Friday, October 2, 2015

Slice of Life #8 — Of Delayed Flights and Choices We Make

It was one of those days, many years ago, when everything went wrong. I was to attend a meeting in one city, come back, and then leave for an overseas trip that night. The meeting went off well, and it ended on time. The flight back was at 5.30 PM. The road to the airport was devoid of traffic and things were going on plan. I reached the airport only to learn that that the flight was delayed to 7.30 PM. That would mean a touch and go for me. I decided to check if there were other flights.

There was one at 6.45 PM, by a reliable carrier that was usually on time. I had a choice of getting on to this one and cancel my original flight which would leave only by 7.30 PM. I was caught on the horns of a dilemma. Should I now change to a new carrier, or should I stick to the original? I checked with the attendant and she told me that even though the flight was delayed it would start at 7.30.

How was I to know if my delayed flight would take off even at 7.30? And there was an option to take another flight. Times like these you have to make a hard choice. I decided that I would stick to my decision. I would leave by the 7.30 flight. No change. My wife used to say that it pays to quieten down, not get distracted and focus. The flight took off on time and I made the International connection. By the way, the reliable carrier’s flight was delayed by an hour! I had learnt a lesson.

It is easy to waver in times of stress and be swayed by choices. And staying the course is a choice. Years ago, I made such a choice. It was an opportunity to move to a new function and job. I decided to stick with the same firm and the function. At that time I did not know if that was a good choice or not, and I don’t know that even today. I do know that choices will keep coming up. And each time it is another test, not of choices but of the mind and what happens thereafter.

The choices we make take us on a journey. Instead of looking at the destination and comparing it with others, enjoying the journey is a great way of putting that choice to good use. So, it is not the choice that makes the difference, it is what we do about what choices we make. We really don’t ‘arrive,’ we keep enjoying the journey, and when we do, we truly arrive!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Slice of Life #7 — Packing Mother’s Suitcase

Mother wanted to go to Chennai. Like most octogenarian she kept reminding me that her suitcase needed to be packed. I told her that it was the fourth time she had told me. It was clearly her excitement of travelling back to Madras. To her it was always Madras, not Chennai. I told her to keep all her things on the bed in the room for me to then start the packing process. There was a twinkle in her eye. I left for work thereafter.

In the evening, I came back to a double bed full of clothes, and a pile of whatnots that needed to be discarded, not packed! Why would she want to take her magazines in her suitcase? And the bathing ‘Mira’ sheekakai powder, of all things. This came from ‘Madras’!! And six bars of washing soap, and five clunks of bathing soap. And endless sarees. It was going to be a long evening of negotiation. I needed to be patient with her and speak softly.

Reminded me of my school days. When packing my bags to school, I always packed a couple of story books and stealthily put in a couple of ‘tops’ a yoyo and a few marbles. My mother would then come in to inspect my bag before I charged off to school. When caught, the questions, the protestations and the deep sense of hurt if she put away the yoyo or the marbles and a tear shed for good measure, came rushing to mind. The day when she let me carry a story book to school, I hugged her. She said that I was to read it at the break. Fast forward, it was the same game all over only that the roles were reversed.

I tried to persuade her to lose the mags, and told her that the soaps could be purchased in Madras. She protested, said the mags had her favorite stories. I paused. What is it to give in to the ask of a lady bent with burden of raising three children and of modest means, of those times? She looked longingly at me. I relented. What would I tell her? That I would have to pay excess baggage? She had carried the baggage of life without a murmur. And with a smile. I simply put all the stuff in the bag and gave her a big hug. There were tears in her eyes.

The bags were packed, the sentiments were not. I looked away and wiped the tears as I left the room, even as I smiled.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Slice of Life #6 — Little Lies and Life

It happened quite innocently one day when I was returning from a business trip. My wife asked me what time I would be coming in and I told her that I would be there around 10 pm. I was actually catching an earlier flight and I would be home a couple of hours earlier. I wanted to surprise her and told her a ‘little lie’ about the time I would be home. It so happened that the flight got delayed and I actually got home only at 10 pm. This was crazy!

Another time I went to the market and when she asked me if plantains were available, I gently lied that they were out of stock. I would surprise her by bringing them home, I thought. I went inside the shop that usually stocked them and to my surprise, I found that they were missing from the shelves. It could not be true, I thought. This was the second incident in the week.

I was thinking of going to the gym. I was feeling lazy and my heart was not in it. I would tell my wife that the car would not start and I could duck out. When I went up, I found that two of the tires were kaput and there was no way I could be driving for some time now! Now the little lie game was getting a bit much!

Perhaps that was a bit of truth in the lie game. At a conscious level it starts to play out what the subconscious lied about. I was living the lie! It was time to stop. It was so much better to avoid the little lies. It is better to speak the truth and pay the price or reap of being at peace with oneself. I called my wife and told her that the flight was on time. And it was. Once in a while you chuckle for being a ‘good fella.’ In all the darkness of life the rays of hope lie in speaking the truth. Life is beautiful without the lies. It is.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Slice of Life #5 — Falling in Line

It was one of those crazy Monday mornings at the airport. Almost all of the city had converged to take the flight that day, or so it seemed.

These days you have to have to stand in queue with one hand carrying a tray for you to deposit the laptop, your jacket, mobile, etc., and the other is the stroller bag. And to secure one of those trays for these kinds of flight is like getting a big fat lottery. Sometimes, I think someone is going to make some great suggestion as to how we should have a seamless way to deposit our luggage for airport scrutiny.

I was in one of those long queues and I almost made it to the tray lot when a big, wide-bodied, chiseled, tall man walked in front of me and took a tray. Clearly he had jumped the queue. I was touched to the quick and of course, did not want to raise my voice and was going to make a meek sound of protest. Except, my inner voice was a lot louder and I heard myself speak in a firm and polite way: “Excuse me, gentleman. There is a queue here. Would you mind joining it please?” And looked at him and smiled. My fellow queue guys looked at me in horror. The hulk looked at me for a moment, and gave up and meekly said, “Oh, I did not know that.” A lie that I gladly glossed over, and proceeded with my deposits into the scanner. Chose not to make eye contact, I murmured a “thank you.”

Of course, then you join the queue for the physical check. And that took a while, and I reached the other side to wait for my bags to get through the scanner. And I espied the queue on the other side and saw the hulk near the trays. Just then, another gentleman sneaked in and took a tray and stood ahead of the hulk. This was interesting. The hulk politely said to him, “Excuse me sir, there is a queue here, do you mind?”

Just then the heavens smiled, as did I, for this whole business of ‘falling in line’ was falling in line! Just sometimes, you have to speak up and stand up for what you believe in, even in the face of consequences. For that is important. It is!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Slice of Work #3 — How to Become a GM!

He was a diminutive chap. A quiet man, whom I will call NR. He had been a secretary to a General Manager of a well-known trading company. He looked ordinary but had a constant smile on him. He was going to be interviewed by SK, a VP of an MNC who wanted a steno typist. At a preliminary interview, a helpful HR person suggested to SK that he need not waste his time as he was not a good MNC fit. SK however waved him away and asked to meet NR.

At first sight, he thought he was indeed a wrong fit. The man sported a broad checked shirt and a light green trouser.No power dressing, this. SK, swallowed his prejudice, offered a seat, and asked about his education. "B.Sc., Physics," said NR. This was interesting, a Physics major was doing the job of a steno-typist! 86% aggregate, he gently added. Now, SK was curious. Sitting in front of him was a man who had a strong academic record but was doing a job of a steno typist. He was acutely aware that he himself had not got those marks in college.

Upon gentle persuasion, NR spoke of his need to take up a typist job to support his family. And after 18 years of working through the system, had moved to be the secretary to the GM. SK forgot all of his prejudice of an MNC look. He asked him some more questions and was convinced of his versatility. It was a sad quirk of fate that NR could not pursue his studies. Here was an outstanding man whose time had come, thought SK.

“You will work with me for only 18 months, and I would like to see you move on,” he said. It was the turn of NR to be surprised. SK added that he wanted NR to grow in the organization and that he would be perpetrating a fault if he insisted on his being his assistant. “You will take on other roles in my function,” he added. NR smiled, moist of eyes. Here was a man who wanted him to grow in the organization!

Everyone loved him. NR was ever present, always ready to help and had earned the tag of reliability about him. SK moved him after 18 months and had him take other roles. NR grew rapidly. He dazzled everyone with his diligence, rigor and focus. His presentations were a treat. Years later, NR went to SK’s house and pressed an envelope into his hand and said that he had an external opportunity and wanted his advice. It was a job offer from a reputed company and for the post of a GM-Operations. SK re read the designation ! What a distance NR had covered! It was the turn of SK to reach for his kerchief.

A secretary to a GM was now a General Manager! A warm hug and some coffee later, SK asked him to move on. There are many in the world who all but need an opportunity and in the ability of ordinary steno typist with a checked shirt and green trouser.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Slice of Work #2 — Of All the Things You Build, You Build People

She was a confident lady, if I have seen one—this AK. Articulate and professional. She had everything in her to be successful. I met her after she joined, and this was many years ago.

AK worked for a tough boss who was on my team, a no non-sense kind of guy. Rough around the edges, result oriented. On and off I used to tell him to relax and smell the roses, when he found time, that is. He was a bit of a maverick and his clients loved him. Am not sure if he made a good boss though. AK was not his favorite. She was all at sea with this guy. Time passed and it was time for the Year-end performance Reviews.

I opened my inbox early morning and was surprised to see the resignation mail of AK. This was a bolt from the blue! I pushed aside all things and asked for her to see me. She was adamant about quitting. She was rated as ‘Unsatisfactory,’ and that had hurt her to the quick. She was leaving as she felt unappreciated and this rating bothered her considerably. I gently asked if she had a job given that it was difficult times of the downturn. The ego in her response startled me. I approached my neighbor VG, a colleague and a wise man and sought his help to talk her out of her resignation. I would feel sad to see such a person leave us.

VG was a good man. He said it was an uphill task to retrieve the situation. He then started a long conversation with her. Somewhere in the discussions, he asked if she wished to be successful and be a ‘top rater’ again and her eyes shone. I knew that the ice was broken. VG said that it would be great to prove to us that she was indeed of such mettle and that she should take up the challenge. She relented. VG then took it upon himself to build her confidence back. He spent hours with her over many months. Listening to her, coaching her, mentoring her. A year passed and it was time for the dreaded Year-Ends again. VG and I excused ourselves from the process of evaluation as we would have undue influence over it.

When the results were at my desk, I was not surprised. AK stood tall as a top rater. It was a unanimous choice of the elders who did the consensus meetings on rating of performance. She had an outstanding year. A week later she came to meet us. I could see that she was in tears—tears of joy. She had found her edge and her confidence. And her life. It is then I learnt that: Of the many things you build, the one of lasting value, is building people. And I hugged VG, her coach and mentor.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Slice of Work #1 — The Final Interview & the Old Coordinator

He was an ordinary man doing an ordinary job in a not so ordinary company. Let’s call him Mr C – a recruitment coordinator. He was bent of age but had a sparkle in his eye and a keenness to serve.He had taken us around, given us a lot of information. He put in a kind word of advice and was supportive of each of us who had come in for the final interview.

Ever keen to know our background, and had asked a lot of questions. A good listener, he had been encouraging of anything we said.After the interview was over, he took the others aside, then came back to two of us and congratulated us. Said, “It is important to be kinder to those who were not selected, and that takes time.”

Many months later, I met him again at the head office. I invited him for some coffee and asked him about his life and his work. He swept that question aside and said gleefully, “I knew you would be selected. I have met so many people and am 99% sure who would make the cut.” “It is my life’s work,” he added with pride. I gently asked, “Does your boss know about this.” He smiled and kept silent and I could see a teardrop well up in his eyes as he turned and walked away. That was ages ago.

Each job has a specialization, and people who handle it know the best. They often become experts and long to be consulted but are seldom asked.Their tasks are often seen as mundane. Forgetting that God is in the details. And they can reveal a lot of insights. They are the diamonds in the rough. All it takes is a genuine interest in them and an inclusion that instills a sense of ownership of their work and the company. To check and to value a person’s point of view regardless of where they are in the hierarchy is a value learnt over time.

Fast forward >> As I set about to interview the next person, I asked the seasoned coordinator what she thought of the candidate. There was a gleam in her eyes as she started to speak. And I remembered Mr C...