Corporate life can teach powerful lessons, sometimes quite unexpectedly. All you need is an open mind. Here are four simple, yet powerful lessons that I learnt while working in corporates.
1. Finding Time For Anything, Is All About Your Priority
Some years ago, while I was working in TCS, we were looking to expand our operations in the Middle East and North Africa. In that connection, I traveled to Morocco to assess the conditions there and explore the feasibility of setting up a Development Center in Casablanca.
I spent a month in Morocco to come up with our value proposition for the country and at the end of the month, we requested a meeting with the Moroccan Prime Minister, Mr. Driss Jettou.
The Moroccan Prime Minister gave us a time slot for the meeting at a convention center where a three-day capacity building program had been organized that interestingly the Prime Minister was personally attending.
During my meeting, I asked the Prime Minister, “Knowing how busy you are, how do you manage to take so much time out to attend this entire capacity building the program?” He responded- “It’s all a matter of priority. For me, capacity building is very important. If something is important, you will always find time for it.”
The fact is we all have 24 hours in our day but some people use it effectively to deal with important issues, while others complain about the lack of time. If you look at it, we all find time for things that we consider really important!
“Time is a created thing. To say 'I don't have time,' is like saying, 'I don't want to.” ―Lao Tzu
2. Don't Go By What You See Alone
Some years ago I was in Kampala for business. At that time, I was working in TCS. I had completed my work and just before leaving, I came across an opportunity for further business in Uganda. Uganda, at that point in time, was grappling with a problem of identifying taxpayers and as a result, was losing out on tax revenue significantly. We had done that work in India and I wanted to share our experience proactively with the tax authorities there.
To get things moving quickly, our local partner advised me to reach out to the highest level in the government. Since the President of Uganda, Mr. Museveni, also presided over the Finance Ministry, I requested a meeting with him. The President agreed to take some time out for us at another location where he was expected to be.
At the appointed time, we reached the venue and were told to be seated and that the Ugandan President, would be with us, shortly. In a short while, a gentleman wearing tennis player’s outfit with a tennis racquet in his hand came to our table. Not recognizing him, I remained seated until our local partner who had already got up to greet him, nudged me.
It was then I realized that he was indeed the President, himself. It was inappropriate on my part not to have got up immediately and greeted him. However, seeing him dressed in a sports gear threw me completely off balance. That was something, totally unexpected. The meeting, however, went very well.
Appearances can be very deceptive and basing your judgment on what you see, can often be, to your detriment. You form an opinion as soon as you see someone for the first time. That means, what you have based your opinion on, is purely appearance because that’s all you had to go by at that time. But, your judgment and opinion could well be of the mark.
3. Things Are Seldom, What They Appear On The Surface
Several years ago, we had submitted a bid for a public sector IT project in one of the northern states in India. A few weeks later, we were invited to make a presentation on our proposal to a high-level client team, led by the Minister himself.
Hectic preparations went into the presentation as we tried to capture the essence of the proposal and make it a truly compelling proposition.
Finally, the presentation day arrived.
I was making, what I thought, was a very compelling presentation. But clearly, the client did not think so. Ten minutes into the presentation, the Minister dozed off and woke up briefly towards the end of the presentation. I was summarizing our proposition at that time. And, for his benefit, I summarized it again.
It was extremely disconcerting, to say the least. The whole team was understandably disappointed. Clearly, all our effort had been wasted and now our bid itself was in jeopardy.
When I came out of the conference room, I ran into a senior client official who had attended the presentation. On seeing me he complimented me and told me that I had made a good presentation. I couldn’t contain myself and asked him how could he say that when the Minister had been awake for barely 15 minutes of my presentation.
His response was startling- He said, “You should have seen the other presentations before this. They put the Minister to sleep, completely.”
I didn't know what to say and went back, disappointed. But, sure enough, three weeks later we were selected and called for contract negotiations.
The point is what you see on the surface is not always the actual situation.
That’s why in IBM there is a phrase that is constantly used when looking at any issue- ‘What’s the issue behind the issue?’ If all you are doing is solving an issue based on what it appears on the surface, you could be missing out the deeper and much bigger underlying issue, completely.
4. What We Call Problems, Are Not Really Problems
In the corporate world, sometimes trivial things can get blown out of proportion. I have come across people working in companies who would make an issue out of literally, nothing. The tendency to make a small issue appear bigger than what it is really, is perhaps linked to a sense of importance, that some people derive from it.
I used to do pretty much the same same thing until an incident happened, that changed my thinking completely.
My wife is a doctor and several years ago she was working in the Pediatric ward of a well known Government hospital in Delhi. At that time, I was traveling a lot and she worked really long hours in the hospital. So much so, that we barely got to meet. So, whenever I was in town and had some time in the evening, I would go and visit her at the hospital.
In the ward that she was handling, there was a twelve-year-old patient who seemed quite active and out of place, there. Although he was underweight, he seemed otherwise quite well and always had a ready smile. Most of the time when I visited the ward he would be sitting with nurses helping them with their work or spending time with younger children in the ward, trying to cheer them up.
One day about six weeks later when I went to the ward, the boy was not there. When I enquired about him, I was told that he had passed away four days back. It was then, that I came to know that this boy had leukemia and his days were numbered, to begin with.
But, that was not all. There was nobody to care for him. He didn’t have any family and the hospital staff was all he had, to call his own.
Even more shocking was the fact that he had been fully aware of his condition and that he did not have much time. Yet, he chose to spend the little time he had, cheering up other sick children, giving them hope and helping other people in the ward.
It was a very humbling moment for me. Here was a child who knew he was living on borrowed time and yet chose to make other people happy rather than focus on himself.
We often complain about our job, our circumstances, about our problems but these are all things that we can do something about. It’s when you are faced with a situation that threatens what is most precious to you, your life or the lives of your loved ones, that you really have a problem.
And, that’s when you come to know what you are really made of!
It Takes Strength To Hold It Together, When Everything Is Falling Apart.
About the Author:
Srinivasan is an independent consultant working in the area of strategy and technology interventions in the public sector domain. He has worked in companies like IBM and TCS and has over 30 years of experience spanning 24 countries.