I see many business leaders who excessively focus of creating a grand vision, have a compelling strategy, run great communication programs and have innovative ideas but still fail to engage people and get desired results.
That’s because they don’t focus enough on the foundation of leadership – building trust. In absence of trust, results don’t happen. In absence of results, people trust the leader even less. And it becomes a downward spiral.
Here’s what I have broadly learned about building trust from my own experience:
Trust starts with intentional clarity. Before you starting acting on your plans, you need to clarify your intent, understand the intent of others and arrive at a point where intent overlaps and aligns.
Trust happens when you deliver on that intent and make a positive impact on your people, customers and stakeholders. When things you do show that you care, people start trusting you.
Trust goes deeper through consistency in thoughts, words, actionsand results (they call it integrity).
Leaders (and organizations) build trust primarily on the foundation of consistent results, great relationships and expertise. In their recent HBR article, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman touch upon three foundational elements of trust – Positive Relationships, Good Judgment and Expertise and Consistency.
In their post, they underline the importance of positive relationships:
Intuitively we thought that consistency would be the most important element. Saying one thing and doing another seems like it would hurt trust the most. While our analysis showed that inconsistency does have a negative impact (trust went down 17 points), it was relationships that had the most substantial impact. When relationships were low and both judgment and consistency were high, trust went down 33 points. This may be because many leaders are seen as occasionally inconsistent. We all intend to do things that don’t get done, but once a relationship is damaged or if it was never formed in the first place, it’s difficult for people to trust.
Do read the full post at HBR and here is a short visual summary of the key insights:
We don’t accomplish anything meaningful in isolation. We have to interact and work with other people to get anything significant done. And our approach to these interpersonal interactions play a huge role in our ability to focus, work and add value.
Too often, we often see people who are generous with how much they share with others without any expectation, people who wait to get something first before they start giving and people who simply use other people’s skills and approaches to get their own work done.
In this episode of What’s Next podcast with Tiffani Bova, Adam Grant shares his insights on successful giving. He outlines three styles of interpersonal interactions in teams and organizations – giving, taking and matching. Here’s what they look like:
Givers: “What Can I do for you?”
Takers: “What can you do for me?”
Matchers: “I’ll do something for you if you do something for me”
Earlier in my career, I often ended up doing other people’s job simply because they delegated their work to me as my seniors. Over a period of time, I had to learn to say no and set boundaries (and the truth is I still find it difficult to say no sometimes). If I timidly served all requests that I got, I would have spread myself thin accomplishing things for others but not for the purpose I was serving.
I did not want to be a failed giver who thinks they have to give in every role and relationship.
Adam Grant mentions that that successful givers set boundaries on who they help, how they help and when they help and focus on giving where they can add maximum value.
What resonated with me the most was that successful giving is not about being nice and agreeable all the time. In fact, as Adam points out, successful giving (and adding real value) happens by being disagreeable, challenging the status quo, giving tough feedback and pointing out problems.
Effective teams, he says, is a combination of givers and matchers where as takers suck the energy out of the team and they should be screened out.
My throat was very sore and the upcoming week was taxing at work where I need to speak a lot with a lot of people around. I had a sleepless night because of the discomfort.
So, I visited the doctor who checked me quickly and prescribed some medicines to treat the viral throat infection.
I asked him anxiously, “Will I be able to sleep tonight? Will these medicines relieve the soreness today?”
The doctor smiled gently and said something that also doubles up as a life advice. He said, “Mr. Vora, some troubles in life come quite unexpectedly but they take their own time to go. Just focus on the basics and things should be fine in a day or two.”
As I was driving back home, I thought about how impatient we tend to become when faced with adversity and messy situations. Patience is a silent virtue that seems difficult to practice in a world obsessed with speed, connection and noise. Everything happens in an instant, or so it seems.
But things that we build organically like health, finances, relationships, career etc. don’t work that way. They need time and effort to mature. That’s where we cannot take charge. We just need to endure, follow the route, persist patiently, trust the process and just do earnestly whatever is rightly required in the moment without worrying too much about the immediate outcomes or relief.
So in a way, we need to be impatiently patient. Impatient when it comes to doing the right thing at the right time for a right cause. But patient when it comes to our expectations of outcomes because effort and outcome may not always be linearly related.
The winding road to building anything remarkable, making an important change or recovering from adversity may be slow, long, hard and unnerving. The key is to not let the bumpy road drive you off the track or worst yet, bring you to a standstill.
Patience, especially in the face of adversity and external resistance can be the source of our hope and strength of our soul.
I started 2019 by delivering a TEDx talk at TEDxGCET in Vallabh Vidyanagar. This post covers a few key insights extracted from the talk. Video to be posted soon.
Formal education is a launch pad that equips us with fundamentals. But we need wings to fly long and high in the direction of our dreams. Ability to learn in a self-initiated mode is one of the most critical skills to thrive in a rapidly changing world.
“In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer
Real learning is an inside-out process. It starts from a deep internal desire to know something, do something and change something. That’s when you take charge of your own learning.
If I look at my own journey and connect the dots, I find three things that that forms my 3L framework for self-directed learning.
The first L is “Labor of Love”
My son is fascinated by drawing and he loves creating greeting cards. When he is immersed in the process of making the card, he completely loses the sense of time and place. Fully concentrated in creating the lines and coloring.
For him, it is not work but it is play. He does it NOT because someone is asking him to do it. He does it because HE finds pleasure in it.
That to me is labor of love. Playing where our passion is. The key questions to ask then are:
What is it that you would do even if no one paid you to do it or asked you to do it?
What are your intrinsic skills – things that come naturally to you?
What puts you in the flow state?
What change do you truly want to see around you?
From an early age, I wrote because I wanted to express myself. This need to express translated into other related mediums like blogging, speaking, leading teams, running organizations, writing books and creating sketch notes.
In each case, I started at a very basic level but when I continued doing it persistently, I eventually got better at it.
When we play at the intersection of passion and effort, we elevate our game and improvise without even noticing it.
The second L is for “Lifelong Learning”
Our school system trains us to be passive learners and we always rely on someone else for our learning.
The essence of self-directed learning is to keep the inner fire alive, have an open and curious mind, , creating new knowledge through action and experimentation, make new connections to your existing knowledge, improve upon your skills and collaborate with others. It is about exposing yourself to diverse experiences and disciplines to generate independent thought and recognize patterns.
My journey into social media and blogging taught me one of the most important things about self-driven learning:
We don’t learn anything in isolation and our best learning happens when we learn with others.
Internet has made it easier to find your heroes, watch them do the work and learn from their journeys. We need to invest in finding likeminded people to share our work with, draw inspiration from, learn and collaborate.
Network and community is a great learning enabler.
One more element of lifelong learning is having a multidisciplinary approach to work. When you pursue different disciplines, you can easily use expertise from one domain into a totally different area.
Differentiation in career and innovation always happens where two disciplines intersect.
My sketchnote project is the intersection of my ideas from my blog and my drawing practice from 20 years ago when I was preparing for architecture entrance exam.
In his Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs said that when he was studying at Reed College, he got into learning calligraphy. And many years later, his understanding of calligraphy inspired beautiful typography in Apple products.
He nailed it when he said that dots eventually connect. Whatever we choose to do, it eventually connects.
Lifelong learning and multiple interests empower us to seize unique possibilities when faced with adversity.
Finally, the third L is “Leverage”
Leverage, in simplest terms means finding a way to make a positive impact for yourself and others through your learning. It is about putting your learning to good use. We don’t truly learn till we execute our learning to solve real world problems.
My leadership improved when I looked at my role as a way to serve those I was responsible for.
Real learning is in the act, in putting your learning to significant service of others. Your work becomes art when it changes the self and others for better.
Today, knowledge has become a commodity and everything you want to know is out there on internet. We have moved from an industrial world to knowledge world to a creative world now. In this world, what you know is not as important as what you do with it and how you apply your knowledge to solve real world problems.
We are living in the golden age of self-directed learning. Getting information, sharing your work and connecting with others is just a click away. We have a world of possibilities now open to us.
The problem is that we are used to navigate with the help of predefined maps. Self-Directed Learning is an exploration of what lies within us, what lies outside of us and finding that sweet intersection where the magic really happens.
That’s when you truly learn things that are unique to you. That’s when you can differentiate yourself.
That’s when you stand a chance to change the world within and outside for better.
Here is the visual summary of the talk in a #sketchnote form.
And, here is the picture of me delivering the talk
This blog has been my online home for over 12 years, even before I got onto Facebook and Twitter. The blog has evolved along with me. It is a platform for me to learn, think clearly and share whatever I learn through posts and sketchnotes.
This blog has had an amazing journey so far. Hundreds of posts, tens of thousands of readers each month and plenty of social sharing just encourages me further to continue this journey.
This year was a slow one for blogging but here is a round up of some of the most popular post written in 2018:
For 2019, one of my intentions is to get back to blogging more regularly (once a week) and get into a regular rhythm of consuming meaningful stuff, thinking, reflecting on my experiences, learning and sharing.
The Year of Sketchnotes Going Places
My pursuit of synthesizing and curating my lessons through sketchnotes found newer grounds.
It is an amazing book that became a Wall Street Journal bestseller within a few weeks and Tiffani has squeezed years of experience in this book to outline 10 growth paths through well researched case studies for each growth path.
Apart from this, sketch notes also went places and here are a few glimpses:
I created a sketchnote selfie last year and it inspired Claire (National Health Services, UK) to encourage her workshop participants to create their sketchnote selfies. Here are a bunch of people with their sketchnote selfies!
My blog was featured in Training and Development magazine (published by Association of Training and Development) last year with a special mention of sketchnotes.
My sketchnote on “Working Out Loud” was featured at European Commission in June.
Karyn Prather from Kimberly Clark (a consumer packaged goods company that has created strong five billion-dollar brands including Huggies, Kleenex, and Scott) presented my sketchnote (and insights from the amazing John Stepper) at Microsoft Ignite Content 2018, Orlando FL in September 2018.
My #sketchnote on Mindset Shifts for Transformation was presented at AIM Norway Symposium, University of Oslo by Thomas Anglero. AIM stands for Artificial Intelligence, Minds+Machines.
Richard Tubb for sharing my insights and sketchnote to French IT and MSP companies in early December at Paris.
My biggest lesson from all this?
Labor of love is powerful. Applying what you learn is powerful. And when your gifts are deployed in significant service of others through generous sharing, it results in leverage and learning.
Grateful for all the Recognitions
I consider all recognitions as by-products of the pursuit and once in a while, when you think of them, they only encourage the pursuit.
Also, a big thanks to my friend Kurt Harden for including QAspire blog in his annual list of “25 Blogs Guaranteed to Make You Smarter” for 6th consecutive year. Love all the selections in this list and always grateful for his generosity.
Change is a Constant Work
At work, it was again a year of change. Leading an organization in times of change is a challenge and an opportunity to learn a great deal in the process. Nothing in business is (and can be) stagnant and job of leaders is to communicate relentlessly and enable people make sense of changes. Leaders create an ecosystem where people not only adapt to change but also contribute positively to it.
Competing with the self is always exhausting because you never win! But guided by intent of learning constantly, sharing generously and putting it al to good use, my journey continues.
A Note of Gratitude
This blog is not possible without YOU – who care to read what I write, share it along widely and encourage me all the way. I am extremely grateful for everyone who read this blog, are connected on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Real leadership does not happen after we get hold of lofty titles and peak positions in the hierarchy.
Real leadership happens when we are aware of our gifts (given to us), when we hone those gifts in the spirit of serving others, when we find whitespaces (gap between our vision and the current reality) and put our gifts to good use in filling up those gaps. Real leadership happens irrespective of external validations and titles. In fact, titles and external validations are only the by-products of the pursuit.
The reward of leadership is not just the difference we make to the context or to the people we work with, but also the kind of person we may become as a result of the pursuit.
It was interesting to know that the root of the word “leadership” comes from Indo-European word “leith” which means to cross a threshold. It points to having courage to extend the boundaries, think differently and going beyond the normal call of duty.
The heart of leadership development lies in the word “charisma” as Peter Senge clarifies it.
“In fact, the word ‘charism’ comes from the Catholic church, where it means one’s distinctive personal “gifts” given by the Holy spirit. To be charismatic, then, means to develop one’s gift. In short, we develop as true charismatic leaders to the extent that we become ourselves.”
The section outlines the concept of creative tension – that all great leaders have to deal with the tension between holding a vision and deeply assessing the current reality. It is the gap between the two that becomes a force of change. It is the source of all great leadership – at a personal level as well at an organizational level.
Finally, Senge argues that real leaders rarely see themselves as leaders. Instead, they focus on doing the work – on what needs to be done, the larger system in which they operate and people they work with.
Here is a visual summary of a particular section focusing on leadership development.
The thing with fast food is that you can avail it quickly and when more people avail more food quickly, it soon becomes a commodity. And very often, fast food may just fill the stomach without nourishing much.
The food we value is the one that not only has the right nutrients, but is also cooked with care and attention to ingredients, balance of flavors and texture. It fills our stomach, nourishes us and feeds our well being.
I guess it’s the same with the media we consume. In a bid to stay updated all the time (which is hardly what we call learning), we consume a lot of Tweets, Instagram posts, Facebook updates etc. These are quick bites that may fill your time with an illusion of learning, unless your goal is to just fill the time with something (and hide behind it).
But if you are set out to truly learn something and go deeper, then you need slow media that is cooked slowly with care, has the right ingredients and is nourishing.
Sound bites are intellectually stimulating but unless they go deeper into our system, no change actually happens.
And learning that does not lead to change in mindset, actions and behavior is not learning, but only intellectual stimulation.
The other problem with these sound-bites is that they offer a very narrow view of the topic at hand. Truth is that nothing happens in isolation and everything is somehow connected to a larger system in ways that are not always visible.
Real learning involves a systematic exploration of all connected aspects of problem at hand. It requires a more nuanced conversation.
Take leadership, for example. Real leadership is rooted within our own deeper self, our past conditioning, cultural background and the demands of a given context. It demands a layered conversation and systems thinking within a given context, not just a list of silver bullets.
When there’s unlimited shelf space allowing unlimited podcasts, which can be of unlimited length, the goal isn’t to get the show on the air faster or to make it noisier. Instead, the goal, like the goal of a good book, is to say something worth saying, and to do it in a way that’s worth waiting for. – Seth Godin
Slow media is anything that takes time to create and consume, provokes thinking, challenges our assumption, initiates a conversation worth having, nudges us to act differently and creates an emotional connection.
Social Web is noisy and cluttered because people try to create media that pulls mass viewership to generate required number of hits, likes and shares.
The essence of social learning is to find authentic sources created with the spirit of a nuanced and collective exploration and stay away from sound bites.
Personally, I find most value in having a good layered conversation with someone I admire, reading good books that are written in a conversational tone, podcasts and videos where individuals share deep and relevant insights on something worthwhile and blogs that carefully weave a conversation incrementally through the posts.
But then, I just don’t skim through these (or bookmark them for later reading even when I skim). I preferto read with a pencil. I take notes as I go, summarize in visual notes, then share on the blog and connect insights that are related and relevant. Finally, when it all goes deeper into my system, some of it manifests in action. That is how we learn slowly and improve gradually.
To really learn effectively, we need to consume slow media, slowly.
Developing clarity in thinking is becoming even more important in a world that is constantly trying to distract you. Overload of information being pushed at us, contrasting theories about almost everything, our own unconscious biases, ego and fear hamper our ability to look clearly through the fog.
If we improve how we think, we also improve how we lead teams, develop people, innovate, solve important problems and grow as individuals.
When I read this post by Charles Chu at The Polymath Project titled “A Few Principles on Thinking Clearly”, I realized that sometimes the thing that impairs our thinking is our own ego, fears and motivations. That we are not motivated to think clearly on issues where we don’t have skin in the game. That models are linear but reality is not. That we need to think across disciplines to solve important problems.
In this post, Charles offers some principles on how to think clearly from the Czech-Canadian polymath Vaclav Smil. I encourage you to read the full post and here are my visual notes outlining the key insights from the post.
Friday Five is where I curate five articles (with excerpts)/quotes/tweets/visuals shared on my personal learning network that I found particularly useful, and hopefully you will find some of them valuable too!
This edition features insights on slow media, the downsides of speed reading, challenging our leadership beliefs and power of conflicts in elevating the art of storytelling. Slow media – Seth Godin
When there’s unlimited shelf space allowing unlimited podcasts, which can be of unlimited length, the goal isn’t to get the show on the air faster or to make it noisier. Instead, the goal, like the goal of a good book, is to say something worth saying, and to do it in a way that’s worth waiting for.
I enjoy slow media – really good podcasts that I listen to while commuting, where two individuals have an insightful and layered conversation on a topic. No pithy quotes, no formulas, no shortcuts to wisdom. Insights just flow and you pick what resonates with you most. In a noisy world of information, slow media is nuanced way of learning.
When the reading brain skims like this, it reduces time allocated to deep reading processes. In other words, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings, to perceive beauty, and to create thoughts of the reader’s own.
It is hard to learn when we anxiously scroll our newsfeeds hoping to extract whatever insight we can. The truth is, it does not last longer. Reading is an immersive process where our brain creates (and visualizes) thoughts of its own. When we skim or speed read, we often miss the whole point.
So if you find work worth sacrificing your self for, then do it right: Respect your limits, pace yourself, and get the help you need to give it your best, not just your all.
While we try to catch up with the pace at work, the pace catches up with us leaving us burned out and exhausted. If this is what you experience, do read this post. My key takeaway: We need to create an ecosystem where we can give our best, not our all.
Stories give us the courage to act when we face confusing circumstances that require decisiveness. These circumstances are called CONFLICTS. What we do or don’t do when we face conflict is the engine of storytelling.
Stories are at the heart of enabling change. Stories we tell and stories we live are vital in building a culture and enabling change.
If you are doing work that you love (or love the work you do), you learn something new every single day.
This could be something you experienced, something you noticed, something thought-provoking that you read, something that worked for you (or others around you). And it is also very likely that someone out there precisely needs that help, spark of idea, wisdom and insight.
Technology has made it all the more easier to share with others, learn from others and build a community by doing so consistently. You can choose your platforms to share on, or you can create your own platform (like your own blog).
Tools really does not matter as much.
What matters is that you find your voice and courage to express your thinking.
That you build a posture of generosity when you share your insights along.
What matters is what you learn during the process of sharing, articulating and shipping your thoughts out to the world – consistently and deliberately.
Clarity of thought that you develop as a result of sharing regularly. The dots that you connect as you see your ideas unfold in increments.
And the relationships you build with your community as you add (and gain) value in tiny bursts regularly.