Sunday, September 10, 2017

Slice of Life #12 - Learning on the Fly

It was one of those crazy days. I normally take a flight on Sundays to Mumbai at around 6.15 pm. For some reason I booked an earlier flight on Air India at 5 pm and forgot about it. Midway as I headed to the airport, I got a call from the airline manager telling me that I was being off loaded it way past the boarding time of 4.15. I had completely forgotten that it was an earlier flight.

I rushed to the counter where the reservation Manager of Air India told me that I had been off loaded. My throat went dry. This has never happened to me and I was feeling faint. I pleaded with the manager and he could see my anguish. It was also clear to me that it was over. The manager asked me if he could assist in getting me to another flight. I could have hugged him. It was really sweet of him.

He and I went to another carrier for a later flight. It was an expensive ticket and I gave my credit card to the attendant who insisted on cash. And those were the ‘Demon-ic’ days of the dry ATMs. After three dry ATMs, I finally managed to get cash. Ran back and gave the money to the man at the counter only to be told that the last ticket was taken. My pleas fell on deaf ears, for he was clear, first come first served. Made not even the slightest effort to help. Bless him!

The AI Manager asked me to wait and said he would try. After ten minutes, I gave up not sure if he could anything, purchased a ticket for the next day, hired a cab and headed back home. Five minutes into the drive I got a call from the Manager if I could come back. He had managed to get me a ticket for the regular 6.15 pm flight, the one I had tried earlier but was told it was running full. And he had got it at a normal price. He had not given up. He had been working silently all along for getting me a ticket.

I thanked Sumit Trivedi. That was his name. He helped someone he did not know. For over half an hour he had relentlessly worked his charm on a different carrier in securing me a ticket. I asked him what I could do for him. He said ‘Sir please fly Air India each time, every time ’. I hugged him warmly and walked away in awe of the man. He had mastered the art of Service beyond Self.

I wish I could be a Trivedi to someone. I must.

Slice of Work #12 - 'Speak up': When most needed...

It was one of those late night conference calls, with some top leaders of the company on it. A delicate matter to discuss. Some months ago an engineer left the shores of India for Canada on a project. He had contracted encephalitis – brain fever, potentially fatal. The doctors gave up and recommended ‘hospice’ – a euphemism for allowing to meet his Maker, outside of the hospital. Huge bills besides efforts had not helped.

The call was for all of sixty minutes. Someone started and said that the case was a hopeless one and that the lad should be put out of his misery. Another said that his wife in India insisted on his shifting to India. This would need an air ambulance and that meant a special aircraft which would, apart from huge cost, had to land every five hours, per international rules. The call went off in the direction that the exorbitant cost and the low survival chance played in the favor of a ‘hospice’ resolution. The call was almost at its end. The decision almost taken.

On the call was a shy and a junior manager who was overwhelmed with the high ranking leaders on it. How could he speak? And he had been quiet all along but his inner voice egged him on. With two minutes to spare he hesitatingly started – ‘This boy would be alive had he not left the shores of India. We have more of such medical cases in India and there is a good chance that the doctors can cure him. Besides, he served the firm the best way he could. We have a responsibility to him. Leaders, let us bring the soldier home’. He was sweating, but he had said his piece. There was a huge silence. After what seemed like an eternity the leader said – ‘Folks, I agree. We carry a vicarious responsibility and the lad has served us well. Let us send the soldier home.’

Fast forward. After all the stoppages of the air ambulance enroute, a devoted wife, and after six months of hospitalization, Alok went back to work to a thunderous applause,. The manager who spoke up that day sported a smile. He had learnt his lesson, as did many on the call.

Slice of Work #11 - 'Show up': A Priceless Lesson in Motivation

It was a cold winter morning of 26th Jan, very many years ago in Gomia, a small town in Bihar. He had woken up at 4.30 and was at the factory grounds, all excited to participate in the mini Marathon in a difficult terrain of undulating lands, finishing at the factory gates. He was the only Management Trainee ( MT) at the event. For over 20 years, there has been only one winner – Viktor Lakra, a seasoned runner, a well- built local chap. The MT was all scrawny and a kid by comparison to Lakra.

The race started with over 50 runners.The roads were rough,the climb tortuous, the downs, pleasant. Lakra was pounding the gravel in a rhythmic fashion. There was no way anyone could over-take this guy. He kept at it and make sure that no one was anywhere near him. And then came the climb, one of the steepest, the one where you just want to give up and just hobble. Not Lakra, he was lapping it up. And the trainee was exhausted and almost giving up.

Just then he heard a booming voice, a voice that used some choicest unprintable words, goading him into action. This man on a scooter at 5.30 am driving alongside, coaxing him to run and not give up. He did not care about the winter morning or the fact that the MT was not even in his department. All he wanted was for him to persist. The words helped. The MT started to run fiercely, his strides were getting better. Daljit Singh who had no business to be up that early in the morning, provided the much needed words of encouragement, and to a Management Trainee he cared for.

It was the home run, and just some 50 meters. Lakra was ahead and the MT was tiring, and Daljit was screaming. The MT put some real zing into the final kick and ran like never before, and past Lakra in the final 10 mts and into the ribbon and collapsed in a heap. All worn out and tired with the sweet sweat of success streaming down his face. Lakra patted him on his head and vanished. Daljit came up and instead of shaking the MT's hand, gave an affectionate slap. His brimming smile, mustachioed face and twinkling eyes said it all - the MT had won.

What mattered was that someone showed up. What does it take for someone to goad another in their hour of need? What motivated them to do this for another in a selfless way? 'Puttar, just make sure that you show up and cheer others and help them find their zone, and you will find yours' he one said. Motivation is more about giving than receiving. A selfless act that can be only returned by paying it forward. That race is still etched in my memory, for I was that Management Trainee. And of Daljit Singh, a man who taught me the foundation of motivation - to show up, coax and cheer.

Slice of Work #10 - 'Stand up': A Lesson in Leadership

I thought I was going to lose my job. It was early in my career and I was the Administration Officer of an MNC in the heart of then, Bihar. I was responsible for guest houses and the Transport. No Uber, Olas or tourist taxis then. We had to make do with company owned cars. The nearest towns were two hours away. And each time a company car went to either Dhanbad or Ranchi, it came back faithfully to the garage for repairs, owed much to the wonderful state of our roads.

We had all of five cars in this explosives factory and all of them were in the sick bay. An officer had requisitioned a car and I explained that no cars were available. He was upset and said that production was at stake and that I was responsible ! I was stressed out. What was I to do? I had no cars to give him. The situation was grim. As expected, the General Manager of the factory called me to his room. It was a long walk to his office. This was the second time that this had happened under my watch.

As soon as I walked in he started to pound me without giving me a chance to explain. He would not relent. I was in a daze. The room started to look large and I was weak in my knees as he went on his tirade Suddenly the door opened without a warning and my boss barged into the room and physically stood in front of me blocking me off from the GM and said – ‘While the lad is responsible, I am accountable for this failure. What can he do when all the cars are worn out? I should have budgeted for new cars. If anything, ask me, not him.’ He then turned to me and asked me to leave the room. I did not wait, I ran.

My boss returned to his room in some time. Spoke nothing other than to say that it was all taken care of. He had turned in his own personal car for the job. And patted me on my back and said that he should have given him a heads up. My anxieties fizzled in that moment, and I was teary eyed. Much later, I would realize that I had had the experience of what true leadership meant – to ‘stand up’ for your team member in the hour of need. It was easy for him to throw me under the bus, but he didn’t. I have never forgotten Capt. Arvind Nautiyal. Thank you Captain for giving me a great lesson in leadership – To Stand Up.

Slice of Life #11 - Lighting a Lamp of Hope

When trouble comes it descends in a tsunami, perhaps. She was a sprightly girl once. Working in a fine firm with fine friends Got got married to someone in Singapore and had to leave her job. Not a happy marriage I guess for he deserted her. Not the one to give up so easily she found a job in a good MNC. Life moved on till one day she fainted on the stairs in the subway. And rushed to the hospital in Singapore. Was diagnosed with cancer. Fast forward, she was moved to the Tata Cancer Hospital at Mumbai.

Her close friend Vinay from her previous company came to know of this.He called her ex- boss and they both decided to visit her.. The boss had stuffed an envelope in his shirt pocket. He was not the hospital going chap and was scared of such places. Vinay was far stronger. They reached the place and met the girl’s parents. Emotions were high and eyes were teary, and the boss found it difficult to cope. She lay on the bed, almost reduced to a skeleton and she tried her best to avert her eye.

The ex-boss looked at her and waved the envelope, ‘This is an appointment letter waiting for you Mo, and I don’t have all the time in the world. Your team is missing you. So get well soon and I will see you at work in a month. I hope you got that.’ He did not wait for her response. Just turned around and walked out. Scared I guess. Vinay noticed tears welling up in her eyes. He stayed back a few minutes, held her hand. No words were spoken. And yet a poignant conversation ensued. Much later she did say to her parents that after their visit, her racking pain had abated.

Mohini, did return to work in her old firm. It took a few months for her to recover from the dreaded illness. Her ebullience was back and so was the cheer. She continued to dazzle people with her professionalism and humanness. All it took was a couple of guys to infuse a sense of purpose. And let her know that she was valued, that she was needed. They went there to light the lamp of hope, to feed the faith that life holds. In a caring way, albeit differently. And it worked. Faith heals, and hope feeds that faith. One needs a purpose to live… a life of purpose. Life is indeed beautiful.

Slice of Work #9 - Running up a Lesson in Motivation

It was a cold winter morning of the 26th Jan very many years ago. I had woken up at 4.30 and was at the factory grounds, all excited to participate in the mini Marathon of some 15 km or so of undulating lands. We were to run to a spot and then return, and the finish line was at the factory gates. I was a Management Trainee and was fond of long distance running. For over 20 years, there has been only one winner – Viktor Lakra, a seasoned runner, a well- built local. I was all scrawny and a kid by comparison to Lakra.

The race started and Lakra was off like a rabbit and with over 50 people in tow. It was a long race. The roads were undulating and the climb was tortuous, and the downs pleasant. Ahead of me by a few meters was Lakra, and he was pounding the asphalt in a rhythmic fashion. There was no way I could over-take this hulk. I kept at it and make sure that I was somewhere near him. And then came the climb, one of the steepest, the one where you wanted to give up and just hobble. Lakra was lapping it up. And I was almost giving up.

Just then I heard a booming voice, a voice that goaded me into some action with some pleasantries of the morning in words that I dare not print. He was on a Chetak scooter, this man called Daljit Singh, who at 5.30 am was coaxing me to run and not give up. He did not care about the winter, or the fact that I was not even in his function. All he wanted was for me to run. Something got into me.I seized the moment and started to run and my strides were getting better. Daljit provided the much needed words of support to a kid he cared for.

It was the home run of some 50 meters. Lakra was ahead and I was tiring. Daljit was screaming. I put some zing into the final kick and ran like never before, past Lakra in the final 20 mts and into the ribbon and collapsed in a heap. All worn out and tired with the sweet sweat of success streaming down my face. Lakra patted me on my head and vanished. Daljit came up and instead of shaking my hand gave me an affectionate slap. His brimming smile, mustachioed face and twinkling eyes said it all. I had won.

What does it take for someone to goad another in their hour of need? What motivates the motivator? Daljit was one who everyone would give their right arm to work for. He left an indelible mark on me. As he said once to me – Puttar, just cheer others and help them find their zone, and you will find yours. Motivation is more about giving than receiving. More about getting another find their edge. A selfless act that can be only returned by paying it forward. That race is still etched in my memory of a man who taught me the foundation of motivation- Daljit Singh.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Slice of Work #8 - Driving a Lesson in Humility

I was a freshly minted graduate of a leading B School and wore its stripes proudly on my shoulders. I was to join an MNC in one of their plants in Gomia, Bihar as a Management Trainee. They chose only the best. And I was full of it, all puffed up. The night train from Calcutta would reach Gomia in the morning. I had a letter that said that there would be a car to pick me up from the station and take me to the guest house.

The coal fired engine creaked up to the station and I alighted with my canvas hold-all, yes we had such things in those days. There was not a soul in sight to receive me. I felt let down. I heaved the luggage on my shoulder and came to the exit. There I saw a nice car the driver in a khaki shorts and a white colored tee shirt was walking towards the car. Aah, my driver, there he was!

I went up to him and rudely asked him to open the trunk and keep my luggage. He asked me in Hindi who I was and I introduced myself. All this in a condescending way, and asked him to take me to the Guest House. He said he would be happy to drop me. He heaved the luggage in and opened the rear door and had me seated and asked me if I was comfortable. This was getting better.

All through the ride he asked me questions about my family etc in a kind sort of way. I was getting irritated with a driver who spoke too much. At the guest house a couple of the staff ran up to the car and saluted me.They respectfully carried my luggage. I waved out to the driver who wished me the best in my new job. The next day was a big day. I was to meet the big daddy of the place- the Chief Executive – Dr. S.K.Varma. And I was nervous.

At the appointed time, I knocked on the door and walked in.The big man in his factory overalls, had his back to me and as he turned, I burst out – 'Hey what are you doing in this office?' He gave me a broad smile and in chaste English said he was Dr. Varma, and asked me to take a seat. I choked and could have died in that instant. I apologized profusely for my behavior and was at a loss for words. He said that he had come to the station to see off a friend. And he had seen me and wanted to be of assistance. And played along for he knew I had mistaken him to be a driver.

He offered me tea. Said that outside of work one should not wear their education, only use them. As I waked away I learnt the greatest lesson in humility. So, the guest house staff were actually saluting him, not me!!. My ego came crashing down, my stripes i lost. Shoulders hunched, weighing heavily with lessons learnt, I exited his office.

Humility is playing a role, any role, sans ego, whatever the role be. Even if this were that of a driver. In so doing, Dr. Varma drove home a lesson in humility.