Exit: Terminating Family Members

This is a big one. Some people are of the opinion that family members can’t be terminated under any but the most extreme circumstances like theft or doing something detrimental to the family. My view is that like performance bonuses, termination must also be linked to productivity. To allow the business to suffer losses because a family member is ineffective is to punish the whole family and all employees for the doings of one person. This is not only grossly unfair on everyone, but more importantly it vitiates the atmosphere of a results driven culture that we are trying to create. By such a policy we are at once undermining all claims to fair-play, justice and merit based career progression. So people who don’t deliver must go; family or no family. Such people must not even be put in some other part of the business for the same reason – their presence will legitimize ineffective working. Also more than likely they will create their own politics, especially as they are family members which can lead to all sorts of undesirable results. When you decide to terminate, the best way is to do it as quickly and decisively as possible. A clean cut with a sharp knife is always better, cheaper and kinder. The individual remains a shareholder and part of the family. It is just that they no longer come to the office. As I have said earlier, owning a business and running a business are not the same.
Keeping the Business Family intact – 5 Key Structures

I have suggested 5 structures that are most beneficial in achieving our goal: Making the business process driven while keeping the family together.
For details of that please read my book, The Business of Family Business (Serene Woods Publications) available in India on Flipkart and internationally on www.amazon.com

Career progress for family members

What must they do to progress in their careers? Is anything in this different from what professional managers must do?
Short answer: Yes.
It must be more difficult, the standards higher, the challenges more exacting because your child is an owner and so must be an example-setter. Also that is how he will gain respect in the system. Remember that ultimately the professionals will report to him and you want them to do that with pride, confidence and knowing that he knows the business better than they do. That way they will look up to him and not see him as being dependent on them. After all this is how the founder earned his own prestige and respect, by clearly being superior, inspirational and seen as someone who adds value to anyone who is fortunate enough to be associated with him. I have seen too many family businesses which would not last one week if key professionals walked away. And they know it and demand their pound of flesh which is willy-nilly given. I have even known where professionals have literally held owners to ransom as it were and then walked out and set up in competition.
This will never happen if you develop your family members such that each becomes an expert in his or her own right. Career progression must also be on the same terms as it is for other professionals with only one difference: the family member has the opportunity to sit on the Family Board one day. Opportunity, not certainty. Within the organization promotions must be need and merit based. Remember that a promotion is not a reward. It is an opportunity to do a job that is more complex and difficult and a great learning opportunity. So people who are promoted must be monitored and coached and supported.
How is succession determined?
The one who is best for the organization must succeed.
The only acceptable criterion for succession is to see who would be best for the organization. Not who is the oldest or any other criterion. There are two essential mindsets that must be in place to ensure smooth succession.
1.       The ‘Family’ depends on the business and needs the business.
2.       Inside the business, the only factor for preference is contribution.
This is often the most difficult of decisions because it is an issue of power. In the desire to hold onto power people don’t share information, resent being questioned on the performance of their businesses and generally act as if they were running personal fiefdoms. Like the GE airplane interview method for selecting successors, if you create a system where the superior will actually lose his job if he does not develop successors you will build a culture that enforces empowerment and subordinate development. Organizations where you need to persuade or force superiors to train subordinates or to delegate some powers are organizations with a ticking time clock waiting to be taken over.
Leaders who become indispensable are usually very poor at developing people. They take pride in the fact that the place can’t run without them. Such people must be put on a monitoring plan to shape up or ship out. It is better to fire someone who will not develop others early in the game rather than be faced with a leadership vacuum when you actually need to hand over to successors. Show me a company where the CEO’s job is threatened if he does not develop someone to take his place and I will show you a company which is well suited to outlasting its founders. This culture must be propagated strongly and seriously all down the line. Delegation and people development suffers because it is treated as a ‘nice to do’ rather than as a ‘critical to personal success’ issue. Where there is a reward for developing subordinates and a price to pay for those who don’t you will find that people development is taken very seriously.
To encourage collaboration, create peer rating and reward performance. Openly sharing information, offering to help each other to succeed and shared responsibility for decision making are the keys both to business success as well to keep the family together and these must be institutionalized in the system and not left to anyone’s individual inclinations. I have described how to do this later in my book where I have suggested several things that business families can do.

Careers in Family Businesses

There is much confusion in most business families about what to do with non-contributing family members. The only way of ‘taking care’ of family seems to be by keeping them in the business. However negative or incompetent people have a disastrous effect on the morale of others, especially when they are themselves seen as powerful by association with the family. I am not talking about someone who misappropriates funds or does something dishonest. I am talking about someone who is not competent in business and does not produce results. If that person had been a professional, he would have been sacked without question. But if he is a family member he is usually shifted around from one job to another. All that is achieved is that his attitude spreads. The fact that the only reason he still has a job is because of his family’s name on the door, is not lost on anyone. That such a situation will in the long run destroy the whole business and consequently the whole family will suffer, is something that is conveniently ignored, most often because the family has no process to confront each other constructively. Consequently family members have a different status in the business no matter what their designation may be and no matter what the official line on career progression may be. The fact remains that the family member has lifetime employment and his family is looked after, no matter whether he is productive or not. Family members acquire even more significance because they are seen as most ‘loyal’ and ‘trustworthy’ as they are ‘insiders’ while professionals are seen as ‘outsiders’ and so by inference less ‘trustworthy’ and ‘loyal’. The organization collects obedient disciples who may well be great at implementing instructions but not much else. Mistakes are treated as failures at best and crimes at worst and are punished. Consequently all intelligent people avoid making mistakes in the only sure way, by taking no initiative or risk.
Once again social traditions outweigh good business processes with attendant consequences.
Defining 4 Critical Parameters
There are 4 critical parameters that any family business that wishes to transform itself from being person-led to becoming process-driven, must define. It is essential that all these parameters are clearly thought out, defined and the criteria made public. It is the lack of clear definitions that leads to claims of nepotism from one branch of the family and discrimination from another. When these four parameters are clear, it preempts a lot of internal conflict and clears the muddy waters and promotes transparency in all dealings.
1.       Entry
2.       Progress
3.       Succession
4.       Exit
·         What does it take to enter the business?
·         How is success measured and rewarded?
·         How is succession determined?
·         On what conditions can a family member be asked to leave the business?
What does it take to enter the business?
Business success is a skill, not a hereditary trait.
Ask, “Is our business an aspirational place for high potential employees who have multiple choices? Or a parking lot for those who have no choice? Do young professionals in various disciplines who are wooed on campus by major corporations choose your company over others?” GE for example has been ‘Most Preferred Employer’ for decades even though it is not in the top three salary payers in the United States. People join GE with the same state of mind as they go to Graduate School; to get training and experience which will enhance their market value. The working atmosphere, the collegiate partnership and the challenges that working for GE provides are so stimulating that most stay on, many for their entire careers, like Jack Welch did. Those who leave do so after making significant contribution and become ambassadors of GE worldwide. GE gets a huge amount of business from ex-GE people who are working in different companies. It is no accident that GE has provided the highest number of CEOs to American business. Ask, “What value do we add to those who work for us?” That is the key to attracting and retaining the kind of talent that you need achieve your goals. Like most things this is not an accident. Success is never an accident. It is the result of planned, intelligent effort.
Entry criteria for family members
Who can enter? How must they enter? What must they do to prove themselves worthy?
The first challenge is to set entry criteria for family members to enter into the business. In most families it is a default setting that all male members will enter the business. In some countries youngsters in business families seem to be allergic to education and enter the business immediately after leaving high school. Given that they are youngsters with little maturity and often an inflated sense of self importance, the results are not pleasant or useful for anyone, least of all for the youngsters themselves. Some families are more mature in this.
They insist that the youngster first finishes his tertiary education and then joins. In my view the best way to ensure that you get the best is to do the following:
1.       Change the default setting and make a job in the family business an aspirational achievement that has to be won not merely inherited. Make it clear from the outset that the family and the business are two different things. That though family members will naturally enjoy their share of profits as shareholders but for those same profits to keep accruing the business has to be managed well. That is a skill, not a genetic factor. So only those who can prove that they are ready to contribute can enter the business.
2.       For that they need to be able to do two things: the same as anyone else who wants to be hired: get a great education and get some good worthwhile experience in some good place. Insist that the scion of the family goes to a top notch college and gets a great specialist education. Let him stand on his own feet for that. Don’t buy the seat for him. While he is there don’t give him any preferential treatment. Let him stay in the regular college hostel and go around on a bicycle or whatever is the norm with other students. That way he will learn social skills and make some good friends along the way. Many rich fathers give their sons their own apartments and buy them expensive cars and then wonder why the kid fails in the exams.
3.       Keep a tight control on all expenses and focus on studies and hard work. Nobody ever died from working hard and neither will your beloved child. Remember that he has to return and inspire respect. Nobody respects a soft little pussycat that couldn’t make it on its own without holding its father’s hand.
4.       Once his education is over, let him join the biggest, meanest, leanest and toughest multi-national in the world and work for 5 years. 7-10 years is even better. That is the minimum time needed to get some worthwhile experience and learn the business. He will still be under 30 when he comes back. This will give him an idea of market competition, give him a standing on his own merit and if he is smart he will be able to pick up some neat tricks on the way. This way he will get a real-time international experiential education at no expense to you. He will also build a network that will come in very handy later in life when he is working in your company. Once he has his experience then invite him back. Don’t force. Invite. If he does not accept immediately then he is the one you want. Then induct him into the company and give him some real freedom and responsibility.
5.       Another even better way is to challenge him to start a new business. Let him present a business plan to you. Offer to finance him and then help him if he needs any help. If he succeeds you just helped create some more business for your family. If he fails, well that is the fee for his education. Analyze the learning; ensure he learned his lesson and ask him to give you a new business plan.

How is success measured and rewarded?

Success is not a matter of opinion. It is a measurable fact. 
 

           The credibility of any measurement is in its uniformity. Only if everyone is measured on the same standard does the standard become trustworthy. If you have one standard for employees and a lower standard for family members, then you are only lowering the dignity of your own family. People don’t respect those they consider less than themselves. And that is what family members will become if they are rewarded according to a less exacting and rigorous standard of measurement. I am amazed at the number of family business people who actually recommend that family members should have lower standards than professionals that the family employs. I can only assume that they are not thinking when they say these things. For how anyone with even a single digit IQ can say something like this is beyond me. When family members succeed on the same standard as everyone else they acquire high prestige and people will willingly follow them when they become leaders. Create a performance culture of measuring results. Everyone and everything should be measured and the family must set the example. If I had my way, I would set higher standards for family members that for outsiders. My logic is that this is precisely what the original founder did. The founder earned respect because he was clearly superior. Why anyone imagines that this logic changes from the 2ndgeneration onwards is something I can’t understand.
       It is essential to ensure that everyone is measured on the same standard. A rigorous and objective performance appraisal system is essential. In principle this consists of goal setting by mutual dialogue at the beginning of the year. Followed by ongoing measurement as the year progresses. And then assessment and reward at the end of the year. Making it a collaborative process enhances both transparency and trust and people feel empowered to know that they are working to achieve the goals that they set themselves. The feeling of being imposed on from above is eliminated and a high level of commitment is achieved. Rewards must be linked to contribution, in terms of annual bonuses and profit sharing schemes.
      Annual increments must be uniform to take care of inflation. All rewards must be based on current contribution and in relation to it. Senior management including family members must be measured on how they add value to the vision, how they are able to reinvent strategies and how they display structured ways of risk taking. For family and top management this can be a done by peer rating on a 360° basis. This is not about passionate speeches in favor of grandiose schemes. It is about the rigor to convert a dream into a strategic plan that can convince critical peers to commit resources to it.
          It is important to differentiate between the dividend that family members receive as a result of the business doing well and individual performance based rewards. For performance rewards there must not be any differentiation between family and non-family professionals. Performance rewards are for performing. All those who perform and meet the criteria of success must get the same reward. As a family member the individual will also be entitled to whatever dividend the family gives its members at the end of the year. That has no bearing on his or her individual performance.

Family business is more about family than about business

The business and family love are
two different, mutually exclusive issues.
When the two mix, both self-destruct.”
Current Existence & Growth: Who has the power and why?
Performance versus identity: Who are you versus what did you do?
Succession: Family or business: Which comes first?          
Competence versus connection: Which is more important?
Families that understand these two questions and are able to address them succeed in perpetuating their growth, influence and wealth. Others disintegrate in internal strife and are relegated to the pages of PhD thesis on the subject of ‘Family Business.’ I have called this ability to deal with these questions, ‘The Critical Transition from being Person-led to becoming Process-driven’.
In my experience many business families spend far too little time on the upbringing of their children especially in inculcating the value of contribution. Of each generation creating its own legacy and not being content to ride on the back of the earlier generation. They give their children the same education that is given to the children of ordinary people who they employ. They don’t prepare their children for the distinctly different responsibility that they will have to shoulder. This is not about arrogance or about creating a new caste system. It is about merely recognizing the fact that the scions of business families are going to inherit power and wealth entirely out of context of their own effort. It is therefore essential for them to understand the distinctly different responsibility that comes with such wealth and power and for which they will be answerable to their families, their descendants and society at large.
I’ve met many founders who struggled very hard to set up and grow their business and who say to themselves (and to everyone else) with great feeling and tears in their eyes, “I will never allow my children to face the hardship that I had to go through.” When I hear this statement I say to them, “Please change the wording. Say, ‘I will never allow my children to build resilience, character and strength. I will never allow them to have the power that I have, to succeed.’ Say this because in effect that is what you are really saying.” For many of them this statement of mine is a shock. They had never thought about their view on upbringing of children in that light.
They equate expense with quality. They give their children the most expensive education which insulates them from the realities of life and so they never learn to fight the real battles. They give them the most expensive toys which in reality teach them to define human value in terms of material worth (the ‘best’ kids are those who have the best toys). They insulate them from poverty, deprivation, lack of resources and thereby they ‘protect’ them from being exposed to the power of drive, ambition, single minded focus on achieving big, ambitious, scary goals. They build walls between their children and the people who they must in the end, deal with. People who will one day, work in their organizations and decide their fate. People who need to be inspired, led, cared for and supported. And therefore people who must be understood. Not simply in order to do good and be charitable but because the success of the business and family depends on the development of these people; the great multitude. The fond parents forget or ignore the fact that one day the time will come for the soft little molly coddled pussy cat to enter the jungle of the real world without any of the tools it needs to survive, much less to lead others.
Possessions add cost, not value.
Children must be taught that humans have more intrinsic value than anything material which can be bought, sold or junked. That cars, branded clothing, watches, gadgets, material possessions, expensive houses don’t add value to the people who use them. Possessions add cost, not value. Anyone sensible will seek to add value to himself, not cost. People who believe that possessions add value or seek to convince others of this, have no value for themselves. They have low self-esteem and are seeking to lower the value of the human being. Children must be taught that a car, no matter how expensive, is transportation, not a symbol. Except of bad judgment which makes someone put huge amounts of money into a depreciating asset. A shirt is clothing, a watch is meant to tell the time and shoes are meant to walk in. None of these define you, are not statements, nor indicators of what kind of human being you are. It is your character, your actions, what you stand for, your principles and your values, which define you. Not what you possess. What you possess can be stolen or taken away from you. Your character, your values, your principles are the stuff of memories that you leave behind. By these you will be remembered, honorably or otherwise. Live a life such that you will be remembered with honor. Teach children these things by personal example. Because that is the only way to teach them.
Family is Family
There is always a difference between ‘insiders’ who are family members and ‘outsiders’ who are not related. Some of these differences may be overt as in rules applied differently. Some may be covert and under the surface but still clearly visible to everyone, as in forms of address, precedence, who can go to the Chairman’s home uninvited. In many families the business is treated as an extension of the family home and the same roles of elder and younger apply.
Guaranteed career progress and no door marked ‘Exit’
Like employment, career progress is also guaranteed. After all the family rarely promotes an ‘outsider’ over the head of an ‘insider’. So the family member will always get his promotion, even if it means that someone else actually does the work. I have seen many examples of this in the Middle East where the professional manager actually does the work while the family member is busy fulfilling decorative purposes. Needless to say the same logic extends to family members leaving the organization. After all, just as you can’t steal from yourself, you also can’t leave yourself. So no exits for any of the reasons that are guaranteed to send ‘outsiders’ into orbit. Needless to say this encourages complacency. In some families the incompetent member is shifted to some other part of the business where he proceeds to spread his negative influence, only to be moved elsewhere when he has done sufficient damage. The power of the bad apple must never be underestimated.

O! Teacher, stop teaching

Our present methods of teaching which are inflicted on by far the vast majority of children the world over are the single biggest cause for killing the imagination that every child is born with and making them into square blocks which fit our own frightened, constrained and slavish worldview. Those who comply we ‘pass’ and those who challenge it and refuse to succumb, we ‘fail’. The occasional among those we ‘fail’, go on to great fortune. The vast majority disappear, never to be heard from again. Destroyed by the education system they didn’t deserve or ask for.

I recall the story of young Tommy; one of the stories that do the rounds on the internet. It is said that Tommy’s teacher asked the class to write an essay about their dream. Next day all the children brought their essays to class. The teacher read them all. But when she came to Tommy’s essay she was astounded and even angry. She wrote a big 0 at the top of the essay and handed Tommy his book. Naturally poor Tommy’s face fell when he looked at the teacher’s notation. He took back his book and silently walked back to his seat. The teacher saw the look on the little boy’s face and took pity on him. She called him back and said, ‘Tommy, your dream is ridiculous. It is fantasy. It is totally unrealistic. That is why I failed you in the test. However I will give you another chance. If you re-write this dream and bring it back tomorrow, I will give you some marks.’ Tommy listened in silence, nodded agreement and returned to his seat. The eyes and smirks of all those who had ‘passed’ were on his face. They were the ones with realistic dreams which the teacher liked.

Next day Tommy handed in his essay to the teacher. The teacher scanned through it and was astonished to see that there was no change. She called Tommy to her desk in an injured tone and said, ‘Tommy, didn’t you understand what I told you? I said I would give you marks if you changed your dream. You have done nothing here! So I am sorry I can’t give you any marks.’

Tommy looked at her and said, ‘Teacher, I thought about what you said and decided that I will let you keep your marks and I will keep my dream.’

It seems strange to me that if I were asked to define the biggest challenge of the teacher, I would say, ‘It is to teach children how to deal with a world that we know nothing about.’ In such a world, imagination is the key resource that they will need. Without imagination they would be floundering trying to find answers in history or ‘facts’ that they had been taught. But they would never find those answers because they simply aren’t there. Yet the thing that most schools do with amazing efficiency is to kill the child’s imagination as quickly as possible. And sadly they are very successful in doing so.

Take for example how science is taught. It is taught in a way that is no different from history, for example. It is taught as a ‘fact’ course. Whereas science is not about fact at all but about constant discovery. Science is about constantly discovering how little we know. Science is not about answers but about learning to ask the right questions, learning to analyze data with a willingness to be proved wrong, learning to design experiments to disprove our most dearly loved models, knowing that only if the experiment failed could we say that our model is actually correct. Not forever, but until we come to the next discovery.

Teaching is not about answering questions but about raising questions – opening doors for them in places that they could not imagine. Teaching is about teaching them the tools of learning which will enable them to pursue learning all their lives. Not answer questions – end all discussion and pass exams. That is the reason why the vast majority of children never open a science book once they finish with school. That is the reason why there is a serious global shortage of scientists. The whole approach to teaching must change – from teaching solutions and answers to teaching tools to pursue lifelong learning. Even when we teach what we know – the answers – we need to teach them how we arrived at those answers and then ask them , ‘If you faced this issue, what questions would you ask to find an answer.’ We need to focus far more on derivation, problem solving methodology and analytical skills than on actually arriving at some formula or solution.

The same malaise plagues other subjects as well. In history we concentrate on dates and places far more than on lessons learnt and ways of applying them in today’s society. When was the last time you heard a history teacher ask questions like: ‘What did we learn from the history of the Mughals the reflection of which we can see in today’s society? What can we learn from that period of Indian history which we can apply to our lives today? What can we learn from that period which will help us to find solutions to our problems today? Which problem? What is the solution?’ Instead history question papers will ask you for the date on which the first Battle of Panipath was fought; who was fighting whom; not why; not what did that indicate about that society and its implications in today’s society. So children hate history. We don’t relate what we teach to what is happening currently and how learning what happened then can help people in today’s world.

Children hate math, algebra even more. But when did we ever hear of a teacher teaching math as a problem solving tool? Or of teaching algebra as a tool to plan a party? Math enhances ability in reasoning, intelligence, decision making and abstract analysis. But we only teach dry numbers. Math enables budgeting, judging and assessment of business enterprises; it is the basis behind computer programming, music, art, graphic design, aeronautics – and a million other highly interesting things. But the way we teach math – the majority of students hate it, never use it to any advantage and trash 12 years of learning it as soon as they complete their final exam. So why should you study math at all. See the answers of some students to this question which their professor asked them:
http://www.math.uakron.edu/~norfolk/why223f03.pdf
Another very interesting article which turned up on Google on math is here:
http://drkroiss.com/page21.html

Our education system stinks. It is designed to create mechanics – not learned people. So one can become an engineer without reading any book other than his course books and without any understanding of anything except the little machine that he works on – as if the rest of the universe doesn’t matter. All the treasure of human thought, ideas, discoveries, experiments, reflections and imagination are closed to him. He doesn’t even know that they exist. He lives a life of stress, doing his best with his very limited understanding of life, trying to reinvent the wheel, to discover solutions which others, far more gifted and learned than he could ever be, have already discovered and written about. But then how would he know about them when he doesn’t read?

That is why we have idiotic product design because the designer has no concept of relating his design to the actual user. He is thinking in terms of his narrow area of knowledge, not of the vast area of application. That is why Haleem makers in India use washing machines as kitchen mixers. Saves them a lot of labor stirring the pot when they can have the pot stir itself. Ask the washing machine designer what he was thinking of when he designed the machine except dirty clothes? But great opportunity does not lie in customer demand. It lies in areas that the customer didn’t even know he needed.

The biggest problem with teachers is that they teach. That is the root cause of all ignorance. So I titled this essay, O! Teacher, stop teaching. Start discovering, learning, enjoying. Start appreciating that the child is the best thing that happened to you and every single day try to become the best thing that happens to him or her. Teachers must never teach. They must be like ushers in a vast museum, walking quietly with their students tiptoeing behind them, opening one door after another – letting them take a peek – and then handing them the key to the door so that they can come back in their own time and explore in detail. The teacher then takes them to another door for another peek and another key. See?? Imagine how exciting that is for the child! The teacher’s job is to give them the keys.

Teaching is about asking questions – and teaching them to ask questions. The teacher who gives answers has failed. So never do that. Teaching is about keeping the excitement of learning alive all life long. Teaching is about taking the hand of a 4 year old and leading the whole group to a tree. Then sit down under the tree and tell them, ‘Let me see who can get me a perfect leaf of this tree.’ Actually do this and see the fun. When they all come back, brimming with joy at their perfect finds – ask them if all the leaves are the same, even though they came from the same tree? Let them marvel at the fact that they are all leaves from the same tree but each is different. Ask them, ‘Why do you think this happens? What is Allah saying to us?’

Then pull out a seed of the tree you are sitting under from your pocket. No it didn’t grow there, you prepared for the class, remember? Then show them the seed and let them all (every one of them) hold the seed in his hand and explore it, texture, shape, color and so on. Give them crayons and paper and let them draw the seed. Give them a few more so that everyone has his own seed. When they have drawn the seed, tell them, ‘Now look at this tree. Do you realise that this tree was inside this seed? Can you draw the tree inside your seed?’ Let them do that. Every drawing must be made much of and draw breaths of amazement from you – and indeed, if you have ever taught in this way, you will realise that being amazed is the default setting. It is only when we kill the imagination of children that they become like us.

Then tell them about genetics – yes to four year olds – and explain how the tree was inside the seed until Allah ordered it to come out. Explain the whole process of germination and growth. Draw lessons from each step and show them the glory of Allah. Of course that will make your own role as teacher much harder but also much more fun. To be on top of the game you have to read and prepare @ 1:4 – one hour of teaching to 4 hours of preparation. The kids will come back with answers to the questions you planted in their minds. You will need patience and tact and wisdom to deal with some of them. But you will have the joy of learning, of having doors opened for you where you didn’t know there were doors. Teaching is about learning.
I learned some of the best lessons in my life from someone who was knee high to a jack rabbit (as the Americans put it).

Teaching is not a job. Anyone who considers it a job must do one of two things: re-think their vocation or become a cigarette salesman. That is a job. Selling cigarettes to people to hasten their demise. Teaching must be a passion. A teacher is someone who simply can’t imagine doing anything else. A teacher is someone who will teach not only for free but also if they had to pay for it. Only then can you light the lamp of the love of learning in the hearts of others. Teaching is to light the lamp of knowledge and dispel the darkness of ignorance. Do you, Mr. Teacher, consider what you are doing in these terms? I often ask people to think of a role model and then ask for how many of them it is a parent or a teacher. I have never had more than 10% of the population, across nationalities, races and genders, raising their hands. That means that for 90% of people their role model is neither a parent nor a teacher. What a tragedy, seeing that these two roles have the maximum face time with children. Yet they seem to do their roles in such an uninspiring and dull way – if not in a positively harmful way – that most children are glad to be away from them as much as possible.

I ask teachers to consider this. Every morning a strange thing happens at the gate of your school. Parents come and hand over their most precious assets to you without asking for any guarantees for anything; for you to do as you please with them for the next 6 – 8 hours. Are you conscious of this responsibility in quite this way and do you plan for those 6 – 8 to become the best 6 – 8 hours of that child for that day? Do you actively plan this? What would you say if the teacher, who you send your child to, planned to make those hours the best hours of your child’s life? Do you believe this is worth doing? If not, what are you doing here?
So when a child asks a question, ‘Mr. Great Crocodile, what does this mean?’ You say, ‘You tell me.’ And then let him go away and search – watch what he is doing, give him a hint or two but never make it easy for him. If it looks like he is getting too close to an easy answer, bowl a googly. Ask a question which will lead him to dig deeper.’ Then when he comes to you with his answer, listen very carefully and be prepared to be astonished. Don’t put any limits or boundaries on what he can or can’t say, what he can or can’t question. Then listen very carefully and take notes. That will do wonders for his confidence as well as for your own learning.

And another thing – abolish exams. Or at least have only open book exams. Exams are the worst evil that ever happened to learning. They are the final nail in the coffin which ensures that the child hates learning forever.

May you be the one to illuminate the world by igniting minds.

First of all your own.