Eagle or Chicken?

There’s a story I remembered one evening as I strolled down the streets of Aviemore Village in Scotland, after meeting a wonderfully inspiring woman, Debra Kopp. Debra had chosen to follow her dreams, traveling across lands, investing in small family run businesses, reviving them, contributing to the communities they operated in, and then moving onto her next destination. in this way, she touched the lives of many, helped hundreds in their struggle to run small businesses, gave back to communities, and successfully achieved her dream of seeing the world.

Once upon a time atop a mountain rested an eagle’s nest with a collection of eggs in it. One day an earthquake rocked the mountain, causing one of the eggs to roll down to a chicken farm in the valley below. Believing the egg to be one of theirs, an old hen volunteered to nurture the large egg and take care of whatever hatched from it. After a period, a beautiful eagle emerged from the egg. Sadly, however, the well-meaning hen raised the eagle as a chicken, with his beak ever pointed downward. The eagle loved his home and family, but his spirit cried out for more. One day, the eagle looked to the skies above and noticed a group of mighty eagles soaring in the skies. “Oh,” the eagle cried, “I wish I could soar like those birds.” The chickens roared with laughter, “You cannot soar with those birds. You are a chicken and chickens do not soar.” The eagle continued staring at his real family up above, dreaming that he could be with them. His heart ached for more. Each time the eagle would let his dreams be known, he was told they could never be fulfilled. That is what the eagle learned to believe. The eagle, after a time, stopped dreaming, and continued to live his life like a chicken. Finally, after a long life as a chicken, the eagle passed away.

As a child, I recollect my parents telling me to follow my dreams and aspire for what I believed I wanted to do and achieve. Dream big, they said, but remain grounded in reality. I think I was lucky in some ways, to have been presented the opportunity to pursue any interest I had. As the years went by and my interests ranged from art and archaeology, literature and law, to psychology and religion, I saw a clear path emerging—one I could follow, one that was known, treaded on successfully before, and in some ways, a path whose outcome was fairly predictable. Unlike Don Quixote, whose imagination transported him to places unseen by others, I stuck to the conformist route, set out achievable targets and milestones, and truly believed that I was realizing my dreams.  One day a few years later, I reread the story about the eagle and the chickens and I asked myself—which one was I?

The Bollywood Peacekeepers

We love them, we criticize them, we follow them, we advise them – A love hate relationship, that stems from our dreams being played out on screen. Our Bollywood Moviestars! The release of new films every Friday is a common point of excitement at the end of the week for most cinema lovers in India. Several industries are built around these people- people who spend the largest part of their life in a make belief world, momentarily transporting us out of our reality into the fantasy world. And of course the sightings! The crowd outside Amitabh Bachchan’s bungalow, Shahrukh’s house on the tourist map of mumbai, are all evidence of the Demigod status we confer on them. And rightly so, I must confess – a realization I had after an interesting conversation.

I met a dear friend a few days ago- a UN advisor and part of the UN peace talk force, who had just returned from Syria. The situation in Syria was was grim, he said, in fact life threatening- Bombs, gunfire, and the smell of death round the corner. And in the middle of all of this was my fiend attempting to get several warring factions together to meet across the table and have conversations for peace. The daunting task took its toll on him, he sadly recounted, and eventually it had limited success as the entire peace talk team had to spend most of their time in a safe bunker when the fighting took on renewed force. He described the horrific scenes he had witnessed, and the tension that was a constant in the air. I commented that he would’ve probably experienced a kind of fear that most of us could not even imagine, to which he smiled, and said that while they were in action, he had both the Gods and the Demi-Gods looking over him. And with that, he told me something very interesting.

Well, word had gotten around camp that there was an Indian in the peace talk team, and everytime somebody new walked into his makeshift office tent they searched for him very warmly! Raj Kapoor’s ‘Mera joota hai Japaani’, he said, was sung out to him with great adulation, as was Amitabh’s dialogue from Sholay. ‘Aishwarya Rai- most beautiful in India’, was announced to him warmly again and again, as were the repeated requests for Shahrukh Khan movies….All in all, he recollected fondly, he felt the warm and protective hugs of all those chieftains and leaders of the several warring camps he was trying to negotiate with! My friend confessed that it was all on account of their love for our Bollywood movie stars! In him, they saw a part of their fantasy world, a chance to get closer to their idols, to the people they loved! He brought closer to them, a part of the world they had never experienced, yet dearly adored. And in that he said, were several promises made to look after him, as a special friend! So in fact, my friend declared, that he felt looked out for, and knew that should things have gotten out of control at any point in time during negotiations or otherwise, there were enough people looking out for him!

And so, as our conversation drew to an end, we concluded that we rarely value the role that our movie-stars play as subtle peace keepers, relinquishing boundaries and religions and cultures, and how unusual relationships are forged, by virtue of common love for cinema! Our movie stars have succeeded in bringing together people like none else, including even the UN, we laughed! So here’s a big thumbs up for our favorite filmstars, and a promise for renewed respect to their dual roles – cinema hero and peacekeeper!

Meaning in Deed is Meaning Indeed!

Organizations today are globally exposed and connected with transparency and collaboration dictating conduct. Conversations, decisions, actions are not restricted to the closed confines of boardrooms and are beyond leadership jurisdiction and control. Information is out there, for all stakeholders to access, understand and interpret. This clearly challenges the earlier thought process, of organizations veiling interactions, molding and presenting it in formats that did not defy reputations, missions, and value systems. The test today, however, is not of only creating or managing reputations, but that of alignment- alignment of intention and impact, of mindsets and perceptions, and of values and behaviors. The demand for transparency and responsibility has never been this intense and the sooner organizations begin to recognize and exercise it, the faster they will embark upon their journeys in significance. Today, every form of stakeholder is an active participant in the functioning of business, influencing its present and future. Human Operating Systems with frameworks of mindfulness and empathy, and cultures that are formed through values based behaviors, are accepted, revered and recommended.  When management operates from a point of view that reflects the values of the firm and defines the organization’s purpose of existence, the narratives that emerge automatically create stories which spell inspiration and passion. Such organizations possess cultures that go beyond the realm of competencies, reaching deep into employee mindsets, and belief systems. Such cultures then operate in the space of good behavior, responsibility, significance, and above all, trust. Such cultures are then resilient in the time of crises, in fact emerging stronger, insightful, and most importantly, with the faith of their stakeholders intact.

The question is, how then can organizations work towards creating these cultures? The answer to this points at the source – the purpose of the existence of the organization; Its mission, its vision. The program which defines the way in which the organization operates has to be hardwired with the mission and the vision of the firm. Its DNA needs to formed by the values that define it. Values are the things and attributes that are most important to the organization. They define the expectations of the organization. They help clarify priorities when faced with tough decisions. Values in action reflect who or what the organization is and what it wants to be The way in which policies are formed and executed, information is shared, decisions are made, leadership behaves, employees are treated, the organizations commitment to its customers and stakeholders – all have to mirror the values which the organization considers non-negotiable. The more the organization behaves in such a way, echoing its core attributes, the more the employees will embody and foster behaviors which further amplify the organizations significance. Trust begets trust, it is said, and the more you trust, the more you shall be trusted. It is an equation which when solved leads to exponentially positive outcomes. Articulating the organization’s core attributes of significance, becomes the critical start-point. The challenge, however, is not limited to being aware, but to its interpretation in daily work life, the conditioning and mechanism of the organization.

Translating values into behaviors involves 3 stages. It begins with defining what is expected- building a common lens through which we consider everything we do, and ensuring this is communicated across the organization. It means listening to each other and having conversations to understand what living the brand takes, to build the company’s future together. The second stage is aligning business strategies with enterprise plans and embedding key values into how we hire, train, reward, measure, decide, build, filter, etc. Stage three is advocacy and supporting each other in living the values everyday. The define- embed- advocate journey is time consuming, and one that requires practice. One may not get it right the first time, but the intention and expectations driving the journey will always prod up the organization in faltering times. Selecting the right values that inspire teams to create those experiences every day, to navigate the milieu of organizational worklife, will then foster the ‘behavior’ wave, and embed it into the DNA of the firm. Understanding and iterating to arrive at the right level of detail and complexity to meet the needs of all stakeholders, will generate the precise language that is understood and spoken across the whole organization. Eventually, every parameter of success measured, will be a reflection of this norm.

This journey of significance heralds the arrival of the organization into the Age of Behavior!