Wise leader secrets? Where did this come from?

This week, I wanted to ship you a post that put a halo over me. I’d analyze trends and ferret out value streams. I’d expound strategic, hairy, complex theories. I even wanted to slip in the Black-Scholes model when no one was looking and dazzle the heck out of you.

Alas, it was not to be.

Wise leader secrets – introducing Grandma!

You, my leader-readers, were crystal clear. You appreciated my team and people skills more than the other stuff. So I decided to shift topics. But these were skills I learned as a child from my Grandma. So, Mr.Scholes, you’ll have to wait. Grandma gets to play star this time.

This post will make her laugh out loud. I am sure she’s entertaining her heavenly friends with tales of my misadventures, handing out her favorite orange Mittai (orange candy) to everybody.

This post is free of jargon but big on home truths. You probably live many of these already – courtesy of your Grandmom. Read along, nod, and smile. It will set you nicely for the weekend. Now, please excuse me for a minute. I want to box up my paradigm-shifting, transformational theories for another day!

And now, let’s look at the “wise leadership” secrets she passed on.

Wise Leader secret 1: It’s a duty, not a job

I finally figured who to blame for my problems with job descriptions. The culprit is none other than Grandma.

She had strong opinions about work. Work was a duty, never just a Job. It was to be honored, even worshipped. Every year, on Saraswati puja (a festival to celebrate the Goddess of wisdom), she would place our ID cards, laptops, and books on God’s altar. We bowed down to these work symbols; she was teaching us work was sacred.

I didn’t realize it then, but a profound shift was happening within me. When you equate your job with service to God, you don’t take short cuts. You learn to revere it.

Kahlil Gibran and Jerry Macquire agree!

Kahlil Gibran’s definition of work is beautiful:

Work is love made visible.

Think about it; love can transform even a humble email into a game-changing memo. Yea, we are talking about this Jerry Maguire scene.

When your job becomes a sacred task, coworkers became fellow pilgrims. And together, you create a work of art. In a world where Job descriptions change all the time, turning your work into a calling is perhaps a great idea?

Wise Leader Secret 2: It came for your head but left with your turban!

Grandma was a master at reframing adversity. A dent makes us sob, but it is better than a life-threatening accident! We had it tough, but we escaped worse.

Marcus Aurelius, one of the greatest Roman emperors, was a master of this art. Here’s how he prepared himself for a day at court.

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly.

Meditations: A New Translation (Modern Library) by Marcus Aurelius

After expecting such a bad day, anything he encountered was an improvement! Today, leading athletes and stock gurus use this approach to cap risk while enjoying the promise of unlimited gains.

Follow Marcus, and you can’t go wrong. He’s the grand-daddy of philosophy.

Wise Leader secret 3 – Miss a wedding, but never a funeral

When an associate struggles with a tragedy or a setback, your place is by her side. You do what you can and offer a kind word too.

“I get the kind word part – but what I do?” you wonder.

Here’s where Granny Networks come in. Granny networks are versatile, “giver” networks. You have every possible skill in there – after all, Granny knows everyone! And The participants don’t look for money or fame; they give by choice. Imagine these as the swiss-army-knives of networks. I strongly suspect Sergey Brin got the idea of Google from his Grandmom.

The best leaders have access to similar “giver” networks, and their influence extends beyond work. Their teams love them as a result.

How about the successes? Success always has enough fathers and friends. They can do just fine without you!

Wise Leader secret 4 – Share good news now; bad news can wait.

A few years ago, I was part of a team working on a very strategic deal. We gave it our very best for two long months. The orals went well, but then things went silent. A few weeks later, our solution leader texted me on a Friday afternoon. 

Sad news, we lost the proposal. I know it’s a long weekend in India, and the team has plans for celebrating it with their families. Let’s not inform them now and spoil their weekend. We can update the team when they are back. 

I love this advice. It’s a trick Grandma used extensively. In her words. “there is no point in crying over spilled milk now. And much of the bad news is spilled milk.” 

I think we can stop here – we are sold. But how do we go about practicing this skill?

Wise Leader secret 5 – Stories drive Culture.

Most children have fond memories of evenings spent with Grandma, listening to a nice story. Grandmas come in many sizes, but the stories they tell are all “we” stories. They bring everyone together to achieve common goals. They are imaginative and memorable.

It turns out that Einstein agrees with the power of stories in childhood. The following is from “Art Matters” by Neil Gaiman

Wise Leader Einstein on power of stories

We are all suckers for stories. We enjoy the written and spoken words, and visuals are always a big draw. But the stories we tell as leaders should be inclusive, imaginative, humorous tales. They go a long way in building cohesive teams.

Wise Leadership secret 6 -Have an extra sweet – always!

I sometimes wonder how the orange Mittai industry survived her death. Perhaps, other Grandmoms took her place; God bless them!

Granny wasn’t good at just remembering birthdays or anniversaries. She could spot accomplishments no one noticed and rewarded them with a sweet and an appreciation.

The power of questions and compliments

In today’s world, a leader must spot and appreciate greatness. Mostly, it’s about observing and asking the right questions.

Rita is such a wonderful storyteller. Is it time to get her on our presentation team?

John volunteers every week for a social cause. Could he lead our CSR initiative?

Leena shipped out her geekiest DIY post on her very geeky blog. Should we get her to mentor our hackathon?

Complimenting people at the right time does magic. It spurs people to embark on their greatness journey. Appreciation at the right time can transform (yeah, I could use that word!) a part-time blogger into a full-time author or a random cartoonist into a professional artist.

The best Leaders notice, appreciate, compliment, and celebrate others’ success.

Wise Leader secret 7 – Work is part of life, not life itself!

A friend shares this lovely story.

For Grandma, Sunday Mass was not optional. Work could wait, as could everything else. You came to the Church on time and with the right attitude. You played your part in the Choir, and you put your hand up when the community needed help.

While he didn’t necessarily understand the reasons, he followed these instructions (not that he had an option!). Today, he has built great friends and networks, a deep appreciation of music, and volunteers extensively to the community. He attributes it all to his Grandma’s advice. His children are part of the Choir now.

Success has many dimensions. Apart from our revenue-earning activity, we do many things – and each requires its fair share of our attention. The Purshartha is a comprehensive yet intuitive framework we can put to use right away. Here’s a two-minute introduction:

In summary

And with that, we’ll wind up for the day. It’s incredible how much of what we do today we owe to our earlier generations. Has your leadership style been influenced by your Grandma or elders at home? Would you like to share some wisdom with us?

I’d love to hear from you. Comment below or share your thoughts at subra@nsubra.com. Do check out the other essays in this series.

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