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Creating Flow

The Freedom To Be

Tag Archives: leadership

To

Dattaram Waghmare,

Procurement Manager

Jefferson Spice Extract Plant

Khopoli Industrial Estate,

Khopoli, Maharashtra

India

From

Arvind Dasgupta,

The HR Director

Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) Pvt. Ltd

Head Office, 95, Kamla Mills Compound,

Mumbai, Maharashtra

India

Dear Dattaram,

I have received your letter dated August 30, 2012. I have used my discretion to keep your heartfelt expression off the record.

I have noted that you are concerned about the lack of effectiveness of testing and training to bring sustainable change in human behaviour and relations. You have made a creative suggestion that we explore honest conversations among employees to build a meaningful and effective work culture.

Your letter made me ponder, as the concerns that you have raised are some of the issues (among others) that I have been reflecting upon throughout my HR career. In particular this question:

What is the freedom available to corporate employees to be creative and honest?

Therefore, Dattaram, my response here, is as much to myself, than just to you.

Given my position as the HR Director of Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) Pvt. Ltd., I was wondering what would be the most appropriate way to respond to your observations. As you may be well aware that being in HR, there is always a matter of propriety (being appropriate). Nevertheless, I was keen to respond to your letter since the points you raised triggered in me a prolonged self-inquiry, particularly your question:

“Why is it so difficult to be simple?”

Keeping all of this in mind, I am writing this letter to you, in my personal capacity as Arvind Dasgupta and not as the HR Director. I believe that only when a person is free of role restrictions can he be truly honest. I am therefore sending you this letter from my personal email address.

After giving it due thought, I have come to the conclusion, that in order to respond to your question at the very root, I will need to share with you something about my life, before I became an HR Director. Like all inquiries that seek to go to the root of the problem, this inquiry also begins with a story.

Arvind Dasgupta’s story.

I was born in a traditional Bengali family. My father, Soumendranath Dasgupta migrated from East Bengal in 1947 when he was 15 years old, along with my grandparents. After much movement and hardships, the family set base in the town of Siliguri, in West Bengal. Siliguri, located on the banks of the Mahananda river and on the foothills of the Himalayas is known for its tea and tourism. Baba through much of his own efforts educated himself, by working part-time at the reception desk of a small hotel and financing his own education. A significant part of his salary would go in running the house consisting of my grandparents and my Bua, his sister. After his graduation he gave the government exams and joined the Indian Railway. His first job was as railway guard on a train. Soon after, he married my mother Rukmini, who was five years younger to him and hailed from a nearby village called SaktigarhMa had studied upto the 10th standard, which was an exception for a girl of her background. Their’s was an arranged marriage. Even though Baba insisted on seeing Ma before the alliance was fixed, which was an exception, as it was not the custom for boys and girls to see each other before the marriage was finalised. I am told, he was finally allowed to enter the room where mother was knitting a sweater, stole a quick glance at her, came out satisfied. Three months later, they were married in a traditional Bengali wedding, spanning many days. Baba was 23. Ma was 18.

Dattaram, you must be wondering why I am sharing about Baba and Ma with you and how is this related to HR and training effectiveness in Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) Pvt. Ltd?  I request your patience. Eventually you will see  how these two, seemingly distant aspects, of my family background and corporate effectiveness are related.

Baba and Ma had dreamed of having their own house after marriage. Their dream came true when Baba was allotted a small railway quarter near Siliguri Junction station. Ma told me that it was a small room and a kitchen. The room and the kitchen were separated by a curtain. The left portion of the kitchen would be used as a washing and bathing space and loft was used to store items not in immediate use. Baba had an erratic schedule, depending on which train he was deputed for guard duty. Ma would spend most of her time cooking, cleaning and sometimes talking to the women next door. Of course I was still not born, so whatever I am sharing with you is based on what I have heard from them.

I was born five years after marriage. Ma had two miscarriages before I was born. She was anxious that a normal pregnancy may never occur. Both Baba and Ma went to the Sevokeshwari Kali Mandir to pray for a normal delivery. When Ma was pregnant a third time with me, she recited the Gayatri  mantra 108 times every day till the day I was born. Baba made adjustments to his duty schedule to be present at the time I was born.

I am told that I was born on a Poornima, on a full moon night.

I received a warm reception from Thakur-da, Thakur-ma, Dadu, Dida, Bua and ofcourse Baba and Ma at the railway hospital where I was born. Everyone wanted to hold me and see who I resembled in the family.  After two days of my birth Ma returned home. On the first night of my arrival at home, Baba held me in his strong arms, looked at me for a long time and promised me something. Something that he had to struggle all through his life to achieve.

Education.

He told Ma “Ruku, no matter what hardships we have to go through, we will provide the best education to our son”. Ma smiled back and nodded her head silently. It was a pact that would have a significant affect on how my life would unfold. Even though neither of them said it, they instinctively knew at that moment that I would be their only child and henceforth their lives would have a singular purpose. Me.

“Aurobindo” said Thakur-da, my paternal grandfather. They were discussing what would be my name. Sri Aurobindo was a Bengali freedom fighter, philosopher, poet and yogi. Baba wanted a shorter name that sounded more Indian. They settled for Arvind.

“Arvind Dasgupta” announced Ma, holding me up,as though formalizing the decision.

Starting from the alphabet ‘A’ I was usually the third person on the roll call list of my class at school. The teacher would call out “Amit”, “Arijit”, “Arvind”…. There were around 35 to 40 students in the class. St. Josephs Convent and one of the best English medium schools, run by Christian missionary fathers. It was not easy to get admission there, especially not for a Station Master’s son. Baba had gradually been promoted through his dedicated hard-work and held the post of the Station Master of Siliguri Junction, seven years after my birth. Given the promise he had made to me, he wanted to admit me in the best English medium school. After much pleading with the school principal (and using some of his railway connections) he finally managed to get me admitted to a school, the expenses of which he definitely could not afford from his meagre salary. But, that was the last thing on his mind. All he could see at that moment was, Arvind Dasgupta, his son, completing school with flying colours as a “smart-English-speaking-convent-educated-boy” many years later.

St. Joseph’s Convent was a school mostly for the affluent. The school had hostel facility and children from well-to-do families came from various parts of India, and a few even from abroad. A few of us were locals from Siliguri mostly from middle class families like mine. While my grey sweaters were hand-made, most of my classmates were ready-made. I always made some excuse not to accompany them to the school canteen for Campa Cola and samosas. They wore imported shoes, mine were from the local brand. Even though I was aware of this class distinction, between me and them, I never complained.

Baba and Ma always provided for me, the best they could.

Till this day I do not know how they managed to pay my fees and take care of other school expenses. Ma had started a tiffin service where she cooked meals and snacks for a local eatery from home. There were compromises on all kinds of expenses – food, clothing, festivals, social-functions, holidays – except one.

My education.

Neither Baba or Ma, ever mentioned the difficulties they underwent  to provide me a premium education. Their only expectation was that I study hard and get good marks.

Whenever I used to get 60 marks, Baba would ask me “Why not 70?” When I got 70, he would ask “Why not 80?” and on the rare occasion I managed a 80, the question was “Why not 90?” So I was always competing with my classmates for getting the maximum marks. I once managed get 2nd rank in class and Baba asked “Why not 1st?” That was his way of encouraging me to work harder. And I kept studying hard to get more marks….and his love and approval.

The problem, as I see it now, was just that.

We had bound each other.

He had bound himself by providing me with an education way beyond his means and I had bound myself by wanting to meet all his expectations.  Of course we did it because of our love for each other. However, the love that binded us, also blinded us.

Dattaram, you may wonder how can love blind us?

You will say “After all children must meet the expectations of their parents, who give up their own comforts to provide for the best upbringing for their children.It is the natural thing to do for both parents and children.”

But as I see it now, that my friend, is exactly where the root of the problem lies.

Baba like all parents provided me the best education, so that I could excel in life and create name, fame and money for myself. So that I did not have to go through the same drudgery that he had to go through. He therefore admitted me to a system, a school, where I entered the race to excel and beat my fellow classmates. The gaping hole in this process was that no one ever checked with me, whether I wanted to run that race. And when I was made to run a race that I had not chosen to run:

I stopped thinking for myself.

My thinking became automated. I simply followed what I was told. I never stopped to think what I wanted for myself. Where did my own happiness lie?

Did I really want to get 90 marks in mathematics? Was it my dream to come 1st in class? Did I really want to study Chemistry? Did I want to follow the school time-table? Did I want to give exam? Did I want to struggle for more marks?

I had a poetic and philosophical bent of mind, just like my namesake Sri Aurobindo. As a nine-year old, you could find me writing something in my small blue diary which I carried with me all the time. I would often sit under the large banyan tree at the outskirts of the school campus and watch the sparrows and the squirrels play with each other on its old drooping branches. Other times I would visit the bank of the Mahananda river and watch the waters gushing against the backdrop of the majestic Himalayan peaks. Sometimes I would simply lie on a grassy patch of our football field and gaze at the white fluffy clouds, shaped like balls of cotton drift lazily across the blue canvas of the sky. And, I would write in my small blue diary, with my red and black striped Camlin pencil.

Once Baba saw me writing and asked “What do u keep writing in that diary of yours?”

I immediately became self-conscious and after a pause I said “Poems.”

“Hmmm…very good. All our Bengali freedom fighters have been poets.” He said.

After a moment’s silence, he added.

“But remember poems cannot get you a job. Only a good degree can. And for that you need good marks.”

“Yes Baba.” And I put my diary away.

In that moment, for the first time I felt guilty.

I was reminded of the difficulties Baba and Ma were undergoing to educate me. I felt torn between my love for poetry and my love for Baba and Ma. I felt ashamed for indulging myself in a pursuit that would not translate into anything practical. A bigger house, new clothes or more food at the table. I said to myself “How can I be so selfish, when Baba and Ma are sacrificing so much for me.”

You see Dattaram, my future was more or less charted for me, very much like the future of most men born in a Middle Class Family.

“Degree-Job-Marriage”

Later when I was to join College, I made one last attempt at being selfish.  I considered taking up Arts and pursue psychology and literature. I was always good at writing and thought maybe I could consider being a journalist or a writer. I still remember the time I shared this with Baba and Ma and the grave look on their face.

“Will psychology and literature get you a job?” said Baba.

“I think you should give it some thought?” said Ma

“Why don’t you take up Commerce. You could get a good bank job?” said Baba

“You are bright, you should give the Civil Services exam” said Ma

I realized then, as I had always known, but did not want to believe.

Education was not about learning. It was about earning.

After all, for The Middle Class education is an investment. An important investment. And like every investment, it is expected to give a good return. You see, investments are of two kinds. Financial and emotional. The financial can be repaid, but the emotional investment has no measure. And repayment can last a lifetime.

You know Dattaram, you may see me as “The HR Director”. But below this black business suit of mine I am not very different from you. What is common between us, is our love for our families. For our parents who have done so much for us. For our children who mean the world to us. But sometimes Dattaram, we use love unknowingly, to enslave ourselves and others.

I have learnt from my experience, when we are not allowed as children to be loyal to our own happiness, we give up our freedom. To think and question radically, as you have. We become followers of The Existing System, pursuing what everybody else does. Seeking happiness in a degree, designation, salary, house, car and what others say about us. It becomes irrelevant whether we enjoy what we do. It is of no consequence whether we believe in what we do. And some of us even fool ourselves into believing that all of this normal. We believe that this is how life is meant to be lived.  And it is easy to fool ourselves, because everyone else is doing the same thing. As though the only criteria for assessing what is normal is what the majority does. We rationalize it by saying “Let us be practical”.

I believe if there is a root of corruption in the world, then it is:

“Not allowing children the freedom, to be true to their own happiness”.

I eventually did, what most of the other students were doing. Graduated in commerce and did my Masters in Business Administration, from a reputed business college renowned for its Human Resource specialization.

“Which business college?” you ask

You see Dattaram, from here on the details of my life do not matter.

“Why?” you ask.

Because from here on, as you will see, my life takes the predictable pattern of most educated men and women belonging to the Middle Class. Degree-Job-Marriage.

The Middle Class calls this process “settle down in life”.

The business college was a heady experience in more ways than one.

Gradually, I began to believe, like most of my batch mates, that we were on our way to make a difference to the world and fulfill The Great Indian Middle Class Dream. Buy a house in the city. Just like my Baba and Ma dreamed of having their own house, when they got married. Only in my dreams it was a bigger house, than our humble railway quarters.  And instead of the blue scooter on which Baba would take us shopping on Sunday, with me sitting in the front and Ma behind with her big pale red shopping bag, I dreamed of a big car. When I shared my dreams with Baba and Ma they smiled with satisfaction. They felt that their hard work was paying off. I was on the right track. So what if I did not want to work in a bank or take up the civil services, I was now thinking of “settling down”, the sole parameter used by The Middle Class to consider that all is well.

The other “headiness” at the business school was of concepts and ideas. We discussed and debated theory after theory. Applied psychology, organizational behaviour, management  principles, labour laws, systemic thinking, training methodologies, psychometric instruments, recruitment processes, performance and evaluation systems. Everything and anything related to managing human beings in organizations. Human Resources we called them. As though we were talking of a large mass or an impersonal force of nature that was to be used in the most effective manner to produce goods and services.

I have realized that one can find great joy in debating concepts and theories. Creating intellectual delight! Yet life is an experience, that no theory can capture.

I realized this in my very first job.

It was with a reputed Indian Company. I was responsible for recruitment. To arrange for the right candidate to fill the vacant job position. It mostly required co-ordination between manager, placement agency and the candidate. I also took interviews. At times, I wondered when will I get a chance to use all the HR theories and concepts that I had learnt in my reputed Management College. After a year of experience, I realized one fine day, that the world of theories is different from the real world. The real world wants fast results and measurable outcomes. And if I had to survive, leave alone grow, I had to show a Return On Investment. The Company was investing in me. And, I had to prove to them that I was a good investment.  You see at the end of it all, everything boils down to investment and return.

I got lucky in my next job as Head of the HR function of a newly set up engineering multinational company. There, I learnt the ropes of managing the management on one hand and the employees on the other. It is a tight balancing act, that cannot be taught at any business school. But, balancing is a natural skill of The Middle Class. We are always to trying to find a balance between our growing needs and the limited resources available to meet them. It did not take me long to apply “balancing” at work, with good results. It was during this time that I got married. It was an arranged Bengali marriage, and even though she is not convent educated (a pre-requisite for all good middle-class Indian brides), she is slim and fair, as Ma insisted upon it. She wanted her grand children to be fair. And by God’s grace (and Ma’s sincere prayers) they are fair. Two of them, a girl and a boy.

Thereafter life has been a blur of activity. Late working hours, children’s education, meeting social obligations and two more jobs. Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) is my fifth job. I am 52 now and the HR Director of a big multinational Company. I am an example of what it means to be a successful.  Once a year I make it a point to visit Baba and Ma at Siliguri, during Durga puja.  Baba spends most of his time managing his fixed deposits and pension. He uses a stick to walk now and Ma has arthritis in her knees, but they are remarkably active even in their old age. They are immensely happy that I have fulfilled the Great Indian Middle Class Dream of settling down. They share with pride about their son’s meteoric rise in the corporate sector with whoever cares to listen. You see Dattaram, among all the Gods The Middle Class family prays to, there is only one that it truly worships.

The God of Success.

Both my children are now in America. My daughter Indrani, is pursuing medicine and son Abhijit, is doing his management in one the most reputed college there. They are the love of my life! Just like my Baba and Ma did for me, I too am offering them an education that stretches my financial resources. I have taken an education loan to pay for their college fees. And just like my Baba and Ma wanted to see me settled down, I would like to see them successfully settled in their lives. Both Indrani and Abhijit, tell me (now in their American accented English) that they would like to look for jobs in America after they complete their studies. Pursue the The Great American Dream, just as so many Indians before them have and found success. They are both intelligent children and I am sure they have a bright future ahead of them.

When I reflect on the three generations, I see the progress our family has made each generation. From Baba and Ma being middle class, me moving to upper middle class and now Indrani and Abhijit likely to become Non-Resident Indians. I sometimes wonder, what will be the fate of my grand children, if  they are born in a foreign country, with abundant resources available to them. Will they educate themselves for learning or earning? Will they be allowed to pursue what gives them happiness? Will there parents pressurize them to become successful? Or will they be confused about who they are and come back to India in search of their roots?

Of course I will come to know in time to come. Even though the mind tends to wander into the future as I come to the end of My Story, Dattaram.

Now let me share with you how the story of Arvind Dasgupta, a simple middle class Indian boy coming from a traditional Bengali family, is linked to corporate effectiveness.

But before I do that let me address your observation.

On the lack of effectiveness of testing and training to bring sustainable change in organizations?  

This may come as a surprise to you, but what you say is not new to me.

I myself have questioned many times the effectiveness of what happens in organizations, leave alone testing and training.  In my experience of working in various organizations I have often seen (and been a part of) a variety of activities that in my view were a waste of time and resources for the intent they were meant to achieve. And often, people do not always mean what they say.

I have heard about the “open door policy” where I was told that I could walk into any cabin and freely discuss whatever I wanted. Only to know that I actually had no say when it came to making decisions.

I have spent hours working on a “presentation” that was filled with colourful graphs and pie charts detailing the company vision, that left me and the audience unmoved.

I have attended “meetings” where the real issue was never discussed, because none of us wanted to risk being the one to ask difficult questions.

I have attended “training” programs in the most exotic locations, when what was really needed was to budget expenses and make important decisions.

I have created “developmental frameworks” because they looked good on paper and were easy to present, but often these did not result in any development or change at the ground level.

I have hired “branded consultants” because they offered the latest popular management concept and it was safe for me to hire them.

And sometimes I have asked people “to leave” not because they were bad at what they did, but because the Company needed to cut costs.

All of this is part of the work I do.

I see all this. We see all see this. Sometimes I speak up, sometimes I choose not to. Sometimes others speak up, sometimes they choose not to. You see it is all about “maintaining a balance”. In every organization there is something called the “mandate”. It means an authorization to act in a certain way, given by a superior authority to a lower one. There are different kind of mandates. Global mandate, Management mandate, HR mandate. In other words we all, including me, have somebody controlling our actions from above. One of the unspoken laws of the corporate world is that “one should speak only as much as the mandate he has”. Speaking beyond your given mandate mostly creates trouble for the person who breaks this unspoken law.

And no matter what happens we rationalize and find explanations to justify our decisions and actions, as long as we have the “buy-in” of the person on top. And if your boss were to pull the rug away from your feet, then no amount of explanation or rationalization works.

Let me share a secret with you.

Among all the competencies you listed for your job in your letter, there is an important competency that you missed out. Even though it is not listed, it has been a requirement in all organizations I have worked.

Conformity.

Organizations want individuals to be proactive and innovative. But within the “defined framework”. At the end of the day we have to do our task and show results. Including HR. Which means “recruit, train, evaluate, engage etc.” Keeping in mind what “recruit, train, evaluate, engage etc.” means for the top boss or the set culture. We have to follow The System that we are a part of. It changes from company to company. Management to management. And with every new job we have to adapt and maintain this fine balancing act. We do not decide how The System functions, we just maintain it.

It is not difficult for The Middle Class to demonstrate conformity. Just like balancing, it is something that comes naturally to us. In fact after a while it makes us comfortable. That we do not need to decide, and someone else can decide for us. Just as I did not have a choice in what I studied at school, we have limited choice and freedom at work. Other times we are limited by our own inability to think beyond what The System wants us to think. I like to believe I am free, but deep down I know that:

I am a part of a larger wheel.

The wheel can survive without me, even though it is doubtful whether I can survive without the wheel.

Dattaram, you speak of the need to have real conversations.  Being honest with each other to resolve our problems and achieve our goals.

For honest conversations to happen we need freedom. And the question if there is one to ask is:

What binds us?

You and me Dattaram, we may have different roles and backgrounds yet we have something in common that binds us.It is the same thing that binds every corporate employee, from the MBA educated Director at the top, to the office boy who gets tea for us, at the bottom.

Our sentimentalism.

After a while the reports, the trainings, the power points, the assessments, the meetings and the management jargon stop making sense. Jobs gradually lose their meaning. We learn to go through the motions. Or we make ourselves believe that this is how life is meant to be and seek meaning within our circle of engagement. After all happiness is a subjective transitory experience and our ability to seek happiness is restricted by the boundaries of our limited knowledge. What is real though, are the EMIs we have to pay for the loans we have taken to meet our responsibility, to the only people who truly matter to us in the world.

Our children.

We live for them and we are willing to die for them. In fact we die a thousand times for them without their knowledge. Just to see them happy and comfortable. We give away our freedom for the love of our children. Unfortunately, we take away theirs too.

They say The Buddha was a free man. He left his sleeping wife and child to earn his freedom. I do not think it is possible for you or me to do that. I rather be a sentimental slave, than a heartless free man. Infact, it is not choice I make. The choice was made for me, when as a child I noticed the sacrifices Baba and Ma made to give me a Convent education. When Baba reminded me that poems do not get jobs. When I decided to fulfill the Great Indian Middle Class Dream, to buy a house in the city and have a big car.

When I stopped thinking for myself.  

That is the story behind why I, as HR Director, does as much as I do and cannot do more than I am asked to do. I have to work within a mandate. And, I have to show results that can be seen and are recognised, like reports and trainings, even though you may find them confusing and their effects temporary. After all, honest conversations cannot fill the training calendar.

Dattaram, you ask me why is it difficult to be simple?

I do not have an answer for that, but I have other questions for us to explore.

Is honesty possible without freedom?

Is freedom given or is it taken?

What does it mean to be free?

I do not have answers to these questions either, but I feel for the first time as Arvind Dasgupta, I am beginning to ask questions that really matter. They may not impact my immediate corporate goals as HR Director. They may not even have any practical use, just like my childhood poems didn’t. But, I have now learnt through life experience, that practical solutions often result in practical problems and we keep running in circles fixing problems that would have never arisen if we had chosen to be “impractical” to begin with.

You say “Can we start being impractical now?”

I don’t know Dattaram.

Perhaps, we could.

Perhaps the time has come to experiment with impracticality to achieve practical results. Perhaps the invitation was always there. I was not ready to take it.

This letter to you is my first step towards having an honest conversation.

I hope it is not the last.

Yours sincerely,

Arvind Dasgupta

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Flow Consulting in collaboration with Bombay Connect

Presents 

    FLOW Organization Management Coaching 

 August 20th to 31st , 2012 Mumbai

FLOW Organization Management Coaching is a coaching clinic for the leadership of an organization. It invites organizational leaders, owners, founders, entrepreneurs along with their key team members for addressing current organizational challenges and to move the organization to the next level of strategic growth. Leaders are also welcome to participate as individuals, if they wish.      

Objectives

* Identifying the key organizational challenges and relating them to leadership, culture and organization structure.

* Generating insights on leadership, teamwork, decision-making, culture, ownership, role-clarity, empowerment, policy implementation, accountability and effective performance management

* Devising a course of action to move the organization to the next stage of growth

Logistics

Dates: 20th to 31st  August 2012

Coaching Session Timings:  Morning   – 10.00 am to 1.00 pm

Afternoon –  3.00 pm to 6.00 pm

 Time: Book session date and time by prior appointment.

Venue: Bombay Connect, 4th Floor, Candelar Bldg, 26 St. John Baptist Road, Near Mount Mary Steps, Bandra (W), Mumbai

Cost: Rs. 1,500/- per session

Registration: Write to bombay.connect@unltdindia.org or Call 022 32220475 / 9004256464

Next Step

In order to take the organizational coaching to the next level there is an option of continuing the coaching for the next three months, by choosing specific organizational project to work upon for tangible results. Some examples could be:

* Hand holding a start-up from initiation to product / service validation stage

* Moving from being a founder driven to professionally managed organization

* Creating alignment and trust among senior leaders for meeting organizational goals

* Re-structuring the organisation, with a focus on role-clarity and accountability.

Testimonials

 “MOS came across FLOW by chance and until then, we had not even thought about engaging a professional to help achieve certain goals. MOS is run single handedly with a core team that came together from different walks of life and groomed to work in a certain way. With the rapid progress that we experienced, newer talent was hired and it became evidently important to transition from a ‘one man show’ to a ‘professionally run’ set-up. Flow was consulted with solely this challenge in mind – to make the core team and the new professional blood work cohesively and each independently bringing their strengths to the fore and using their own emotions and thought processes rather than blindly clutching for support.

Flow infused freshness and empowerment in the organization that is visible even months later. The changes have trickled in a ‘top-down’ manner and what Flow has accomplished is a start of much needed efforts to enrich interpersonal rapport, understand accountability and decrease stress levels. Further, Flow has also conducted individual leadership coaching for a few key profiles. The health of an organization is completely dependent on the people and with Flow’s help, we now have awakened minds. A Flow ‘health-check’ is recommended to jump start organizations to move forward in the right direction.”

Mehul Desai, Founder and Chairman, Mail Order Solutions (India) Pvt. Ltd.

A major concern, recently, was the general feeling that many of those who had joined the staff in recent years were not in tune with the philosophy of the founders and the commitment and team spirit that had existed earlier was diminished as a result. A fortuitous meeting with FLOW through the Bombay Connect lead us to believe we had found the kind of facilitators we could trust implicitly to achieve our goals. While our project is still a work in progress, Flow has already helped us to reassess roles within the top administration, to establish clear lines of open communication and delineate individual roles. Individual and group meetings with staff members across all centres and discipline have given a clearer idea of areas of staff interaction and roles definition in the secondary layer of administration that need to be addressed.

Most importantly, the group sessions encouraged staff to voice their concerns and set the stage for more healthy discussions to sort out individual differences that now take place regularly, as individuals look within to re-evaluate their personal aspirations and understand better our organizational goals. We already see this new atmosphere of openness leading to better participation by staff members in group activities and organizational tasks even at this early stage, and look forward to continuing to work with Flow in the areas of strategic planning and organizational development to fulfill, re-energize and restructure our organization to meet the ever-changing aspirations of our stakeholders.”

Kate Currawalla, President, Maharashtra Dyslexia Association

Being a start-up we were looking for a platform where we could help each employee to identify themselves with the brand and have a sense of belonging to the brand, also since we had a mix set of people who have been part of Bennett for a long time and the once who have been hired in the recent past, the people in the team came from diverse culture and values. Our objective was to bring about cohesiveness in the team so they understand each others values, work style, and together work as a team with common objectives and values. We wanted our employees to understand who we are? Where are we heading?

FLOW first met up the Leadership of the Organisation individually and designed the workshop accordingly. It was decided that there would be a two day workshop, first for the Leadership of the Organization and we would then phase this out and have another workshop for all the employees of the Organisation. The workshop designed by Flow was exactly like the name of their Organisation. It just flowed effortlessly where people started talking without any inhibitions and various questions came up which were answered within the team by the various process owners. The second day got further intense and we were gradually getting where we wanted to be. The Team Leads started connecting to the Brand Prime Connect as the brand they come from and they belong to rather than their past associations and slowly the discussions started transforming from me , I and then to we and us and what the employee’s together want for Prime Connect and where we together want to see Prime Connect. The two days’ workshop brought about cohesiveness among the leaders and we are looking forward to extending the workshop into the second phase where each and every employee of the Organisation identifies with the Brand and works with same set of values and beliefs and Corporate Ethos.”

Mohua Banerjee, Head – Human Resources, Media Network & Distribution

“Flow Consulting gives an amazing insight into organisational development and direction. Allowing people to get a macro view of where they want to go, while addressing the micro challenges in getting there!”

Lee Bolding– Founder and Partnerships Manager, Atma

“The concept of an organization development in comparison to an individual’s growth was very enlightening. It was very interesting to understand an organization’s sustainability through the Organization Life Cycle”

Veena Shetty, Manager Training, Bayer India

Facilitator

Ajay Kalra, is a certified Organization Development  practitioner and business coach. He is passionate about enabling organisations to reach their full potential through a pragmatic balance of strategy, task and people development. Being a Chartered Accountant he brings a process oriented and structured approach to each assignment.

Having over a decade of corporate experience, he has worked both in the domain of finance and human resources at organizations like Price Waterhouse Coopers, Schindler and Edelweiss. His last corporate assignment was as COO – Human Resources at Edelweiss Capital. He is a certified Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) trainer with an expertise in using personality type theory for leadership, coaching, conflict resolution, team building, career enhancement. He has undergone sensitivity training and Organizational Development Certification Program (ODCP) conducted by the Indian Society for Applied Behaviour Sciences (ISABS). In his work as an OD practitioner he uses a variety of methodologies ranging from organizational life cycle, systemic change, process work and gestalt amongst others.

He is a visiting faculty in management schools on the subjects of change management and learning organisations. He is interested in dream interpretation and creative writing, and conducts open programs on the same when time permits. A published writer with a love for poetry, he believes change is a convergence of many forces.

www.flowconsulting.in

www.creatingflow.wordpress.com

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Mohua Banerjee, Head – Human resources

We are a joint venture between Bennett and Yogesh Radhakrishnan; it comprises a mixed group of employee’s. Where some of the employees have been transferred from Bennett and there are fresh hires from the relevant industry. Been a start-up we were looking for a platform where we could help each employee to identify themselves with the brand and have a sense of belonging to the brand, also since we had a mix set of people who have been part of Bennett for a long time and the once who have been hired in the recent past, the people in the team came from diverse culture and values. Our objective was to bring about cohesiveness in the team so they understand each others values, work style, and together work as a team with common objectives and values. We wanted our employees to understand who we are? Where are we heading?

 Flow provided us with the platform that we were looking for at that point of time. They had to design a process where people open up to each other and talk to each other and share their concerns their values  and together through the process identify with the Brand and come on the same page. The challenge here was how to get people talking to each other about themselves, about their feelings and express themselves without having a fear of been judged based on what they say in the open forum.

 Ajay and Payal first met up the Leadership of the Organisation individually and designed the workshop accordingly. It was decided that there would be a two day workshop, first for the Leadership of the Organization and we would then phase this out and have another workshop for all the employees of the Organisation.

 The workshop designed by Payal and Ajay was exactly like the name of their Organisation. It just flowed effortlessly where people started talking without any inhibitions and various questions came up which were answered within the team by the various process owners. The discussions took different routes and brought about different shades in the employee’s, they got to know each others emotional sides their likes, dislikes, preferences and values, touched upon various issues and concerns which maybe none of them would have brought up in their day to day work and interaction with each other at work place.

 The second day got further intense and we were gradually getting where we wanted to be. The Team Leads started connecting to the Brand Prime Connect as the brand they come from and they belong to rather than their past associations and slowly the discussions started transforming from Me ,I and then to We and US and what the employee’s together want for Prime Connect and where we together want to see Prime Connect.

 It was amazing to see how Payal and Ajay without being part of the Organization how  beautifully and actively got  involved in the discussion ,coming up with ideas and solutions to get us where we want to be. We felt they were part of the team and we were together striving towards achieving the common goal of bringing each and every Team Lead of the Organisation on the same platform.

 The two days’ workshop brought about cohesiveness among the leaders and we are looking forward to extending the workshop into the second phase where each and every employee of the Organisation identifies with the Brand and works with same set of values and beliefs and Corporate Ethos.”

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Tripti Vyas, Head – Gandhi Fellowship

“Flow conducted a five day Personal Reflection process for the fellows of the Gandhi Fellowship program. The brief to Flow was to design a process that would enhance the fellows’ self-awareness, get them to systematically begin exploring the question, “Who am I?” and thus be able to reach clarity about themselves so as to enable each fellow to articulate to herself his/her early version of their ‘private dream’; which is a the pivot around which the Gandhi Fellowship program is designed.

Flow had to design a process that explored the innermost questions of each individual but it had to be done in a group and it had to be designed for 40 people. How to design a standard process that can be customized to the needs of each individual? And most importantly how to do this an environment that is emotionally and psychologically safe? These were the issues around which Flow had to work.

Added to this was the challenge that these were no regular corporate employees, who would do a process simply because they had been asked to. The Fellows are individuals who will not do anything only for the sake of it and they are people who will ask questions and demand reasons for what they are getting in to.

Flow Consulting designed a process that effectively and intelligently worked around the above-mentioned challenges and constraints. The design of the process was accurate to the last minute and yet left room for ideas and emotions to flow when needed. Within a tight design, there was room for adaptation, participation and even co-facilitation. The beauty of the process was that by the second day fellows themselves had begun to contribute to the facilitation process.

The process stretched the limits of all, the fellows and of members from Flow Consulting too. A process of such intense nature that extends for five days can be an emotionally and psychologically draining but Ajay, Payal and Jaya flowed through the ebb and flow of intense emotions with consummate ease.

What I appreciate most was their ability to connect with, respect and appreciate the uniqueness of the Gandhi Fellows. This attitude percolated to the fellows and so they were able to draw  real appreciation and respect from the Fellows.

The most evident outcome of the process has been that the Fellows have learnt how to accept the emotion they are feeling at a given moment and then give word to their emotions. This ability to connect to the ebb and flow of one’s emotions is the first step towards taking responsibility for one’s feelings, which in turn is a giant step in reaching true maturity.

Flow has made a huge contribution to this growth in the journey of the 40 fellows.”

***

Our Note

From 40 to 100, from 100 to 250. Since our first facilitation of the PR process the size of each  new batch of Gandhi Fellows has grown and continues to grow. To know more about Flow’s journey with Kaivalya, read our blog post Kayaking With Kaivalya

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a facilitator’s journey

Mumbai, March 2011

“You can consider them for PR” wrote Aditya Natraj, founder of Kaivalya Education Foundation (KEF) in a mail to his colleague Tripti Vyas, marking us a copy on it. “PR?” I thought. Public Relations. We don’t do PR?! Yet I was keen to work with Kaivalya in any capacity. I had read the blog posts of a few Gandhi Fellows – the term used for the youngsters undergoing a two-year full time, residential leadership programme called the Gandhi Fellowship. The authenticity of their sharing and the earthiness of their challenges engaged me.

The Fellowship recruits graduates and postgraduates from colleges across the country and puts them through an intense experiential learning process. They work at the grass roots, as assistants to headmasters in ailing government schools. During this journey the Fellows go through a variety of self-transformative processes of personal reflection, slum or village immersion (staying with slum dwellers or villagers for four weeks as one of them), learning journeys (attending a vipassana camp, group visits to development organizations, articulation of their private dreams). It is a rigorous experience and a social experiment of sorts, that brings together youngsters from a variety of geographies, classes, cultures and ideologies. As the KEF website states, “The Fellowship is a nursery that raises youngsters’ aspirations and inspires them to become the change they want to see in the world.”

Having got a taste of the Fellowship world reading their experiences, I was eager to work with these youngsters, desirous of real change – inside and outside. It was also a first of its kind long-term residential programme that I had ever come across, whose primary focus is on self-awareness and personal growth. It was a welcome change from working with corporates, where inspite of repeated clarion calls for human change, the primary focus continues to be target achievement and wealth creation.

We met Tripti Vyas, Head of the Gandhi Fellowship programme, at our office one lazy afternoon. Having taught English literature for twelve years I noticed her articulation was word-perfect. She also enlightened us what PR meant. Personal Reflection. We heaved a collective sigh of relief. This seemed closer to what we did. The fellows underwent three PR processes over a period of two years. Each process is spread over five days, with the primary objective of creating awareness towards relating with self and others.  As the discussions proceeded over the next few days, Kaivalya grew confident of our facilitation skills and we drew reassurance from their values that resonated with ours. Soon we were contracted for the PR process of forty Gandhi Fellows at Ahmedabad.

Ahmedabad, May 2011

The first thing that hit me at Ahmedabad in May was the searing heat. The second was forty youngsters singing Chetana Geet at full lung capacity. There were youngsters in all shapes and sizes. A whirlpool of colourful headgear, long beards, trendy T-shirts, short kurtas, lengthy bermudas. This truly was a social churning pot!

We divided the youngsters randomly into three groups for separate PR sessions with different facilitators. We had kept the design simple. Ask one person at a time to choose any question that is most relevant to his life at the moment and explore that question deeply from multiple perspectives. The other participants would assist in his exploration with their own questions. After the exploration was over the person would be requested to share his feelings and insights if any. The organizational focus was on facilitating each person to find his private dream and helping him to articulate it. Our focus was on getting the person to touch a chord within himself that reverberated deeply and gave an insight into his question. Somewhere in the process we hoped to bridge feeling with purpose.

I began kayaking (facilitating) the river of self-exploration with the fellows.

It started with easy paddling into the waters of introduction.  As the first person volunteered for exploration, the water flowed faster.  Post that I came across a few small rapids. “Is this all there is to the design?” “What is our concrete take away or action points?” The kayak shook slightly. I peddled saying “Yes this is all there is to the design. Why not be patient and give it a try? As regards action points, is not our surreal inner world made of ever changing thoughts and feelings. Yet we want bulleted action points to make us feel that we have learnt something new about ourselves. Does it result in any real transformation?” I manoeuvred the first rapid.

I would not do it the same way now, based on what I have learnt over time of kayaking. Taking responsibility for someone else’s learning and giving them explanations for my design and approach, is not the best kayaking move. It puts me in a parental mode and the other person in a child mode. We stop relating as equal adults.

As I moved further down the river, I came across another rapid. Something someone did affected me adversely. I chose to overlook it. Not only did I choose to overlook it, I overlooked it more than once. Now from what I have learnt about kayaking, this is a criminal thing to do. It is akin to your kayak hitting a rock and developing a hole in it. A little water is beginning to seep in. I let it be, saying it is not much bother. It is just a teeny-weeny hole. Another rock another hole. Very soon, the boat will have enough water to capsize. That is precisely what happened with me. Not expressing my anger as it occurred, at the specific person, for the specific situation, bottled up feelings inside me and made me feel vulnerable later. It came out as a general volatile expression to the entire group.  It left the group confused and alienated from me. The kayak was beginning to topple over. No amount of skillful paddling would help. Neither, did I have any skill or energy to paddle in such gushing waters. I did the only thing I could. Let go. I got in touch with my feelings in the moment and responded from that space, without any attachment to outcome. This is the best kayaking move that one can ever master. Just flow with the force of the river. Don’t try to master it. Submit to it. Unfortunately surrendering can never be learnt through effort, it happens when all effort comes to naught.

Even though the kayak fell down a huge waterfall, it survived. The natural flow of the river brought it back to course. I was totally drenched and exhausted, yet in one piece. As we continued on our journey, the rapids were less lethal. Perhaps we had encountered our worst fall and survived it together. As the journey came to an end after five days, I was shaky and scattered. I needed some quality “looking at the ceiling time”. As Tripti mentioned in one of our funnier moments, it is that time when you are hit so hard by life, that all you can do is lie down on your bed and stare at the ceiling. I did my time and learnt a few lessons. The primary lesson being,a feeling of humility that comes from experiencing your vulnerability.

Mumbai, June 2011

I have realized two distinct organizational behaviours about Kaivalya over time. Their legendary planning and their proficient use of acronyms. Both of which we have learnt to be comfortable with over time. Tripti mentioned to us in our post PR meeting at a Mumbai coffee shop “We have planned the PR1 for GF4 will from 17th to 21st October”.  PR meant Personal Reflection. GF meant Gandhi Fellows. Some other acronyms used are. PM for Programme Manager. PL for Programme Leader. VI for Village Immersion. SI for Slum Immersion. LJ for Learning Journeys.  LQ for Learning Quality. People are mostly addressed by their initials. I often joke that they should come up with a Kaivalya acronym dictionary. “It will be 100 fellows this time. We have decided to scale up the fourth batch” she added. I gulped my green tea anticipating what that would be like. I had forgotten Kaivalya’s third behaviour. Scalability!

As October approached, we were told that the PR would happen in Rajasthan at Jhunjhunu. Each batch would have about 15 to 18 fellows and the time would be approximately four days. This was a bigger challenge, a faster river. More people, less time. We came up with another simple boat design, to traverse this rapid. Each person at a time, chooses any one person in the group who he wants to relate to and starts relating. Once he is done, everyone in the group gives him feedback about how they experienced him and what in their view could have made the relating better.

Jhunjhunu, October 2011

This was my first trip to Rajasthan. The first thing I noticed on our way from Jaipur to Jhunjhunu was my skin felt stretched and dry. The second thing I noticed was that my work partner Payal kept asking, “How is the weather in Rajasthan?”  I raised my eyebrows. Were we not already in Rajasthan! It later came to light that for some inexplicable reason she equated Rajasthan with the desert. This became our standing joke throughout the trip, apart from my bag being the heaviest for a five-day trip! After a heavy oily highway meal, with the best buttermilk I have ever tasted we reached Jhunjhunu late evening.

The next day mid-morning we met all the hundred fellows in the hall. This time I felt more confident. It was like starting on another adventurous journey, after having learnt some lessons from the previous one. I began by reading a quote tattooed on one young man’s arm in Hebrew “If I am not there for myself, then who is? If I am not there for another, then who am I? If not now, then when?” I felt the meaning of that quote would experientially unfold for us in the next few days to come.

We had made a long list of all that we would say for context setting. Like an instructor narrating the security instructions before the kayak hits the water, we began telling what the passengers of this kayaking experience could expect, what would help them to get there, what approach we would take and what our expectations were from them. The core message was, what we meant by self-awareness. Not reflection. Not analysis. Not introspection. It was being aware of what was happening to me right now! I snapped my finger for effect. Right now! After we were done with the context setting, we got a lot of resistance. “The Buddha says there is no such thing as the now.” “Is it not necessary to be selfish?”  “Do you mean to say we should stop using our intellect?” “How can I trust you when I have been betrayed earlier?” The kayaking had begun. I was surprised and glad to come across this collective rapid at the start of our journey. It gave us a chance to emphasize that the PR process was not mandatory. Each individual could exercise his choice whether he wished to be a part of it or not. Just as we could choose who to work with or not. There was full freedom for all concerned.  Of course with full freedom also comes full responsibility. Having said that I felt absolved of being a parental figure to them and sensed that they were now ready to take responsibility for their learning and making their own choices. It was an important equalizing process, of relating adult to adult. A mandatory requirement for kayaking.

I was allocated the Udaipurwati group. As we settled into the room, I started the kayaking expedition with introductions and meanings of each name. It amazes me at times how much one can learn about a person simply by what his name means and how he relates to it. They wanted to know more about me. I shared my journey with them. I shared the design of the boat that we would travel in the next four days. One person took the initiative and selected a person to relate. The first movements were very formal and stiff. Almost like seeking information from another, with no reciprocation, self-disclosure, curiosity or experiencing of self or another.  The next few interactions continued like that, with little spontaneity and greater self-consciousness. As we moved onto day two one person broke the spontaneity barrier and chatted heart-to-heart, clearing old misunderstanding and blocks. Then another did it. Then they started getting a hang of it. And then…boredom set in. Someone said if this was all there was to the design then she felt bored and she was speaking for some others in the group. I thought about what she said, and tried to get them to move to a space of here and now relating, where one explores relating as and when a feeling happens, be it anything – anger or affection. I tried various ways to get them to understand what I meant, through experimentation and role-plays; to no avail. Then came the turning point in our expedition. Someone mentioned “I am confused tell me what to do?” That made me angry.  I was not a parental figure to take care of her confusion; neither was she a child to seek my help whenever vulnerable. I was struggling in this learning journey as much as she was. Yet this incident gave me a ray of hope, to explore my anger with her, then and there. And then, the group began to get what it means to relate with feelings that are alive right now, irrespective of whether the incident happened five years back, six months back, yesterday or just now! The sooner we explored our feelings in relation to someone the better it is. It avoids judgements and unnecessary baggage. It could result in either greater trust or clear choices. The kayak had manoeuvred this difficult turn in the river successfully.

From then on the group moved seamlessly into relating about clearing past misunderstandings or expressing what they felt about something or someone there and then! Some members were so taken up by the idea of relating in the “here and now” that any discussion of past events was considered a waste of time, even though some authentic sharing was happening.  It seemed that their “conceptual idea” of here and now stopped them from being in touch with others and their own feeling in the moment.

As we cruised the river of relating, a radical thought started germinating in me. “How would this boat travel if I as the principal boatman did nothing!? Would the passengers be able to paddle and manage this boat on their own? Or would it capsize? I had never tried something like this in any of my previous expeditions. I took the chance. First, I stopped telling them what to do, then I walked out of the room, telling them that they were doing fine and that I would return in sometime. I walked down. Poured myself a cup of tea. Took a long walk. Went to my room. Rested for a while. I returned to the boat after two hours. As I sat down, I heard that they had designed a new boat for us to travel in. A process by which each person would get a feedback from another.  They requested me to also participate in the process. At that moment, something magical happened. The best thing that can happen to a kayak boatman.

The kayak had turned into a long canoe with all of us sitting divided on either side of the boat paddling together. Just like the snake boat used during the Kerala boat festival. It was miraculous! The kayak instead of capsizing had become a bigger boat that could accommodate all of us, with each one of us taking responsibility for our own paddling! Even though I had strongly resisted being a parental figure, I felt just as a proud parent would, on seeing his children become independent. The journey perhaps was not of the kayak, traversing the river. The journey was of transforming the kayak into a canoe. The ultimate accomplishment for any facilitator of human processes.

Mumbai, November 2011

“It was a powerful design” said Tripti, sipping her coffee at our regular meeting place. “What is better is that it is scalable. We are looking at around 250 Gandhi Fellows in the next batch.” I wondered what that would be like?

We would need many more boats to take so many people on river expeditions. The need was now to train more boatmen to launch many more kayaking expeditions. As I shared this, I saw the seed of a social change revolution begin to sprout.

It felt good watering this plant.

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There is a story I wish to tell, except I do not know the story. It could be your story, my story or anyone else’s story. It does not matter. All human stories are essentially the same. The characters and settings differ. The pursuit remains the same. Happiness.

I heard from him and others that he had a humble background. Faced difficult financial conditions in the early part of his life. I really do not know the details. They are not even necessary for the story I have to tell. Yet this part of his life is crucial. For he made up his mind one day he would have enough. Not only for himself, but also for his family. He was particularly close to his younger sister. His father sat him down one day and told him “She is your responsibility. You have to take care of her.” Those words went deep. Very deep. The son became the father.

He started his career in the ranks. He was good at selling. They said he could even sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo. He was hardworking, sincere and led from the front. Over time, he rose in the ranks. His colleagues and juniors always looked up to him. He was someone who could be trusted. He was and would always be there for them. After all, he was the father. Then salesman, boss or friend.

One day his sister gave him an idea. To start a Company. It does not matter for this story what that Company did. Like all companies, it sold some product or service. He liked the idea and left his high paying job. As he had always done in life, he began again from the scratch. Humbly. A small room and five employees. Just as himself, his employees had humble beginnings. He could not afford to employee MBAs. He did all there was to do himself. He not only did it himself, he showed others how to do it. Gradually the Company grew. He was a conservative leader. He painstakingly added one brick at a time. It was a gruelling process for him and others. Yet they did it. They knew there was no other option. They all knew what it was to be humble. The only way out was hard work and sincerity.

As the Company grew, something else happened, which neither of them realised.

He became their father and they his children. After all, he had picked that card of destiny that said one word. Father. All other roles of guide, caretaker, supporter, protector, provider and nurturer were a subset of that primary role. Of course, he did not know any of this consciously. In his own mind, he ran the Company professionally. He adhered to the Company policies just as anyone else.  He led from the front. He could not ever imagine being unprofessional. Little realizing that the heart of professionalism is little about complying with policies and rules set by your own self. Professionalism is an adult state, not a parental state. An adult will set clear roles and responsibilities based on agreed terms and conditions. An adult will allow others to take their own decisions within the boundaries of their role. An adult will hold others accountable for not meeting their targets. An adult will explore options collectively. An adult will make clear choices and communicate these choices clearly, leaving no scope for ambiguity. An adult will hold another adult responsible for his own growth, even though as a leader he may provide the conditions for that growth.

Just as what happens with most family run organizations, the company became a family. He was the father and they the children.

They were efficient employees. Hardworking and sincere. They did exactly what they were told. Rarely questioning, rarely disagreeing, rarely thinking for themselves. They had lost touch with their own capacity as individuals to think and feel, independent of him. Hence, the question of expressing their own true selves never arose. Whenever they tried to make some feeble attempt, he convinced them why his thoughts made more sense. His explanations were comprehensive.

Sometimes he lost his temper and shouted. When costly mistakes were made. Perhaps that scared them further, to voice themselves. They called him Sir. Out of respect. After all, they owed him everything. They had learnt from him. Earned from the Company that he had created. Had gradually risen from their humble backgrounds from their earnings in the Company.

They also craved for his attention and approval. Like children wanting the only parent available to take notice of them. They did all they could to get his approval and to be close to him. Sometimes even fighting amongst themselves. It lead to jealousies. Allegations of favouritism were made against each other. Of course all this, was not voiced. This was the undercurrent of the Company. On the surface, they were one big family. Which they were. The father and the children.

As the family grew, things were beginning to get unmanageable. He could not be everywhere and manage everything, like he had done earlier. He designated some of his close employees to take charge of operations. They had grown with him. With the company. He wanted them now to manage and lead, so that he could look at things more strategically. Yet the most essential quality of a leader is to think independently. To constantly be in touch with his feelings. To communicate as an adult. How could they? They had never done any of this. They had always been children. He simply could not fathom what was blocking them. Little realizing his own role in their story. The father creates the children. It is never the other way round.

By now, he was at his wit’s end. The Company had grown in capacity and in people and there was no other leader, other than him, to manage them. What was he to do? He did not believe in getting new people in senior positions. He believed in grooming people who had stood the test of time with him. Who had given their sweat, blood and tears for the Company. Yet they lacked the capacity to lead independently. He hoped to groom them in time. Not realizing that the need was not of grooming, but of allowing children to make their own choices. Reap the benefit or pay the consequences for their choices. For themselves and for the Company.

This is where I enter the story.

Nothing in life is a coincidence. Yet life is made up of coincidences. I met him through a friend. It was for a project she wanted to do and requested me to help her. We interviewed few employees across his organization and presented the information to him. Everyone loved him. They disliked the managers who came between him and them. After all, it was a patriarchal set up. And everyone wanted be close to the Head of the family. To be like him. And to be liked by him.

He decided to employ me as a consultant. My work partner and I decided to interview his leadership team and create a safe space for them to have real conversation for two days. They spoke about looking up to him, their optimism to lead, their jealousies and how people at large were not being managed well. A few employees spoke hesitatingly that they wished he were open to more perspectives. It was the first voice of a child wanting to be an adult with the father’s permission. Unfortunately, nature does not allow that. The child can only become an adult when he leaves home. To experience and explore himself in new circumstances. Allowing his own uniqueness to flower. Making his own choices.

Unfortunately, they did not have that luxury. They had to become adults without leaving home.

The two days began with us sharing what we had heard from them about each other. For the first time they saw themselves in others mirrors. He continued being the father. Encouraging, guiding, telling others what to do for their own betterment and the Company. This was what he had done since the time he had laid the first brick of the Company. It was what he did. Be a father.

Yet when I told him that he was not being professional, more a father, he denied it. With the force of all the explanations available with him. He repeated his explanations. And when he could not take the charge of being unprofessional anymore, he walked out of the room.

I wondered how this story would turn out.

Just as in most stories, a character mysteriously appears in the end and turns the tide, just when you thought that the ship would sink. It happened here too. His sister, who was never meant to be part of the dialoguing process initially, was included last minute, since she was the co-founder of the Company. She convinced him to come back to the process, no matter how difficult. He did.

As I said earlier, there are no coincidences.

As we resumed he continued being the father. Whenever we gave him feedback, he resisted. His body became stiff. His answers short and crisp. “I disagree. Yet I will look at it later.” Unfortunately, in human transformation there is no later. There is only the Now. The alive pulsating Now. Life happens in the Now, not later. If he did not allow the feedback to penetrate his heart Now, it was of no value later. Mind the trickster, fools us into thinking that it can transform itself, by analysing itself later. The problem is the mind. No solution of human transformation can come from the problem trying to solve the problem. Like a dog trying to catch its own tail. It was not his problem. It is a human condition.

By the end of day two, we were beginning to tire of giving him feedback. It was like hitting yourself on a brick wall. We decided to stop giving him any more feedback. It was beginning to hurt us. We thought this would not happen now. It will happen in the Now, but many nows later.

The last feedback session was his. Where we would read what others had to say about him. We read what they had to say. In the midst of great admiration and gratitude, were small hesitating voices. “We wished he listened others perspectives, we wish he was not stubborn at times, we wish we are not scared of his temper, we wish he did not say somethings personal at times.”

We asked him how he felt. He said, he felt that “why did they not tell him all this earlier”. He felt that “the show must go on”. He felt that “he could not afford to let this come in the way”. He felt “as a leader he could not allow this to impact him”. He felt after all “he was responsible for steering this ship and all who were on board it”. He felt that “if he let it affect him he would fail others”. He felt “he would fail himself, if he failed others”.

We pointed to him these were not feelings. These were thoughts. “What do you feel?” we asked once again.

Slowly he said one word “Disappointed.” Ah! We saw the first glimmer of hope. Like a small spark of light far away, when you are in a deep dark tunnel. We probed more. How strong was his disappointment? He said 3 on a scale of 1 to 5. That was strong enough. The spark became a small glow. We probed further. What part of his body felt the disappointment? He said the head. Ah! The glow became bigger. What was his head saying now…

We went deeper and deeper. The light of the Now becoming bigger and bigger with every step of the psychic excavation. Until, we came across two sides of him.

The Head.

The Heart.

We heard each one talk.

The Heart said, “I am love. In its myriad forms. In this heart I reside as the father

The Head said, “I am what society has made me. Conditioned by experiences. In this head I reside in the belief, “I cannot allow my vulnerability to show or break me. If I do how will, I fulfill my role as the father. The meaning to my existence.”

He did not say these exact words. This is how I heard them.

By now, the light had grown large enough and pervaded every corner of the room. An empty silence descended on those who were present there. There was no more to say. No more to hear. The silence completed everything. Erased all roles. Consumed everything. It was the Now, in its sparkling brilliance. The creative space from which all life springs forth. The fertile soil from which the first tender green sapling emerges, to greet the first rays of the morning Sun.

I would end this story here, for every story ends, when a new story is about to begin. Yet I cannot. For I witnessed a miracle. Which is why I got inspired to tell this story in the first. It touched me beyond measure. Like a small colourful butterfly perching itself on the palm of your hand in your darkest hour.

Towards the end, we requested each person to share their feelings on the two days of real conversations. Each one had extraordinary moments to share of deep insights and transformation. Miraculous as they were, they are not the miracle I am talking about. The miracle happened when we asked him to share at the very end.

I can see it happening even now, even as I write. In slow motion.

He said, “I will share with my eyes closed.”

And then…he closed his eyes.

He got in touch with his heart and spoke. His voice was soft. Searching. Looking for the right words to express his feelings, as best as he could. Slow and tentative.

And That was the miracle!

It gave me goose bumps. He had resisted us all through. As the father he had given advice to others all through. For the first time I saw the small innocent child in him speak. Softly and searchingly just as innocent children do. From pure feeling. Feeling lost when they have to use words to describe that purity to others.

In that moment the roles of father and son merged into pure feeling of The Child. Free of roles. Only pure feeling of the Now.

It did not matter what words he used. It did not matter what he said.

The miracle touched me.

The universal light of the Now permeated my being.

 ***

 

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As the participants poured in and took their places, the streaming light from the large windows flooded the room, making it seem more spacious than it was. Each had their own expectations. Their own dreams. Yet for these two days, their roles as social entrepreneurs got them together. This was a leadership retreat and they had come here to learn about negotiation, delegation, time management and engaging stakeholders. At least, that is what they had planned for their training needs.

The two facilitators had a plan for the training, as well. The projector in the middle of the room was part of the plan. So was the power point they had prepared. They were confident. They had done this before. Two hours of presentation and two hours of engagement. It was a safe bet. For them, and for the participants. With the structure in place, what could go wrong?

Apart from the participants and the two facilitators, there was something else in the room. An unseen alive force. Something vibrant, yet still. It was the spirit of that room. Created out of the unconscious intermingling of the deepest desires, fears and beliefs of all those present. It was witnessing the gathering unfold. It had a life and a plan of its own.

The ‘training’ began with a question. A question each, that a member wanted to explore. That question led to more questions. Questions of all kinds. Probing, searching, looking in the deepest corners of the person. Like, a slithery snake made of questions let loose inside, looking for what was hidden, unacknowledged and unappreciated. Some questions were evaded, some were answered. It did not matter the snake had access to what was inside. It knew. Now the task was to bring the hidden to light, the results of the first exploration.

What emerged was a child and an engineer. The child was rebellious. The engineer analytical. Neither were listening or reflecting. The child wanted and the engineer rationalized. How could learning happen? It didn’t. Yet the framework was rattled. Was shaken. Learning would happen. The process had begun. The seed was sown. It would grow in its own time.

The sharing moved the spirit of the room. Other participants wanted to find the people hidden inside them. The hidden stories waiting to be told. Very soon, the projector was swept aside unused and the power-point forgotten. What really mattered now was to explore and share the unconscious spirit. Drink from the well of the unknown. A bitter portion that illuminated life.

As we explored the room was filled with more participants. Characters from within. Unseen yet very much alive in each participant.

We came across a small girl that wanted to play in the rain. Yet was afraid of getting wet.

We found a guerrilla warrior ready for the next battle. Yet not strategising enough to win the war.

We discovered another small girl that was now grown up. Yet finding it difficult to say goodbye to her old self.

We found a grass-root leader who had found his roots at a young age. Yet to develop the capacity to have difficult conversations.

And each character had a story to tell. An untold story. We narrated its story and set it free.

At the end, the participants felt lighter. The facilitators felt fulfilled. There was meaning in discovering and sharing stories. It was not part of the training plan. It was not part of the skill-list the participants had posted. Yet it was real. Healing. Self generative. Like a dip in the icy cold Ganges waters at Rishikesh. It pricks you all over. Yet invigorates your soul.

The ‘training’ that was planned for four hours extended to two days. The spirit of the room had staked its claim.

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