Are you a Quiet Leader?

ciel blog - quiet leader

We grow up with various stereotypes and accordingly, we look up to certain kind of leaders as our heroes. Organizations tend to choose and promote people who are boisterous, loud and confident. It is believed that such a person is likely to inspire and lead the flock purposively, keep them together and deliver the results that the organization wants. We would have seen personalities who are on the quieter side and unable to create an impression in the first interaction. Social norms work in the minds of the audience and often they lose out when pitted against a verbal enthusiast. However, I have seen poor results delivered by the team led by the seemingly ideal person. Why is it so?

Context matters… Leader must adapt!

Situations differ and accordingly the challenges before a leader vary. One has to be flexible to be able to adapt to the situation. You may be loud and dominating; leading your team from the front and in the spotlight. Alternately, you may be quiet, analytical and empowering; prefer to be in the background. Neither of the two type is ideal! A leader is a human; the followers are human too. Hence, the group dynamics and the leader’s personal style determine how well one is able to adapt to the situation.

The leader has to invest the time and space to think about the context, recognize the situation, involve the team in arriving at the decision and building ownership of the execution steps. These steps sound very textbook style. Often, the situation could be such that the leader does not have the wherewithal to go through these steps. And in some cases, personal style of the individual comes on the way of following this style.

Results take a beating when the team expects consultation and participation whereas the leader follows his own agenda to arrive at the decision and merely communicates them down the line. Given the composition of today’s workforce, team members often want to understand the rationale of a decision and participate in the process; they do not like to be instructed and watched over their shoulders. Given this context, it is more likely that the leader cannot afford to have a dominating, invincible and instructive style. Similarly, there are situations where the house is on fire and the leader is expected to be on his toes, taking quick calls and leading from the front. So, the style of being participative, passive and consensus-driven will not work.

One-size-fits-all does not work. One has to adapt to the context!

Make choices!

One of the most important characteristics that defines a leader is the choices one makes. While the speed of decision making, the process of arriving at the decision and the way it is communicated are important, the first and most critical factor behind the success of a leader is the decision one takes. Normally, there is a set of alternate paths which lie before a leader and one chooses to traverse one of them.

Isn’t it frustrating to see the leader delaying a decision, procrastinating, unwilling to bite the bullet? We need our leader to be confident and calm in evaluating various alternates; we need him or her to be charismatic and creative in bringing up new possibilities before us. It is a unique combination of self-confidence, charisma and pragmatism that we look for. Again, easier said than done! How often we come across such people?

We find the macho and communicative boss who believes in speed and his instinct in processing the information, takes a call fast and pushes the team to get ahead. It surely raises the confidence of the team, boosts team spirit and fires everyone up. When the going gets tough, the boss needs to stay strong and calm to weather the storm, make course-corrections and sustain optimism. We have seen such macho leaders fail at times.

Quiet leaders are often stereotyped as people who are slow, tentative and selfish. However, from another perspective, the same actions might be sure-footed, determined and cautious. So pragmatically speaking, our boss needs to be balanced in his approach to a problem so that the choice is made quickly; communicated with vigour; and arrived after giving it the right amount of thought and experience. No one type of leader does it better than the other!

If you love solitude…

As we can see, there is no one particular style of leadership that works better than the other. Just in case you love solitude, prefer to write than talk, hate superficiality, embrace deep-diving, stay calm and confident in times of crisis as well as jubilation, you need not worry about your prospects of being successful as a leader. You have great strengths which need to be leveraged!

It is easy for you to listen actively, empathise, give credit to your team, put your team first, stay poised and find solutions. It is important for you to communicate often, show the way forward and exude optimism. Your team trusts you, values your position and looks up to you for inspiration!

Watch out if you are the boss’s Favorite!

Image result for boss's favorite

We all know, bosses have their favorites. They are human beings and so do the people who work with them. It is natural that the boss likes and trusts someone more than the others. You become first among equals, the go-to-person for prestigious project, a critical decision or a crisis. You enjoy his proximity and often become a part of the inner circle that has the knowledge of classified information. You feel privileged and start enjoying a special status in the team. Is life a bed of roses for you?

Are you able to drive Change programs effectively?

Since you are the go-to-person for your boss, your plate remains full all the time. You are undoubtedly important for your team and the organization. You get to work on challenging assignments and can potentially learn a lot from these assignments. However, there is a catch here!

Problems in the organization are solved not by just one person but by a team and often by a cross-functional team, especially if you are in a role that has a significant strategic bent to it. The boss’s favorite is a spotlight in the organization and is looked upon with a range of emotions such as jealousy and awe. When you are in the situation of getting things done by collaborating with people from other teams, you experience bottlenecks. They do not open up to you; some of them start sabotaging your intent in a stealth mode. You start feeling frustrated and shooting from the shoulder of your boss. It often back-fires especially when you are talking to people from other teams who do not report to your boss.

You are unable to get the things done as per the plan. Often, you do not get the complete picture of the ground reality because people are not forthcoming with you. You are unable to identify the root cause of the problem you are supposed to solve or give those critical inputs to your boss. You fail to deliver the business impact. So, do not oversell your clout! Stay modest and do not take advantage of your special status.

Are you developing your career?

You are protected well by your boss, enjoy a big elbow room in many things related to work and get to solve the meaty challenges. Does that mean that you are developing your capabilities and increasing your worth? Your boss could have a rough patch in your organization and might fall out of the main stream. Your boss might become cold and distant suddenly. The peers of your boss could come to the lime light and might have opportunities which are better for you. But, your deep loyalty to your boss could come on the way of you being trusted by the front-running leaders in the organization. What happens to you in that situation?

Secondly, as you work through the maze of your organization, you being the boss’s favorite tend to be the spokesperson of your boss and his ideas. This happens unconsciously; over a period of time, this leads to you being branded as someone who toes the boss’s line, lacks the depth and confidence to form opinions and speak one’s mind. This kind of an image harms your future prospects and potentially compromises the kind of recommendations that you are likely to get from the others in future.

Each passing year, you must analyze if you are increasing your experience by a year or strengthening your abilities and deepening your expertise. Staying as a sidekick will not necessarily enrich your abilities unless you are delivering on assignments which have increasingly greater impact on your organization. Your title might change and rewards might increase; you might deepen your roots in the organization. However, the most critical factor to analyze is to check if you are producing greater impact each year. If not, you must look out for career options within or outside your current employer!

Are you hungry for approval?

Many a times, we have noticed the school kid in us want to be in the good books of the teacher. We look for the pat on the back, the stars on our books and so on! We want to be the apple of the teacher’s eye. We behave well by following all her instructions and do our best to shine in the tests that she takes. Are we carrying the same to our workplace?

It is important that we introspect and understand who we are. In case, we look for the praise or the abrogation all the time, we fail to stand on our own feet. As a professional aspiring to break into the higher echelons of an organization, it is important that we learn to think independently and present those thoughts firmly. At the same time, we have to learn to stay modest and sensitive so that the bosses do not feel hurt to hear another perspective rather welcome them.

Being the favorite of the boss puts us on a pedestal. However, we must make sure that we are growing well by increasing the business impact that we deliver and build the social equity in the organization at the same time.

How do you know if the new job offer is better than your current job?

ciel blog - new job offer vs current job

Over 4 million people change their jobs each year in India and many more face job interviews. Most of them are anxious and unsure if the new job offer is better than their current jobs. Is there a tool that can help somebody pick the one that scores higher over the other?

What do we look for in a job?

Compensation, of course, is one of the features that is associated with most jobs. That apart, there are several factors that determine one’s thoughts about the job consciously or subconsciously. Firstly, it is the purpose, the mission and the social norm associated with the job. Be it the job of a driver, a doctor, cook, teacher, cleaning staff, engineer, plumber, accountant, content writer, salesman, software programmer, all of us want to do a job that adds value in the ecosystem that we care about. Most often, the identity of a person is linked to the profession and where one works. Hence, it is important that the job and the industry are held highly in the person’s mind.

Secondly, it is the work environment – the colleagues we work with, the bosses we report to, the empowerment that we receive, the recognition that we receive and the challenges it poses on the way. Each of us wake up to make the day more productive and satisfying. It is our workplace that helps us realize the goals for the day. Hence, we look forward to a workplace that creates energy, optimism and ignites a creative spirit in our mind.

Finally, certain aspects of the role are important for each of us. For example, working on a particular kind of equipment, tools and software is important for the person in a technical job. Similarly for someone who has significant responsibility in the family, commuting time, work hours and holidays are important considerations. Opportunities to grow along a particular career path are important for an ambitious worker. We find the job satisfying when most of these are in place and on an overall level, we feel fulfilled.

Hard and soft aspects of choice-making:

Given the above construct, one should make a list of factors under the 3 broad categories: the job, the workplace and the fine-print. Job change is an important event in one’s life and can have a huge impact on one’s future. Hence, adequate care must be taken to consider all aspects from a rational as well as emotional standpoint.

It is easy to compare two opportunities on aspects such as compensation, title, industry’s attractiveness, the level of technology in use and practice of internal promotions. However, what about the soft aspects of the workplace? As someone once said, “We get to choose neither our parents nor our boss”, it is important that you know about the culture of recognition, the colleagues that you will work with and the boss you’ll report to.

We can network with colleagues in industry, refer to various studies that rank best practices in various organizations, study what people are talking about the employer on social media and industry platforms like Glassdoor, Indeed, LinkedIn etc. We can speak to ex-employees of the company to understand about the workplace. It is not easy to do it and has to be done.

Do we have the check-list of what we look for and value?

After making up our mind about the decision factors pertaining to each of the 3 aspects i.e. job, workplace and role-specific details, one needs to list them down. Each one of these factors has to be assigned a weight on a scale of 1 – 5 where 1 indicates least significant and 5 is the most.

Then the next step is to score both opportunities on each of these decision factors and weighted score has to be arrived at. Based on the sum of the weighted score for each opportunity, one can decide which one is better. Simple, isn’t it?

Let us take an example: a software engineer is ambitious, looking for growth opportunities and a good work-life balance. The decision table could be something like this:

Decision Factors
Decision Weight on scale of 1 – 5
Current Job on a scale of 1 – 5
Weighted Score for Current Job
New Job Opportunity on a scale of 1 – 5
Weighted Score for the New Opportunity
Job          
1.       Compensation

5

4 20 5

25

2.       Reputation of the firm

5

4 20 3

15

3.       Opportunity to work in various industry sectors

5

2 10 5

25

Workplace          
4.       Well-qualified Colleagues

4

2 8 5

20

5.       Supportive boss

5

4 20 3

15

6.       Recognition for the work done

3

4 12 5

15

7.       Opportunities to learn

4

4 16 5

20

8.       Challenging work

4

3 12 5

20

Role-related Specifics          
9.       Commuting from work

5

5 25 2

10

10.   Work hours

5

5 25 3

15

11.   Leadership opportunities

5

3 15 5

25

12.   Impact on the organization

5

2 10 5

25

     

193

 

230

This tool helps one identify all the soft and hard aspects of decision making, consider them holistically and take the ultimate decision. It makes our life simpler and organized. Let’s go for it!

Develop your career!

ciel blog - career development

Employees in most workplaces in the world look for a combination of factors from their employers. Some of these expectations are fulfilled to a large extent while some others are ignored by the employers. Training, career development and growth opportunities are some of the areas where employees expect a huge gap between their expectations and what they actually receive.

Expectations galore!

Interestingly, many employees tend to outsource a lot of their responsibilities to their employer. For example, all of us know that we need to exercise and remain physically active to enjoy good health. In spite of this knowledge, employees expect that their employer will take care of all their health woes. Many employers set up gymnasiums, appoint trainers in the gym, organize health camps, arrange sessions for employees to advise them on well-being, run campaigns to participate in physical fitness programs, reimburse or offer discounted rates for memberships in health clubs, provide insurance and so on. In spite of all these, employee health is an issue and organizations lose productivity due to sick days reported by employees.

I think, the root cause behind the mismatch between employee expectations and experiences lies in setting expectations around growth, career development and training. Employees need to take responsibility of their own growth and development to a large extent rather than outsourcing the responsibility to their employers. This might sound radical but is a bitter truth that the employee has to commit efforts and interest for his or her personal growth. Only then, efforts and investment of the employer organization will bear fruit.

So, the 1st step is to take ownership of one’s career development. Then, comes the other steps of finding one’s own strengths, matching them with areas of interest and arriving at a personal development plan. Then the execution and course-corrections.

Are you clear about career goals?

First of all, one needs to discover the goals which are exciting. Many a times, people flow along the stream and expect to reach the goal. However, given the speed of business and the volatility that the business cycles have been witnessing, the streams are often constricted or redirected to accommodate the changing needs upstream or downstream. So, flowing along the stream with the hope of reaching a higher level is no more plausible. Hence, one has to discover one’s calling and work towards it. Reading books, journals and other such business publications – online as well as offline, provide a good idea of various possibilities; discussions with seniors in the industry, networking with colleagues and peers helps one gain clarity about various possibilities. In the process, one is able to broadly decide what goals should be pursued.

It is a process you have to follow.

One should learn to write a career development plan. Ideally, the plan starts with an over-arching statement of purpose or a primary area of interest. Then it starts going deeper such as writing down the long-term plans which are time-bound and more specific. Then the next stage is to write a short-term plan which can be 1-3 years depending upon the context. At this stage, one draws up the threats or challenges that one might encounter and hence, a plan to mitigate the risks, the weaknesses which are to be bridged, the strengths to be leveraged and the opportunities in the environment which can be exploited.

Having taken all these 3 steps, one draws up the action plans which are specific, measurable, realistic and time-bound. One identifies the support and investments required from other sources to fulfill the action steps and the milestones.

The next stage is to review the progress on a periodic basis and make changes to the plan.

Work with someone you trust!

ciel blog - career development2

A mentor or a coach plays  a significant role all along this process. Right from the time of drafting the development plan, the person supports till the plans are executed. The support ranges from helping you discover your strengths and weaknesses to working as a sounding board all along the journey, putting in place a rigorous mechanism to review the progress, helping you gather feedback from the stakeholders, interpret them and work on them.

Along the process of development, there will naturally be challenges. A coach, mentor, friend or co-traveller, whatever you may say, helps you overcome these challenges. One big challenge on the path of development is rigorous follow-through. Many people fail to sustain the momentum of the program. If you have someone helping you follow the regimen, it is easy for you to follow through the tasks in a disciplined manner. The second big challenge is to help you listen to the feedback from the stakeholders and interpreting them objectively. A big reason behind the failure of a career development plan is the self-defence mechanism and the ego. People tend to trivialise, rationalize and at times, sanitize the feedback they receive. A coach can help you see the inputs objectively and stay the course.

The way to develop one’s career is simple if one follows the process rigorously either with a high degree of self-confidence and self-awareness or take the help from someone who is skilled at leading one in the process. One cannot expect the employer organization to take the responsibility of learning and development. At best, one can expect facilitation and encouragement from the employer!

How important is EQ for career growth?

eq-important-for-leaders-ciel-blog

Organizations get the senior managers to sit together for talent review sessions and decide who goes further. The HR team rolls out the results and managers often are anxious while dishing out the letters one by one. The grapevine keeps churning various theories to explain why someone got a bigger raise or a promotion. Some celebrate openly; some sulk yet put a brave front while the rest openly protest and revolt. Water cooler conversations keep churning out various theories to explain the results.

In any case, there is a certain amount of subjectivity while judging the potential and the future promise. One uses several instruments and methods to make the process objective. However, the common theories which do the rounds as well as the discussions in talent review sessions have many things in common!

They review the outcomes delivered and the behaviours demonstrated by the person. And hence, they decide how the person is likely to behave in future and what value the person brings to the table. Every organization outlines a set of behaviours which are important for them and assess the talent along those aspects. There are a set of capabilities such as applying financial acumen, thinking strategically, making rational decisions, selling, public speaking etc. can be developed with relative ease in comparison with capabilities which are softer in nature.

Softer skills hold the key!

Leaders need to be fearless, adaptable, collaborative; consider the big picture in their day-to-day work; build a culture of excellence. These are examples of softer capabilities which one needs to grow over a period of time. Often we learn these by observing our seniors. Each of these have multiple elements : establishing trust with people, being flexible about one’s ideas, listening to the others, applying intellectual bandwidth and acting with integrity.

This is way different from what we do in the initial part of our careers. We have well-defined tasks to complete, clear methods to carry out the tasks and transparent methods to measure outcomes. We have very limited grey zone. However, as one gathers experience and takes on tasks which are strategic in nature, the unclarity increases and several uncertainties come up. So, it is obvious that one should be able to sail in choppy waters keeping the troop focused on the goals, enthusing them along the journey, monitoring the state of affairs, making course-corrections on an ongoing basis and planning for the future! So, you need a strong emotional quotient.

Patience is a virtue!

Given the times that we live in, all of us get used to quick results. Fast food and quick service restaurant are the order of the day. Round-the-clock television, Internet, Emails, Chat services and Social channels have transformed our lives. We want action and immediate feedback.

Unfortunately, leading a team and learning these skills does not happen this way! Members of a team do not develop trust on their leader based on an email or a video call. Results of the team are observed hourly or daily, but the performance over a period of time determines if the team is doing well. Often many projects take a few weeks, months or at times, quarters to show results. Sparks of brilliance win us applause but they are transient. What matters is steady glow of the lamp! That calls for staying power which is nothing but emotional intelligence!

It is hard work!

Most often what we know about us is way different from what the others know about us. Secondly, there are many aspects of our own personality, knowledge and beliefs which are unknown. So, one has to first invest energies to discover and unravel oneself. We act in a certain manner because we hold certain ideas and philosophies in a certain way. Conflicts in a team take place because we fail to appreciate the perspective of the other.

This is easier said than done. One has to be at it and keep practising the skills of understanding the perspectives of the other, use them while influencing a group’s thinking and resolving conflicts.

All the way up, what matters is Emotional intelligence!

Where should you work – A small firm or a Big one?

After having worked in a big firm and then joined a small firm that grew to a large one, I noticed the evolution of a firm and the opportunities that came along the way of this evolution process. By virtue of my job in Recruitment industry and due to personal interest, I have personally spoken to thousands of professionals at crossroads of their work-life seeking advice. I have noticed young people and freshers from colleges anxious and confused staring at alternatives before them; almost every mid-career professional gets the itch to do something different; and the list goes on to tell me that there is a lot of confusion that can be easily avoided.

What’s the difference – a Big Firm and a Small Firm?

The differences are along multiple dimensions: pay, career path possibilities, stability etc. Big firms typically score better compared to small firms on all these aspects given their history, established work methods, predictable work hours, budgets for employee benefits and development.

However, given the volatility and fast-paced environment that we live in, some of these could change quickly. We experienced them in a large-scale at the time of global financial crisis. Large firms cut pays, reduced employees and couldn’t honour their commitments to their current and future employees. And after the crisis, firms have kept their bench strength to the minimum, optimized their workforce on a periodic basis, laid off people, outsourced activities, transformed several work processes and so on; these events have had serious impacts on the careers of their employees. And many so-called small firms have grown, have been agile to seize market opportunities, grown the careers and salaries of their staff at a much higher pace than what one could expect.

So, the point is not to paint the canvas with one brush. One should rather evaluate how good the pay is; And estimate how well the career could grow, how stable the work-life could be, based on the past track record of the organization, their management practices and the outlook for the industry sector the firm belongs to.

While there are several online resources available to understand the work culture, one can carefully discuss these during the recruiting process with the head-hunter and the interviewers. Also, one can tune into various social and professional contacts to get insights of how the firm fares on these factors.

So, it’s a misnomer that a Big firm pays better, offers multiple growth options and brings in stability to one’s career.

Know what excites you!

Often it’s not the size of the company that matters. Rather it is the personality traits that matter significantly in making a career choice. There is no job that is necessarily bad or good on an absolute basis!

Large teams and firms are like an ocean while the small companies are like small ponds. One can choose what is more attractive – a big fish in a small pond shouldering many responsibilities and charting the unbeaten path or one among a million in the ocean living in harmony and peace.

Each option has its own charm. The differences here are in terms of the visibility, name recognition, risk of failure, speed of action and the possibility to influence the future. We know for sure that each human being based one one’s context and personal preference finds one more attractive than the other.

So, it’s simple : know your context and personal preferences; do your research and make the choice!

More than one boss?

multiple bossOrganizations are flattening and role boundaries are getting blurry. Silos are melting away; overlap in responsibilities is a common phenomenon these days. There are many matrices at play when we think of organization structures. With tools like SMART goals, Project management software and so on, it is very common to see project teams, shared resources and multiple bosses. You may call it a chaos. On the other hand, this kind of organization design focuses on the expertise of its people and achieving the outcomes. In any case, multiple bosses is the reality in many firms and needless to mention, it calls for certain skilful navigation on the part of the employee, the manager and the organization.

Organizations need to be transparent and culturally open in communication!

It is not easy to receive multiple instructions, process them, prioritize and deliver all of them in a way that matches the demands of the bosses. Though we see this trend on the rise, it is fair to say that most people have just one reporting line. Hence, the senior leaders need to recognize the fact that theirs is a unique design and hence, they must take additional care to ensure that their design is sustained and nurtured well.

Across the rank and file in the organization, it must be understood why they one person has to report to multiple managers. Secondly, some of the ground rules are to ensure that the managers need to be openly discussing about their priorities and resolve differences if any. This calls for a high degree of trust, openness and communication amongst peers supervising the same worker. Apart from this cultural aspect, the organization needs to have adequate systems to support such complexities and make lives easy. For example, the system must ensure that the goals for the person are set collaboratively by the managers, reviewed in a time-bound and transparent manner and disagreements or conflicts are surfaced in a safe and confidential manner.

These sound quite common-sensical, yet organizations struggle in execution!

Managers need to be Benign Statesmen!

Most often managers care for their own tasks and to-do lists. They lack the interest to know what their sub-ordinate is dealing with and where she needs help. Hence, they do not care if their peer has assigned tasks of high priority. Worse is the situation in most family-run enterprises where responsibilities and boundaries for the folks from the family are not clearly defined and often the priorities change. Poor executive being hounded by multiple bosses who are in a hurry for everything that they need and do not care what else is on the oven!

Managers need to be considerate that they do not own the resource fully and to get the best out of the person, they need to make things easy for the person. They need to do whatever it takes to reduce conflicts of priorities, deadlines and to make the person feel  valued for the contribution made.

Again very common-sensical, but many managers simply do not exhibit these qualities. Hence, the person feels to be doing a job for which nobody cares; naturally, the quality of work drops and engagement with the organization falls.

Employee needs to stretch the limits!

Firstly, the employee needs to understand that the situation of multiple bosses will have a few challenges and she has to overcome them. Proactive communicators are generally preferred at work; they tend to influence the thinking of the others. In most situations, communicating proactively about the tasks at hand, suggesting alternate methods to go about them, seeking suggestions and aligning with the most influential manager works well.

Secondly, it is very very rare to excel in working with multiple stakeholders without working hard and stretching one’s limits. It is natural that priorities will clash and at times, they will change. It is not pragmatic always that one can postpone some tasks because of some other changes. Though one can negotiate timelines or look for roping in another colleague or outsource some work to a third-party, it is not practical always other than being flexible about the work hours and the efforts required to shine consistently.

Last but not the least, every organization is political; and dynamic. An employee having multiple managers has the opportunity to learn about two senior people, view the organization from two lenses up close and access the professional circles of two people. It’s a great opportunity to grow!

A tall order, but interesting if one navigates through the twisted roads well!