Sunday, December 30, 2012

164 Monday Musings: A Humbling 2012

164 Monday Musings: A Humbling 2012

The last Monday of every year begets a musings. This is the fifth new year that my musings are witnessing and for strange reasons of sentimental indulgence i went back and read the previous four. I don't know what i was searching, may be dots that i could connect in retracing the last four year ends that may assure me that i was not only growing old but at least in some ways also growing up. Midway through this exercise i lose interest and i sit down with a fairly empty mind and still fingers on the keyboard.

2012 was an year of breaking certitudes for me. For every truism an equal and opposite revealed itself - in full measure and with its own validity. 
The world appeared to have returned from an economic brink but not quite, as many responsible nations continued to play too close to the cliff. Old theaters of strife and violence continued unabated and new social and political fault lines were discovered. Countries and communities were messed up in the past, while increasingly there is evidence of individuals being messed up. There is no lager cause in the name of which they perpetrate the havoc, but just a sick mind, devoid of sanity and humanity seeking closures. There is solution to the former but i am scared that there is none to the later.

An year can be humbling when it reveals within a short span of 12 months the follies of certitudes, the meaninglessness of permanence. So many opposite can sit together in close proximity - unbridled joy with soul choking grief,  the liberation of endless possibilities with the blankness of Cul de sac, the assurance of confidence with sinking feeling of vulnerability, the vitality of companionship with the disillusionment of relationships, the energy of hope with the gloom of despair, the light of clarity with the shadows of ambiguity. If only the year could have been clearly skewed decisively towards one way, one could have blamed the times, destiny or luck. The fact that the extremes co existed in harmony and in full measures, only reveals its true design - to humble man. The man who had forgotten humility must be reminded. I am reminded to look for 'good in the bad and bad in the good' in 2013.

Here is a list of my resolutions for 2013 in no order of preference - 
Be healthy - run at least 4 marathons (2 in 2011, 3 in 2012, so 4 in 2013 is progress)
Write regularly and widely (31 musings in 2011 but 27 in 2012 is not progress)
Substantial effort to re skill for the next 10 years (Read, Read, Teach, Coach)
Finish the first book (Critical - enough is enough)
Spend significant time with kids (To make everything else worth it)

....and while all of this is being attempted, remember that life must not be taken too seriously - it has a mind of its own. 

Happy 2013. 

Guru

Sunday, December 23, 2012

163 Monday Musings: The NaMo Juggernaut and Leadership Lessons

163 Monday Musings: The NaMo Juggernaut and Leadership Lessons

The Narendra Modi juggernaut is on its roll, winning the Gujarat assembly election third time in a row. My views about NaMo have wavered with time. Immediately after 2002, I hated him for what had happened under his tutelage despite a wide range of opinions on his role therein, ranging from complicity at worst or tacit approval at best. During his second tenure I happened to tour Gujarat a few times and got a first hand insight on the reasons for his popularity - of decisive action, standing strong behind his core constituency and an imagery of strength and bravado as a subtext this positioning. Much later as i toured the state on its state highways, i knew for sure that Vibrant Gujarat was not a mere slogan, and as far as development, infrastructure, ease of doing business etc is concerned, the state was well ahead of most others. For all the heat and dust that NaMo generates depending upon your political views, its difficult not to give the devil its due - that along with his personal integrity, non involvement in any corruption scandal and his deft & decisive administration, puts him as a top quartile CM India ever had. But this is not about ranting NaMos achievements, but in the context of his poorly comuflaged ambitions to become the PM, here are some leadership lessons one can learn from the way this entire issue is currently poised.

#1. Watch the path you take to go up - for others are watching it too.
The methods employed to be successful at the current stage must be evaluated comprehensively, for they become memories for others. People around you start associating you with the methods you employ to move up the ladder and soon memories of a few becomes your reputation for the lakhs. You become a shadow of your methods and the shadow never leaves. Your methods might get you hero worshiped by a few today but might isolate a lot more for the future. Manipulation, arithmetic's of convenience and petty opportunism might win you a few battles today but will become handicaps when you become a general.   

#2. Leaders need to be inclusive - when you belong to some, you end up not belonging to others. At the bottom of the rung its enough to mean the world to some but at the highest level , you must mean something to the entire world. Obama in his victory speech said it so eloquently when he said that it was his pleasure to be the President not only to the democrats and who voted for him, but also to the republicans and those who did not vote for him. Leaders might belong to a constituency to begin with - constituency of people, segments, philosophies, but as they mature and grow up, they must expand to involve and include others. At the highest levels of leadership the worst thing that can happen to leaders when the boundaries he created to include some also become the boundaries that exclude many more. 

#3. Memories have a strange way of coming back - Many depend upon the proverbial short memories of the masses and believe that at a later state a brand re-positioning will do the trick. At the highest level even a speck of the past can become a blot and quite miraculously just when you thought people had forgotten about things, they seem to remember it. A past indiscretion, error of judgement, inability to take a position so on and so forth can pretty much be a reason enough to make people doubt your acceptability and suitability for the big job. Just when you thought no one was noticing you, they were. Just when you thought people had forgotten, guess what - they have not.

#4. What you can do AND how you make people feel - Effective and successful administration is not a sufficient condition to make you a great leader. Most fascist leaders began by providing better conditions to their people, most autocrats wreck havoc on their people in the name of the good of their subjects. Leadership is not only about benefits, execution - its also about how you make people feel. Do people feel liberated, can they dissent without the fear of reprisal, do they feel heard, are they treated as adults, do people feel comfortable in thier being different and thinking differently? Leaders can argue a lot about what they can do and what they have done, backing it up with promises, facts and figures, but they cannot control how people feel about them. As a nice internet forward says, 'People forget what you did for them, but remember how you made them feel'. Leaders get the point or lose the plot on this funny little amorphous and uncontrollable thing called feeling. 

Guru

Sunday, December 2, 2012

162 Monday Musings: Zen Marathonism


162 Monday Musings: Zen Marathonism

I had always considered running a pretty boring pursuit, an effort so needlessly undertaken, the meaningless huffing and puffing, a voluntary but punishing load on the lung and the limb putting your own balance of mind under a shadow of doubt. That was many Monday's ago. I ran my fifth half marathon today and its a significant personal milestone in two ways. One its a personal best timing but more importantly this was the first time that i did not stop even once in the course of 21kms - and therein hangs my musing.

James Mallory, an ace mountaineer and according to some hypothesis, 'possibly' the first person to scale the Mount Everest (for more on that read 'Paths of Glory' by Jeffery Archer), in response to a question in 1922 as to why do they climb peaks said so eloquently and poetically ".......So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for" Marathoning is pretty much like this - sheer joy, pure, unadulterated, sublime, uplifting! It teaches you so much and reminds you much more.

It teaches you that nothing worthwhile can come without toil, hours and hours of mind numbing practice, even when no perceptible improvement is visible; tending to the garden with sage like calm even when green shoots are nowhere to be seen. It teaches you that every kilometer that passes under your feet takes everything in you, every milestone will extract its pound of flesh - letting you have nothing for free. It teaches you that every subsequent kilometer will appear longer than the last one, and will challenge you harder, forcing you to access the last ounce of your willpower and resolve - and you almost hear yourself torn between the pain and purpose - pain screaming that you are done with it and purpose egging you to stay on course just a little while longer. It has taken me five runs and close to two years to let purpose win over pain. Marathons teach you patience and perseverance more than anything else - for a long run will not cede anything to  the runner with ease. It teaches you to be humble - not to take yourself and your abilities too seriously - for there is always a challenge in life that is larger than us.  

Marathon remind you much more. It reminds you of your limitations more than anything else. It reminds you that at the end you are human. It reminds you that even in completion, the run is larger than the runner, that completing it only makes you miss the run even more badly. The runner is sandwiched between the agonizing wait for the run and the immediate vacuum it leaves as soon as it finished - the 'communion' lasts only for the duration of the run. Marathon reminds you that the truest victory is victory over yourself and your limitations. It reminds you that there always is a challenge out there that is just outside your reach, and in trying to surmount it, the best and the worst in you reveals itself. Marathons force you to deal with your incompleteness, the rough edges and the dignity (or the lack of it) with which you deal with them  reveals your character. 

I have understood myself better through my tryst and trials with marathons and so would you, should you chose to.

Guru