Friday, March 25, 2016

Despite the negative surround-sound Modi is on track

Why BJP needs to form government in Uttarakhand and Jammu-Kashmir

Article first published in +ABPLIVE  click here to read

Even some avowed Narendra Modi supporters were surprised by BJP’s apparent desperation to form governments in Arunachal, Uttarakhand and, now, Jammu & Kashmir. While in Arunachal and Uttarakhand they seemed to be in an unseemly rush to topple incumbent regimes, in J&K they eschewed pride to put up with months of obdurate posturing by Mehbooba Mufti hoping to reach an understanding. The reason is not far to seek. After decimation in Delhi and Bihar and dim prospects of in West Bengal (Assam is still an open book) – Modi-Shah combine need to pocket as many Rajya Sabha seats as possible to get out of the parliamentary stalemate.

Travelling through Uttar Pradesh last week – though it is early days yet to make any predictions no matter what sundry ‘Mood of the Nation’ polls might have to say – it is absolutely clear that neither Samajwadi Party or Bahujan Samaj Party are going to be a push over in 2017 unlike in 2014 Lok Sabha Polls. While Mayawati and BSP are understandably banking on the anti-incumbency factor, in recent months Akhilesh Yadav has been working hard at not only retaining SP’s core-constituents but also winning back the disenchanted voters by some ‘visible’ efforts at governance and development. Prashant Kishor and Priyanka Gandhi may not work magic with Rahul Gandhi – but in an alliance Congress can fetch some incremental seats, as it had arguably done for MGB in Bihar. But, by present reckoning, Lucknow pundits don’t give BJP more than 80 seats in the Assembly – unless miracles happen between now and 2017.

The interesting phenomenon in all this is - while BJP’s stock is floundering and RSS continues to be ambivalent towards the government – Modi’s own rating remains high. Sure, people don’t rule out the possibility of a compromise choice of PM emerging (for example, Nitish Kumar) if a third “secular” front has the numbers in 2019 – but there is still no single challenger to Narendra Modi at the national level. For all the hype built around Rahul Gandhi V 2.0 – he will be at best a supporting cast if Congress is not the largest party in a coalition. And, much as Arvind Kejriwal may try to position himself as the already anointed ‘PM-in-Waiting” – no seasoned politician – like Lalu, Nitish, Pawar, Mulayam  and even Mamata - will trust him in the PM’s chair.

The silver lining in all this is – BJP is showing a new resolve not to allow the economic agenda to be stalled by Congress’ perverse obstructionism. Modi and Amit Shah know – rhetoric won’t carry them beyond 2016. The cash registers – both for business and the public have to start ringing sooner than later – if Modi is serious about winning a second term in 2019.

Many believe Budget Session 2016 will be the turning point for Modi Sarkar. For the first time it is showing signs of getting the act together in Parliament with a strategy in place. Arun Jaitley presented a non-spectacular budget but with both economics and heart at the right place – which even the opposition found difficult to critique (barring the EPF proposal that in hindsight appears was a red-herring deliberately planted to divert attention from more substantive provisions). Apart from getting the Aadhar Bill passed - arguably by procedural gamesmanship – and with other important legislations like the Real Estate Bill slipped under the radar – BJP’s floor managers are beginning to look almost savvy .

Placing the Mining and Minerals Development and Regulations Act Amendment in Lok Sabha the government has shown the will to bite the bullet on policy bugs that are tripping the economy. The acid test will, of course, be GST – but there too Arun Jaitley is exuding greater confidence than he was even a few weeks ago.

It is clear Modi is proceeding as per a plan. That the scripted “angry-acts” of Rahul Gandhi and the surround sound of ‘tolerance’ and FOS has not rattled the Prime Minister was obvious from his speech at the BJP Conclave – where he asked the members not to get distracted by “opposition propaganda” and carry the message of development (Vikas) to the masses.

Now with greater alignment between the RBI Governor and the Finance Ministry and BJP’s increased strength in Rajya Sabha reforms can go through the economy should finally get rolling, as predicted by many. The Budget signaled a significant course correction towards “Bharat”. As increased spends on MNREGA with focused and leak-proof digital disbursement through Aadhar backed Direct Cash Transfer Schemes start reaching the target population and Social Security Innovations like Jan-Dhan and Fasal Bima Yojnas begin to bear fruit – the “Acche Din” slogan may not sound like “Jumla” anymore and put fresh wind into BJP’s sail.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Saradha or Narada - nothing can stop Mamata from returning !!

Article first published in +DailyO India Today click on this to read

The legendary filmy don "Loin" Ajit wanted to name the third of the triplets of his moll "Mona Darling" Suzi Wong because he said every third child in the world has to be a Chinese. Similarly, they say every third Bengali is a poet.

Abject economic and living conditions in the state has taken romance out of the lives of Bengalis, so they now wait for election season to hone their poetry skills. So many verses are doing the rounds on WhatsApp with political parties attacking each other. However, the Narada sting videos of March 10 has opened the floodgates of nonsense rhymes lampooning the Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders caught on camera allegedly accepting cash.

Though tempted to reproduce some samples the nuances of poetry, especially the humorous and satirical ones, will be lost in translation. Therefore, moving from poetry to the politics of Narada - an apt name, since Narada is legendary for setting the cat among the pigeons, which these footages have certainly managed to do. Sting operators have been around for a while. Though available for business round the year, election time is the high season for them. But, for West Bengal, it is still a sunrise industry, hence, perhaps, so much of excitement.

There is an apocryphal story about a late lamented Left leader who used to always dress in white from head to toe but didn't quite have a lily-white reputation. He approached a fellow Bengali from Uttar Pradesh, popularly known as the biggest banker of politicians, to keep some of his stash. It seems this man from Lucknow rebuffed him saying, "I don't deal in small savings, first learn to earn and then come to me."

But, Saradha changed all that. Today, even the most "innocent" and idealistic Bengali knows Rs 5 lakh is chicken feed for politicians in this day and age. They also understand that fighting elections require large sums of money which can't be raised either by selling art or small change donations.

Gone are the days when even for the Left parties, cadres wrote posters on old newspapers and painted graffiti doing their bit for the ever illusive revolution. Therefore, while Parliament may have been rocked over it, in West Bengal, it was a matter of much amusement no matter how many vernacular channels tried to whip up storm in TV studios. So, chief minister Mamata Banerjee may be well advised in staying mum, hoping, like Prime Minister Narendra Modi that this too will blow over.

Now, with the BJP having thrown in the towel even before the match began the TMC has very little to worry about at the macro level. Between the Left and Congress, the former hasn't been able to still retrieve its reputation after 30 years of misrule for the people to trust them again so soon, while the latter (Congress) is in a state of tragi-comic limbo.

Therefore, barring some isolated pockets or parts of the state, which may be the traditional strongholds of either party, this bizarre alliance would be lucky to make a dent in TMC's newly-built electoral infrastructure. While there has been a tectonic shift in the Left's cadre base, the Congress has to depend mostly on hired goons.

TMC's real cause of concern is the electoral mathematics of where the anti-Muslim votes will move when the BJP is not a serious player at these polls. If despite being a non-starter the BJP still manages to retain a chunk of its votes, the TMC will come home clean and dry. But, if the Left and Congress are able to swing the fence-sitters, there can be tension in the Mamata camp.

Even then, after years of generous nurturing, the TMC can safely expect the Muslim voters to stay with them en masse. The residual elements can be mobilised through the science and art of "booth management" that the TMC had learnt from the CPI(M) and perfected over time.

The staunchest BJP supporter does not expect the party to be anywhere close to its 2014 Lok Sabha elections vote share of 16.8 per cent.

First, that was the Lok Sabha polls and propelled by the Modi tailwind. Since then, the BJP has rapidly yielded ground almost at the rate the Indian cricket team throws away wickets after a dressing room fight.

Despite that, with some consolidation of its core constituency, the BJP's vote share is unlikely to fall to the abysmal 2011 level of four per cent.

Then, the crucial variable is which way the balance will go. It is unlikely that this section will tilt towards the Left on a rebound. It is equally doubtful if they will settle for the Congress, which has been reduced to a pathetic rump by the TMC, as a compromise, especially since they moved towards the BJP, partly because of their dislike for the dynasty.

Thus, the TMC becomes the default choice, albeit with some smart manoeuvring on the ground. That, perhaps, also explains a return of Mukul Roy to the fold, following the proverbial "Arab's camel in the tent" principle.

Thus much of the debate and deliberation on whether Mamata will get a second term is academic and created primarily for TV TRPs.

Surely, she didn't deliver the promised "Poriborton" just as Modi delivering "acche din" remains a distant dream.

But, the electorate today is mature enough to understand what could be realistically achieved in five years after the systematic destruction of the state for over four decades by the Left Front.

So, if Modi compares turning around the Indian economy with a train making a U-turn - Mamata's task is nothing short of trying to make a junk Ambassador fly. Therefore, the TMC will return not for the lack of an alternative but because Mamata remains the best bet for West Bengal, no matter what her critics might say and opponents wish.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Toxic Bosses

Prologue: A passing mention of "Toxic Bosses" in my previous blog-post "Depression is not a common-cold of the Mind" - triggered a lot of reactions among friends and readers. Many wrote to say, the article had resonated with them and they could empathise with the individual and the situation - understanding where I was coming from, so to speak. Among them were also few former colleagues - who were upset thinking it was a veiled insinuation at a certain individual - who is their current boss and whom they obviously held in great esteem - and rose to the person's defence with rejoinders. One of them said, it's unfair to blame a boss for one's own lack "Managing Up" competency - something the correspondent must be obviously good at considering the alacrity of response in 'standing-up' impromptu for the boss.

This article was, however, conceived and written much before that. For a long time, I have been contemplating doing a series on Organisation and Leadership Issues from a practising manager's perspective. Having worked across industries for over 30 years now - I thought there may be a few insights to offer and experiences to share that may be of interest to the younger generation as they make their way through the labyrinth of modern VUCA organisations - which are full of ambiguity and uncertainty - with few to hold their hand through the journey. Recently, I did an obituary of a marketing doyen who passed away - under whom I had the privilege of working in the so-called "nappy days" of my career. A close comrade, who happened to like that piece and an older one on another "Management Guru" suggested I do profiles of some remarkable people (the great, the good and the ugly) one had worked with and cull out leadership lessons from them.

Here's a modest and tentative beginning - hopefully, it will fall into the groove in the coming weeks after a few more pieces. I crave your indulgence, candid feedback and critique

Prozac is not the answer

One seldom likes the boss.

In a long career – there are only a few bosses one really comes to love. But, equally there are not many one who actually hates. Even if one didn’t enjoy working under some of them- over time the dislike wanes and one is able to understand where they were coming from and accept as human beings with their own set of failings and limitations.  Only a few leave a deep scar that doesn’t go away easily and one finds difficult to forget or forgive them even after many years.

Contrary to popular perception a toxic boss needn’t always be loud and rude. In fact, Type A personalities are often not toxic at all. Their volatility and temper tantrums are usually enough to burn up the pent up aflatoxins in the system. Similarly, hard taskmasters and workaholic bosses – though painful and taxing to work for – aren’t necessarily venomous. In fact, Toxic Bosses (let’s call them TBs) needn’t fit into any traditional boss stereotypes at all. They come in various avatars.

There is one common and essential characteristic of TBs – they unfailingly damage (and in extreme cases destroy) the self-esteem of their subordinates and teams. There are multiple ways TBs work on this – the commonest being making people below feel insecure and inadequate – being unjustly critical of their work and unappreciative of contributions. In extreme situations, this could even take the form of personal humiliation. Appropriating or denying credit for work done by juniors is second nature to TBs.

In all cases – their behaviour is underscored by a lack of respect for people, which goes against the grain of professionalism and basic human values. By nature, TBs are distrustful of others (except the odd sycophant – even their utility is time bound and come with ‘best before’ dates – unless there are secrets to keep) and don’t let others get comfortable around them. TBs are adept at the “Lick and Kick” game   – ‘lick’ the bosses and ‘kick’ the subordinate.

It is a given that TBs are supremely selfish and have no qualms of treating people as Tea bags (‘use and throw’). That also makes them manipulative. But, the problem is not as much in ‘using’ as it is in making them feel ‘used’. A smart leader – also uses people but make employees feel rewarded. It’s famously said of an iconic CEO of one of the oldest MNCs in India – people came out grinning from his room looking as if they have got a raise or bonus – when actually he just doubled their target.

By definition TBs are not transparent in their dealings. But, sometimes they can make it work to their advantage by coming across as extremely suave – especially to external stakeholders carefully cloaking their vicious element under a veneer of sophistication. These are the more dangerous of the species – who often also have integrity problems – both intellectual and financial.

Behavioural experts can reason – TBs are products of a deeply insecure psyche. Some may even attribute it to troubled childhood – which makes them the way they are. There will always be the “nature vs. nurture” debate and without doubt upbringing and formative experiences have a significant impact in shaping personality and leadership styles. However, at a more basic level they are afflicted by supreme ambition not backed by commensurate competencies. TBs are acutely aware of the fact that they have reached where they are not by merit but either by accident or manipulation. This makes them deeply anxious, as they know fortune does not always favour the creep – they fall back on machinations at the cost of their minions and organizational health.

So how does one deal with toxic bosses? Many wise men will advise – it is ‘Karma’ - so “what can’t be cured must be endured”. While that might be true to an extent – a fatalistic “surrender” is not the answer and may actually compound the misery. Sneaking on the boss – even TBs – never work in a corporate culture and bitching is even worse as word inevitably gets around. One can safely assume that if a person has reached a certain level in an organization – his own bosses can’t be blind to his style of functioning. If they are still allowing him to continue (despite feedback or 360 degree appraisals) somewhere the assets in his “professional” balanced scorecard still weighs over the negatives. With organizations themselves becoming more and more myopic in their outlook (notwithstanding what Management literature might advocate) – when the next quarter determines the CEOs fortunes - there is premium on short-term delivery. Unfortunate but true – not many of today’s star CEOs care more about their own shooting careers than sinking organizational morale. Nothing succeeds like success, they say in the corporate world. Therefore, usually – it is equally pointless – to take up “boss-subordinate” relationship with HR – unless there is a genuine case of “harassment” – sexual or mental.

The first principle is to ‘push-back’ – but in a polished professional and dignified manner (sometime putting responses on mails help – as it does keep a trail). Bullies usually tend to back off if challenged – just as they see submission as a sign of vulnerability and weakness. The important message to be conveyed – preferably right at the start (the ancient adage – of killing the cat on the first night) – is you are the master of your own destiny and not willing to hand-over its reins to anyone else – no matter how powerful he or she may be. Thereafter, it’s best to negotiate the terms of engagement and stick to them steadfastly - bringing the dealings back on track whenever they tend to stray off course.  And. always without fail claim and record credit for good work. Another good strategy, is to gain visibility outside one’s own Department with other functions and members of the senior leadership team. This can sometime provide an insurance cover against unilateral actions of a devious boss.

But, the real trick is not to allow the boss get under the skin and start affecting emotional wellbeing. For this, personal techniques – be it counting 10 before responding or meditation – are handy tools. But, if the going gets tough seeking coaching or counselling is an option worth considering. Techniques like CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) can do wonders.

Finally – much as old timers will say – “You can’t hose your father or your boss” – one always has the option of leaving them. But, do it at a time of one’s own choosing – not forced by the boss or cracking down under pressure. Nothing riles a TB more than someone pulling the plug off him without notice by a sort and sweet resignation letter.

That of course, is the last resort. But, there’s no job worth sacrificing one’s health – mental or physical – no matter what may be the financial compulsions. I have done it myself a couple of times in the last 30 years and never had to regret it. The sense of “liberation” one feels after exercising the ‘choice’ of freedom – has to be experienced to be believed.

Article first published in click here to read

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Depression the Common Cold of the Mind?

Depression is not a Common Cold of the Mind

Very disturbed since last night hearing about a friend, virtual neighbour and former colleague (a contemporary) who has gone missing from his house in (Bombay). Member of the top leadership team of the company - he decided to move on last year anticipating a career dead-end. He went back to his earlier employers - probably taking a pay cut and compromising on the level as well. Prior to that - he had a troubled stint, when he was sent-off to a remote location for a project that should have been handled by someone several notches lower and younger (He is 55). The strain and loneliness of living in the boondocks - for weeks away from the family (2 college going kids and spouse) tensions on the job and toxic bosses - must have taken its toll and, I suspect, he went into acute depression - which was probably aggravated after the job change (and associated loss of self-esteem).

Fast forward. It seems he left his house in shorts, Tee Shirt and Chappals - not even carrying his purse and phone on Thursday and has been untraceable since then.
We are all praying and hoping - he is found and comes back home safe and sound - but the portents are ominous.

The purpose of this post (apart from sharing my grief and mental distress) is to bring home the risks of leaving Depression untreated. Even in educated and affluent circles - we still refuse to recognise Depression as a Mental Health issue. While we're quick to rush to Doctors and Hospitals for other Medical conditions - depression and other mental ailments (such as OCD, Bipolar, Schizophrenia) are still taboo in society.

The problem, of course, is to find a good Mental Health Professional and Therapist. But, thankfully the field is opening up and people are less hesitant to seek help. But, there are still risks of falling into the hands of trigger-happy psychiatrists or indiscriminate use of anti-depressants by General Physicians - who understand little about the subject.

The worst is buying OTC (Over the Counter) medicines like Alprazolam and other anxiety relieving drugs or sedatives that are dispensed freely dispensed by the friendly neighbourhood chemists. These usually have short "half-life" and severe withdrawal symptoms that are often not recognised by patients and lead to further aggravation.

With our present lifestyles, studies, work, family and social pressures - Depression has almost become endemic in society and the work-place. Some call it the "Common Cold of the Mind". While it is fine to advocate - prevention techniques (Meditation, Yoga, Exercise etc) - once afflicted one should not neglect it and it is, arguably, best to go for conventional therapy and seek qualified professional help.

Enlightened and progressive employers and educational institutions - should provide counselling and psychologists on their rolls. Treatment for mental health issues should be supported like any other physical ailment.

But, a big responsibility rests with the family - parents, spouse and even children (if they are grown up). Where friends and colleagues can help - is in making them (or even the families are resistant) overcome the inhibition to go for therapy and treatment.
Time we started recognising depression and other psychological disorders - like any other lifestyle related afflictions - diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol etc - and not leave it unattended.

Please also read and share my earlier piece on the same subject published 
in @DailyO_  Click on : Deepika's Dips