Change seems to be the most spoken about in businesses and in our lives, especially during these extraordinary times. The following article is about how I see change and how to manage and lead in these times. My thoughts are influenced a great deal by the Bhagavad Gita and the teachings of Ichak Adizes. Read on…
The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 14 says:
मात्रास्पर्शास्तु कौन्तेय शीतोष्णसुखदु: खदा: |
आगमापायिनोऽनित्यास्तांस्तितिक्षस्व भारत || 14||
“Maatraa-sparshaastu kaunteya sheetoshna-sukha-duhkha-daaha
aagamaapaayino nityaa s-tans-titikshasva bhaarata”
“O son of Kunti, the contact between the senses and the sense objects gives rise to fleeting perceptions of happiness and distress. These are non-permanent and come and go like the winter and summer seasons. O descendent of Bharat, one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.”
In simpler words, “only the interaction of the senses and sense objects give cold, heat, pleasure and pain. These are temporary and transient; therefore, try to tolerate them.”
Everything around us is transient, changing, and changing fast. Ability to manage change, being agile, is a critical attribute to be a successful leader. Leadership is as much about leading other people as it is about leading self. In our lifetimes there will not be a better time to talk about leading self.
Change is constant
On this day, 13th July it is 18 years since a very memorable day in Indian cricket. A tri-series of ODIs between India, England and Sri Lanka was about to conclude. India and England had just finished an intense series in India and now the Indian team were playing at the Lord’s. India were in the finals, up against England.
After the toss, England chose to bat first and scored 325 for 5. English players Marcus Trescothick and captain Nasir Hussain had scored a century each. For Nasir, it was his first and only century in ODIs.
India in those days relied heavily on Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly. And Virender Sehwag was a rising star then.
The India team opened their chase with Sehwag and Ganguly. They gave a good start with a 106-run partnership. But then, within no time, the India side were 146 for 5. Stalwarts Ganguly, Sehwag, Dinesh Mongia, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar were back in the pavilion and most TV viewers switched off their sets thinking it was all over.
Agility, resilience, and adaptability are the aspects of leadership that are most critical, and anyone can get a chance to demonstrate these.
Two youngsters, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif then rose to the occasion. A sixth wicket partnership of 121 runs and then Kaif continued to bat on with others until he and Zaheer Khan took India across the line.
Yes, that was the day when India won the NatWest Trophy and Sourav Ganguly won a billion fans and lost his shirt!
The NatWest Trophy example demonstrates that change happens, and that leadership is about agility and being able to manage the situation to emerge successful. Before the match, everybody wanted India to win, then the way England played it was difficult for India, the way Indian openers played, it was possible again, and then the middle order collapse made the game sway in favor of England but then, the way the sixth wicket partnership was built, the India side crossed the line.
Like in a game of cricket, so in life, change happens all the time. Birth, growth, business growth, decline, death, everything is change. Life is about change; and it happens irrespective of whether you choose. All the time! We often say, “change is the only constant”; but do we really comprehend this fully?
Change is changing
I once worked for a company, let us call it ABC. When we started business in India, we were new in the market, but the parent company had a global footprint. As an organization we knew what we had to do, and we did things right. People were carefully chosen to do the roles assigned, the leadership was completely in sync with each other, all strategies were in place, all stakeholders on board; everything was right. And so, we were off the block to a great start.
As the business grew, so did the complexities and the roles needed to align to these changing realities. As a company we did well here, we were agile in this area. Roles at all levels were evaluated periodically, competencies assessed, talent pool created, and development plans were in place. At times, people were moved to other roles smoothly.
This was a near-ideal case and it worked well for many years. The current reality around us may be different.
Our thoughts, wants, needs, market realities, everything changes with time. The world around us is changing too. For example, to reach a market audience of 50 Million: radio took 38 years; TV, 13 years; internet, 4 years; iPod, 3 years; Facebook, 2 years.
And this is much faster in case of mobile phone users with the changing technology. The growth in mobile phone subscribers is a case in point.
What is important to note is that “change is changing too!” The rate of change is much faster now than ever before. Change is accelerating!
Nothing is perfect
Change happens because nothing or no one is perfect. The technology, the products, services, everywhere there is “innovation” in search for that which is “perfect”. But “perfect” is an illusion. Our scriptures give us examples showing God and nature is not perfect too.
The Matsya Purana talks about the destruction of the world and how Manu was assigned the job of taking the seeds of creation to safety and start all over again. He was guided by Matsya. There are similar stories in the Old Testament and the Quran too.
Whether these and other stories, or what we know from Science, since the beginning of time, everything has been changing. Growth as well as destruction are about change.
Change and Conflict
The other interesting thing about change is that it is associated with conflict. Change and Conflict are Siamese twins. The scriptures, mythology, and history are replete with examples where change has led to conflict and that in turn, has led to more change. Corporations that could adapt well have grown and continue to thrive.
In human interactions, two things lead to conflict:
- The way people think: Styles
- What people want or their focus: Interests.
Conflict can be constructive, and it can be destructive. Constructive conflict is when people think differently (different styles) and have a common interest. Destructive conflict happens when either their styles vary or have different interests and they do not trust and respect each other.
We have seen several examples of both kinds around us in our organizations and in public domain. There will always be opportunities to choose constructive conflict over destructive conflict. It is like going on an open highway; if you miss the exit you need to go a long way before you get another opportunity. And sometimes, that can be expensive.
It is thus logical that conflict is inherent within organizations. Businesses exist to make money and grow over time and this change will come with conflict and will lead to more change. Either the organizations thrive and flourish if they manage the transitions well, or failure to proactively manage change and conflict will take the organization down, sometimes even leading to death of the business.
To manage this fast-accelerating change with agility, organizations need to build a culture of trust and respect. Build, nourish, inculcate honesty, integrity in the company. Leaders need to be sensitive and deal with empathy on issues concerning people. They need to realize that change affects companies because it affects people. And every employee has a different way of dealing with these situations. The origin of the word “colleague” is in Latin which means, “to arrive together”; it is not “start together”. And that is a big paradigm shift.
It is important that teams agree and put together mechanisms and processes to ensure free flow of information; ample opportunities for employees to communicate and feel understood.
Leaders and Managers should realize that leading a business is like raising a family. There will be differences, conflicts, disagreements, but it is up to the family elders to take accountability and sort things out.
Co-operation is possible when there are common interests. A chicken once proposed a business plan to a pig saying that they can use their “natural resources” and make a million dollars. The pig was interested and asked how that is possible. The chicken said they could start a partnership firm to sell eggs and ham, something that millions of people consume daily; and hence saw a great market opportunity.
Clearly, the interests here are not common. Very often leaders and managers negotiate and deal with colleagues like the chicken did in this story. Sooner or later the employee realizes the imbalance leading to conflicts.
The biggest asset every company has are its culture and character – most difficult to build and easy to lose. Every opportunity will throw challenges too. Agility flows from character and culture.
So, what do we do as individuals to succeed in this fast-paced world?
The onus is on each one of us to skill ourselves to adapt to the fast-changing world around us. Build a strong foundation on your unique capabilities, strive to add value each time you have a task or managing a project.
What you know is not as important as who you are. The current knowledge can and will become obsolete; it is something you can learn and acquire. Who you are is more important. Are you trustworthy? Do you trust and respect others? Remember it is character over competence, never vice versa.
Whether leading others or oneself, agility and learning to adapt quickly to changing scenarios is critical to success. Holding on to older, established ideas, paradigms and strategies does not help in the “New Normal”.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson quotes King Arthur in The Passing of Arthur:
The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfills Himself in many ways,Lest one good custom should corrupt the world”
The Bhagavad Gita mentions in Chapter 2, verse 22 that even the human soul gives up the useless body. Therefore, learn to explore, live like a traveler, who does not get attached to the city or places he visits. He just enjoys the experience.
वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय
नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि |
तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णा न्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही || 22||
“Vasaansi jirnaani yathaa vihaaya navaani gruhnaati naro-paraani
Tathaa shariraani vihaaya iirnaanya-nyani sanyaati navaani dehee”
“As a person sheds worn-out garments and wears new ones, likewise, at the time of death, the soul casts off its worn-out body and enters a new one.”