All civilisations, while experiencing growth in economic terms and on the level of social development face the dilemma of protecting its values, norms, customs and traditions. With progress, we witness lowering of standards of moral and financial values. A price for growth. New set of values replace the old. Forward looking civilisations manage to retain the fundamentally critical aspects of societal norms while moving forward.
In the last century or so, in the sub-continent also there has been change and decline in its historically traditional values. The terms of inter-personal engagement have transformed. The lingua franca between the various hierarchies of the society has also dismally changed.
The corporate environment hasn’t escaped this change. Listening to colleagues, who started their careers during the sixties and seventies decade, it is easy to sense the decline, in the basic premise of respect and tolerance, between colleagues. Attending to this decline, is the growing dis-interestedness in the lives of other (particularly younger colleagues) by the senior managers. It is a carnivorous corporate scene, where the strong and mighty live upon the weak and the oppressed. I believe, the major reason for this breakdown, is the gradual erosion, in the value of communication. People, have stopped talking. Most, just talk to their own self. The attitude of being self centred is the norm. “What’s there in it, for me,” is the mantra of the self-styled “professionals”. This narrow mindedness has spread and now prevails in all sections of the society.
Unlike the past traditions, why is that most parents today have almost stopped talking to their off-springs! Is it lack of interest or lack of time, or a combination of both? In most literate and noble families, it was part of tradition to have meals together, where the parents at the dining table would engage in conversations with their children – allowing the off-springs to develop a bondage of trust and friendship, where they could express their aspirations, fears, concerns or just comment about any general issues. The parents through this practice would get an opportunity to address any misgivings in a very subtle manner. I fondly remember me and my siblings were our father’s “best friends”. His attention gave us confidence and direction. The off-springs of families, where there is parental disengagement, are likely to grow up with some deformity in thinking and lack of self assurance.
Just as Parents are abdicating their role in the behavioural development of the children, so are the supervisors, who have also decided not to “talk” to their colleagues. Meetings, may I remind the readers, is not akin to personal face to face contact; and speaking at forums to colleagues is not similar to “talking” to them; the impact is lacking. I have in my career witnessed, both, the excellent results as a consequence of “engaged supervisor” and the environment of fear and apprehension, created by the “dis-engaged supervisor”. The staff, that feels closely aligned to their managers always outperform than those, who are unfortunate to be part of a team, led by the ‘distant manager’.
Help may be a word that currently does not form part of any HR strategy. Over time, it is losing its usage in office environment. The general attitude is to let colleagues, languish and perish, in the lowest dungeons of the organisation; particularly, if it is a license and guarantee, for “a single person’s” success.
Let me narrate a recent experience. I was meeting for the very first time, with a young man, who I thought would be in his mid-thirties – he surprised me by saying, he was on the threshold of turning forty. In discussing his future assignment and the probable role he would play in the next 3 – 5 years; he emerged to my shock and awe, the unsure individual; kind of “I don’t know, if I am coming or going?”
Upon further enquiry, as to why he did not take interest in his career progression – he responded, “I have always worked hard, very diligently, to every single task assigned to me, by the many managers I assisted.” But what about progress; I kept pressing. Exasperatedly, he said, “But my manager never talked to me, or allowed me to talk about my aspirations.”
He is very down to earth, does not believe in conversing with colleagues. I wondered how much more this lunacy can go forward, that refuses to recognise the emotional quotient of staff members. He sheepishly said, “You are the first person, talking to me, about my ambitions, otherwise, the conversation is only about - what job I have to complete and by that time line!” A perfect case of “distant colleagues”, I thought.
In the army of colleagues, only a few are blessed to be “self-propellers”, the rest need, hand-holding. Managers ought to hold hands and put their parental weight, behind the team, to spark, ignite, an enthusiastic effort, from them.
Mentoring does not have to be necessarily a declared action. It can happen subtly and surreptitiously. In fact, silent mentoring, saves the face and grace of the ‘mentored’. Managers must not abandon mentoring at any point of time. As managers, we must have faith that we can bring about a positive change in the personalities of co-workers.
The manager’s job is to help colleagues to find a purpose and meaning to their lives, provide them assistance in their goal setting pursuit. This allows for focused efforts.
The results should not be cared for much. If the path is well chosen, small failures and some impediments on the pathway, will, with resolute resolve, stand cleared. The only requirement is clarity of thought.
Always, help colleagues; clear the small stones, before you call upon them to clear the entire mountain, from the pathway.
Help workers write their goals, that are in conformity to higher values of life – it is not to suggest that the mundane achievements should not be attended; but it is to make recognition of the fact, that it is the sublime goals of life, that all human hearts respond to more effectively.
Managers must help build energy to focus on what benefits are at hand and not to pump and unleash negative energy. Teach them, gratitude from the proverb, a bird in hand is better than two in the bush.
On the shop floor, all of us as supervisors have witnessed that it is always, the collective mourning that spreads like an incurable disease. A manager must always be alert to spot those who initiate such action and melodramatic scenes and just take them aside.
Those who indulge in mass regrets are subscribers to bring the past to judge upon the future events. A classic remark of this community is “we have done that before and….” Beware of them. Help all, by silencing these few.
The de-railers say and bask, “For God’s sake, let us sit-upon the ground, and tell sad stories of the death of kings (managers); how some have been deposed off; some slain in war (corporate ), some haunted by the ghosts (earlier managers) they have deposed,” (Richard II – William Shakespeare). The bracketed portion is my aberration to the bard’s word!
Some managers wrongfully think that engagement with staff, across the organisation, to find the state of personal well-being of colleagues is not professional. Under the guise of being professional, they actually hide their own inadequacies; for it takes guts to meet up with rank and file, on a personal level across the employee’s spectrum. In doing so, you open the gates of possible Niagara of woes, complaints, demands, expectations, etc. The manager’s job is not to hide away behind the ill intended screen of professionalism. He has to hear them to resolve or at least, help, in making the workforce understand, why some can’t be acceded to and how some can be accomplished. If you allow, grievances to be bottled up, not only will productivity and morale go down, but that it will explode like a nuclear device to the peril of the entire organisation.
In any engagement, my view is that, the manager ends up learning the most. They get to know their own areas for improvement to bring change in their own behaviour. Alvin Toffler wrote, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and re-learn.”
In every conversation, with colleagues, you as manager must endeavour to help yourself by either “learning or un-learning, something new”. The conversation, with the team must not reflect, the spectacle of such a dialogue: Samuel Johnson, “Well, we had a good talk.” Boswell, “Yes, Sir, you tossed and gored several persons.”
Help can also emerge from the simple act of thanking colleagues for even the smallest act – it works wonders on the motivation to do still better.
Real success is to let others succeed. As leaders, when you lend your ears to your colleagues, you are actually going through a humbling experience – those who refuse 'engagement' are the arrogant, self- styled pseudo professionals.
Refusal to help is a confirmation that your manager is a victim of emotional insanity!
The writer is a freelance columnis