Leader and Hope

In HOPE of a better future … The nation marches

It was only the other day when an organization approached me to speak to their executives during these tough times. In the Army there is a very famous adage; “Tough Times Don’t Last, Tough People Do“. This principle has stood by me during all the tough times I had. And yes, we did have some tough times. Over the 25 years in the uniform, we’ve faced challenges galore. Some inflicted due to the vagaries of mother nature, and some due to the actions of our adversaries.

Thus it got me to contemplate: if there is one thing, just one thing a leader should do, what should it be? I think the Leader should be the messenger of hope. The core of leadership is H . O . P . E . A research paper highlights that in the US Presidential elections, the candidate who wins is the one who can assure the citizens and instill HOPE. And to think of it logically, the leader can be pragmatic, can be a realist but unless he can infuse hope, show a better future, assure of the good things to come, he is no leader.

Hope gives us the courage to progress, to move forward. Towards a better future. A better life. It thus allays fear and gears us up to the face the next challenge. It helps us on our feet. It helps us re-group. Thus HOPE and leadership are two sides of a coin. Once you gear up, ready for the challenge, it is HOPE that gives us confidence. And of course HOPE is contagious. Just as it is not possible to live on love and fresh air alone. Hope has to be accompanied by hard work. Roll up your sleeves and get down to it. The leader shoulder to shoulder.

I remember once, we were to conduct an ‘Firing Competition’ in our Division. And being a professional competition, it’s was a matter of pride to win, more so being the conducting unit. The HOPE of winning the competition alone would not fructify into reality. We got down to it. The officer-in-charge and the men participating in the competition, moved into the firing ranges and started their practice in right earnest. Day and night (night firing was also part of the competition). With regular practice, religious maintenance of the weapons and looking into each minute detail, we put in our best foot forward. Yes, we won. But with HOPE alone we wouldn’t have achieved our result. HOPE has to be accompanied by hard work. HOPE has power to push relentlessly.

Any organization that can inject HOPE in the organization will succeed in these trying times. To paint a picture (some may call it Vision) where each one is aware of their role/ part and soon, the whole is greater than the parts. But to instill HOPE a very basic ingredient is a must. T . R . U . S . T . Without trust the organization/ members will find the words of the leader hollow. Trust is built with transparency. Trust is built with honesty.

In our pursuit, we will make mistakes. All the operations in the Army are followed by an ‘After-Action’ report. What went right and what went wrong. What could be done differently? And these lessons are disseminated across the organizations in sector. Learnings are faster and the institution gets stronger. Over time it is the organization that benefits. To prepare any organization to face the challenges of the future … The Leader must instill HOPE.

It all begins with H . O . P . E .

. Trust .

Your Alma Mater . It’s Teachings .

I’ve often been queried that in the ‘Defence Forces’ you’ve troops from all over the country, different regions, different cultures, different backgrounds and yet how do you’ll function like one well-oiled machine? How do you all do that? How do you build TRUST?

This question got me thinking. It’s really amazing, when you get down to think about it. The officers are from all different background and commanding men from different culture with no common language. The broken Hindi these men learn (kind of foreign language to them) is during their brief recruitment training. And yet, with ease, they face bullets together. How? The level of trust is so much that they’re ready to risk their lives in the hands of their buddies, in the hands of their sub-unit/ unit; willing to lay down their lives.

When I got down to think, the reasons were crystal clear. In the Army we have a shared common goal. A clear vision as to what has to be done for the glory and the good name of the unit with no personal agenda interfering with these objectives. Next the organizational value system set a benchmark for every one to emulate. It becomes incumbent on our part to follow the rich history and tradition of the armed forces. Coupled with this tradition is the ethos of the regiment you get commissioned into. The regimental history pushes you to continue the legacy.

The ‘Naam, Namak, Nishan’ are the ultimate inspiration as a touchstone for our own values to be judged against. The ‘Naam’ is the name of the regiment on your shoulders that you display with pride. ‘Namak’ is the salt of the place. Our country. Our motherland. ‘Nishaan’ is the standard you carry. The ultimate symbol of valour. The ‘flag’ for which a soldier lays down his life. It’s carried into the battlefield to rally the troops around it. It inspires. It enthuses. It reminds. It pushes. It urges. It eggs. It commands. It compels. It implores and it exhorts. Nothing less is acceptable. Each one of us is set against this benchmark.

Last but not the least is integrity, loyalty and transparency in our dealings. When lives matter. When it’s a question of life and death no opacity can function. The interactions/ the interpersonal relations go beyond the mundane. Here, when you say, “you’ll do it, you do it”. You walk the talk. Because each moment you are in the spotlight. Your men. The men whom you’ll lead to battlefield are watching you 24/7. Any discrepancy or murkiness is called out. This is the day they stop following you. Your word matters.

You are trusted or trustworthy when people believe in your ability, your consistency, your integrity and commitment to deliver. Without trust your influence will diminish. Trust is the principle of empowerment and the principle of success. And more often than not, Trust in an organization is top-driven. Your CEO. Your Commanding Officer. Thus respect plays an important role in trust.

A major obstacle to the success of many relationships, is trust. Without trust, respect and love cannot flourish. Truly successful and healthy relationships don’t have room for suspicion or lack of belief. For any organization to thrive, Trust is an imperative. Organizational trust is built on everyday actions. TRUST: Transparency, Responsive, Ur Caring, Sincere and Trustworthy. We’ve dealt with broken promises, unfulfilled commitments, withholding information, unfair treatment, lies and dishonesty. In such an environment people will bail on relationships, greater resignations, cynicism reigns, productivity goes south and self-interest triumphs. Think about it!

Dr Brene Brown spoke of ‘Vulnerability’ in her seminal TED talk. So, how does vulnerability tie to Trust? When we trust someone, we are vulnerable with them. Also when we feel vulnerable, we want to trust someone. It is the act of sharing our shortcomings with others that make our relationship strong. Practicing it is the core of healthy communication.
Think of your friend. Doesn’t he/she know who you are as a person? Doesn’t he/she know what are your flaws and your strengths? Vulnerability thus, is not a weakness; it is a strength.

And to initiate any trust issues, you need to begin with ‘Self-trust’. Self-trust is when you maintain boundaries to protect your own needs and safety. You prioritize self-care. You keep your promises and speak kindly to yourself. You are mindful and honour your whole self regardless.

Trust your Heart to do the Right Thing

Tough Times Don’t Last; Tough People Do

Siachen Glacier: The average winter snowfall is more than 1000 cm (35 ft)
and temperatures can dip to −50 °C

The present situation has been singularly responsible to re-look at our priorities. It has forced each one of us to introspect. Among my family (and friends) we’ve started a game, these three words will not be used in our vocabulary: Virus, Covid, Pandemic … use any other word for reference (atithi or guest – atithi tum kab jaoge? Guest, when do you plan to leave?)

The lockdown had eight major takeaways: one. Let’s be humble. We are not indispensable. There are greater forces than us. two. Let’s take care of nature. There is just one planet earth and it needs to breathe. Our actions have to be considerate towards nature. three. Frugal living is beautiful. It helps us connect with ourselves better. four. Flexibility is a virtue. Keep an open mind. What brought you here, may not take you there. five. Put health first. It has to be a priority. six. Success or failure depends on extraneous factors. Chill. seven. Connectivity is a necessity. and eight. Last but not the least. Being is more important than doing. We are human beings not human doings.

A number of people, once they hear that I’m an infantry man, have walked up and asked me this one question: “Sir, how did you face bullets?” (Qs could also be like, how did you control your emotions? Were you scared? so and so forth).

Where did we get the confidence to face oncoming bullets? The foremost confidence building measure is TRAINING. Training instills confidence. Training is assuring; you are better than your adversary. Training prepares us for adverse situations. Situations where your amygdala takes charge and prepares your body for the ‘fight or flight mode’. It prepares your muscle memory. You don’t think. Your body moves on auto-pilot and all you see is like Arjun; ‘the eye of the bird’. In all our training, the one things that stands out loud and clear is the re-wiring of our brains. The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.

Train, Train and Train some more

We know these times (tough times) won’t last. We have to be stronger and we will last. We will come out winners. Success (whatever your definition of success is) is the direct function of training (deliberate practice) and sustained effort; lage raho munnabhai.

How do ordinary people, people like you and me, people from all walks of life – join the forces and perform extraordinary feat? If you pin it, it all boils down to: a. Develop your muscle memory. Your life could be dependent on it. b. Discipline. I cannot harp more on the importance of self-discipline. c. Live a healthy lifestyle/routine. Have a good nights sleep (7 hours) and wake up before the sun peeps out. Eat healthy. Live healthy. d. Physical fitness must be a priority. Give 45 to 60 minutes daily for fresh oxygen to travel through your billion cells. e. Mental robustness. Nothing can affect my positive attitude. My life; my choice. f. Be a team man. Camaraderie. Team player. one for all and all for one. g. Have pride in the organization you work for. Don’t like it, then quit. It’s your choice BUT once in, unflinching loyalty. These help you making good choices for life. Our lives in the uniform is dependent on our buddy. He covers your back.

Of course there will be failure enroute? Its only natural. You’re not KOed in boxing so long as you get up. Have faith in yourself. Have confidence and trust the plan. The divine plan. Don’t turn around to ask, ‘Why me?’ Like this guest that’s visiting our planet – it has impacted everybody. Just like you don’t question the rising sun from East – its bound to happen. It’s a given. Come what may. Take it that failures (guests) are bound to happen. Come what may. So be it. Work around the challenge. When one door shuts, five windows open? See which one suits you and and take the plunge.

Remember, your experiences define you. Make memories. Look for opportunities that help you build your repertoire. Each year take it upon yourself to take on something new. It will help you focus. It will help you achieve. It will help you enhance your skill set. It will help in your life with a direction. A motivation. It builds your self esteem, your self belief and your self motivation.

The one question that you need to ask during these times: Will I come out stronger or will I come out weaker? This is the time to ask: What is my statement? If I had to describe myself in ONE sentence, what would that be?

Are YOU a Harbinger of Good News?

The pandemic (the word itself has such negative connotations) has returned with a greater vengeance with the new variant. The new words added to your lexicon reads something like: fatality, co-morbidity, infection, disaster, lethality, virulence, remdesivir, herd immunity, anti-bodies and so forth.

Being aware is fine. With our basic intelligence , to be aware a glance of a newspaper, or a media report or a social media write-up is enough. But the new norm has been to keep receiving updates, the continuous cacophony of news channel readers (who I suspect suffer from verbal diarrhea), and the 24/7 social media has filled our mind space with fear, anxiety, stress and depression.

Just take a step back. Think of your activity of yesterday. What were your engaged in? What kind of input did you nourish your mind/brain with? What discussions did you participate in? And what are the messages, articles, write-ups you forwarded, commented or liked. Answer this one question honestly and you could objectively assess the issue we are facing.

Are you part of the SOLUTION – offering solutions, DOING things to resolve an issue, taking concrete steps towards a better future OR are you part of the PROBLEM – spreading fear, fuelling anxiety, causing stress or multiplying depressed souls. Before the pandemic impacted the world, WHO study mentioned the new epidemic is depression. One in every four persons is affected. With YOUr actions, ask yourself, are you a catalyst in escalating depression. The unchecked spread of mis-information – ‘death by whatspp’ has been instrumental in inciting rumour mongering, spreading anxiety, instigating negativity and triggering depression.

DO: Be a part of the solution . Be aware . Spread cheer . Be hands on . and DO .

DON’t: Be a part of the problem . Share news (or negativity) . Spread depression . Be a social media warrior . and Talk .

Really, But How Do I Do it?

“Salvation lies Within” – Warden Norton, Shawshank Redemption

In these trying times across the globe, a number of people have been advising to keep your spirits up; be optimistic and so forth. So, how does one keep oneself optimistic, while everything around seems to be floundering? While we were deployed in border frontiers our our nation, with zero communication is a small post with just our section (7-9 men) or platoon (32-36 men); one would hardly interact with people days on end. No internet those days. No mobiles. No communication. It takes effort to keep ones morale high. So how did we do it? Here is my take:

+ Cliche but true; positive thinking. Help your brain to seek for positive emotions. It could be anything. It should help you smile. A single +ve thought and the neurotransmitters take off. Oxytocin (love, pleasure, orgasm), Serotonin for mood, Dopamine (stimulates and encourages) are released; reduces blood pressure and makes us feel better. Share something +ve. Chill.

+ Be an eternal optimist. Don’t take anything for granted. Everything has to be earned. There is nothing called luck. The more you strive/ practice/ want and put in effort; your grit – a relentless pursuit will help you get to your objective.

+ Keep learning. Be curious. Pessimists lack curiosity. Curiosity is the cornerstone of knowledge. And I oft repeat, “Knowledge is power”/ “Knowledge gives CONFIDENCE”. It beats “I know it all” and you broaden your horizon. Open your mind (and heart). Remain Alert.

+ Don’t pass the blame. Everything going wrong is due to someone/ government and so on. Take responsibility; then you learn. The mind exaggerates risks, suffering and negativity. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in their seminal work spoke of the choices people make. From the probabilistic standpoint even when the choices are identical, we have strong preferences. We are more willing to gamble when it comes to our gains. We tend to be risk-averse.

+ Put things in perspective. At the face of it, it may look like ‘dooms-day’ but remember ‘nothing is what it seems’. Step back and put it in perspective. It gives you a better understanding and you can truly live ‘ Don’t sweat small stuff’. The event/ issue won’t matter a week/ month/ year from now.

+’Carpe Diem’ (Latin for ‘Seize the Day’); live in the moment. It is a philosophy for happiness. Don’t wait for the pot of gold at the end of the journey. Enjoy the journey, buddy!

Exercise Regularly;
Physical Fitness = Mental Robustness

+ And last but not the least. Keep your energy up. A half-hour physical exercise helps you boost your energy, blood flow, raises positive emotions and increases your immunity. Fresh oxygen, early in the morning, shoots through your system and injects your billion cells.

Live and let Live. Enjoy. Wishing you the best.

Be Safe. Be Home. Hear the chirping of the birds. Enjoy the breath.