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Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

Today I came across a reaffirmation of something I had heard even earlier. It’s all about what is valued most in aspiring/practicing engineering-leads/managers by (product) companies in US.

A is a smart young man who has made rapid strides in his professional career in the few years he is employed in a very well-known product company in the west coast. He was recently promoted as the champion of a futuristic platform slated to serve as the bedrock for the company’s flagship products in the pipeline (or maybe it’s already deployed).  

Not surprisingly laudatory messages flowed in on his promotion, coming from his team, peers and others mostly congratulating him for his achievement. The manager’s message was a little different and more insightful. I understood in gist it went something like: ‘Besides being a genuine person, compassionate in his approach and frank without being brutal in his feedback, he was recognized for being a great help to his team and its success…’

My eyes lit up. Interesting, how did/does it happen? May be there was something in here waiting to be dug up and aired for broader good.  Or, like at other times, it might throw up some ‘Drinking milk is good for health’ kind of statements. Try I did and this is what I came up with.

At this point I must point out my digging – a short exercise – was not with A directly, but with a very articulate professional close to him and in the know. In a way it was a blessing because I was being served with sum-up’s without the obfuscating details (always available if needed).

A had in his team a good number of youngsters faced with and fazed by humungous amount of code thrown at them. Much as he might have wished, there was simply no way he could sit with them one-on-one and help them in their work.

Ye huyi na baath, ab batao, batao, kya kiya A? Tell us, tell us what did A do! 

No magic, here. He would give them pointers to what, where and how, induct them into a few structured processes (and possibly tools and techniques), and leave them alone to work on the details. It made them happy they did the work on their own, boosting their self-confidence. Soon they learnt to do some part of the analysis too all by themselves. Result: faster learning, quicker ramp-up, better productivity and a happier team.

While this may work with the younger lot, how did he handle the seniors in the team?

Firstly, he quickly appraised himself of their background, their skills and strengths. He would then place before them a few questions that needed to be resolved for the job at hand and challenged their mettle. They were free to research, analyse and figure out the answers for a discussion. It included bringing their prior experience and knowledge, wherever relevant, to bear up on the problem. It was thus an interesting, useful and tedium-breaking problem-solving cum learning exercise for them and for A too. Once again, the result of having tail-up seniors on one’s side: enhanced quality of the solution, better productivity and a happier and motivated team.

While the above may not be an entirely new read to many, it’s nevertheless an interesting insight into a) how a young successful engineering-lead on the rise in a product company made it work for him and b) what product companies value and recognize in their engineering-leads/managers.    

It’s clear while individual excellence may well be a prerequisite for other pieces to fall in place, it’s not an end in itself. Enabling and empowering others in the team to perform gets far better results for the organization and for oneself in terms of recognition and reward.

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Source: Image from here.

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“…that pernicious nonsense about being a leader and not a manager. Your challenge is to help the team and team members succeed. The only way to succeed at that is to do all three kinds of work. Lead. Manage. Supervise. Do them all well. “

Read this short post from Wally Bock to know what each entails.

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The article ‘Wisdom at Work: Why the Modern Elder Is Relevant’ appeared in Wharton’s Knowledge publication (Jan 24, 2019) here. It’s a transcript of an interview wherein Airbnb executive Chip Conley discusses the benefits of having an inter-generational workforce (He argues his case in detail in his eponymous where everyone brings something to the table).

This post is almost entirely extracted from the interview transcript, lightly edited and heavily re-sequenced for clarity and easy reading.

Here we go:

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A new challenge for the org:

The fact that almost 40% of workers have a boss younger than them — that number is going to be the majority by 2025.  In fact, some studies show that power is 10 years younger today than it was 20 years ago. But we’re all living 10 years older. So, if power is moving 10 years younger and we’re living 10 years older, society has created a new 20-year irrelevancy gap for people in mid-life and beyond.

It means that we need to start asking ourselves, how do we create an ‘intergenerational potluck’ so that people bring what they know best? And what do they now best?

A challenge for the elders:

The three-stage life of the past — you learn until you’re 25, you earn until you’re 65, and then you retire until you die — that model is evaporating. Also, as the pace of technology innovation increases, companies promote more tech-savvy younger workers into supervisory jobs. Meanwhile, older workers are staying employed longer due to such things as the disappearance of early retirement schemes, recession, etc.

With the power shifting to the young and the irrelevancy gap threatening to widen, there is this period of life, bewildering and anxiety-producing, unless people constantly remake, reinvent and repurpose themselves in ways to make themselves relevant for the second half of their life. It’s not easy because it requires you to shift out of some of your habits and mindsets that you’ve held onto for a long time.

Conley’s proof of his own continued employment and what he brought to the table:

“For 24 years, I was the founder and CEO of a company called Joie de Vivre based in San Francisco that created 52 boutique hotels. We were the second-largest boutique hotelier. In the Great Recession, I decided to sell the company. I had been doing it for a long time. I was ready to move on. Then I spent a couple years thinking about what was next [for me].

There is a great Robert De Niro quote from the movie The Intern [about a senior citizen who became an intern at a shopping startup], which is, “Musicians don’t retire; they quit when there’s no more music left inside of them.” I knew I had music inside of me; I just wasn’t sure whom to share it with. I was lucky enough that Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, asked me to be his in-house mentor and then come in as the head of global hospitality and strategy, which was supposed to be a part-time job but quickly became full time.”

“Younger people who are digital natives have a digital fluency that may be greater than someone 25 or 30 years older than them — that is true. But to think that someone’s acuity and fluency in one particular scope of work means that they can apply that to anything else is forgetting about all of the human element of business, which requires a certain amount of collaboration and emotional intelligence and leadership skills. Brian Chesky is an amazing CEO. But when I joined, he was 31 and I was 52, and I was his mentor and he was my boss. That was a fascinating relationship — to be mentoring my boss. But five and a half years later, I’m still here.”

“When I joined Airbnb, I think I had been brought in because I was a seasoned expert in my field, which was boutique hotels, hospitality and the travel industry. When I joined five and a half years ago, Airbnb was a very small company, and there was not one person in the company who had a travel or hospitality industry background. I was brought in initially because of that knowledge. That was helpful, and a lot of my networking of people I knew helped. But ultimately, what I think I was able to offer them was this sense of emotional intelligence…”

On Wisdom:

“There have been a number of studies on this, and they’ve shown very little correlation between age and wisdom. As a guy who’s 58, it’s hard to hear that, but there is some evidence that shows that it is not necessarily a correlation. What is correlated is that people actually make sense of their life and their mistakes and their experiences along the way. If you have a process for doing that, then age is correlated with wisdom because you create a pattern recognition.

Wisdom is about being able to see the patterns in things faster than when you’re younger because you’ve seen a lot of patterns and you’ve seen the implications or results of certain things. I think wisdom can be correlated [with age], but it isn’t necessarily correlated. So, just because you’re older doesn’t mean you’re an elder.”

“I think knowledge worker is a term to retire now because knowledge is in the computer, it’s in the cloud. You can get out there and find knowledge. In fact, we’re sort of awash in knowledge. But what we could use a little more of is wisdom.

Wisdom is not a plus, plus, plus equation like knowledge is. Wisdom is more of a division equation. You distill the essence of something into what’s important, and that’s what is valuable. I really think that we should change the term knowledge worker and replace it with wisdom worker, because wisdom includes a certain amount of intuitive and human quality that you don’t necessarily get from AI or from your computer. The idea of wisdom making a comeback at a time when we’re so technologically advanced is not that surprising.”

On cognitive diversity:

“And there’s no doubt that cognitive diversity is hugely valuable on teams. If you just have a bunch of 25-year-old guys on a team together, they’re going to compete with each other and try to one-up each other to see who’s the smartest. Put a couple of women in that group, people of color or some older people [and the dynamic changes]. When we think of diversity, we often think almost exclusively of gender, race, and maybe sexual orientation. We don’t think about age very often, even though age is one of the most obvious demographic changes we see.”

On collaboration:

“People go, “Oh, it’s a tech company. It’s just all engineers and individual people in their cubicles doing their work.” No, actually it’s full of teams. And to operate well, teams need to collaborate. Google did a famous study two or three years ago called Project Aristotle and found that the No. 1 common factor among successful and effective teams was psychological safety — people feeling like they could collaborate well without any kind of retribution.

So those collaborative skills are a really important thing that someone in midlife or later can bring to the table – because we have more emotional intelligence is pretty well empirically proven and emotional intelligence is something that can grow with time.”

His message:

* To his generation: “Listen, you can mine your mastery. And while you may not be running the company, you certainly can be an ally to a younger person, as long as we figure out how to create a fluency where we can learn from each other.”

“The hierarchy of the past that says the physics of wisdom only flows from old to young doesn’t make sense anymore. The physics of wisdom moves in both directions; it just depends on the subject matter.”

“The modern elder is appreciated for their relevance, not their reverence, because they’re as much of an intern as they are a mentor.”

* And to the organization: “I started to realize that there are some things they could teach me, like digital intelligence, and there are things that I could teach them, which is emotional intelligence, leadership skills, strategic thinking, etc…”

I recall a story narrated to me some time ago by a young man working in SF based software company offering sales-force automation solution.  It was review time with his boss. He expressed he wasn’t too happy in his current position, role…desired a change to more interesting positions he saw opening up in other parts of the operation. Discussion ensued, the boss tried his best to retain the talented young man. When he (the boss) saw latter standing firm on his move, he ended the discussion and gave a good letter of reference helping him find quickly a new position of his liking in the organization. Which he did before long. As he was settling down in his new role, he got his review results – a promotion, coming from a boss to a youngster who no longer worked with him! And quite predictably the young man till date is doing very well working for the same organization.

The boss had the emotional intelligence to ensure the man got his just due and the organization did not lose the talent.

On Tesla founder Elon Musk:

“He’s 47 years old, if I’m not mistaken. Could he use someone like that? Sure. But he’s relatively far along in terms of his career. He’s a bit of a genius. The thing we have to put to rest is the idea that singular geniuses do this alone. There’s always more than one person involved. The question is, who are you surrounding yourself with? To me, the answer is that you should be surrounding yourself with a diverse group of people, including some people who have some seasoned wisdom at the table.”

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In conclusion: All is far from lost for the modern elder as long as he brings his strengths to bear on what he is doing at the workplace.

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He was an efficient heads-down, nose-to-the-wheel, eyes-on-the-ball manager of the operations, executing projects on time, using resources optimally…a relentless pusher.

But then he just did not have it in him to inspire his people to perform beyond the expected, pursue worthwhile challenges….Saw the projects as something to be completed and move on. What excitement, eh?

Quite convinced about the soundness of his views and approach.

Some of the best guys were ground down to mediocrity under his heavily task oriented leadership – they were hardly aware of what was happening.

Such managers are found in plenty especially in software industry. More so at senior levels.

Instead of dismissing them managers as misfit – their task orientation is abs necessary in projects – it may be a better approach to address the paradox by strengthening the structure with additional resources to inject excitement, innovation and challenge into projects. Resulting conflicts if any are not unmanageable if the manager gets the perspective right.  

A question may arise: are we unnecessarily and unfairly complicating the poor manager’s life with unreasonable expectations on excitement, innovation and challenge?

These are no longer nice-to-have’s. They serve multiple purposes of a) delivering enhanced value to the customer, b) keeping the professionals engaged and absorbed – does enormous good for employee motivation and retention and c) building expertise, reusable production and marketing assets…

In fact every project is a great opportunity for the org to profit by the above.

You still think it’s a choice?

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Source: Subramanian Krishnamurthy

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If Indian Railways can pull this off…

  • An government organization, pan-India, managing a mind-boggling 67 K+ route-miles over 144 K+ bridges, with 7300+ stations and a rolling stock of 11 K+ locos, 64 K+ passenger carriages and 277 K freight cars/wagons, not mentioning workshops, repair sheds…
  • With a much maligned, grossly underpaid, not-the- upper-class staff of 1.3 million…
  • Can keep it all going every day of the year…
  • Running on a tight budget with little flexibility to hand out carrots…

Inspires the locals to achieve this,

What is your excuse?

Read here:   

Mithila artists transform local railway station with traditional Madhubani art

The Madhubani Railway station, in Bihar just got a makeover. One of the oldest rail stations in India near Patna is now attracting tourists after hundreds of local Mithila artists adorned the walls of the station with world-famous Madhubani paintings – scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata among other things.

The excruciating work was undertaken as a Swachh Bharat mission and has been done free of cost as ‘Shramdaan’ in an attempt to promote the traditional art form besides beautifying the station, the largest of its kind and first in Bihar. At least 7,000 sqft area at this Bihar station under the East Central Railway (ECR) has been decked up in about 20 days, railways supplying paints and brushes. (Source: DRM Samastipur/ Twitter )

The colourful Madhubani painting is quite unique with its signature geometrical patterns and motifs.

Many young artists volunteered for the project who have been learning the ancient artwork since childhood, their families in this trade for generations.

A wedding ritual.

From walls at the stations to sign boards at the platforms, this is no less than a wonderland!

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Source: Indian Express, etc.

S. Mani, a senior ex-colleague and a good friend responded with the info that the railway station at Pandavapura (Karnataka) where he resides too is embellished with beautiful paintings focusing on the tourist spots around, at the initiative of the Station Master Shri Madhu hailing from Trichy. A few of the snaps sent by SM:

Thanks, SM.

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