviors. There is also an effort done at Harvard to develop theory and practice around teaching leadership and they have published – Handbook of Leadership to make leadership available to all. 

The qualities and attributes of Leading (from The Will To Lead by Marvin Bower) 

Trustworthiness 

Leaders operate on the foundation of trust. Trustworthiness is integrity in action. Leaders are truthful and honest be it a small thing or a big thing, they are always truthful. 

Fairness 

Leaders do not use their authority carelessly to get the work done. The team members can tolerate “toughness” but not “unfairness. The book quotes “fairness has one or more of the three meanings: equity, reciprocity, and impartiality.”

Unassuming behavior 

Bower mentions “arrogance, haughtiness, and egotism are poisonous to leadership”. Rather than trying to hypocritically humble it is easier to be unassuming in behaviour. He also mentions the importance of “Servant Leadership” qualities for executives. 

Leaders Listen

The book quotes ” Of all the skills of leadership, listening is one of the most valuable – and one of the least understood…”. Bower quotes various examples of leaders and the importance of listening. He also cautions about the cultural difference across the world. For example, the nodding head of Britons means “I understand you,” not “I agree with you.”

A Leader is Open-Minded

Bower shares his frustration of working with senior executives with a closed mind. As a consultant when he presented his findings the executives were not receptive. He mentions “What is the use of hiring a consultant if your mind is closed even to considering their findings and recommendations?”. 

Sensitivity to people and situations 

Leaders can succeed in persuading people than commanding by paying attention. Bower shares ” I had to stop taking them for granted and exercise insights, intuition, perception, empathy – or some combination of these .. “.  He also highlights how diversity helps in increasing the sensitivity among the teams. 

Initiative, Initiative, Initiative. 

The initiative is one of the most important attributes of every leader. It is also easy to learn: Just think a bit, use judgment, and act. 

Broad-minded

Leaders are torrent of varied views and inclined to condone minor departures from conventional behavior. They also have a sense of humor. 

Flexibility and Adaptability 

Flexibility and adaptability go hand in hand with open-minded listening. Leaders learn how to spot the need for change faster, initiate change, and adapt to it. 

The Capacity to Make Sound and Timely Decisions

For leaders higher in the hierarchy, the speed, as well as the quality of their decisions, will set an example for others. 

The capacity to Motivate

Bower highlights the importance of intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic motivations like cash awards. He mentions ” people in a leadership company derive satisfaction from being involved in work which produces products or services that customers buy with increasing satisfaction. “

A Sense of Urgency 

Bower stresses the importance of a sense of urgency “When a sense of urgency has spread throughout a company, it can make a substantial difference in both effectiveness and efficiency…”.

In this book, Bower also highlights four fundamental responsibilities. 

1. Treating Constituents with Respect

2. Developing Constituents Self-Confidence and Self Esteem 

3. Developing Constituents

4. Making Constituents stakeholders

Overall the book The Will To Lead – Running a business with a Network of Leaders by Marvin Bower is an excellent book for all professionals to read, learn and develop. 

References

1. The Will to Lead: Running a Business With a Network of Leaders by Marvin Bower

2. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck

https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/40745.Mindset

3. On Becoming a Servant Leader: The Private Writings of Robert K. Greenleaf by Robert K. Greenleaf (Editor), Larry C. Spears https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/714614.On_Becoming_a_Servant_Leader

4. Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practiceby Nitin Nohria (Editor), Rakesh Khurana (Editor)

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Jyoti Bhat, who was my Manager when I was working at Infosys (SET LABS from 2008-2010). She helped to get a copy of this book. Thank you. 

“Being” an entrepreneur

I was getting ready to deliver my talk at a newly opened co-working space in Bengaluru which already had few promising start-ups operating from there with series A funding. I was nervous but I was also excited about the opportunity to speak at the event. It was about 4 months into my entrepreneurial journey and I wanted to make the best use of it. The speaking engagements are a good alternative to expensive digital marketing efforts to build credibility and trust with potential customers, partners.  

I had reached the venue well ahead of time to do the setup for my speech. About ten minutes before the session we got the right cables and connectors. The laptop finally started projecting the slides, it was fully charged, the power cable was also kept as a backup, the clicker was ready and was kept next to it. As a plan B a white board and few markers were also arranged with a glass of water and a few tissues on the table. My cue cards were decked neatly adjacent to it. The mic was tested and kept on mute, ready to go. I was ready. 

I was satisfied with the preparation and with a smile looked at the audience and to my surprise the hall was almost full. I thought that the topic of the session has made people curious to attend the session. For a moment the fear of failure kicked in but at the same time I remembered the tip from one of the youtube videos I had watched on public speaking, in which the influencer energetically speaks in a high pitch, with a fast pace about effective public speaking like connecting with the audience before the session, starting with a question or a story etc. I decided to go and speak with the guests. Being an introvert this journey of entrepreneurship was not easy for me. It was a constant battle of pushing myself out of my comfort zone. 

I had to get into action, first I went to the snacks counter and picked up a cup of hot filter coffee. I gathered my courage and went to the first few rows, started speaking to a few people in the audience. I also observed some curious eyes eager to learn, some tired souls looking for a break, few people sitting without any expectations who looked like they were just following the crowd, and many opinionated faces accessing and judging me and a few calm faces that looked like zen masters. 

I was also looking at my watch often to ensure that the session starts on time. When I had about a minute and half for the session, I started walking towards the podium to start my session. At that point one gentleman from the front rows asked me in a loud voice, “Raghav, are you qualified to speak about this topic?”, “ Hmm …” his name tag read “Naren”*. I was taken aback by the tone of his question but I was unfazed as I knew what I’m going to share was my perspective about being an entrepreneur and not the ultimate truth. 

The topic of the day was “Being”an entrepreneur. What does it take to start and sustain?

I smiled and said “Yes, I think so. It is almost time and let’s start the session on time, as Indians we are slowly coming out of the bad reputation that we are not on time. Can I start the session and then respond to your question?”, I asked for his permission to start the session and he agreed readily. I could see a sense of satisfaction on his face for asking that question. 

I switched on the mic and at 6.30 pm sharp, I started the session. The hall was full. There were one or two people near the snack counter waiting for the coffee flask to be refilled. Otherwise there was a positive space in the venue.  

After introducing myself and thanking the host, I told the audience “One thing I can guarantee if you choose to take the path of entrepreneurship – you can always expect the unexpected. Like the question from Naren – am I qualified to give this talk?”. There were few laughs in the audience and few disappointed faces who thought his question was inappropriate and a digression.    

I looked at Nareen and asked him – “Naren frankly that question has never occurred to me, this is my 3rd time I have taken on this path of being an entrepreneur. Can you please give me some context?. Your question was “are you qualified to speak about this topic?”What made you say that? or in your opinion what qualifications one should have to speak about this topic? “. 

Naren started sharing “I’m Narayan Krishnamurthy Dandapani*, I’m known as Naren, I was in the Bay area for many years and I moved to Bangalore about 5 years ago, many people in the startup circles know me. I’m a very active participant in the startup community. Currently working with a MNC as Senior Architect, I’m from IIT Delhi. Nowadays everyone starts a company … “ 

“Naren, sorry to interrupt you, I have limited time and I want to share a few ideas as part of my session. We can catch up after the session to discuss in detail. Right now, can you please share your thoughts around the qualifications required to speak about this topic? “.

Naren without taking a breath, “ Yes, I’m coming to it. I have been thinking about starting my company,I have done a course on entrepreneurship at Stanford and I have collected a lot of information, I have even met many VC’s , I have even met Prof. CK Pralhad when I was in the US. To become an entrepreneur you start with an idea, then you start with a seed fund, then you find some angel investors and develop a product, then you will get your Series A, then you grow, get your series B and C, scale your startup then take it to public through a successful IPO. Then you write a book and speak at conferences and events”. 

I smiled at him and said “ Yes, thanks for sharing , that is one of the ways. You also mentioned “successful” IPO, I would like to stress on the word “success” – it is very personal, it means different things to different people. I will share my definition and my views later in the presentation. In my view I’m qualified to speak about the topic ‘cos it is based on my journey, it is the third time I have taken this journey. Moreover if you notice my focus is on “being” and it is more about starting and not about exiting, This session is for those who are on the fence. I also should admit that I’m speaking about this topic for the first time. Like an entrepreneur, we test our ideas and listen to our customers, right?”. He looked pleased, felt he realised that before exiting he should start one first. 

So we started our session. “Being” an entrepreneur. What does it take to start and sustain? 

(The slides from that event are here ) 

This incident happened about 6years back in Bangalore, when we had just started our ProcessWhirl UK entity. This incident brought a smile to me as I was reflecting about my entrepreneurial journey and noting down my learnings as I’m starting a new journey. I have a lot of notes from my experience in the last 6 years and will share them if it helps others. 

After more than 6 years of this amazing journey of being part of ProcessWhirl, I have taken the tough decision to complete it and go back to a corporate job. 

Some of my learning and views on entrepreneurship are as follows. 

What is entrepreneurship? 

Is the process pursuing an idea and implementing it for the benefit of the customers and/or society. Building a business model around that is also an important part of it. At a fundamental level it is all about creating value for society. Most ideas when converted into a value have potential to be exploited commercially. 

Who is an entrepreneur? 

A person involved in the process of entrepreneurship. 

When is the best time to start a venture? 

Best time to start? None. If you have not started already, it is today. 

Do it now ! 

With so many start-ups failing is it a good idea to pursue the dream of entrepreneurship? 

It is very important to understand one key distinction around failures. Start-ups fail (yes more than 99%) but the entrepreneur never fails

Yes, the businesses fail to survive due to various reasons. But the spirit of entrepreneurship never lets you down. If you start and take this journey you are guaranteed to walk out with fond memories and a great deal of learning (and few friends).  

Personally I think the only failure is, if you have a dream and you are an entrepreneur at heart but you never took that plunge. 

Closing your start-up is not a failure but not starting one is.  

How to start my startup? 

In the UK, you register your company at the company’s house. The website says “It costs £12 and can be paid by debit or credit card or Paypal account. Your company is usually registered within 24 hours.”

https://www.gov.uk/limited-company-formation/register-your-company

I know it is a bad joke, technically, that is it. In most countries it is similar.  You just have to start.

What comes in your way before you decide to take that plunge? 

The fear of failure. 

Paulo Coelho — ‘There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.’

How to overcome the fear of failure? 

By failing often and creating your own definition of success. Here it is very important to distinguish between failure of the enterprise (the entity) and failure of the entrepreneur (the person). At a personal level you should develop that mindset of separation. You are separate from the entity you are creating. 

Do you have any suggestions for people who have just started or contemplating starting this journey?

No, Just go ahead, trust yourself and the universe. Everyone’s journey is unique. If you can survive then you will succeed. Manage your cash-flow and risks. Enjoy the journey and the experience. Trust me you will never regret it. 

 I found the philosophy of Sridhar Vembu inspiring. 

Please let me know if you have any questions and I will be happy to help.

As I start my new journey, I’m filled with gratitude for all the learnings, experience. I’m immensely grateful for the support I received from my family, friends, partners, customers and so many wonderful people, I can not even list them all. 

May all your dreams come true. 

Thank you. 

31-Jul-2021

*changed the name and few factual information to respect the identity of the individual

The monk who built his own Ferrari

 

In search of a leader 

This is a fascinating story of a servant leader’s journey in creating a company on a foundation of strong values and principles. Personally, for me, it is a completion of a “gestalt” about leadership and my search for a leader and a role model. 

Finding inspiration is difficult these days, some authentic real-life stories like these bring back the sense of direction and purpose. 

It has been a journey of 20 years of exploring various dimensions of Leadership. It was also a search for a role model, whom I can admire, relate to and learn from.

My interest in leadership was ignited during my first job at Wipro when my friend Manju, mentioned about Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. That book was fascinating and mentions about leaders, leadership and various dimensions around it. Since then I have explored various sources on leadership and their styles from Gandhi to Hitler, Dalai Lama to Steve Jobs, Read many books in the Warren Bennis series on Leadership, studied various views from Ayan Rand to some Indian mythology, attended many courses and workshops as well. 

My search came to an end when I came across the fascinating story of this Leader.

The leader is Sridhar Vembu founder and CEO of Zoho.  He started Zoho with other co-founders about 20 years back in Chennai, now it is one of the most successful software product/SAS company from India with 40 plus applications used by more than 13 million users globally. It also competes with global giants like Salesforce.

In fact, Forbes described in an article Sridhar as the “Smartest Unknown Indian Entrepreneur”. 

This finding was for me like the Santiago Shepherd boy, the protagonist of The Alchemist finding his treasure.  

Blog-SV-001

About Sridhar Vembu 

The journey of Sridhar is not a story of a bold vision and then driving it relentlessly till it is realized nor a story of breakthrough innovation and creating a billion-dollar company, or about rags to riches. But this is a story of failures and learning from those failures, it is about entrepreneurship, starting small and focusing on serving customers, this is a story of self-realization, principles, values and trust, it is about finding the reason for existence, this is about redefining the meaning of business itself.

The best part of this discovery is most people in India can relate to it.  Personally, I could relate to most of his experiences and principles.  

Sridhar did his degree in electrical engineering from IIT Madras and PhD from Princeton, it sounds like typical success formula right? But after all these qualifications he realised the real value of “education”. He concluded that the context-free education has very less value. That realisation helped Zoho in creating the Zoho University (ZU), which takes underprivileged students from the local schools and provides them the relevant training. Once the students finish their training, they are given a job in the company.  

Entrepreneurship 

There many interesting stories around Sridhar and Zoho, like not focusing on profit but focusing on delivering value, not focusing on formal qualifications while hiring etc. 

Sridhar values freedom over money, this is one of the reasons it is not externally funded.  His suggestion for entrepreneurs is also inspiring, The first, one is around bootstrapping and not taking external funding.  He gives the example of the neighbourhood vegetable vendor and how they manage their business. 

Next suggestion is starting with year -5 years, yes it takes about 5 years to learn about the business. 

The final point I noted down was around success and survival.  If you have a clear set of values and principles then if you can survive then you will succeed

My inspiration 

What I liked the most about Sridhar is, he is not perfect, his presentation style is not great, his appearance is also not stylish and he is perfectly fine with it. You can not miss the authenticity in his eyes and voice. This is what makes him special. 

After completing his PhD, he went through a phase of deep reflection, confusion and transformation. That is the genesis of his journey.  It started with a small group of people trying to start a company. In the last 20 years, the company has grown from a small company into a major corporation with more than 40 products and more than 13 million users and more than 9000 employees across the globe.   

Final note 

Sridhar has interesting views on Leadership, culture entrepreneurship, building a company, innovation, role of education. I can write a series of blogs (maybe I will do that) but let me complete this blog with the message he had shared with students of Sastra University on their 31st convocation. 

“… you have 24 hours in a day. As you grow older you realize how valuable the time is, I sometimes feel my life is over and have I done enough with it? Time is the only thing you have actually. Money can buy lots of things but it can not buy time. The quality of thinking is the only thing that separates from successful from not successful. Quality of thinking means that. What type of thoughts going on in your head? You can spend 3 hours getting angry at another person. You can spend an entire day being disappointed by something….  Those are also thoughts in our head. But those thoughts are useless thoughts….. Some good thoughts might spark some ideas and from those ideas, the actions happen. Those actions can lead you somewhere. … purge all the unproductive thoughts. Angry thoughts, resentful thoughts or sad thoughts all of these. Fill your head with quality thoughts. Learn to use your time wisely… Thank you”.  

Epilogue

The title Monk who built his own Ferrari is inspired by Robin Sharm’s Monk who sold his Ferrari.  Though Sridhar doesn’t live like a monk. He has spent millions of dollars on a team for designing and developing an indigenous microprocessor chip. That is his Ferrari. 

Personal Note:

  1. I take full responsibility for any errors, omissions and misrepresentation. As a reader, if you find any mistakes please bring it my notice and I will correct them. 
  2. Source of all the information is from the Internet. My apologies for not keeping track of all the references.
  3. If you have any other question and feedback please write to me at mithare@gmail.com  
  4. If you liked this post then please share with others. 

End quote 

“ A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says is never accurate because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something that he can understand”  – Bertand Russell 

By Raghavendra (Raghav) Mithare

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Raghavendra (Raghav) Mithare is Regional Head for ProcessWhirl Management Consulting, UK and he is based in London, he is a professional coach, Agile consultant, Speaker and aspiring writer. His interests include Leadership, Philosophy, Economics and engineering.  You can reach him at rmithare@processwhirl.com