Whenever I speak of
customer service, I am reminded of how some people from north India, from the
Hindi speaking belt of UP and MP pronounce it. They say, ‘Kasht-mar service’.
Now ‘Kasht’ in Hindi means ‘difficulty’. And ‘Mar’ means to die. So, the literal
translation of ‘Kasht-Mar’ would be (Kasht-say-mar) meaning ‘die slowly with
difficulty’. Not a very nice thing to say but that is what some people in the
business of providing service seem to be saying to their customers (Kashtmars).
Customer service is about customers, not about the content, technology or industry in which those customers operate. This is a very important thing to understand and accept if one is not to fall into the trap of feeling that somehow our own industry is so unique that the lessons learnt in the airline, hotel, BPO, IT or hospital businesses are not applicable to us. If we deal with people, lessons learnt in any industry that have to do with people, apply to us and we would be very foolish to ignore them. Customers and people think holistically. When we experience bad service on board a plane, we compare it quite happily (albeit sometimes unconsciously) to the overall service standard that we are used to in our own environment and feel proportionately bad about it. If we come from a country like Singapore where the quality of service is generally very superior, we will tend to feel highly dissatisfied with bad service. But someone who comes from another country where service standards are generally pretty low, they may find the same service to be acceptable because their expectations are so low to begin with. When experiencing on-board in-flight service, we don’t compare it only to our experience on other airlines. Even people who are flying for the first time feel dissatisfied with poor service. So, lessons are transferable.
Great customer service is a
combination of two things: a genuine desire to serve and some key things to do
(tools). Let us look at each of them.
Attitude: Whenever I think of an attitude
of great customer service I remember when I first went to Singapore in 1994. I
was there to teach a course in teaming skills at GE Asia. I reached my hotel by
about midday and having had lunch and rested, decided to go out in the evening
to see the city. I came out of the hotel and stood at the curbside waiting for
a cab. One came along in less than 2 minutes and then it happened. The driver
pulled up, got out of the car, trotted (he didn’t walk, he trotted) around the
back to where I was, opened the rear passenger door and ushered me into the cab
with a flourish. I realized that I was in the presence of something special and
silently got in.
The interior was spotlessly clean
and smelled of some pleasant mild perfume. I sat waiting for the next act of
the play. And there it was. He said to me as I was sitting in the cab, ‘That is
today’s newspaper for you Sir and some water if you’re thirsty. I hope you are
comfortable.’ I said that I was and thanked him. He shut the door respectfully,
trotted (once again he didn’t walk) back to his seat and said, looking at me in
the rearview mirror, ‘Where can I take you Sir?’ I replied, ‘I don’t want to go
anywhere. I want to just sit here so that I can enjoy the experience of being
in your car.’
I still remember this incident so
many years later as if it happened yesterday. The point is that he was an
ordinary taxi driver who had never gone to a single training class in customer
service. He was in a business where customers commonly have the least
expectation of service and are only interested in not being deceived to pay
more than their due. His customer is with him for probably the shortest time of
any service; just the few minutes it takes to drive to the customer’s
destination. And typically, he would probably never see that customer again.
Yet here was a man going out of his way to be nice to his customers and to give
them an experience to remember. Why?
The only answer I have is,
because for him service was about who he was. Not about who the customer was.
Neither I nor anyone I know would expect, much less demand a taxi driver to get
out and open the door for them or keep clean drinking water (in a sealed
bottle) and the day’s papers in the car or to keep the car in an absolutely
pristine state. After all we are used to shabby taxis and as long as it is not
horribly dirty, we don’t give it a second thought.
He did what he did because he saw
his service as defining him, not because he thought the customer cared about it
or wanted it or demanded it or would pay for it. It was his own pride in his
work and his desire to serve.
Let me give you another example.
In 1997, I lived in Bangalore and wanted to buy a Maruti 800 car. I called a
number which I thought was the number of the agency which financed Maruti purchases.
A lady answered, and the conversation went like this:
‘Good morning, this is Citibank
Car Finance. How can I help you?’
‘Good morning. I am looking to
buy a Maruti 800 car and want to know if you finance it.’
‘I am sorry Sir, we finance only
Opel Astra (four times the price), but if you hang on a minute, I will get you
the number of the company which does Maruti.’
Once again, I knew I was in the
presence of someone with that key attitude – the desire to win customers. So, I
waited. She came back online in less than one minute.
‘Here’s the number Sir. And if
you change your mind and decide to buy an Opel Astra, please do give us a
She knew perfectly well that I
was not an Opel Astra customer, but she still said that so that I would not
feel bad about not being able to afford an expensive car.
Once again, the power of
The first thing I would ask
anyone who has to deal with any customer in any kind of business at all is, ‘Do
you really want to do this job? And if you want to do it, how much do you want
to do it?’
# 1. Is it an, ‘Ah! Here comes another one’, kind
# 2. Or is it a, ‘Well, since I am here, I may as
well get it over with.’
# 3. Or is it, ‘Another fantastic day for me to
give some customers service they have never seen before. I love the look on their
faces as if they can’t believe their own eyes and ears.’
Which one applies to you? It’s
really as simple as that.
Now how about if you are not the
# 3 kind of person?
have two choices; change your job or change yourself.
Changing your job may neither be
feasible nor is it easy to find a job where you don’t have to deal with people.
There are such jobs, like feeding crocodiles in a zoo, but not so many fall
vacant unless the feeder slips into the pool. Like it or not you are going to
have to deal with people. So, what should you do?
is what you should do:
Stand before a mirror and tell
yourself, this is the BEST job that I could possibly be doing because I have an
opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. Now what is more worthwhile
than that? Convince yourself and then go to work.
I was in the airport in Hyderabad
and wanted to use the washroom. I entered the room and found that the toilets
were being cleaned. The man doing the job saw me and said to me, ‘Please give
me a minute Sir.’
Then he not only cleaned the
toilet, but he sprayed air freshener and then took some tissue and dried the
toilet seat. Did that make a difference in my life? You can bet it did and I
ensured that I gave him the biggest tip he would have received in a while. Though
going by his attitude and quality of service it would take a shamelessly stingy
person to pass him by without emptying their pockets into his hands. Once
again, I don’t think that man ever saw the inside of a Customer Service
Let me give you my final example.
It was 1995. I was teaching a 3-day leadership course for a major IT
multinational. The course was in Bombay. This was before the name of the city
was changed to Mumbai. It was July. Not the best time to go to Bombay unless
you love flooded roads and incredible traffic jams. But when you are lean, mean
and hungry, you do what you need to do. I was and I did. I flew Indian Airlines
(before its name was changed to Air India) and because if you wanted to fly that
is what you flew. There were no other domestic airlines. I landed in Bombay under
threatening skies. A cab driver came to pick me up from the airport and we drove
to my hotel which was not too far away. As I got out of the car, he asked me, “When
do I need to pick you up to bring you back to the airport Sir?” I told him, “At
5.30 pm on Day 3.” He thanked me and left. I checked in to the hotel. That
night the skies made good their threat and how? It rained non-stop for the
three days that I was there. The whole city was flooded and there was knee-deep
water in the streets and traffic was one massive gridlock. It appeared that all
those stuck in the traffic jams would spend the rest of their lives in their
On Day 3, as I walked through the
hotel reception to my class, I requested them to keep my room as it didn’t look
like I would be able to go anywhere that day. I finished my day and as I came
to the reception, on the way to my room, who do I see there? The cab driver. He
was standing there with a rolled-up umbrella in his hand, totally soaked from
head to toe. I was astonished. I said to him, “How are you here? In this rain? You
are soaked? Why didn’t you use the umbrella?”
He said to me, “Sir, I came to
take you to the airport. The umbrella is for you Sir. Please come, let us go.”
“How can we drive? The street is flooded
and there is a traffic jam all around!”
“I know the back roads Sir. Don’t
worry. I will get you to the airport. But I have a request. I must apologize to
you Sir. I couldn’t bring my car for you because it has a petrol engine and can’t
go in water as deep as this. So, I borrowed a diesel pickup van from my friend.
If you don’t mind sitting in the van, I will get you to the airport in time for
I couldn’t believe my ears. My
judgement told me to stay put. I had the hotel room. I was not in a hurry to
get home. I wasn’t even sure if Indian Airlines was flying on schedule. But
there was no way that I was going to refuse to go after this man had gone to
all the trouble on my behalf. I picked up my bag and got into the cab of the pickup
and we drove through the flood waters, with a bow wave before us. It was like being
in a boat. When we got to the airport, I tried to give him Rs. 100 as a tip. He
refused. “It is my duty Sir,” he said. You don’t need to pay me anything. I told
him that I was not paying him out of a sense of duty but as a small gesture of
my vast appreciation for his effort. He still refused. I had to use all my
skills of persuasion for him to eventually accept this token of my appreciation.
He left with a smile on his face. Indian Airlines cancelled the flight and
since there was no way to return to the hotel, I spent that night on the floor
of Bombay airport, warm in the glow of my experience of absolutely heroic customer
service, once again from someone who had never heard of a Customer Service
Course. Indian Airlines on the other hand gave me many examples of staff who
had attended many such courses, with no appreciable effect. It is not about the
course. It is about the person.
stand before your mirror and tell yourself, ‘I want to make a difference in
someone’s life today.’
To help you to focus on customer
service, here is a tool you may like to use.
Listen, Empathize, Accept Responsibility, Do Something
Listen: The first thing is to listen to
the customer. Listen to what they are saying and to how they are saying it.
Sometimes it is not the words of the customer but their tone of voice or body
language which gives the one who listens well, the real message. In GE there is
a process called Voice of Customer (VOC) which is part of the Six Sigma Quality
Initiative where customers are regularly invited to come in and talk about how
they experience GE’s service. The focus in this meeting is not on giving
explanations or making excuses. Just on listening carefully to what the customer
has to say about his experience. This conversation then becomes the basis for addressing
pain areas and enhancing the level of service.
Empathize: The second is to put yourself in
the customer’s shoes. How would you feel if someone did to you what you or
someone in your company did to your customer? The reason it was done is
immaterial. That they had to suffer is what the customer is conscious of.
I was in San Francisco at the
Marriot, having arrived there by a late-night flight at midnight, having flown across
the country from Hartford, CT. I was teaching a 3-day course for AMA
International starting at 8.00 am the next morning. I had asked for a
non-smoking room as I am allergic to cigarette smoke. When I went up to the
room almost at 1.00 am, I found it reeking of cigarette smoke. I complained but
the person at the front desk told me that they did not have any other room. I
was furious but there was nothing I could do so I slept as best I could. Next
morning, I had to leave early for work. When I returned, I was met at the lobby
by the hotel manager who took me up to another room, this one smelling sweet
and asked if I liked it. I said that I did. She then asked if she could have my
luggage moved there. I agreed.
Then (only then) did she say to
me, ‘Sir, I apologize for the problem you had last night. We had booked a non-smoking
room for you but unfortunately it seems that the guest had someone else in the
room who smoked and so the room smelled of cigarettes. We did not realize this
until too late and there was no other non-smoking room available last night. I
blocked the first room that fell vacant this morning and here it is. My
apologies once again.’
The beauty of this response was
that she first solved my problem and then (only then) gave me the explanation
for what had happened. It was clear that they were empathetic about my problem.
They did not try to brush it aside or pretend that it was not really a problem,
nor did they try to justify or explain it. They addressed it and solved it and
then explained why it had happened, once the problem had been solved.
third thing is to accept the fact that the problem of the customer is really
your problem. This is something that we don’t see too quickly and act as if the
problem has nothing to do with us. It is our problem because it is causing our
customer to be dissatisfied. And a dissatisfied customer is very much our
problem. Own your responsibility and don’t send the customer to someone else.
This is one of the biggest aggravations that customers face; being shunted from
person to person and having to repeat their story over and over. I am sure
every single one of us has faced this, especially where there is an automated
response system. Press this button or that and listen to free music while you
wait. And every once in a while, a disembodied voice tells you, “Your call is
important to us. Please wait awhile for our Customer Service Representative to
attend to you.” You want to say, “If my call is really important to you, talk to
me.” But you know that nobody is listening, and nobody cares.
There is almost a reflex tendency
in most people to give explanations for failed service. We go off into telling people
why they are suffering. Believe me, they don’t want to know why they are
suffering. They want their suffering to stop. And they want you to make amends.
If you don’t do this and tell them all the reasons why they must suffer, it only
makes them angrier and more frustrated. So, accept responsibility. It is your problem,
because the customer is your customer. It is really as simple as that.
take action. You take action. Don’t tell the customer what to do. You go
do it. And then let them know what you are doing and how it is going to solve their
problem. Reporting periodically is essential for customer satisfaction. Don’t just
disappear over the horizon. Tell them what you are doing to help them. People
don’t like to be left in the dark. So, tell them.
is a known fact that in most cases it is the same things that tend to go wrong
again and again. Identify the three or four major things that tend to go wrong
most often and have preset responses for them. In order to do this, it is
essential to document what happens in your customer interactions so that you
can correctly identify what goes wrong most often. Preset responses take away
the stress from the interactions and ensure the fastest recovery from failure.
Research shows that customers who had a problem that was solved well are more
satisfied than those who did not have a problem at all.
I have always maintained that the
quality of customer service depends on what you define as the boundaries of your
customer interaction. When does someone become your customer? When does the customer
interaction start? When does it end? Does it start when someone calls your office
or drives past it or sees your delivery van or website or billboard? Does it
start when someone buys your product or service? Where and when does it end? Does
it end when the person picks up the package or buys the ticket or the service
is delivered to him in some way? Or do you also include their use of your
product or service in your definition? I am not going into a detailed
discussion of all these, but I want to flag them for you. The quality of your
service will depend on your definition.
In Disney, they have a Vice
President for parking lots. Now that may sound strange, but it has to do with
Disney’s philosophy that to give you a great experience at Disney Land from the
time you enter their parking lot to the time you leave, safely on your way home,
is their responsibility. This is how it works. When you drive into Disney’s
city block size parking lots, you leave your car and get into a shuttle bus to go
to the entrance. As you get on the bus, you hear this announcement. “Ladies and
gentlemen, boys and girls; welcome to Disney. You are parked in Goofy 1.” You
will hear this announcement thrice during your trip to the entrance. Once when
you get on, once midway in your journey and once just before you get off.
What is unique about this announcement?
It addresses the main customers
of Disney, your children. It repeats thrice which is the best way to ensure
that people notice what you are saying to them. And it uses Disney characters
to name parking lots.
You buy your tickets; you go in and
you have a great day. You take all the rides and watch the sights and eat and walk
around and take lots of photos. It is now late evening and you return to the shuttle
bus station and wonder which bus to take. “Where did I park my car?” That is
when one of the little ones pipes up, “Goofy 1.” Children recall the Disney characters
that they are so familiar with. The wisdom of the announcement.
When you reach your car, you discover
that you had left your lights on. Entirely understandable, as you arrived that
morning with a car full of excited little ones, all screaming about what they
want to do in Disney. Now, you have a whole lot of tired and sleepy little ones
and your car is dead. But as you stand there, contemplating the futility of
life, you will notice a PRE-PRINTED sticky note on your diver’s side window
glass. The note reads, “We came by and saw that you left your lights on. If your
battery is dead and you need a jumpstart, please call this number.” Imagine
your state. It is that moment which decides what you think of Disney’s service.
Not all the rides or sights or food. But their proactivity in dealing with a
problem that was not even their own. But then, they consider it theirs, because
you are their customer. And you are their customer, not only when you entered the
park but until you have gone safely home. This is so important to them, that
parking lots is an entire business vertical. That is what makes service great.
It is how you define the boundaries of responsibility.
To be able to give service to your
customers that you become the Gold Standard in their perception against which
they judge every other service provider, you need to monitor your ‘Moments of
Truth.’ I want to share with you one of
my favorite stories and the origin of the term, ‘Moment of Truth’. I quote from
“Jan Carlzon (born June 25,
1941) is a Swedish businessman. He is most noted for being Chief
Executive Officer of SAS Group from 1981–1994 At the time Jan
Carlzon took over the helm of SAS, the company was facing large financial
difficulties and losing $17 million per annum and had an international
reputation for always being late. A 1981 survey showed that SAS was ranked no.
14 of 17 airlines in Europe when it came to punctuality. Furthermore, the
company had a reputation for being a very centralized organization, where
decisions were hard to come by to the detriment of customers, shareholders, and
staff. He revolutionized the airline industry through an unrelenting focus on
customer service quality. Within one year of taking over, SAS had become the
most punctual airline in Europe and had started an ongoing training program
called Putting People First developed by Claus Møller of Time
Manager International (‘TMI’). The program was focused on delegating
responsibility away from management and allowing customer-facing staff to make
decisions to resolve any issues on the spot. Jan Carlzon said at the time:
“Problems are solved on the spot, as soon as they arise. No front-line
employee has to wait for a supervisor’s permission.” These changes
soon impacted the bottom-line as well and the company made a profit of $54
million in 1982.”
Ian Carlzon coined the phrase, ‘Moment
of Truth’, in relation to Customer Service and defined it as: that
moment when a customer or a potential customer comes into contact with any
aspect of your operation and has an opportunity to form an opinion.
This is a very clear definition
and shows how everyone in the organization is responsible for customer service.
It also underlines two things: that frontline staff must be empowered to take
decisions without fear to ensure that customers are satisfied and that means that
the system must not punish a wrong decision by a frontline staff, as long as it
was taken with the intention of satisfying a customer.
If you punish employees for taking
decisions, which in their opinion were right, then they will stop deciding and
send the customer from one person to another, which is what we see in most cases.
Empowerment means that the employee knows that as long as they take a decision
in the interest of pleasing a customer, the organization will stand behind them
and will support the decision, even if it was wrong and cost the company some
expense. This doesn’t mean that your manager will not sit with you to
understand why you did what you did and explore what else you could have done.
But he/she will not reprimand you. Instead you will be praised and officially
appreciated for keeping the customer first. Every employee must know this and must
act with this confidence. Otherwise frontline employees will cover their backs
and the customer will be given the royal merry-go-round ride.
To be able to monitor and control
Moments of Truth you must know where they occur, and you must be able to record
and measure them. If you know what that point of contact is and can control the
interaction such that the customer’s experience is positive, then you have a
winning operation. If you either don’t know what your Moments of Truth are or
where they occur or have no control over them, then you have a losing
operation. It is as simple as that. However, knowing Moments of Truth and
controlling them is a matter of rigorous measurement and documentation which
most organizations are unwilling to do and so they blunder along and create
dissatisfied customers and lose business and, in some cases, quite understandably,
go under. The most significant fact is that most Moments of Truth happen at the
periphery of the operation in places which are manned by the most junior, least
qualified and mostly ignored members of staff. They decide your fate. It is
your security guard, your receptionist, sales representative, bus driver, telephone
operator, webmaster, helpdesk, the state of your waiting areas, washrooms and
cafeteria, the person who delivers your product to the customer and many such
people, who give your customer or potential customer a taste of your customer
service. In many cases, these people may not even be on your official roles and
may be contract employees because you have outsourced these activities. Yet,
they are your face. The customer sees them as your representatives and their
interaction with the customer, decides your fate. The customer doesn’t ask the
frontline employee he is dealing with whether he is a direct employee or an
outsourced contractor. He doesn’t ask, he doesn’t care. So, pay close attention
to them, train them, value them, appreciate them, make them team members in spirit,
even if not in letter. If not, you, not they, will pay the price.
Great customer service is about
concern. It is about being genuinely concerned for the customer. It is about
pride in your own operation and your own identity; wanting to be the best. It
is about wanting to add value to people’s lives; about seeing value in serving.
It is about being a shrewd businessperson; recognizing who pays you and
ensuring that he/she is not just happy to do so but simply delighted that you
are there to serve them. Great customer service is the only guarantee for survival
and growth and the only insurance and hedge against bad times.
Customers don’t remember what you did. They remember how you made them feel. That is the key.
the solution is – Kill loneliness before it kills you. Let me tell you how!
first an alert: This is going to sound a bit preachy.
Please bear with me. I am talking to myself.
when they tell you that age in a number and that it is all in the mind, believe
me, it is true. You are as old as you allow yourself to feel. This is not a pep
talk. This is fact. I am 63 and I know what I am saying. It is your call. Pick
work doesn’t kill you; retirement does. If you love what you do, you never need
to retire. Read on. I am going to tell you what I did. You can do that or pick
your own. So, here is my 9 – point program. 9 things you can do to kill
Accept it: The first thing to do is to
mentally prepare yourself that the day will come, sooner than later when you
are going to be alone. Deaths of loved ones may hasten it but one day it will
be upon us. All you need to do to accomplish it, is to remain alive. So, the
first thing to do is to get used to the idea and accept that one day you will
be alone. It is important to think about this, talk about it and reflect on it,
because it is inevitable. The sooner you start thinking and talking about this,
the easier it will be when it happens. I have seen both, those who do and those
who don’t. The difference is stark and the pain entirely avoidable. But
remember that this is a problem only if you hate solitude. Learn to love
solitude. Seek it actively. Keep a time in your daily life when you are alone
with yourself, thinking, reflecting, meditating, praying, reading, writing,
looking at the world go by, watching birds fly and grass grow, listening to the
wind in the trees, listening to the brook talking to itself as it flows past you,
and lying on your back and looking up at the dark star-filled sky (that
position doesn’t give you a crick in the neck). If you are lucky and have some
energy to go where you need to go to see them, you can also watch flocks of
geese crossing the rising sun, talking to each other. You can watch Baya
Weavers, weaving their complex nests, as they prepare to commit matrimony. You
can…okay, I will leave you to fill in the blanks. In short there is a huge
number of things that you can do for which you don’t need anyone else. Being
alone is not so bad after all. It can be very enjoyable indeed.
2. Get a hobby: It can be anything, but it must interest you. The sooner you begin, the better.
Pick one that needs you to do something, some research, some reading. Something
that needs effort. Connect with others who have the same hobby so that you have
companionship and can compare yourself and what you have with others. Not to
create unnecessary stress in meaningless competition but just to initiate new
friendships. It can be great fun and it opens doors to aspects of yourself that
you never imagined.
I started to learn Hindustani classical singing, the most amazing discovery I
made was that there is no actual record of what I sang (unless I recorded it).
Unlike writing which by default is a record, a note or a line of song you sing,
is a one-time thing. Whether you did it right or wrong, it remains a memory in
your mind or in the mind of others. But there is no physical record of it. That
was such a liberating feeling that I was doing something which would not return
to haunt me. It opened my eyes (and ears and heart) to a whole new way of
expressing myself. I recall one time, when I was standing in neck deep water of
a river in a forest in Tamilnadu, singing Raag Asaawari and watching how the water
that touched my throat seemed to ripple in harmony to the sound. Was I
imagining it? I don’t know. But I still remember it very clearly. I must have
looked rather peculiar to those who were watching me. In India there is always
someone watching you. But who cares?
also realized that singing has more to do with listening than to do with making
a sound. You can’t sing if your ears are not attuned to the difference in tone
from one scale to another. When you learn to sing, you learn to listen. The better
you can listen, the better you can sing. My teacher told me this and I experienced
it. I trained for three years, from 1994-97. Then I gave up formal training because
I went off to the US and got busy with building my consulting business there.
But there I got interested in the recitation of the Qur’an. Guess what turned
out to be a big help in that!! I would drive endlessly from one appointment to
another, reciting Qur’an in my car, conscious and thankful that what was
helping me then was the voice training that classical singing compels you to
do. Another place where this voice training helped me tremendously is in public
speaking which is a major part of my work as a trainer and keynote speaker. I
speak about leadership, teaching, raising children, the Glory of the Creator
and all the while, in the background what helps me to project my voice, to express
passion and emotion, to show feeling and to connect with people, is my voice training
as a singer. I teach conflict management and negotiation. This is another area
where listening for tone, helps me very much. There is much that people give
away in the way they say something. If you are listening to the tone, not only
to the words, it tells you a lot more than the words do, and usually more than the
speaker may want you to know. Learning to listen is a hugely important and
valuable skill and learning to sing is a very enjoyable way to learn it.
same thing happened to me when I started photography seriously. I was on a trip
with a dear friend of mine, Aditya Mishra who is an avid and excellent photographer
and showed him some of my photos taken with a point and click camera. He looked
at them and said, “I think it is time for you to get a decent camera and lens.” It took me a while to get what I now use, a
Nikon D-500 with a Nikon-Nikkor 200-500 lens but all through that journey which
continues, it opened my eyes to the world. Nobody sees the world like a photographer,
framing an object to photograph it. I photograph birds and animals and
sometimes landscapes. I learnt to pay attention to detail. I learnt to enjoy
color and texture and shade of light. I learnt to admire camouflage; to look at
a patch of scrub in dappled light, not high enough to hide a jackrabbit and
then to suddenly realize that I am looking into the eyes of a tiger. I would
never have seen that if I wasn’t looking at it through my lens. I learnt to
admire the flight of a falcon and then to watch it drop out of the sky to take
a pigeon on the wing, the force of her strike sounding flat like a gunshot in the
still of the early morning, with a puff of pigeon feathers to bear witness to
the play of life and death being enacted before my eyes. I learnt also to
simply put down my camera and look at the world outside the viewfinder. Thanks to
the camera I learnt to see. Not simply to look.
taught me major life lessons. Courage and resilience, for example. Not from
tigers or lions but from small birds which are defenseless. They can’t fight
anyone, they are on everyone’s menu, yet they survive, never give up, sing with
joy every morning, build nests, raise young, sometimes only for them to become
monitor lizard food. But they don’t despair, don’t go into depression, don’t commit
suicide. They build another nest, lay some more eggs and raise some more young.
In the end, the little bird wins every time its youngster takes to the air.
Become friends with yourself: Learn to like your own
company because you are going to get a lot of it. Develop an interest that
doesn’t need your immediate family to share it with. In today’s world of social
networking that is not difficult to do. Technology can be your friend or a stranger,
even an enemy. That depends on you. You don’t need to become a rocket
scientist, though there is no law against that. But you can certainly learn to
become techno friendly. My Hindustani classical music teacher who was 75, had a
486 PC with a camera. Behind the computer on the wall, she got someone to print
out the whole sequence of things she needed to do to start the machine and logon
to Skype – days of DOS-OS remember? –and off she would be talking to various
friends and family across the globe. By today’s standards, the connectivity,
speed, picture and audio quality were enough for one to pull out all his hair
in frustration but in 1994, a 486 was state-of-the-art and lightning fast and a
huge improvement over the 386. Life is relative.
a routine. A routine is your best friend. With a routine you are never at a
loss for something useful to do. That keeps you and your mind active and out of
brooding and depression. Develop an interest or a hobby. Where possible, keep a
pet. Not a bird in a cage or a fish in a tank. But a real pet like a cat, or a
goat or a horse. Or a chicken. Country chickens have great personality and
attitude and make lovely pets. Depends on where you live, of course. But if you
want to know what it feels like to be looked down upon and be valued purely as
a meal ticket, keep a cat. Those who have millennial children, need not keep
cats because they know what that feels like very well. Gardening, and that can
be one pot, is another wonderfully therapeutic hobby. Keep a bird feeder in
your yard, balcony, on your terrace. Keep water out for birds in the summer.
Grow your own veggies in pots in your balcony or on your terrace. The idea is
to do something that requires your contribution and where you can see it making
a difference. That responsibility, even if sometimes it seems arduous, is what
keeps you alive and the Big A at bay.
Don’t lose the ability to make friends: One
of the first things that older people lose is the ability to make new friends.
And when they lose their old friends, as we all do, they are left all alone.
The big reason we lose that ability is because we refuse to relate to people
different from ourselves. As we grow older, we become judgmental and demand
(albeit perhaps unconsciously) that others must conform to our standards,
before we allow them into our lives. Instead we must become more open to new
ideas, new ways, new standards. I am not talking about what is clearly good and
evil, moral and immoral, ethical and unethical, respectful and insulting. I am
talking about, for example, hairstyles, way of speaking (not ill manners, just
a different way of talking), cell phone use. If he looks like he stuck his
finger in the power socket and has all his hair standing on end, it is okay.
His head is his piece of real estate. Not yours. He is still a nice kid with a
brain and your eyes and ears into his world. But only if you can get past the
for cell phones, I have never heard anyone complain if a youngster has his head
buried in a book. But if that same head is buried in a phone, we have major
issues. Why? Maybe he is reading a book on his phone. Maybe he is browsing the
net and accessing information that he wouldn’t have found in a hundred books.
We oldies must become more tolerant, while maintaining our boundaries of what
is fundamentally good and evil. When we are with youngsters, we feel younger,
more energetic, we learn new things, we see the world in a different light. And
we are challenged to add value to them, so that they don’t get bored with us.
doesn’t work is when you start your stories with, “In my days, you could get
one dozen eggs for one rupee and one goat for three rupees and one cow for ten
rupees.” Someone went on like this for a while until one of the youngsters
said, “Uncle that is great. So, in your father’s time, everything must have
been free.” Live in the present with them. When I was 15, almost all my friends
were 30 years older. I learnt from them. Today I am 63 and most of my friends
are 30 years younger. I learn from them. We have a great relationship, and both
enjoy it. Ask them, if you like.
Prepare your body: It is critical to
ensure that you are physically fit. The vast majority of geriatric ailments are
lifestyle related, not illnesses. Watch what you eat. Eat natural, not
processed foods. Sleep early and wake early. Exercise moderately. Don’t do any
heroics, thinking about what you used to do at age 20. Today you are three
times that age. Don’t try it or you will suffer the consequences until you die.
Get out of your house and hit the gym and the park. Walk a few kilometers every
day and do some strength exercises. Don’t get over ambitious, don’t try to
impress anyone, don’t try to break any records but also don’t let a day pass
that you have not exercised. The main thing is to get out of your house into
the open and connect with nature. Eat sensibly. Don’t dig your grave with your
teeth. Let them use an excavator. The biggest curse is excess weight. It drags
you down, makes you lethargic, makes everything a burden and gradually kills
you very painfully. A pot belly is not a death warrant, it is a lifelong pain
warrant. Death is inevitable. Pain is not. So, get rid of it. Think about that
with every morsel of carbs you eat. Make sugar Haraam on yourself. Avoid all
fizzy sugar drinks. Stop eating sugar. Sugar kills. And (sugar free) Aspartame
gives you cancer. Take your pick.
I won’t even talk about cigarettes. If someone wants to pay for cancer, who am I to object? Makes no sense to pay for cancer, because cancer is free. Do you get my point? If your body is healthy, half the battle is won. So, pay close attention to that. The slide is insidious, seductive and lethal. Stay away from it.
Prepare your mind: Keep your mind healthy.
Read. Read. Read. Pray. Pray. Pray. Focus on your mental and spiritual self. If
you are like most normal people, both would have been hugely neglected. Repair
your connection with Allahﷻ. You will need it soon enough. Learn a new
language. It doesn’t matter if you never master it. The act itself is important
because it will challenge your brain and keep it active. Play games that
require cerebration. It means use your brain. Consciously look for the positive
things in life and shut out all negativity – especially what you can’t control.
I love watching wildlife and nature movies and I love wildlife and bird
photography. Again, it is good to want to be the best at whatever you do, but
don’t worry if it takes you a long time to get there. Keep at it. Don’t watch
the news, talk shows, TV debates and all the totally negative, toxic media that
we have allowed to take over our lives. Focus on the positive. There is plenty
of it, and if you can’t find it, create your own. Nobody can stop you from
doing that. Go help people. Visit hospitals and talk to strangers. Pay their
bills if they can’t afford to pay them. Visit schools, especially in poor
neighborhoods. Offer to teach for free. Connect with children, listen to them,
talk to them, sit with them, laugh with them. This is therapy and it is free. I
do this 80% of my time, every year. People think I am doing great public
service. But I know why I am doing it. Believe me, it works. Also, since 2000,
I have written 35 books, done over 2500 short lectures and over 650 longer
ones, all free. Question to ask yourself is, ‘What am I prepared to pay for my
Stop living in the past: Yes, our good
old days were good, but not as good as we like to recall now after fifty years
They were as good and bad as today, with the only difference that what was good
and what was bad, differed. Prices were cheaper but we had very little spending
money. Competition for jobs was less but there were all of four career choices.
Schools were less crowded, but we did rote learning and had corporal
punishment. We didn’t have high medical treatment costs because we had almost
none of the medical facilities that we have today. Life is relative. Live in
the present because that is the only thing we really have. The past, both the
good and bad of it is gone. The future is only a thought. We may never see it.
And the older we get, the truer that is.
Appreciate what we have today: An
attitude of gratitude is the cure for all ills. We have air travel that is
cheaper than it has ever been. We have Wi-Fi and smart phones which help us to
connect to the world. We have Google which the opens doors of almost every kind
of knowledge that we choose to learn, sitting in our homes and free of cost. We
have far superior medical aid than we ever had. We have appliances at home and
apps on our phones. We have all sorts of conveniences that our parents didn’t
even imagine. And what’s more, far many more of us have these than was the case
in our parent’s time. My driver has a fridge and my cook has a microwave oven
and both have air coolers in their homes. During my childhood, microwave ovens
didn’t exist, neither did air cooling or air conditioning and fridges were as
rare as polar bears in the Antarctic. Yes, Hyderabad was cooler than it is
today, but believe me, all those sweaters in March are only in your
Stay away from doctors and hospitals: That
may sound strange to you, but I have seen so many elderly people who seem to be
obsessed with health checkups and medicines. Let’s face it. You are not getting
younger, stronger, faster, healthier or sexier. I am willing to contest that
last one but not the others. What are the tests going to show you? What will
that do to your morale? What is the good of that? We all die. Some die before
they stop breathing. Those are the ones who are obsessed with medical tests.
Remember that health care has become an industry. It is no longer about curing
the sick or even better, keeping people healthy. How does an undertaker make
money? By people dying. How does a doctor make money? By people being or
believing or imagining and trying to find out if they are sick. ‘Health care’
is a misnomer. Today’s health care has a stake in sickness, not in health. That
is the problem with becoming an industry. The only focus then is on profit and
return on investment. There are too many glaring examples in our society. I
don’t need to give you any examples. I am sure you have your own. Sorry
doctors. My father was a doctor, but he died penniless because he didn’t treat
people who were not sick. He had a stake in people’s health, not in their sickness.
don’t need a doctor to tell you if you are sick. If you wake up in the morning
with your usual aches and pains, you are as healthy as an old horse. Do what
the old horse does. He does his business and goes about his business, if you
know what I mean. If you don’t, go visit a farm where old horses are out at
pasture and you will see what I mean. Then one day, when his time is up, he
lies down in a nice patch of grass in the sun and stops breathing. What do we,
who are obsessed with health checkups, do? We spend our last days hooked up to
various machines, in an ICU, with tubes coming out of our orifices until we
stop breathing, but all the while making doctors rich. If that is how you want
to go, please do. I don’t. So, I made a ‘No Hospitalization Will’. And I pray
that I will never need hospitalization. Read, ‘Being Mortal’, by Dr. Atul
Gawande. Amazing book that talks about this. He is a consultant in Harvard
Medical School, so he should know, right? As I told you, if it is your idea to
spend your hard-earned money on unnecessary hospital bills, please do. That’s
me, if you do all this, it will keep you so busy that you will have no time to
feel lonely. You won’t sit there yearning for people who passed away to walk in
through the door. If they did, you would walk out of your skin. Instead, your
new friends will walk in through the door and take you for a walk. That is why
you have friends.
yes, I forgot to mention, stop saving money. Spend it. You can’t take it with
you. And your children can look after themselves. Enjoy yourself, go on a
cruise, tick all the boxes on your bucket list. Help others. That gives more
satisfaction than the cruise and the bucket list. But do both. And then lo and
behold, it will be time to go. May that time and that day be the best day of
your life because on that day you will meet the One who made it all possible.
They sit there, alone and lonely, knowing that there is nobody to carry the tradition forward to the next generation.
was a time when joint families were the norm in India, where the whole family
lived together in one big house. In many or most cases there was only one
kitchen, and everyone ate together. The head of the family was the oldest male.
In matrilineal systems (mostly in Kerala and coastal Karnataka) it was the
oldest woman. He/she controlled all the money, and everyone gave their earnings
to her. She/he ran the house and with great parsimony and responsibility and
ensured that everyone was taken care of. There was no question of one sibling
who earned well, flaunting his or her wealth over the others. Everyone had a
place, and everyone was useful until their dying day. The elders, as they got
older and no longer took an active part in running the household, became highly
respected and valued repositories of customs and traditions, storytellers, the
passers-on of family history and the arbiters in any disputes among the younger
generations. Nobody was useless or irrelevant or put out to grass. Everyone had
a place and an important role and felt wanted and needed.
as time passed and times changed, so did this structure. Families broke up as
children left the family home, city and country in search of jobs and in
pursuit of their careers. Many migrated to other countries, America being one
of the most preferred destinations. Even those who remained at ‘home’, usually
moved away from the family home, ostensibly to be closer to the workplace or
children’s school but really to get away from the control of elders. Cultural
values changed, tolerance levels changed, selfishness increased, putting self
before others took the place of putting the family ahead of the self. We in
India, tend to blame all this on the influence of the West in our society and
culture, forgetting of course that the West didn’t enforce their influence. We
chose to be influenced. Be that as it may, the fact remains that the first
people to feel this change were the elders. They lost significance. They
suddenly became powerless, almost an unwanted nuisance that others were putting
up with. And then as the younger generations moved away, they were left alone.
What added to this was that many of the younger generation migrated to the West
and their children were born and brought up there, often with little or no
contact with the ‘home country’. ‘Home country’ for them was America or
Australia or Canada; not India, Pakistan, Syria, Nigeria, Egypt or Bangladesh.
Most children didn’t even speak their ‘mother tongue’, since their parents
spoke English even at home and didn’t teach their children the language of
their ‘home country’ and people. Language is the substrate of the culture, so
when the language was lost, so was the culture, manners, poetry, history and
connection with the elders.
‘solution’ that many well-meaning children have found is to set their parents
up in their home country/city/town/village, often in the old family home, with
servants and a regular income. There they stay, with their memories, each
corner and wall with a tale to tell but with nobody to listen to those tales.
They are repositories of the history of the family, traditions of the community
and culture, teachers of customs and manners but with nobody to learn from
them. They sit there, alone and lonely, knowing that there is nobody to carry
the tradition forward to the next generation. And what’s more, knowing that the
next generation doesn’t even care about this. They sit there, alone and lonely,
knowing that they have become irrelevant. They don’t need material wealth. They
want for nothing materially. What they need is warmth, respect and the company
of those they love. What they need is to feel useful, needed and appreciated.
What they need is to feel that they still have a place and a reason to stay
alive. What they need can’t be bought with money, nor ordered on Amazon. I am
not blaming the youth. This is perhaps the price we pay for the material wealth
and wherewithal that we chased. A price that neither our parents, who
encouraged us to sail to foreign shores calculated, nor did we realize that we
would have to pay it one day. But life is relentless and extracts its pound of
was born into a joint family in a house, Aziz Bagh, which my great-grandfather,
Nawab Aziz Jung Bahadur built in 1899. His children, grandchildren and
great-grandchildren all lived in their own apartments, but all lived together
in every sense of the term. I recall my early childhood vividly today, more
than 55 years later. The house is on three acres of land and during my
childhood, had a formal rose garden, lawns, a tennis court, pigeon cotes, a
terrace where family functions would take place, a dhobi ghat (where our
resident washerman and his wife would wash clothes of our family and were paid
for the service) and lots of huge mango trees. Out of all these what I recall
most warmly is the love that I received. It was not only me but all of us
children growing up, it was as if we belonged to every adult in the house.
There was no feeling of strangeness. Any adult took care of you, corrected you,
even gave you a smack on your bottom if you needed it. We ate with the family
of whichever cousin we were playing with. Nobody told us to go ‘home’ to our
parents to eat and believe it or not, the food was always enough for the
unexpected guests that we were in that house.
elders taught us manners. Not in formal classes but through their own behavior.
They knew that children listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say
until they see what you do. One of the informal rituals was that daily we,
especially the little ones went to the main house where the head of our family,
Nawab Deen Yar Jung lived, to greet him and his wife. One day when I must have
been about five-years old, I went there to greet my grandmother, Begum Deen Yar
Jung, with a rose which I had plucked from the garden. Normally this was
frowned upon. Flowers were to be enjoyed on the bushes, not to be plucked. But
I was five. As I went up to her, she said to me something which was so full of
love (even if it was a reminder not to pluck flowers) that I recall her memory
to this day.
Phool lay kar phool aya,
Phool kar main nay kaha,
Phool kyon laye ho sahab,
Tum khud hi tho phool ho
don’t claim to have remembered the exact words, but my mother was with me and I
recall hearing this story from her many times until I memorized these words. My
grandmother and her sisters, brothers and their children; my mother and her
siblings and cousins were all, each in themselves, examples of grace and
dignity. We loved them, respected them and tried to emulate them. Our current
success or failure in this respect is entirely our responsibility and not their
is not just sad but tragic to see the ‘interaction’ that happens sometimes between
grandparents and their grandchildren who were born and grew up in the West. You
can see both making a great effort but in vain. The older ones usually make much
more effort than the youngsters who like most of their generation are short on
patience, especially towards the elderly who they were never taught to respect
and don’t really have any bonds with. Distance and cost of travel had a big
part to play. Travel to America or Australia is neither quick nor inexpensive
and not what children or their parents could afford at the time when the
grandchildren were young and impressionable. By the time they have the money to
afford to travel with the family either way the children are already grown and
the only impact that the ‘home country’ has on them is, “O My God! Look at the
dirt, traffic, mosquitos, cows on the street, smoke, power outage, Wi-Fi is so
slow or God Forbid, No Wi-Fi.” Meeting grandparents, talking to them (about
what? Old stories about people they didn’t know, long dead, whose names even
they can’t pronounce?), eating food (It is so hot!) and then getting sick.
Well, all that means is that one visit is about all that those children will do
willingly. Then they are off to college and that is that. Believe me, I have
seen this story so many times, that it is not funny. Parents going to live in
the West is equally tragic. They don’t fit in; they have no friends and how
much TV can you watch especially when it doesn’t have your favorite programs?
For many it is almost like being in prison, albeit a gilded one. And for the
children who went to the trouble of bringing them to live with them in America
or Australia or Canada, it is a huge let down. Relationships sour and get
strained. Misery all around.
adds to the difficulty is that the grandchildren and grandparents don’t have a
common language (especially the grandmothers) and where the elders speak
English it is naturally with an accent, which for most Western youth is a
matter of either amusement or irritation. Since the youngsters grew up in the
Western culture, they are clueless about social taboos. Parents are either too
busy to teach or don’t see the point as they have broken off from their ‘home
country and culture’ permanently and have little respect for it. The youngsters
are therefore ignorant about things that their grandparents may well expect
them to know about. For example, I have seen innumerable times, grandchildren
sprawled on a couch with their sneakered feet on a table on which there are
also books and pointing towards the grandfather who is sitting across them.
Even worse, I have seen children putting their schoolbags on the floor of the
car or bus they are travelling in and sitting with their shod feet on them. I
won’t go into the details of how many social taboos are crossed and how this
behavior in our Eastern cultures amounts to gross disrespect. Those who
understand what I am saying, will see my point. Those who don’t, underline and
illustrate it. Gradually the gap between the older and younger generations
grows into a gaping gulf, too wide to bridge. Too many compromises are called
for; too much of new learning which there is neither the time for nor patience
and people related by blood and genes become strangers to one another. Each is
helpless in his own way. Each is lonely surrounded by his own family.
has now come full circle for our generation. Those who left their homes,
cultures, countries and families and lived and worked in alien environments. It
is now time to consider our own relevance to the next generation. Do they need
us? Can we communicate with them? Do they understand us, and do we understand
them? Are there any real connections between us apart from the fact that we
share genes? Genes have no feelings; we do. What will happen to us when we sit
in the chairs that our parents spent their last hours of life in, staring at
blank walls? I realize that perhaps I am being a bit dramatic but better to be
prepared than to be sorry.
is a solution and I am going to tell you about it in my next post.
If you asked me to tell you in one word; only one
word, the secret of success, I would say, “Differentiate.”
Let me begin with a question; “What do you ask for
when you go to the corner store to buy toothpaste?” Do you say to the attendant,
“Please give me toothpaste?” If you did, what would happen? Maybe you should try
this out the next time you go shopping. What would happen is that the store attendant
would ask you, “Which brand would you like?” You will face the same situation
if you went to buy almost anything in the market, unless it was buying mangoes
from a street vendor. Products are known, recognized and bought by their brand.
I teach career management in global corporations
and have been doing that since 1994. You can see my presentation on career
management on my YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/YawarBaigAssociates . The link to the presentation is Careers in Global Corporations http://bit.ly/2ZY3KW5 . I’ve taught this
course in GE, Motorola, IBM, Microsoft, National Semiconductor and many other corporations
in America, India and elsewhere. But more importantly this is what I practice
myself, in my lifelong effort to add value to others and thereby to myself. That
is how I define my career. That is my differentiation. Adding value to others.
What is differentiation?
Differentiation is to stand out. Not blend in.
Incidentally that is also how I define leadership. Let me give you another example;
how do you introduce yourself? More than likely you say, “I am an IT
professional or engineer, doctor, teacher, whatnot.” Well, so are a million other
people in the world. You are one in a million in the wrong sense. You need to become
one in a million in the sense of that proverb. That is differentiation.
Because Differentiation creates Brand
Brand inspires Loyalty
Loyalty enables Influence
Without differentiating you are one grain of rice in a sack. You are still rice, but one grain in a sack. Nobody knows you exist. Nobody cares. Nobody understands this better than Apple. Or Coke for that matter. And that is why these brands inspire loyalty that seems extreme and even absurd to others. But it is neither. It translates into a totally loyal customer base which is money in the bank and make Apple and Coke the most valuable brands in the world.
In the podcast that goes with this article, I will
tell you a story about brand that happened with me in 1996 and has stayed with
me all these years and is one of the most powerful illustrations of the power
of brand. Don’t miss that podcast. Please subscribe to our channel and you will
be alerted every week with a new episode.
How can I differentiate, you ask? Let me tell you
a story from my life. But first, the principle; you differentiate by doing what
the rest of the world is not doing and doing it in a way that is graceful, dignified
and beneficial to all concerned. Differentiation is not about being freaky. It
is about standing out in a way that inspires respect and the desire to emulate in
those who see you.
It was 1989 and I was a Manager in the tea
plantation industry in South India. I had been in the industry since 1983 and
had developed a reputation for high productivity and excellent labor relations.
A very big advantage in a highly labor-intensive industry with a militant
unionized workforce. I was ambitious, high-energy and looked forward to a fast-track
career. At that time, I was transferred to our company’s garden in Assam. The job
was at the same level as I was at but came with better perquisites and a slightly
bigger span of responsibility. What it also came with was the ‘opportunity’ to
be as far away from the company headquarters as is geographically possible,
when your company HQ is in Chennai. For some this may have looked like a good
thing. To me, it didn’t. In the corporate world, ‘out of sight is out of mind’.
So, I declined the transfer. This was not easy for me or my bosses. This was a
trying period because suddenly I had no specific job. I had to leave my job as
the Manager on Lower Sheikalmudi Estate because that job had already been
assigned to another colleague. That left me literally homeless as there were no
bungalows in the Anamallais where I could live. It is a measure of my reputation
with the company and the understanding of my superiors that I was not simply sent
home for refusing to accept the transfer. I was sent off to Mango Range until
the management could decide what to do with me. We stayed there for six months.
I was getting my salary, but I had no work. No office, no superiors to report to.
No assignment. Nothing to do.
I was assigned a bungalow in a forest thicket,
which was in a dilapidated condition. The location of the bungalow was lovely,
and it was a joy to wake up to bird calls every morning. However, the house
itself looked like it would collapse on our heads at any time. Of particular concern were the walls, which
were so waterlogged that they had fungus growing on them in huge patches. My
wife is an amazing homemaker and all her talents were put to test in this
place. Out of this dilapidated house she created a lovely home which we enjoyed
Now, this is where differentiation comes in.
Anyone else in my position would have done one of two things. Either they would
have resigned and tried to find another job. Or they would have considered this
period as a paid holiday and enjoyed it. I enjoyed it alright, but not as a
paid holiday and I didn’t leave or even try to find another job. I loved my job
in the plantations and had no intention of leaving until someone kicked me out.
So, I wanted to ensure that didn’t happen. Since I had no regular job, I
decided on doing two things:
For a long time, I had been talking about the need
for systematic training of new assistant managers. The current system in the
plantations was that a new assistant would be put under a manager and what he
learnt or didn’t depended on the capability, interest, and energy of himself
and his manager and field or factory officers. If the assistant was lucky and
got some people who were both knowledgeable and interested in teaching, then he
learnt a great deal. If not, he remained guessing. This is a highly undesirable
system, which is very time and energy intensive and does not give standard
results. I had been advocating for several years the need for a standard textbook
on tea plantation management, which could be used to provide standardized
training. Any additional inputs that the young man’s manager and staff could
give him would only add to this, but he would not be deficient in the basics.
During my stay in Mango Range, I decided to write this book and in 6 months, I produced a 200-page Manual of Tea Plantation Management. Remember, this was before we had access to computers. The best we could get was a 386 desktop and DOS-OS. So, I wrote the book on an ordinary typewriter and then re-entered it all on a 386 at the head office when it was done. No copy paste, no cut and paste, no auto-correct or spell check. Windows were in the wall and what sat in your lap couldn’t be typed upon. At the time of its publication there was no such book on the market, and it was a source of great satisfaction for me. My company published it as an internal training book and though it was never a commercial publication, it did get fairly wide publicity and was used by many new managers. The biggest lesson for me was about the power of the written word and its high credibility in making your customer base aware of what you have to offer. I never forgot that lesson and today, I have just published my 35th book. After that book there was no way that I could be ignored, not that I feared that. I had a lot of people who I had dealt with over the years rooting for me in the company.
The second thing I did was to spend a lot of time
in Mango Range factory and hone my expertise in CTC manufacture of tea. I was
very fortunate in that Mr. T.V. Verghese, who had retired as a General Manager
in Tata Tea and was consulting with our company on CTC manufacture, was a
regular visitor and we became good friends. He shared his knowledge freely and
I learnt a great deal. He was a practical teacher, which meant that I got to
spend a lot of time on my back on the floor meshing CTC rollers with grease
anywhere on my face and body that grease would stick. I learnt all aspects of
manufacture hands-on, further reinforcing my belief that learning comes from
doing – not from talking about doing. In Murugalli Estate, I’d had a lot of
experience in Orthodox manufacture, and even though I had built Mayura Factory,
the premier CTC factory in South India, I was moved as soon as the construction
was over – thanks to a motorcycle accident. Consequently, my knowledge of CTC
manufacture was weak. In Mango Range, as a student of Mr. T. V. Verghese and
thanks to his willingness to teach, I rectified that deficiency. It was ironic
that thereafter I went to Ambadi, which was a rubber plantation and never
really used this knowledge, but it did come in use for writing a paper
comparing Orthodox and CTC methods, which I presented at the UPASI Annual
Conference in 1989.
Mango Range was an interlude in my career. I was
marking time and waiting for some positive change to happen, and in the meanwhile,
I enjoyed myself. It has long been my philosophy to live one day at a time and
to try to create as much happiness for myself and around me as possible. I have
learnt that the two are the same. You can only be happy if those around you are
happy. This is true whether you are an individual, an organization, or a
country. Imagine what a wonderful world we would have if instead of competing,
we collaborated and shared resources. We would all be wealthier, happier, and
healthier. I have always held that the secret of happiness is to be thankful
for and enjoy the small things in life. There are far many more of them than
the big events. If we can enjoy the small things, then we can be happy all the
time. The key to enjoyment is to appreciate them and be thankful for them. An
attitude of gratitude. The key to contentment is not amassing material but in
being thankful for what one has. The happiest people are those who are content.
Content people are those who are thankful. Material wealth has nothing to do
One of the things that I was very appreciative of
and thankful for was the leisure that I had in Mango Range. I had no specific
work except what I decided to do for myself. And I was still getting my salary.
So, I decided to learn golf. I got a caddy from Ooty Golf Club to come and stay
with me in the estate for three weeks. His name was Frank Augustine (I used to
call him Frankenstein) and he looked like a dried prawn. When he swung the club
though, he always hit the ball with that sweet phut that all golfers love to
hear. And the ball would travel straight like a bullet down the freeway. Whereas
my club would come up with a good measure of earth and top the ball to boot. Shows
that technique and not strength of the arm is what works in golf. As it does in
many other things in life. Frankenstein believed in hard work – meaning, making
me work hard. He set up a practice net, produced a set of one hundred used golf
balls and we were good to go. I would hit the ball into the net until I felt my
arms would drop off. All the while, Frankenstein would sit on his haunches
under the Champa tree that was to one side and watch me and make clucking
noises. The effect of all this clucking and my swinging at the ball became
clear when one day about midway in our training Frankenstein suggested that we
should go and play a round at the club. So off we went on the three-hour drive
to Ooty. After a cup of tea and a sandwich, I teed off and that is where all
the practice paid off. Ooty Golf Club has very narrow freeways bordered by
spiky gorse. If you didn’t hit your ball straight, you would send it into the
gorse and then you may as well forget about it – or pay to get the ball back by leaving your
blood on the gorse and acquiring gorse thorn furrows in your hide. As
Frankenstein continued his mother hen act, I could see the distinct improvement
in my style and capability.
Differentiation creates Brand. I got noticed and appreciated
and was rewarded with one of the toughest jobs in the company. I was sent to
New Ambadi Estate as its Manager. Two estates, two factories in Kulasekharam, Kanyakumari
District of Tamilnadu, which is geographically in Tamilnadu and spiritually in
Kerala. Highly militant, unionized, communist unions with a history of violence.
And to top it all, I didn’t know the first thing about rubber estate
management. I had not even seen a rubber tree in my life until then. That is another
story of great friends, like Arun, who taught me all about rubber. I
successfully faced the tough unions and not only won but made lifelong friends
with the union leaders, so that when I was leaving Ambadi three years later, the
General Secretary of the CITU, came to my farewell party, unannounced and delivered
such a speech that he had us all in tears. But as I said, that is another story.
My motto is, “I will not allow what is not in my control to prevent me from doing what is, in my control.’
My mission is, “Opening the world, one mind at a time.”
Welcome to our channel, “Leadership is a Personal Choice.” Because it is.
I speak to audiences around the world and I can tell you that if I asked anyone from any country, of any race or religion, at any economic and educational level to tell me in one word, the biggest problem we face, they will say, “Leadership.”
So, what is the solution?
It is to understand and accept that “Leadership is a Personal Choice.”
Leadership is not about status, designation, salary, perquisites, rank or power. It is about accepting responsibility for action. It is about saying to yourself, “This is my job and I am going to do it.” And then to find ways to create impact, no matter how small or limited it may seem. It is really as simple as that.
It is my hope that over the coming weeks, months and years, as you listen to these podcasts and watch the videos, you will stop and ask yourself only one question and that is; “How can I make a difference?” And then that you will do what you can do, where you live, in your circle of influence, using your resources, to make a positive difference in your world.
Please note, I am not talking about you telling others what to do. I am talking about you doing what you can do.
I am doing what I can. I am inviting you to do what you can. And if you need my help, you only need to ask.
The thought that drives me is: If not now, then when? If not me, then who?