Appreciation of return is directly proportional to investment

In my life every developmental activity that I invested in was done at a personal cost. In one case, I sold my car and borrowed money (which I repaid over three years) to pay the fee to go to the IIMA for my MBA. In another case I spent every cent of my holiday allowance for 12 years to learn how to be a trainer. In a third case I took a loan to do a certification course at the Carnegie Melon University in the US.

What does that mean? It means that for 12 years from 1983-1994 we didn’t take any vacation. I got married in 1985 and my wife supported me fully in my quest for learning. She would go to her parents place while I went to this or that school or this or that course or more often than not, played apprentice to this or that consultant or trainer; traveling third class by train, sleeping in dingy hotels and cleaning black boards and getting tea and coffee for the trainer. In the evening we’d go over what he did and why and I’d take notes.

What does that mean? It means that for the entire duration of that period (and remember at the time I didn’t know it would be 12 years) we didn’t own a TV, couldn’t change our car (I had a beat up Ambassador which spent more time in the garage than on the road; and a Royal Enfield motorcycle), or as I already mentioned, take a holiday.

But those were there most satisfying days of my life.

And of course once I had paid the price of enrollment into the leadership cadre of life, the returns started. Not that suddenly things became easy. They didn’t. Tests continued and continue to this day. But I had enough history to see them as excitement. I developed the confidence to face them from a position of strength and to laugh at the challenge they presented. But that was because of the risks I took and the investment I made at a time when there was no return to show at the end of it.

Biggest lesson I learnt in life was to realise that life is the name for the choices we make. Nobody compels us to make that choice. That’s why it’s called a choice. But every choice opens a door. The seed is what you plant in the earth. The harvest is what you hold in your hand. But unless you let go what you have in your hand and plant it in the earth, there will be no harvest. But when you do plant the seed there’s always a harvest which is more than the seed you planted. The choice is ours to make.
Excuses don’t change either the reality or the result. No seed, no harvest.

So today when people complain about the cost of any learning activity I tell them, ‘Don’t do it.’

Because if they can’t see the value in it, it won’t benefit them anyway. So why waste money? Go watch a Formula 1 race or a cricket game. That’s what slaves and victims do. 

Investment in self-development is strictly a leaders only activity.

Do I sound unsympathetic? Good. I am a great believer in congruence. The alternative in Arabic is called Nifaaq (hypocrisy). And a hypocrite, I’m not.

Independence must be earned

Happy Independence Day to you.

Independence doesn’t just happen. It must be earned.

Let us reflect that real bondage is of the mind and spirit. Nelson Mandela for 27 years in the South African apartheid prison was actually free.

But today in India we have accepted the slavery of discrimination against each other, of corruption and of mutual hatred. It’s not the politicians who are corrupt. They are the visible symbols of our entire society which is corrupt and finds nothing wrong in being corrupt. What we accept as a defining feature of our identity, we will never fight against or try to change.

In our country to kill an Indian is a crime according to the IPC 302 – and it should be – but to kill a Dalit, an Adivasi, a Muslim, a Christian, a Sikh or a Hindu, is acceptable and is justified. So who is an Indian, if it is not the Dalit, or the Adivasi, or the Muslim, or the Christian, or the Sikh or the Hindu, we just killed? Because believe me, when it happens, we are all collectively culpable.

In our country it is a crime for a politician to take a bribe – and it should be – but it is acceptable for the industrialist and businessman to give speed money to a judge, to give a ‘gift’ to a politician, to contribute to political parties using unaccounted funds, and for each one of us to give small and large bribes to get our work done are all acceptable on the excuse…yeh Hindustan hai meray bhai!

Tho phir aap hi boliye ki yeh Hindustan abhi azaad hua ki nahin?

I remind myself that this nation will become free not when modern day Avatars and their media slaves try to create modern day mythology but when you and I and every Indian decides that he and she is a part of the problem and that if he or she wants a solution then he or she has to decide to become a part of the solution.

Denial is the first and surest sign of mental illness….of self delusion. But neither denial nor delusion can save us from destruction.

If we really want to celebrate Independence Day, let us decide to become truly independent and understand and accept that we will have to work for it. Not wait for someone else to come and free us from ourselves. 

Jai Hind.

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

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.


So what is this strange inspiration that some people have which enables them to continue to work towards a goal that is often invisible to everyone else? Needless to say, this article does not contain the answer. It is more an attempt to share the questions in the belief that often the answer lies within ourselves and we have to search for it individually.

Inspiration to me is not something that comes like a bolt out of the blue and takes the unsuspecting soul unawares. Inspiration is often the result of a great deal of dissatisfaction with the current state that leads to honest questioning about the purpose of life and deep reflection and a sustained inner struggle with the real issues that one faces in one’s life. This is sometimes very painful and never easy to do. But when one stays with the questions long enough, the answers start to appear.

These answers again are not in the form of clear cut road maps but more like a hazy sign, on a dark and misty night, seen at the very edge of the limit of your headlights. You can just about make out the direction it is pointing in. All the rest is up to you and your ingenuity. And it does not tell you anything about the difficulties of the path. One common factor that you can rely on is the fact that there will be difficulties. That is something that I believe the potential leader can bet on. The trick is to understand what to do with the difficulty when you are faced with it.

The common tendency is to moan and groan and say, “Why me?” Not so common is to be happy to face the difficulty since you believe it indicates the promise of reward, once you can surmount it. A method that I use is to ask what this difficulty has been sent to teach me. This comes from my belief that nothing happens by accident and that all of life is a prepared plan that is unfolding and that I am the one who has the exciting task of walking the path as it appears before me. So every difficulty comes with a fortune cookie inside that tells you what the lesson is, provided you can get to it. Blaming others for creating the difficulty or carping about it only indicates that you are not ready to become a real leader yet.

When we question the purpose of the difficulty and ask, ‘What can I learn from this?’ we find that our perspective takes on a whole new meaning. We are no longer grounded in the negativity of blaming and feeling sorry for ourselves but are freed to look for creative and new ways of overcoming the difficulty. The enormity of the task itself becomes the biggest motivator, as one is conscious only of the prospect of great reward. The fact that this is not easy, then becomes easy to accept and understand, and one even says, “If it was easy, I wouldn’t want it. It would not make the victory so sweet!’

Interestingly, the route to the state of grace is through great effort. It is a path that is difficult and strewn with the wrecks of those that went before. It is easy to see this in physical examples of martial arts, sports and other physical-skill related things. The reality is, that it is the same path in challenges of the mind and of the spirit. And very often, in the latter events the route is even more difficult, for the goal is in the wining of people’s hearts and the change is in their minds.

I have reflected very often on why it is more difficult in the non-physical endeavors. My understanding is that it is because of the paradox that in the physical effort it is very often impossible or very difficult to give up once you have gone beyond the halfway point, often called the ‘point of no return’. Take trekking as an example. Once you have made the effort to reach halfway, it is easier and shorter to go no, no matter how difficult it looks than to turn around and return. What aids this is the fact that the path is not entirely unknown and you know it has an end and you know where it is.

In the journey of the spirit, the path is unknown, the duration of the effort needed is unknown and it is extremely easy to give up. There is no point of no return. You can give up and get back to your original state in an instant. That carrot is always hanging in front of the nose. And to make matters worse, the pain and suffering of confusion and emotional turmoil, which is often worse than the physical pain, is unseen and uncelebrated by others, who in a physical challenge, often provide the necessary impetus by cheering from the sidelines. And when you give up the spiritual and emotional struggle, there is no fear of shame and ridicule by others, since nobody knew you were in there anyway.

That is the reason why most people shy away from accepting challenges of the mind and spirit, even though they may know in their hearts that those are the true challenges that have the capacity to change their destiny. It requires a strong internal focus, a real desire to make a mark in life, no desire for approval from others, and a willingness to stay with the task irrespective of the time it takes or the apparent lack of ‘progress’.

It is a path that challenges all previously held beliefs and that is full of the fear of the unknown. It is a path that tests one with the challenge of living the life that one previously only talked about. It challenges us to not only put our money where our mouth is but to demonstrate commitment by taking the leap of faith into the new way of life with no guarantees of safety nets.

But the good news is that history is full of examples of those that accepted this challenge and succeeded. It is important to remember that the wrecks on the path of leadership are of those who gave up midway. Those that persevered, are the ones that went through and whose leadership often lives on long after they themselves passed on into history.

What seems to be critical in this struggle and something that gives sustenance when one is moving through an arid waste is the enormity of the goal. No heroic effort was ever made for a minor goal. Enormous goals call for enormous effort and have in them the capacity to keep the motivation alive in the face of all odds.

I believe that this is in the very nature of the goal. If you find your dedication flagging midway, look at your goal and ask yourself, “Is this goal worthy of my effort?” Aim for a larger goal and you will find that the wellsprings of your energy once again start to flow. Once again, this is something that on the face of it does not appear to be reasonable or rational.

Another critical ability is to create measurement parameters for oneself in this apparently immeasurable task. Sometimes this consists of looking back at your spiritual journey and seeing how far you have come. At other times it is realizing how much traditional motivators have ceased to have value in your eyes. At yet other times it is accepting how much you have become detached and distanced from your old friends.

I see a lot of people teaching motivation and leadership encouraging people to set goals of attaining personal wealth (200 acre ranch, 20,000 square foot house, private jet etc.). I have nothing against any of that, except to say that personal gain is a poor motivator in the long run. Sure, it is a powerful motivator to begin with, but mid-career burnout happens because goals of personal gain cease to motivate after a certain level has been reached. At that stage some people still make the positive choice of aiming for a goal that is bigger than personal gain. Others degenerate into the rat race of self-indulgence and leave this world without having left any signs of their passing.

My own view is that we are essentially spiritual creatures. And so the real hunger is that of the spirit. And that can’t be satisfied by material means. Just as looking at pictures of food can’t satisfy physical hunger, a spiritual hunger can’t be satisfied by accumulating wealth. We have to understand the real nature of possessions. What we possess is actually not ours to do with as we please but a trust we hold for others. Let me illustrate by an example:

We go on holiday to Hawaii and believe that we are truly spending what is ours on ourselves. But if you look at it, the cost of the airfare went to the airline. The cost of the hotel went to the hotel. The cost of service went to the people who served us. The cost of food went to the people who gave it to us at many times what it cost them to prepare it. And the real memories of the scenery were free anyway. We were only the means by which what was meant for all the people along the path, got to them. That is the nature of all that we think we possess. Without our realization, we are holding it in trust. Some we give up during our lives. All the rest we give up when we die. So why do we allow ourselves to go mad trying to collect it in the first place?

Current satisfaction is often the cloak behind which hide fear, complacence and unwillingness to make an effort. Changing from a path of self-indulgence, self-aggrandizement and accumulating possessions is often very difficult and a transition that many people never make. But those that make the transition, deal with their own frustration, persevere in the face of obstruction and keep the faith alive, are remembered long after they have gone. Because they are those that leave their mark, not in clay and sand but in the hearts of other human beings.

We have to search our own souls and look at our own lives and ask ourselves, if we have to courage to embark on the journey to becoming what we have the capacity to become. Or whether we choose to remain with the vast multitude, which is happy in mere existence. Not realizing that happiness is often the best indication of failure.

Remember that a hundred years from no (or even less) it will not matter what kind of car you drove, how big your house was or what your net worth was. But the world may be a different place because you made the difficult choice.