May 24, 2007

General gyan on leading people

I've recently read some books about people I admire - Branson, Semler, Dhirubhai... I was hoping to learn something from their experiences.

If you expect these people to have written about decision-making, finances, deals and learn some 'rules' about successfully running a business, you will be disappointed. I was surprised to find that many of their major decisions had been based on gut feeling rather than reason, and against widely respected 'business sense'. The common threads were passion ('I really have to do this'), vision (dreaming of the 'considered-impossible'), and their faith in their people. I guess this is what differentiates the 'explosively-successful' entrepreneurs from the also-rans. You need to really want to do something, believe you can, and trust other people to do it.

The last part is probably the hardest. If you have a big dream, you can't achieve it alone. You have to depend on others. And when you are dependant, you cant have have everything your way. A much better approach is to get others to believe in your dream, motivate them to give it their best, accept their failures and be honest with them.

I can personally vouch for the last. At work, there were a few times I was given a target which I didnt consider realistic. My subordinates also questioned me when I told them what they had to do. At this point, I've tried two approaches.

The common one - is to give people a load of crap about what is good for the business, and why the problems foreseen won't actually come up, and insisting they'd better do it or face your wrath. This will always fail and they will later say 'we told you so. Now do whatever you want. And I feel I'm under-paid.'

The other - and the one I prefer - is to honestly admit you are doing something stupid but you dont really have a choice. And to tell them you'll try your best, and hope they will too. You'll be surprised what your people can achieve when you actually trust them with responsibility.

A couple of quotations I remember from my time at P&G, which I consider golden truths:

- An organization is perfectly designed for the results it achieves. (Corollary for bosses: your team's results reflect how much they trust you. If the results aren't good enough...)

- People spend more than half of the time they are awake, in their office. They should be happy in office.

Choices Choices Choices

Well, I've bought a new car. Why don't I sound thrilled? You see, I have a bit of a maverick image, and buying the most common and popular car doesn't quite go with it. A Santro is too commonplace.

Anyway, as i didnt originally want a Santro, i set about selecting a car. What bothered me in this whole process of car selection, was the mind-boggling choices. In the glorious days not so long ago, the only car i could have bought was the Maruti 800. The only decision to be made was - could I afford the one with an AC? Even color choices were limited. 'Loan' was a bad word. And if some low-life wanted to buy a car he couldn't afford with his savings, he'd have to go to his PSU bank branch, and face as arduous a task as performing an elaborate Hindu religious ceremony.

Cut to 2007. There are at least 4 serious small car manufacturers. Most of them have multiple models (If you want to buy good-ol' Maruti, they offer you the 800, Zen, Wagon R and Swift - and this is only in the small-car segment!) Each model has several variants. You have to decide whether you want body-colored bumpers? Do you really need an under-seat ash-tray and suchlike. Then you receive SMS offers from multiple dealers. Each has tie-ups with at least 3 banks that offer you various loan rates and deals. At the end of weeks I still have to decide between Sony, JBL, Pioneer and Blaupunkt speakers for my car audio system. I still have to decide whether spending another 4.5k for Tubless tyres, and 3k for leather seat covers, are prudent decisions.

One can argue that having so much choice is a good thing, but I'm not too sure. I mean - if I install the 245-watt Blaupunkt rather than the 260-watt Sony, will it change my life significantly? Will i even notice a difference at all? The problem is not having choices. The problem is - there are no clearly 'good' or 'bad' choices. Everything has its pros-and-cons and it all evens out in the long run. And a huge amount of time and energy is wasted evaluating the pluses-and-minus of all the choices available. Life was so much easier a decade back...

(Psst - by the way, I chose a 'Deep pearl blue' Santro XO, and am planning to buy Blaupunkt speakers. Do u think its the right choice? And leather seat covers? Tubless tyres?)