Friday, 18 July 2014

Leading through empowerment

…And when Alexander met him after defeating him in the battle at river Jhelum asked him ‘What, do you wish that I should do with you?'; to which Porus answered ‘Treat me as a king would treat another king.’

Alexander the great is said to have been so pleased with King Porus’s response that  he restored to him his sovereignty over his subjects, adding to his realm other territory of even greater extent.  
(Ref: The Campaigns Of Alexander, p. 281)

…And if I were to draw inspiration from this historic incident, to define a leader in the modern context, I would say ‘A leader is one who identifies the leader in every other person’.
Did I say ‘the leader in every other person’? Yes, you read me right! Everybody has a leader within, that needs to be recognized and developed.
“How can this be possible...? How can everyone be a leader?” You may wonder.
To better appreciate this concept, you may need to break out of the traditional concept of a leader and broaden the scope of a leader in the modern context. Any person who has recognized his/her true passion and potential and excelled in it is half a leader. This is how people who have been exceptionally successful in any sphere be it arts, sports, music, movies or business have been recognized as leaders. But if their endeavor is limited to recognizing their own true passion and exceling in the same, I would say they are only half leaders. A complete leader is one, who apart from identifying his own potential also sees this potential in others and inspires them in realizing it.
While there are quite a few modern concepts in leadership; servant leadership, situational leadership, spiritual leader being a few of them, I believe that the most significant responsibility of a leader is empowerment.
Mentoring or coaching is a key aspect in leadership that needs to be taken seriously. A complete leader should engage in mentoring either towards building a successor or for empowering others in attaining their best.
We come across quite a few inspiring stories of leaders and great achievers who have done great things and left their mark in history. These are people who have dedicated their lives in building organizations, institutions, communities and sometimes even a nation. However have you ever wondered what happens to these establishments once these founders severed from active involvement? Most often they are left bereft, without a leader, who has the same commitment and dedication as the original founder. Developing the next leader who would take forward from where one has left is an onus that needs to be a part of the main mission of a leader. This is where a coaching/mentoring angle of a leader comes into picture and in a larger perspective succession plan as well. Won’t a lifetime of aspirations and efforts of so many people become abortive if not handed over to reliable hands?
Porus and Alexander identified the leader in each other. And true to his leadership style Alexander the great empowered Porus to take forward what he had conquered.

About the author

Neeva is a corporate learning specialist and currently works with People Equity HR consulting as Principal Consultant. She has extensive experience in designing and delivering innovative learning initiatives. She can be contacted at 9686113578 and

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Cultural influence on learning

Does culture influence learning? And if it does, is it significant enough to make a substantial impact on the learning outcomes? In my right as a learner and an individual my answer to both the above question would be ‘yes it does’. But before I venture into further endorsing my stand, it would help to limit the scope of this blog by defining what I mean by ‘culture’ and ‘learning’, as you would appreciate that both these terms have a wide scope. The dictionary meaning of culture is “the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society”. This can range between culture that is specific to an individual, family, community, society to region or nation. For our understanding we will consider culture in the broad context of a nation. And learning would mean “the acquisition of knowledge or skills through study, experience resulting in the formation of behavior.” Now that the delineations are clear, I can go ahead with substantiating my stand.

The Halo effect of parents in most Indian families and the way this gets transferred from generation to generation is strikingly different from many other cultures. The dominance of parents or elders in families gives limited freedom when it comes to chasing a dream or following a passion. This could influence the choice of subject and style of learning. This phenomenon was aptly demonstrated in the Hindi movie 3 idiots. The scene where Farhan’s father tags him an engineer within minutes of his birth is classic representation of this. Often individuals hailing from this culture end up being what they are expected to be rather than what they want to be. The fact that this trend continues into the following generation is the reason why I claim this to be a part of the culture. This could also explain the emergence of community specific profession or trades wherein legacies get passed on to the next generation.

Another characteristic feature of the link between culture and learning is evident in our formal education system. Being focused on the score rather than empowerment, non-experiential theoretical memorizing, and choice of vocation based on income generating potential rather than true passion are significant weaknesses in our formal education system that needs to be addressed if we need to raise our bar in education. These could be developments that have evolved over a period of time due to various contigent factors. For example post-independence, with limited resources and economic backwardness, the thrust would have been to pursue a career that could economically support the nation rather than a passion. Similarly with a large population and inadequate opportunities, the basis of benchmarking would have to be something as objective as the score. Having said that, isn't it time we realign ourselves to a higher order, now that the reasons stated above are no longer relevant in the present scheme of things?

While all these arguments point to a strong link between culture and learning, what we need to question ourselves now is whether this influence of culture on learning is beneficial or detrimental.

The linkage between culture and human behavior is inevitable and to a large extend this influence is mutual. However should we allow this culture to take control to such an extent that we lose sight of the true purpose of learning? May be not! What we need to realize in this context is that learning is a culture in itself and any tampering or adulteration would dilute its essence rendering it ineffective or below acceptable standard. Learning requires an open, uninfluenced, creative environment to build and take shape. Else what we would end up in the name of learning would be an ineffective, redundant and obsolete output.
At the end of the day, our potential can be maximized through effective learning only. Therefore apart from influencing human behavior in general, learning is critical in harnessing human potential as well. Hence it is imperative to provide learning with the unadulterated  environment it deserves.

About the author
Neeva is a corporate learning specialist and currently works with People Equity HR consulting as Principal Consultant. She has extensive experience in designing and delivering innovative learning initiatives. She can be contacted at 9686113578 and

Monday, 13 January 2014

Nurture a learning culture at workplace

Sundaram was born into an economically backward family in rural India as the eighth of eleven children to Manikandan, a daily wage worker  and lakshmi, a housewife. In an environment, where the biggest challenge was getting two square meals a day, the best education Sundaram could manage was grade 10 from his village school. Unlike others, Sundaram’s sole attraction in going to the school was not the free midday meal; he was keen to learn. His parents decided to send him to the city to a distant relative, so that he could try his hand at getting a job and thus help improve the financial condition of the family.
The relative helped Sundaram find a job as an office boy (peon in those days) in a bank. From there on Sundaram’s career and life took a total detour and there was no looking back. After 45 years of service, Sundaram retired as the General Manager of the same bank he joined as an office boy.
These rags to riches stories are not exactly a rare phenomenon. You get to hear these inspiring stories quite often through the media, movies, networking forums. But what is worth noting in Sundaram’s case is the path taken. The success was not a result of a risky gamble, a creative stroke or the right timing. It was a painstakingly, slow moving path of learning that led to the success. The most important skill required here is sheer perseverance. There is no rejecting the other genres of success, but how many of us have the courage to take a risk or come out with a winning idea or manage to get the timing right all the time?
For a vast majority of us, it is the learning and growing model that works. But still there are very few takers for this. Not many organizations endeavor to nurture a learning culture in the workplace. It is an established truth that a learning organization is a growing organization and companies are generously funding internal and external training initiatives. But do these training actually turn into learning? Often not!

Let us explore some of the reasons

The cost factor: Mistakes are a part of the learning process. But some of these mistakes can prove expensive. Unless organizations have enough buffer to tolerate such costs, an encouraging, fearless environment cannot be developed.

The risk factor: Learning can be risky. Take a basic skill like driving. This skill can be imparted through a simulator and perfected. But the learning is not complete unless it is applied to a real life situation and in this case the risk factor cannot be ignored. Organizations prefer to keep fresh learners away from such high risk zones.

The time factor: Learning is a gradual process; it is so slow that the progress is often not conspicuous. This can be very discouraging unless one is really passionate.

But it definitely goes without saying that developing a learning culture is of top priority for a growth aspiring organization. A learning friendly environment could prove to be the most cost effective employee engagement exercise. The loyalty levels are significantly higher in such organizations compared to those that don’t have it. The organization also matures and adds value to itself along with its employees.

Innovative ideas can pop out from all corners not just your R&D department, when everyone is given an opportunity to experiment and learn. According to Daniel Pink in his book Drive, intrinsically motivated people not only perform better, but also can be highly productive for a longer duration. The best fuel to ignite intrinsic motivation is learning.
If you are seriously planning to reform your workplace into a learning mode, the following pointers may come handy.

Encourage mistakes: The retention of learning is higher when learnt through mistakes. It is not enough if you tolerate mistakes; they should become a part of the learning process. Cheer your people to overcome the fear of failure.

Provide opportunity: Build a strategy to gradually include freshers into new fields of learning. Learning is never complete without application in real life situations.

Feedback is an essential ingredient in any growth strategy and learning is no exception. Ongoing constructive feedback can keep the spirits high in achieving the goal. Build in a feedback mechanism. It also gives the impression that you take learning seriously.

Support: Ensure a good physical environment along with the emotional support. A well managed library, sessions by subject matter experts, internet support are simple cost effective ways of doing this if you cannot afford a full- fledged LMS (Learning Management Solution) in place.

About the author
Neeva is a corporate learning specialist and currently works with People Equity HR consulting as Principal Consultant. She has extensive experience in designing and delivering innovative learning initiatives. She can be contacted at 9686113578 and