It is About Me!
Date: Monday , June 02, 2008
And that would be completely wrong. What we seek always is fulfillment and happiness and according to the Economist magazine true happiness can only be found by people who are ‘intensely focused on the happiness of others’.
But why do I talk about this in ‘SmartTechie’. Due to the ‘Smart’ part; it is never about technology, about the next greatest innovation, or about what that innovation is going to do to bring fulfillment and happiness to others. If we can all focus on the ultimate outcome, the rest of the path becomes easy. Probably never before in the history of the industrialized world have such a large number of people joined a single knowledge profession in such a short time of less than two decades. Moreover, the people joining this profession do not come with a history of similar careers in their families. Hence there is no frame of reference for people to take decisions, no shared social memory which helps us in charting our careers. Our own ‘Me Inc.’ companies have to fill the void where society and social memory has left gaps.
If you browse the business section of any bookstore, it seems to be overflowing with books roughly on the topic of ‘how to be a great CEO’. Much less is written about how to ‘be a great middle manager’. How do I advance my career, how do I take decisions in the course of my work, and how do I resolve conflicts in my mind? In this article I pick up just three traits which I think are useful to be a great middle manager. These are not exhaustive, but three that come to mind now. They are:
1. Challenge boredom,
2. Embrace patience, and
3. Create a network of help
Boredom is a topic that has always interested me. Why is the bus driver who drives the same route every day not bored to death, why is Fidel Castro not bored of the same speeches that he has been giving for the last 40 plus years, why is Rupert Murdoch not bored of all the acquisitions, and why is the railway signalman not bored of raising and lowering the signal dozens of times everyday throughout his life? Why is the Java developer not bored of getting into yet another project norming for yet another project which supposedly was to be delivered yesterday and for which the requirements are not yet ready? Why?
Let me give my take here. If you are bored, you are losing it; you are not getting ahead in life. I am not saying that if you are bored, you should do something to get rid of the boredom – get into a ‘more challenging project’, ‘a more exciting company’, or a ‘more cool technology’. I am saying that banish the word ‘bored’ from the English dictionary, at least from your vocabulary. How can anyone be bored? Thankfully there are always things that are there to be done and it is only our imagination that limits us. If you are bored, and if you feel that the answer to solving your boredom lies ‘outside of your own self’ you are mistaken. You are your master. You determine your destiny and only you can control your own actions and your mind. In any company there are a zillion things to do – the limitation is your ability to work with others and the ideas that your mind is capable of processing. So you fix it, and challenge boredom.
How many people have you met in your circle who do not know their ABCs or cannot do simple addition and subtraction? Now, how many people have you met in your circle that do not know how to be liked, cannot communicate, cannot create an atmosphere of positive energy around them, and lack the soft skills that are largely the determinant of long term success.
Always be aware that there is a lot to learn in any environment. The things that matter take time. Today’s young and impatient Indian professional is keen to move from one assignment and one job to the other. But this will bite you back in ten to fifteen years when you will realize that the soft skills that really matter have not been picked up by you while you have been perfecting your ABCs and your additions and subtractions. To perfect the real things one requires introspection, a patient mind, a submission that you do not know and need to learn, and a thirst for learning from every person and every opportunity. And all these require patience, years of patience. Embrace it.
Create a network of help
It is a fact of life that we all need help, in small and big things. In personal life we have our circle of relatives and friends to reach out to. In professional life, you have to create this network by yourself. But the catch is that you need to create this network of help ‘before’ the need for it arises. In other words, once you realize you need something, you cannot go out and seek the association of the person who can help you. You need to create that association long before the need arrives.
But how do you know that you might need the help of this person. You don’t. So you need to be a person who just creates a circle of interesting and interested people. You must take a genuine interest in all people, all the time. Then, when the need for help arrives you will have your circle ready, and a lot of friends too. But the key to a successful ‘network of help’ is that you cannot go out creating that network in anticipation of the need for future help. You have to create that network because you love to meet interesting, good, and engaged people.
As you succeed in your professional life, you succeed in your personal life. By making your journey not about yourself, but about the ten people around you, by not thinking of your success, but about the success of your team, and by not taking the time communicating to your boss what you have done, but by quietly doing his work and not even bothering to take credit for it. In other words, by intensely focusing on the work and happiness of others.
At MindTree we have a system of values which we call the ‘CLASS Values’. CLASS stands for Caring, Learning, Achieving, Sharing, and Social responsibility. I love our values and what they stand for, but one of the things that I like the most about our values is that it is not about increasing profits and cycle time and reducing waste, it is about caring for others, learning new things, achieving the goals, sharing one’s knowledge and feelings, and a responsibility about the society we are all in. It is largely about things external to the company and it is about how each individual can have a better relationship with the people around them. It is about focusing on others and that is the only thing that will lead to the attainment of long term goals for oneself – the attainment of fulfillment and happiness.
The author is President and Co-CEO, IT Services, MindTree.