Tag Archives: work ethic

I want a promotion, but do I deserve one?

You’ve got to admit it.

Promotion time at the workplace does add spice.

Dare I hope? Dare I not? Anticipations whisper in your heart.  Will I this time? Will I not? Expectations bounce off the walls of your mind. And this is if you are the milder type.

And then there are the more aggressive ones. I hope I am in that list you send up the leadership chain, hints one to the manager. You know what will happen if I do not get the leg up this time – this is a more explicit message. And just so that everyone is on the same page, a ‘I-mean-business’ e-mail is sent to the manager and copied to the powers above staking his claim among the prescribed numbers.

Everyone thinks they deserve a promotion. But how do I know if I truly deserve one?

Early on in my career, I had an interesting conversation with my dad as I was chewing my nails out during one such nerve-wracking time of the year. “So why do you think you deserve the promotion”? he asked me.

For the next half hour, he decimated my arguments as I presented my case to him. It was one of the greatest and humbling lessons I learnt in my professional career, one that helped me realistically peg both my expectations as an employee and apply sensible criteria as a manager.

In making their decisions, managers look for different things, and look at things differently too. But forget managers for a minute. What are the candid questions I should be asking myself? How can I honestly assess myself and accept what I see with equanimity? The illuminating discussion with my dad pointed me to the following questions against which I must exactingly evaluate myself.

* Have I exceeded all the goals and targets that had been set in the past two years?

* Have I quantifiably increased my efficiency at my job and role to benefit my organization?

* Do I add measurable value to all the work that passes through me?

* Have I learnt everything I could possibly learn in my present position?

* Are my superiors happy with me? My team members? My peers?

* Have I developed and visibly demonstrated any new skills that are necessary to move to the next level?

* Do I work at my level but perform like the level above me?

* Will I, in all honesty, be able to do justice to the new responsibilities of my higher position?

And then let me look at my attitude.

Am I engaged in my work? Am I focused on the future? Do I handle change well? Do I display a positive attitude and never drag anybody down? Do I volunteer for tough assignments? Do I look for ways to grow in my role my career, my organization and in my field?

If the answers are ‘yes’, let me make my claim with responsibility, meticulousness and firmness.

If the answers are ‘not yet’, let me admit it loud and clear to myself. I do not deserve a promotion now. Neither am I entitled to it. I need to earn it – perhaps when the next year comes around.

And what happens if I do not get it even if I have earned it fair and square?

I have a choice. I can do nothing. I can wallow in the unfairness of not receiving in proportion to what I have given. Or, based on my inner sense of knowledge and approval of who and what I am, I can charge myself and take a different route.

The elevator, if you please, instead of the ladder.


Can conviction and consensus shake hands?

“I am not a consensus politician. I’m a conviction politician.”

For Margaret Thatcher, this was no rhetoric. It was the truth. A truth she lived with the same felicity that she believed in it.

Whether or not you liked her, whether or not you agreed with her, you cannot take away from the fact that she consistently demonstrated the immense power in the value of conviction.

This value lies in its unshakable belief without need for proof or evidence. Some may myopically term it pig headedness. But when the passion of conviction amalgamates with purpose, it unleashes a power that can change the self to change the world.

In the corporate world, this is the essence of leadership.

The leader must possess a vision, but above it, an unshakable faith in his vision. She should have expertise, focus, charisma, passion…but above them all must sit  conviction as the driver. For, as somebody so aptly put it, it is conviction that drives decision, promotes action, accepts risk, overcomes doubt, and draws others into the endeavor. Simply put, it is a firm persuasion of oneself that something is right, and so must be believed…and must be done.

Where does this then place the much-celebrated leadership by consensus? Do conviction and consensus confusedly conflict with each other?

Contrary to what the extreme conviction leader may think, consensus is not about abandoning beliefs, principles or values and policies. (Mrs Thatcher’s famous pronouncement about it being “something in which no one believes and to which no one objects” may be a little harsh).

Good leaders do not confuse the two. They take the road of conviction in their strategy but build consensus around it. They do not diminish their power of conviction to build consensus. They listen and take strong action down the path they believe to create the best performance. They unerringly keep the vision of their goal as the primary target.

Such ‘visioneering’, is a unique trait of a good leader. At all times he holds a clear picture of what could be, and fuels it ahead by the conviction that it should be. She compels herself to move forward and make bold and sometimes, disruptive decisions, no matter the cost. They clear the cobwebs around populism to instill competitive identity in their teams, a trait that makes their members proudly engaged in discovering a focussed belief and voluntary commitment to succeed in today’s hyper competitive scenarios.

True, we should not brush aside some real risks associated with strong convictions. Such as hubris that leads to arrogance and perhaps manipulative fostering of dissension for selfish ends. Here is where the true leader balances his conviction with responsibility. Responsibility, to understand with integrity the causal effect of a desired end. And conviction, to choose the right end. CK Prahalad’s message on this will remain eternally un-erasable – “Responsibility without conviction is amorally pragmatic and un-engaging; conviction without responsibility is impotent”.

And when the ‘conviction’ leader adds optimism in instilling competitive identity, he is on his way to becoming a charismatic leader. She is then seen as one who accepts both obligation and accountability to engage and enable her people to pursue the vision.

May such Pied Pipers start their journeys!

When accountability collides with the vagaries of change

Nostalgia has this habit of throwing up awkward memories that first imprison you with uncomfortable truths – and then liberate you if you have the honesty to admit your inadequacy and draw lessons from them.

A couple of weeks back I was reminiscing about years ago when my kid took me to task with serious reproach and disappointment for coming home from work later than I had promised I would. Never mind if I had remembered the promise and left early but was stuck badly in a traffic jam. The outcome was what mattered to her – do not make your intentions your commitment, she was clear, even then.

That set me thinking about a very important dimension of accountability. To what extent do we factor in the critical element of change when we commit ourselves to  responsibility and ownership? Or do we at all?

I played the spoilsport that day to challenge my commitment to accountability. I asked myself this – when I say ‘I’ll do my best’, do I base my commitment on merely what I see or intend to do today? Am I actually saying that I will do it as long as it goes according to what I think will happen without any changes or roadblocks? Or am I committing myself to do exactly as I promise, come what may, come what changes or problems?

The more I thought about it, the more I was unsure about the pedestal of accountability I placed myself on with pride.

This is a valuable lesson we need to take to our workplace too.

Let us rule out certain scenarios here. We are not the conniving ones who mask our real intentions and say yes. Neither are we the weak ones who say yes knowing fully well that we cannot do what we said yes to – but do not want to be seen as someone unwilling to step up and do our part.

That makes us the earnest ones, the honest ones who really do mean to fulfill the commitment we give our peers, our teams and our leaders. But even as we do so, do we ask ourselves “Am I aware of what can go wrong?” “Can I overcome hurdles as they arise?” “Am I competent to manage the imponderables?”

These answers are what lead to the real meaning of ‘Am I really committed and accountable?’ The Oz definition of accountability perhaps comes close to defining this – “Accountability is a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results”

We live in a world of constant change – this is an obvious reality. Equally realistic is the fact that each of us has our individual boundaries that does not take into account negative changes under which we can or cannot perform to what we commit.

Once we acknowledge this, we can now place our idealistic layer of our will to meet our obligation and agreement, to overcome problems when they occur and to be creative about our counter actions. This gives us the fortitude to surmount factors that threaten our success, to renegotiate responsibility with integrity when faced with changing circumstances, and to be answerable with corrective fixes for resulting consequences.

This truly does liberate us – even as we make our commitments, and subsequently as we meet them. We will find ourselves focusing our energy on finding solutions to meet our obligations rather than finding loopholes to skirt accountability. We will then shy away from allowing game changes to become deal breakers.  And we will make smarter deals with our determination and persistence in managing those unexpected and unintended breaches of accountability.

My peer – friend or foe?

My peers. Who exactly are they?

They are my teammates right? Our goals have a line of sight to that of the larger and common organizational vision and success, right? And if they looked good, I would look good too, right?

But wait a minute, aren’t they competition too? Aren’t they the ones with whom I have to play the jostling and nudging out game to get my performance ratings, salary raises and bonuses?

As we move up the management ladder, positive interpersonal relationships, teamwork and influence become our mandated competencies. We learn it is imperative to work in co-operation and collaboration with our peers; that it is OK to direct praise their way without flinching even if it was our ideas; and that we need to be sportive and accepting if they were more successful, even if we helped them reach there.

I ain’t no saint, do I hear you say? I feel resentful if my manager gives them credit over me, do I hear you admit? I need to prove I am better than them, do I hear you confess?

Would you consider me stupid, if I asked why we feel so? My optimism tells me there could be a more positive perspective if I did.

The truth is, while we are taught in school and our initial work years on how to be smart, driven, and to develop valuable skills, we are not counseled on true relationship-building. While we grow up being praised for being the smartest in the team, we are not taught to share our knowledge or skills with our teammates. We are programmed to believe that success is individually achieved when we get the work done and grab our managers’ attention and praise.

Result? Our motivation does not stem from being involved in driving the organization forward, but from the need to be noticed and appreciated for our individual work. We seek opportunities to take credit for ideas, and sometimes even talk down our peers’ contributions. To be fair, we may not even be aware that we do so, immersed as we become in the rat race.

If this is true, would you say it is time to apply the brakes?

It does take tremendous maturing and growing up. We need to get to the point where we accept that our strengths lie in the work we do – and that they can stand on their own.  Most important, we need to be secure enough not to need or seek our managers’ validation and pats on the back. It needs true conviction that it is really about my organization succeeding, and it matters a whit not as to who is actually in the limelight to make it happen.

And we should not be looking to the organization to drive this – in fact, the organization cannot do anything if we do not. The power lies in our hands, both individually and collectively to shape a culture of workplace collaboration.

Let us…

…start by giving up control – and find ways to let others help us and impress us.

…give up the fallacious notion that their success diminishes ours

…be authentic in our relationships – yes to candid honesty, sharing, camaraderie and generosity in acknowledgment; no to hypocrisy, defensiveness politicking and grudges.

…understand them – what are their motives and perspectives? Can we also be the ones coming around to their points of view?

If you want a less selfless view, here is an undeniable truth. Your peers are today, and will be tomorrow, your most powerful advocates. They are the ones who cast the biggest impact on your future success. Do not ignore them because you cannot see their influence. Do not destroy them because you cannot engage them.

For spotlight is a short-term glow, and success is a long-term signature.

When personal principles clash with organizational muscle

The recent case of a contractor in the  National Security Agency choosing to leak information on the agency’s data gathering program resurrects the dilemma of how we tackle the conflict between what we perceive is right and whether believing we are morally right gives us the license to break the law. It once again reveals the truth that there are far more hues of gray than we can be comfortable with when we encounter such situations.

While questions of right, wrong, treason, security will rock the headlines in this specific case, let us take this to a scenario in our everyday work-life. What would you and I do if we were faced with a situation where we had to do something that clashed with our beliefs and principles?

Would I keep silent because I believe the organization is entitled to do what it thinks best, or because I do not want to rock a comfortable boat? Or would I move to the other extreme of blind crusading to hurt and mow both the trees and the weeds? Or would I take the role of an influencer firm in my intent to make a change – knowing fully well that I may succeed or not in the entirety of the outcome, but can shape the thinking of my colleagues, peers and powers-that-be to what is right?

This is how the needle moves from making the issue bigger than the individual. While the origin of our action arises out of our personal belief, its clarity should not be muddled by a self-righteous ego on one end to helpless cowardice on the other. The first questions we need to ask ourselves are – do my principles resonate with a general “good-for-all” motive? Can I open my thinking to organizational perspectives that conflict with what I think is right – do they warrant merit too?

The distillate of such fractionalization of thoughts (pardon me going back to my chemistry days!) will then be clearer to show how you can link your personal principles to your organization’s bigger social responsibility. And then it is not a conflict of which matters more, but a solution-finding exercise of how we can marry the two. You go past the nonchalant “why should I care”, the rabid “let me show them” or the apathetic “whatever” to a more satisfying “what can we do together”.

Whether or not the motives of the NSA contractor were malicious, a couple of his statements struck me.

“…There are many other secrets I could have revealed if I wanted to harm national security, but that was not my aim”

“…My intention was to disclose those details that could spark a national debate..”

“..the greatest fear I have regarding the outcome…is that nothing will change”

Taken at face value, they pose good learning points for many of us who grapple with right and wrong, acceptability and the non- of it.

Lesson#1 – A negative outcome as a goal is a very bad idea, and shows the hollowness of our beliefs.

Lesson#2 – As long as I restrict my principles to how I act and what I do, it is fine. But when I wish to paint it on a wider canvas, inclusiveness of thought and deed, of cause and effect is vital.

Lesson#3, and this is the most important – it is not about whether I fail or succeed. From the end result point of view, my first steps may land me in a puddle or a ditch, and I may slither the slopes awfully – but if I can maintain my integrity and get up again to attempt it with greater wisdom, greater intelligence and greater conviction – and lesser anger, lesser frustration and lesser negativity – that is what matters.

Ultimately, it is about feeling proud that I dared to believe…and I dared further to humble myself to ask, to gather, and pass the baton on to others who are more capable of crossing the finish line.

Need I love my job to be excellent?

Recently I saw a beautifully made documentary on the  anonymous background musicians whose excellence created the evergreen hits that will still be called evergreen years hence. And the words of a smiling and very successful percussionist of yesteryears, said with genuineness and totally without rancor or even wistfulness, struck me. “It was my bread, butter…and jam. But I did not love it. Why should I (love my job to be excellent)?”

You could call it playing an extreme devil’s advocate. But it is a profound truth that frees you. And here is another gem that completes the train of the earlier thought – this time from the actor Steve Martin. “…I always say, be so good they can’t ignore you. If somebody’s thinking, how can I be really good, people are going to come to you.”

What it means is that I do not have to be passionate about my job but about how well I do it. This means I do not have to be miserable feeling and giving others the feeling that what I do is unworthy. It takes away my obsession with what my job does for me and helps me chip away at becoming so good that I cannot be ignored.

It also means that I do not let my boss, my salary or my promotion become my key evaluators – I am, based on how well I do my job. Cal Newport in his book ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’ terms this the Craftsman Mindset that calls for deliberate focus to stretch one’s abilities outside the comfort zone, to deal with fears, especially the fear of failure.

We all come pre-packaged with a powerful asset called enthusiasm. The more we give it up at the altar of challenges, ennui and misplaced sense of success, failure and responsibility, we lose this lifeblood of true success to the monster of mediocrity. Our enthusiasm for excellence unfettered by the pursuit of perfection (that slams the brakes to a dead end) will transform us to happy experts who can give and be acknowledged for what we offer.

“Follow your passion” is more a signature headline too simplistic for depth or meaning. None of us is born with a treasure trove of passion to be unearthed. We develop an intense liking for what we are good at, can hone to excellence and be acknowledged for. Any pursuit that meets the above can keep us happily engaged.

Let me take this a little further. It really begins with something I need to offer, not something that anyone else owes me. And it is I who has to master this ‘something’ to make it unique, excellent and valuable to feel a pulsating passion. And then to the humbling truth that until I am good at something, I have no business to expect any return – be it acknowledgment, recognition or reward. But I also know that once I get there the music of my choice keeps playing.

Running with stress and apprehension behind succeeding 100% of the time to a fickle and an ever-moving needle is a waste of effort and emotion. Focusing on becoming valuable helps the idealist gain enjoyment and happiness while enabling the pragmatist maximize  his capital for financial success.