Archive | May, 2016

Leaders vis-a-vis Managers

Many theories float around as to what is the difference between Leaders vis-a-vis- Managers; I hope to show some more clarity on the matter by referring to my Hands, Heart, Head, Voice model of leadership.

To recap, the four main functions/ traits of a good leader are elaborated below:

  1. Hand / Executing themes/ Task focus
  2. Heart/ Relationship building themes/People focus
  3. Head/ Strategic thinking themes/ Strategic focus
  4. Voice/ Influencing themes/ Cultural focus

IMHO, the traditional way in which leaders and managers are defined, leaders are predominantly leaders, because of their ability to think strategically or to inspire positive cultural changes; while managers are managers, because of their ability to execute the given tasks and because they can develop individuals and get work done out of them.

Much has been written about the task vs people orientation of managers; similarly its important as leaders to be aware of the strategic vs cultural focus you bring to the table (i.e whether you believe culture eats strategy for breakfast, or the opposite). Each style has its unique advantages, but as you grow from a supervisor to a manager to an executive to a real leader you will probably progress form Hands to Heart to Head to Voice.

Now, lets look at some other dynamics between the Hands, Heart, Head and Voice.

Hand Vs Voice : Here task focus is pitted against a culture focus and the real deal is about having tangible vs intangible results.  Culture is notoriously hard to measure, but any changes are as noticeable and as effective as any bottom-line results.

Voice vs Heart: Here a focus on organizational culture is pitted against a focus on individuals that make the organization and their needs. Issues of alignment are top-of the mind in this dynamics. Another way to think about the dynamics is whether you work one-on-one with individuals to bring out their best; or whether you inspire and motivate and work with, and via, large collectives and groups.

Heart vs Head: Here a focus on people is pitted against a focus on strategy and another way to look at the same is whether as a leader one is human-centric or more business-oriented.

Head vs Hands: Here a focus on strategy/ thinking is pitted against a focus on tasks/ execution. Another way to conceptualize is to think in terms of whether you are making moves that are strategic in nature or that are tactical in nature. How much of your time is spent making strategic decisions and executing strategy vis-a-vis in tactical maneuvers of day to day operations.

Be warned, that as a leader, you need to use all of your Hands, Heart , Head and Voice and a good leader/ manager, though having a predominant style, is flexible enough to rise to the occasion and use other styles as and when the situation so demands.

Its fun to apply this to an org structure, say the C-suite of executives of a tech company: while Hands may be the COO, responsible for day to day operations;  Head will typically be the CTO/CSO, responsible for providing a competitive strategic advantage; Heart will be the CXO, the Chief Experience Officer providing the human-centrism;  while Voice may be the CEO/CIO responsible for culture/ innovation etc.

In a similar vein, when startups form, all these things need to come together: an inspiring idea (Voice/ culture/ innovation) having a viable business model (Hands/ execution), to be executed by a stellar team of like-minded people that has been put together ( Heart/  people) and which has a clear business plan ( Head/ strategy.

While the prevailing wisdom is that the ‘idea’ guy should not be the CEO (makes for a ‘weak CEO’) , I think if CEO is to be the leader that everyone is to look at, they should be the ones to influence and inspire the employees, and need to have good Voice abilities.  What do you think? Do let me know via comments!

For developing non-cognitive skills of Employees, focus on their Managers!

A recent article by Paul Tough, focuses on how one can increase the non-cognitive skills of students. He shows, how, the evidence increasingly points, that we cannot ‘teach’ these skills, but by creating the right environmental conditions and via real-world interactions, these somehow develop.

These non-cognitive skills are skills like grit, resilience, self-control and perseverance; and these have been shown to have differential and significant impact, over and above cognitive factors, on academic performance and outcomes like the CGPA.

The article starts with documenting the well-known finding that (chronic) stress in early childhood is associated with worse outcomes later in life. It then goes on to document another finding, that irrespective of whether the early childhood is stressful (barring aside extreme adversity) or not, if the child-parent interaction is full of warmth and supportive and consistent, then it leads to development of  positive non-cognitive skills like attention and concentration.

For children who grow up without significant experiences of adversity, the skill-development process leading up to kindergarten generally works the way it’s supposed to: Calm, consistent, responsive interactions in infancy with parents and other caregivers create neural connections that lay the foundation for a healthy array of attention and concentration skills. Just as early stress sends signals to the nervous system to maintain constant vigilance and prepare for a lifetime of trouble, early warmth and responsiveness send the opposite signals: You’re safe; life is going to be fine. Let down your guard; the people around you will protect you and provide for you. Be curious about the world; it’s full of fascinating surprises. These messages trigger adaptations in children’s brains that allow them to slow down and consider problems and decisions more carefully, to focus their attention for longer periods, and to more willingly trade immediate gratification for promises of long-term benefits.

Now, as per one conceptualization, its easy to draw a parallel between a child-parent relation and a employee-manager relation; many of us look at our bosses as parental authority figures and look towards them for direction and guidance. If we extend the analogy, its easy to see why the supportive, warm, caring and consistent behavior of managers towards their employee may be an important variable that results in the employees exhibiting behaviors that utilizes and is focused around using non-cognitive skills.

Also important is the emotional intelligence of the manager- how self-aware the manager is and how capable of self-regulation he or she is. The analogy with parent-child emotional interaction and modelling is presented below:

A second crucial role that parents play early on is as external regulators of their children’s stress. When parents behave harshly or unpredictably—especially at moments when their children are upset—the children are less likely over time to develop the ability to manage strong emotions and respond effectively to stressful situations. By contrast, when a child’s parents respond to her jangled emotions in a sensitive and measured way, she is more likely to learn that she herself has the capacity to cope with her feelings, even intense and unpleasant ones.

So, if one wants to have employees that can focus, self-regulate, do not cut corners in service of short term goals and are creative/ innovative, then along with some behavioral raining in these aspects, a fruitful avenue would be focusing on the EI and attitudes of their managers so that they act in right way towards their employees, and create the right conditions for development and display of non-cognitive skills.

The article then goes on to discuss how neither punishments nor incentives work to decrease the behavior problems or to increase the academic outcomes. Translated to the workplace, carrots and sticks don’t work, neither for controlling dis-engagement nor for increasing performance. One striking indictment of incentives follows:

And yet in almost every case, Fryer’s incentive programs have had no effect. From 2007 to 2009, Fryer distributed a total of $9.4 million in cash incentives to 27,000 students, to promote book reading in Dallas, to raise test scores in New York, and to improve course grades in Chicago —all with no effect. “The impact of financial incentives on student achievement,” Fryer reported, “is statistically 0 in each city.” In the 2010–11 school year, he gave cash incentives to fifth-grade students in 25 low-performing public schools in Houston, and to their parents and teachers, with the intent of increasing the time they spent on math homework and improving their scores on standardized math tests. The students performed the tasks necessary to get paid, but their average math scores at the end of eight months hadn’t changed at all. When Fryer looked at their reading scores, he found that they actually went down.

What does work instead, is creating the conditions for tapping into intrinsic motivation: and one way to do so is by providing employees/ students a sense of autonomy, mastery experiences and a sense of belonging/ relatedness. This is based in the rich literature around self-determination theory by Deci and Ryan.

But how does this relate to the non-cognitive abilities? In educational settings, Jackson, an economist, tried to measure the non-cognitive ability of students and also correlate to teacher’s effectiveness and came up with striking insights.

Jackson had access to students’ scores on the statewide standardized test, and he used that as a rough measure of their cognitive ability. This is the number that education officials generally look at when trying to assess teachers’ impact. But then Jackson did something new. He created a proxy measure for students’ noncognitive ability, using just four pieces of existing administrative data: attendance, suspensions, on-time grade progression, and overall GPA. Jackson’s new index measured, in a fairly crude way, how engaged students were in school—whether they showed up, whether they misbehaved, and how hard they worked in their classes. Jackson found that this simple noncognitive proxy was, remarkably, a better predictor than students’ test scores of whether the students would go on to attend college, a better predictor of adult wages, and a better predictor of future arrests.

An analogy to workplace would be productivity as the cognitive skills; and absenteeism, layoffs, on-time promotions and performance ratings as a proxy measure for non-cognitive abilities. And what did he find?

Jackson’s proxy measure allowed him to do some intriguing analysis of teachers’ effectiveness. He subjected every ninth-grade English and algebra teacher in North Carolina to what economists call a value-added assessment. First he calculated whether and how being a student in a particular teacher’s class affected that student’s standardized-test score. Then, separately, he calculated the effect that teachers had on their students’ noncognitive proxy measure: on their attendance, suspensions, timely progression from one grade to the next, and overall GPA.

Jackson found that some teachers were reliably able to raise their students’ standardized-test scores year after year. These are the teachers, in every teacher-evaluation system in the country, who are the most valued and most rewarded. But he also found that there was another distinct cohort of teachers who were reliably able to raise their students’ performance on his noncognitive measure. If you were assigned to the class of a teacher in this cohort, you were more likely to show up to school, more likely to avoid suspension, more likely to move on to the next grade. And your overall GPA went up—not just your grades in that particular teacher’s class, but your grades in your other classes, too.

Jackson found that these two groups of successful teachers did not necessarily overlap much; in every school, it seemed, there were certain teachers who were especially good at developing cognitive skills in their students and other teachers who excelled at developing noncognitive skills. But the teachers in the second cohort were not being rewarded for their success with their students—indeed, it seemed likely that no one but Jackson even realized that they were successful. And yet those teachers, according to Jackson’s calculations, were doing more to get their students to college and raise their future wages than were the much-celebrated teachers who boosted students’ test scores.

Now this is huge! It correlates with the parallel  claim I have been making that most of the managers are basically either task-oriented or people-oriented.  Those who are task oriented, are like the teachers who can increase the cognitive ability of students, and are able to drive productivity in their teams; the other set of managers, who are more people-oriented, are like teachers that create the conditions that lead to more non-cognitive abilities in their students, and are able to truly engage employees and bring out their best.

And this they do by creating the right conditions:

The environment those teachers created in the classroom, and the messages that environment conveyed, motivated students to start making better decisions—to show up to class, to persevere longer at difficult tasks, and to deal more resiliently with the countless small-scale setbacks and frustrations that make up the typical student’s school day. And those decisions improved their lives in meaningful ways. Did the students learn new skills that enabled them to behave differently? Maybe. Or maybe what we are choosing to call “skills” in this case are really just new ways of thinking about the world or about themselves—a new set of attitudes or beliefs that somehow unleash a new way of behaving.

And what are these new set of attitudes or beliefs:

Farrington has distilled this voluminous mind-set research into four key beliefs that, when embraced by students, seem to contribute most significantly to their tendency to persevere in the classroom:

1. I belong in this academic community.

2. My ability and competence grow with my effort.

3. I can succeed at this.

4. This work has value for me.

If students hold these beliefs in mind as they are sitting in math class, Farrington concludes, they are more likely to persevere through the challenges and failures they encounter there. And if they don’t, they are more likely to give up at the first sign of trouble.

The four factors are related to belongingness (where managers can play a big role), mastery experiences and growth opportunities, for creating self-efficacy and feelings of competence(again under manager’s control); and ensuring the work is purposeful and not meaningless (where again managers can play a big role).

Its about time, managers lived up-to their responsibilities, and organizations reward the people-oriented managers too, who are creating the conditions for their employees to grow and flourish. The non-cognitive skills of employees can be developed but via the managers and hence its important to create the right culture where people oriented managers are also rewarded and recognized.

Maximizing Happiness: to each his own!

Happiness means different things to different people, but happiness or well-being researchers have typically broken down happiness into three components:

  1. Absence of negative emotions
  2. Presence of positive emotions
  3. Life satisfaction
Jeff Woloson in Thailand. The birds atop Jeff'...

Jeff Woloson in Thailand. The birds atop Jeff’s head and left arm are Brahminy Kites; the larger bird on his right arm is a young White-bellied Sea-eagle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently extended this framework to include life outlook as an integral component of happiness and you can read more about the same at my The Mouse Trap blog here.

To me, this break-up of well-being into negative emotions, positive emotions and life satisfaction seems incomplete and I propose adding another component to the mix: life outlook.

Life outlook, is how excited you are about the possibilities of the future, and in your ability to make your dreams come true; it is future oriented, unlike life satisfaction which is past oriented; though like life satisfaction, I believe, it can be reliably measured by self-report method. This involves an attitude of looking forward to whatever life has to offer; to be truly considered ‘happy’ one should be hopeful and optimistic, rather than resigned or pessimistic.

So well-being= ‘presence of +ve emotions’ + ‘lack of -ve emotions’ + ‘life satisfaction’ + ‘+ve life outlook’

Life satisfaction is typically measured using Satisfaction with Life scale; the absence of positive and negative emotions by PANAS scale. I would suggest to know real well-being of a person we also need to measure Life Outlook and this can be tentatively done by using the Adult Hope scale, although to be frank we probably need a new measure.

We control what we measure and to me it is apparent that if we want to control our happiness i.e. maximize it we also need to be able to measure its components and see improvements.

What is interesting is that each type of happiness is associated with a different type of self, and based on the properties of these selves, different method of increasing happiness apply to different selves.

Take minimizing negative/unhelpful emotions, this is associated with Materialistic self and you could possibly reduce discomfort by gaining material possessions. Beyond a certain point more possessions or assets typically lead to increasing hedonistic pleasure, but no gain in real happiness. Conversely having negative possessions or liabilities is likely to make you unhappy. So buy that new iPhone but not at the cost of a materialistic liability like a recurring EMI.

Or take maximizing positive/ helpful emotions that are related to the experiencing self, and by having intense ‘in the moment’ experiences you could possibly feel euphoric joy. An experiential purchase like a vacation or attending a concert may lead to real joyful experience. If you were focused on this type of happiness you are better off maximizing positive experiences in your life; and reducing the negative experiences or hassles. If planning and executing for that vacation is more of a hassle, and if even on the vacation, you can’t live in the moment, then perhaps you are better off not taking that vacation:)

Similarly, it has been found that life satisfaction is related to income/wealth and I associate it with the Remembering self. To me, it is all about building a corpus(typically of wealth/ status, but at times of experiences) about which you could reflect back and feel good about yourself. It is also related to making use of past opportunities and if one doesn’t dare greatly then one is doomed to live with regret. Opportunity cost is one construct relevant to this. To maximize this sort of happiness, one can satisfy rather than maximize, while making decisions, so that regret is lowest.

Lastly, we have life outlook that I relate to the Anticipatory self or the Homo Prospectus. As I came up with the construct idea last night only, not much research has apparently happened on this:-) and we don’t know with what it correlates. I believe investing in yourself, by say investing into your psychological resources like building confidence and resilience, may be one way of maximizing this sort of happiness. To have SMART and WISE goals for oneself seems like another factor that may lead to being more hopeful about life; on the other hand not having any goals/ dreams could lead to an attitude of resignation and lead to living lives of quiet desperation. So to maximize this type of happiness perhaps its important to have the right types of goals: WISE, intrinsic and other-oriented.

All happiness are created equal, but some happiness are created more equal than the others. Its best to figure out which type of happiness makes most sense to you and then to go ahead and maximize that kind of happiness. Here is wishing you loads of happiness as you venture forth on that path. Happy flourishing!

What if time was not a constraint?

Some of you may be familiar with this speech by Alan Watts where he discusses ‘What if money was no object?’

The idea is to get people thinking about what they are really passionate about, and would love to do, and questions such as these are many times used, by coaches like me, to make our clients explore such options and dream big.

However, as a coach, we also come across clients who are not able to make out time for healthy habits like exercise, meditation etc and often times the excuse for not making any positive changes is the lack of time.

Now, consider the adage that time is money. Putting the above two thoughts together, one can pose a question as to what would happen if time was not a constraint. Suppose you got double the amount of time in a day (48 hrs), what would change; which happy habits will you eke out time for? Will you spend more time with your family? And if you plan to spend, say 4 hrs with family, in a 48 hr day; can you at least keep aside for the family 2 hrs in a 24 hr day?  Thought experiments like these can be powerful levers for change.

I developed this line of thinking, when I came across a post yesterday, on Facebook by Scott Barry Kaufman (whose website just got a fabulous new design), where he was grappling with a thought experiment at 1 am in the night: what if we lived 1000 yrs; at the deathbed would we say life flew too fast, or instead that it felt like forever.

While I have my own take on what we might say on the deathbed in that condition, this also prompted me to ask a different, but related more powerful question. What if instead of asking our clients of ‘how they would re-prioritize their life if they had cancer and had only 6 months to live‘ we in addition also asked ‘ What would you really do, if time was no constraint and you were to live for a 1000 years’. Would you invest more in relationships, would you slow down your hyper career focus, or would you invest more into things that only bear fruit with a lot of investment like caring for a child?

Each person will have a different take and that would provide them with additional insight into what they want to do in life and what their real priorities are.  By playing around with their time horizons (cancer/ 1000 years) as well as making them sensitive to their daily experience of time (48 hrs vs 24 hrs) one can trigger powerful insights, in the client.

So what are you waiting for? Think about how your day will change if there were 48 hrs in it and also how your life priorities will change if you were to live 1000 years; and, if you feel like, leave, a line or two, in the comments regarding the same. Maybe this little exercise can lead to a real transformative insight.

Exploring what Matters in Life


How many of us can clearly articulate what we want from life? How many of us know how to be happy and have peace of mind? Do we appreciate the value of relationships and want to figure out how to treat others well? Do we want to create a happier workplace, a happier community and a happier world, but are seeking answers as to how?

If you, like me, have been puzzled by such questions, look no further. Action for Happiness has been running the ‘Exploring what Matters’ course in the UK, which enables you to ponder these questions along with like-minded people. And till now the course was only available in UK.

But now, for the first time the, course is also being offered in Pune/ India and here is your opportunity to take part in this course and explore issues of consequence.

The course will be co-facilitated by me and Manish Hatwlane of My Zen Path and is an eight week course. It will run from 25 June 2016 to 13 August 2016 on Saturdays from 5:30 pm to 7:30 Pm IST.  You can register for the course here.

The course is backed by the Dalai Lama, who is the patron of Action for Happiness. It has received rave reviews, when offered in UK, and we hope to replicate the magic here.

From the past runs and pilot studies of this course, it has been shown, that course participants are happier, more compassionate, have greater social trust and are mentally healthier, post participation in this course. The course participation involves a pre and post survey as per which life satisfaction, mental well-being, compassion and social trust are assessed at both times; and it has been found that these positive qualities increase on an average by 8 to 18 %.

I am looking forward to learning from other course participants, and would encourage you to do the same, in case you are based out of Pune.

Beyond PsyCap and Grit: Towards Work & Life Flourishing

Concepts like PsyCap have become popular in organizational contexts; while concepts like Grit are found to be more useful in academic pursuits and as applied to school settings. But no comprehensive construct exists that could measure and be applied to your whole life domain.

Before we go further, lets recall that PsyCap is a higher level construct consisting of the four lower level constructs: Hope, Self- Efficacy, Resilience and Optimism. Developing and building reserves of these psychological capital in the organizational context has been shown to be associated with higher measures of performance and engagement and job satisfaction.

Grit, similarly, is theorized to be made up of Passion and Perseverance and has been shown to predict GPA better than IQ.

Both of the above concepts like Grit and PsyCap have been operationalized and valid and reliable measures exist to measure them and also measure the effectiveness of interventions aimed to increase them. It is to be noted that PsyCap is more state-like while Grit is more trait-like, but both are assumed to be capable of development.

However, in my opinion, a newer construct is needed, that is consisting of eight low-level factors, that aims to capture the entire essence of goal related pursuits and how that may relate to psychological well-being and flourishing.

The need and structure of that construct I wrote about yesterday in my psychology blog The Mouse Trap. Here is an excerpt from that delineating the eight factors:

  1. Purpose: Everyone should start with defining their life purpose. Once defined, it provides a general direction and decision-pulse for all your decisions, actions etc.  It is the super-ordinate goal of your life and all other goals should be subordinate and aligned to this.  A firm commitment to this purpose provides the motivation/ drive to achieve and flourish. This acts as the ‘narrow’ polarity of the fundamental four ABCD model by restricting our choices, once purpose is determined and defined. This is the end goal.

  2. Pathways : If purpose is the end goal, pathways are the means or subordinate goals and strategies to achieve that super-ordinate goal.  It enables one to flexibly take stock of the progress towards the end goal and adjust or change the means goal to continue momentum towards the end goal. As Angela Duckworth says ‘ “Go, go, go until you can’t go anymore…then turn left.” This acts as the ‘broad’ polarity of the fundamental four ABCD model by expanding our repertoire of responses.

  3. Positive narratives: We all tell stories to ourselves and our view of past is not objective but actively constructed. And its better to tell positive stories to ourselves than otherwise. This is related to learned optimism. As per Seligman, one should make stable, internal and pervasive/ generic attributions about positive events and temporary, external and specific attributions about negative events. This eventually enables us to  have a positive image of our abilities in the past and leads to hope and self confidence that we will be able to achieve in future too. This is related to ‘other’ polarity: how we interpret what happens to us via others .

  4. Positive self-belief: Call it confidence, call it self-efficacy or call it even agency ; this is belief in one’s own ability and efforts to lead to positive outcomes.  This is obviously related to ‘self’ and is cognitive in nature.

  5. Perseverance: This is being in for the long haul. When set upon achieving a goal, time is not a constraint, and one would continue investing time into the pursuit; if setbacks happen, one rebounds or emerges more determined. One does not change one’s goal or strategy easily. This is also related to resilience. This is ‘passive ‘ polarity as one reacts to setbacks / obstacle when they happen, but otherwise just continues investing time and energy. This is behavioral in nature.

  6. Practice: This is ensuring that efforts are not a constraint when it comes to achieving the goal. One is willing to work hard to archive ones goals and one actively and regularly and diligently puts in that effort. This again is ‘active’ and behavioral in nature. The willingness to put in hard work can again be developed like other constructs.

  7. Passion: This is not the regular definition of passion; by passion here I mean a consistency of interests and a fascination with a subject. It includes things like not getting distracted or waylaid by competing interests and also not letting you interest wane or fade over the time. It is obviously related to emotions and is the ‘pain’ polarity as an obsessive passion may sometime lead to pain.

  8. Playfulness: This is about having a playful attitude when working towards your goals;  it includes things like enthusiasm towards the goal, enjoying the journey by having flow experiences and being engaged and curious. This too is emotional in nature and is related to ‘pleasure’ polarity.

I use the above framework to coach my clients to achieve their goals/ dreams in life. I start at the top with defining the life purpose, or overarching dream and goal, and work backwards till they can me made to discover and build upon a passion for that goal.

I can also potentially see some strengths (Gallup framework) that align more closely with some of these than others.  Belief can help with committing to a clear purpose/ vision; Strategic can help with finding alternate pathways; Self-assurance can be used to build self-efficacy; Postivity can be used for interpreting events positively;  Focus lets you pursue goals with single minded determination without being distracted and leads to perseverance; Discipline lets you practice day in and day out with a plan and schedule;  Learner or Input can be the cornerstone of passion in a domain; and finally, Positivity, again, can be used for cultivating the playful attitude.

I would love to see more people using this framework and would love to hear back from them as to how useful this is, over and above, and beyond, the usual concepts like Grit and PsyCap. Of course, for this to be really useful, this construct (either as a whole or as sub factors) would need to be operationlised and measured and  interventions validated for boosting all of its sub factors.

With more and more movement toward work-life integration, its time to have a single goal pursuit related construct, investing and building on which could provide you with the resources to pursue it successfully, while maintaining and even enhancing your well-being, in all domains of life.

Successful goal pursuit, and even the mere fact that you have some important goals in life, has been shown to be associated with better psychological well-being. Research by Sonja Lyubomirsky on happiness has shown that at least 40 % of happiness is under our control and is related to pursuing activities and interests.

If we really want to flourish in life, we should have some WISE goals and should actively work towards them. The above construct will help you do that and not only achieve your goals, but also be happy in the process!!

The six styles of procrastination

I recently resolved to blog more frequently on my leadership and positive psychology based blog, Flourish Mentoring (the one you are reading), and an internal goal I had set for myself was to blog each day if possible. Like all procrastinators, I typically end up blogging just before the day is ending (to meet my internal deadline/goal) and like all procrastinators I sometime miss the deadline too:-) / or end up doing a poor quality job!!

I keep a to-do list of topics/ ideas on which I would like to blog, so its not the case that I have run out of ideas; however one thing or the other pulls me from writing earlier in the day (for e.g. today was a weekend and I had enough opportunities to write something during the day).

The reasons are myriad and so today when I came across ‘It’s about time: The six style of procrastination and how to overcome them’ by Linda Sapadin and Jack Maguire, I could immediately see a connect. I could see each of the styles playing a role in my procrastination in one way or the other. But before we go there, lets recap what the six styles are (picked form this lovely resource for students [pdf] :

The Perfectionist : You’re overly concerned with not meeting high expectations; you work so hard you never finish (or, sometimes, never start).
The Dreamer: You’re great at planning and scheming but frustrated by the practical reality of sitting down to do hard work.
The Worrier: “What ifs” get in the way. You avoid making decisions, resist change, and are fearful about the unfamiliar.
The Crisis-Maker: You enjoy the last-minute adrenaline rush and tell yourself you work best under pressure.
The Defier: You rebel against external deadlines and expectations. You might be overt about this, or you might exhibit a more passive-aggressive kind of defiance.
The Overdoer : There’s too much on your plate because you can’t say no or set appropriate boundaries. As a result, there’s never enough time to do it all.
To elucidate the above let me apply to my daily blogging goal.
1. The perfectionist: The perfectionist in me delays starting the blog-post as I have uncompromisingly high standards as to what depth a blog post should have and that it should not be trivial or of little use to readers; as such I continue ruminating if my choice of topic is good enough and typically do a lot of reading and thinking before starting with the piece. Perhaps instead of being obsessed with getting each post loved by the readers, I can be more experimental and learn from which posts failed and couldn’t make an impact, and so be less choosy while putting my thoughts to paper.
2. The dreamer: Perhaps the dreamer in me dreams of writing great blog posts regularly and can conceptualize in abstract what the impact could be, but when it comes to the hard work of researching for the post or articulating in lucid words, that practical stuff involving putting your ass to the grind, seems to be a stumbling block. Perhaps I wait for inspiration to strike; while getting on with the mundane job of researching and writing is all that is required.
3. The worrier: The worrier in me worries what -if the readers reject my post and neither share nor comment, neither praise, nor criticize, but just ignore it? This fear of failure perhaps prevents me from writing as frequently as I would wish to! Perhaps I am dragged down by the fear of what-if  the blog post is not a success; perhaps the way out is to reassure oneself that even-if no one reads right now, I would have created original content that would be found useful by someone at some time or the other.
4. The crisis- maker: the crisis maker in me loves the opportunity to prove myself , yet again, at the 11th hour; writing close to midnight, under the tight deadline of an unforgiving and departing day, is much more fun than writing earlier in the day.  This is the typical ‘I enjoy working under pressure’ attitude; perhaps the antidote is to indeed try writing earlier in the day for some days and see how it goes.
5. The defier: I hate external authorities and controls and rebel against this self -imposed guideline of writing daily, which feels more like an external command. So I rebel and postpone writing a  post. Perhaps the way out is making peace with the fact that its my commitment earlier to write more frequently that got me here and that I need not battle my own earlier decisions but can negotiate the writing frequency if daily writing feels overwhelming.
6. The overdoer: Perhaps I have so many blogs (The Mouse Trap, at The Psychology Today etc ) and competing demands on my time that I can actually find no time to focus on Flourish Mentoring blog. Perhaps I need to cut down or prioritize on what is really important.
The above is just a sample; I could have, with ease, applied the same to my another long standing procrastination example: not writing my nonfiction book (listed in my CV (of failures) ).
You should also do the same; try to see which all procrastination styles you use, occasionally or regularly, and you may be surprised at what you discover. But then don’t get disheartened; there are tools and methods to overcome that procrastination and as coaches we are there to help!

Indian parents prioritize career success over happiness for their kids

As per a survey [pdf] done by HSBC of 5,550 parents in 16 countries, Indian parents prioritize career success over and above happiness for their kids. Now, this is a small sample size ( ~ 350 Indian parents if one assumes equal sampling from all countries), but I am not surprised. This rings true from personal experience.

Now, the procedure was very simple, parents were asked to pick top 3 goals for their kids. In India, ‘Be successful in their career’ was picked by 51 % parents, as compared to ‘Be happy in life’ (49 %), ‘Lead a healthy lifestyle’ (33 %), ‘Earn enough to enjoy a comfortable life’ (22%) and ‘Fulfill their potential’ (17 %).


Now, by itself, the results may not  seem striking…after all there is only 2 % more Indian parents choosing career success over happiness and about half of the Indian parents are choosing happiness as well as career success, so what is the big deal?


It becomes a big deal when we put things in perspective. The average percentage of parents who have happiness as a major goal for their kids globally is 64%. That is, two out of three parents globally want their kid to be happy at all costs, while only half of Indian parents do. Moreover, in some countries like France, as high as 86 % want their child to be happy, first and foremost!

Contrast this with a focus on career success. Globally, only for 30 % parents, career success is a cherished goal for their child; or stated another way only 1 in 3 parents is focused on the career success of the child globally, while this figure becomes 1 in 2 parent in the Indian context.

What does such an extreme focus on career success, to the detriment of being happy, lead to? High suicide rates in the education hub of India : Kota.

I hail from Kota and know first hand the tremendous pressure that children are subjected to as they prepare for engineering/ medical entrance exams conforming to their parents wish.

The HSBC report also talks about career ambitions parents have for their children. Its a worrying fact that globally 4 in 5 parents(83 %) have a specific career in mind for their child and in emerging economies this number is even higher. What room does it leave for the child to pursue what their own dream/ passion is?

I coach students too and make it a point to be true to my clients interests (the student) rather than their parents interests ( the party making the payments) cause often the interests may not align!!

The report also talks about how traditional streams like Medicine remains a popular choice (of parents for their child) globally (19 %) ; while Indian parents prefer Engineering ( 14 %) and Computer Science (18 %) over Medicine (14 %) for their kids. Also as many as  89% of parents have either paid for, or plan to pay for additional tutoring. (no wonder coaching business in Kota, and elsewhere, is blooming).

I have nothing against getting additional tutoring or coaching for your child( given the reality of competitive entrance tests, that is unavoidable) and I myself had taken coaching with a Kota institute for clearing my JEE (way back in 1994);  but what I find unacceptable is the subtle, and at times not so subtle, peer and parental pressure to  either become a doctor or an engineer.

By not considering what the interests, passions and strengths of the child are , we preclude them from being truly happy and successful in their adult life.

What the report uncovered was that globally, about a third of parents base their career preferences for their child based on income generating potential while an equal number base it on benefit to society or how well suited the job would be to their children’s strengths. With just 29 % parents globally having ‘Fulfill their potential’ as a major goal for their children, this sorry state of affairs is understandable (but not acceptable).

It might sound like preaching, but if we can learn from the appalling case of the numerous suicides in Kota, it is perhaps evident that unless we align students strengths and interests with their future career and ensure that happiness and fulfilling one’s potential does not take backseat to a sole focus on career; we will not only continue playing with precious human lives, but also leave many more to keep living lives of quiet desperation in their adult life.

One solution comes to mind: Making well-being and character strengths a focus early on since school and that is what the promise of positive education is. Its hard to reach out to parents and make them change, but perhaps we can make the children themselves aware of their need to prioritize happiness and equip them with tools to discover and capitalize on their strengths for resilience and well being throughout the life. IPEN is a step in that direction and I welcome you to reach out to me to take it further in India.

Caught in the middle: Mental Health of middle managers

English: Gibraltar Barbary Macaques

English: Gibraltar Barbary Macaques (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About three years back a study about concentrations of fecal glucocorticoids in nine female Barbary macaques caught the imagination of science and management bloggers/ journalists.  The study was more methodological in nature, trying to see whether average concentrations of fecal glucoroticoids are a better measure of stress or those collected immediately after and correlated with some aspect of behavior a better measure, but what caught the fancy of the blogoshpere was a small paragraph embedded towards the end:

Female Barbary macaques have a despotic dominance style, characterized by asymmetrical dyadic interactions, often determined through the use of ritualized threats and displacement, as opposed to direct aggression (Preuschoft et al.,1998 ). When adrenal activity was compared between individuals according to their relative dominance rank, we found a non-linear relationship,with mid-rank females tending to exhibit higher,and often more variable fGCM concentration than high-rank, or lower-rank females.

Now to understand the above, we have to digress a bit into the physiology and psychology of stress. Macaques have a hierarchical social structure and use aggression/ threats and displacement to seal their position in the hierarchy.  These aggressive behaviors cause stress. Stress manifests as heightened activity of HPA axis leading to more glucocorticoids in the body (and feces).  Bottom line, you can measure how stressed a macaque is by analyzing the glucocorticoid metabolite in the feces.

And what did they found? Tangential to their main hypothesis, they found that those macaques in the middle of the rank dominance were more stressed than those either high up the hierarchy or at the bottom.

And what are the most common asymmetrical power structures in human context—-its the workplace where power games are not too uncommon.  The authors themselves extended the analogy to middle managers (not in the article , but in their press briefs) and equated the ambition of middle managers, and the consequent conflict with both superiors and subordinates, as one of the reasons for the stress that middle mangers feel.

But is it really the case that middle managers are more stressed than those at the bottom of the hierarchy or those at the top? I have been a middle manager myself so should know, but instead of using anecdotes lets look at research again, this time from a study surveying nearly 22,000 full time workers.

What the researchers found was that middle managers were indeed more likely to be depressed or anxious than their top-ranking or bottom-of-the-pile counterparts. The study divided workers into owners/leaders; managers/ supervisors and workers and found elevated rates of depression and anxiety in middle managers and supervisors as compared to say workers and owners.

Of course one can speculate as to what factors may underlie such a state of affairs; but putting the two researches together, one can see that part of the reason may be the power dynamics that is involved in being a  boss as well as a subordinate at the same time. When the boss asks and puts pressure for something that is not possible in the given amount of time/ resources, the aggression is typically displaced to the subordinates and leads to conflicts and bad blood at both ends.  The middle manger is truly caught in the middle.

What is the way out? Being more assertive to superiors (without being aggressive/ ambitious/ stabbing-in-the-back kind of person) and not displacing aggressive impulses towards subordinates is one thing that comes to mind. The other is totally to stop seeing oneself as a boss or a powerful person and using more influence and persuasion to get things done rather than use authority or control ….this way you detach from the power and dominance hierarchy mindset.  Lastly create a fun climate for both your subordinates and a delightful experience for your managers. We can learn from macaques and chimpanzees to be aggressive or we can learn from bonobos to be more playful and loving. The choice is ours (and has important consequence for our well-being) !

Yesterday, I had written about how relationships are important for workplace well-being; as middle managers that are caught between superiors, colleagues and subordinates we can either get overwhelmed by the hellishness of other people; or we can use these myriad relationships to satisfy our need of relatedness and making a broader impact on the world around us. The choice again is ours!

Happiness and good relationships at work

I came across this study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) today, courtesy a post by Dr. Nico Rose; and have been thinking about the primary finding highlighted by Nico that relationships matter for your happiness – even in the workplace.


Happiness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, I have been  long time fan of Herzberg‘s two factor-theory of workplace motivation and happiness, where he makes a difference between motivators or those factors that drive job satisfaction and Hygiene factors or those that drive dissatisfaction. As per Herzberg, dissatisfaction and satisfaction are different constructs with different underlying antecedents and are not the converse of each other.

Now, if one equates job satisfaction with positive emotions and job dissatisfaction with negative emotions, one would conclude that positive emotions and negative emotions too should be different constructs and not the opposite of each other; and that is exactly what we now from research in psychology. It is well established now that mental health and mental illness are different constructs and so are positive emotions and negative emotions. Reducing the negative emotions does not guarantee that you will be happy; to become happier you have to resort to different tactics than those used to reduce suffering.

Returning to Herzberg’s theory,the Wikipedia page list some good evidence in support of that:

That said, a study by the Gallup Organization, as detailed in the book First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, appears to provide strong support for Herzberg’s division of satisfaction and dissatisfaction onto two separate scales. In this book, the authors discuss how the study identified twelve questions that provide a framework for determining high-performing individuals and organizations. These twelve questions align squarely with Herzberg’s motivation factors, while hygiene factors were determined to have little effect on motivating high performance.

So we do have some evidence for the validity of two factor construct. Now, Herzberg’s theory mentions the following as motivators and hygiene factors :

Two-factor theory distinguishes between:

  • Motivators (e.g. challenging work, recognition for one’s achievement, responsibility, opportunity to do something meaningful, involvement in decision making, sense of importance to an organization) that give positive satisfaction, arising from intrinsic conditions of the job itself, such as recognition, achievement, or personal growth,  and

  • Hygiene factors (e.g. status, job security, salary, fringe benefits, work conditions, good pay, paid insurance, vacations) that do not give positive satisfaction or lead to higher motivation, though dissatisfaction results from their absence. The term “hygiene” is used in the sense that these are maintenance factors. These are extrinsic to the work itself, and include aspects such as company policies, supervisory practices, or wages/salary. Herzberg often referred to hygiene factors as “KITA” factors, which is an acronym for “kick in the ass”, the process of providing incentives or threat of punishment to make someone do something.


Its interesting to note that Herzberg puts relationships with peers, colleagues and subordinates under hygiene factor or those that can lead to dissatisfaction; however in doing so I think Herzberg was placing too strong an emphasis on the KITA factor of supervisors and colleagues (who hasn’t faced an a**hole boss or colleague or even a subordinate). What he ignored was that while other people are hell, so are they heaven.

The same supervisor that can be an a**hole, can also be an angelic mentor ensuring your growth and development.  And that is exactly what  the BCG have found in their survey of over 200,000 people from all over the world.  To quote a verbatim response from an example respondent:

As for relationships with superiors, it’s “important to me because I would like to learn and grow” and having the right super­visor “can help facilitate that,” she says.

The discourse since the days of Herzberg has clearly moved towards viewing people primarily as hell, to viewing them as having positive potential. The top factors for happiness in the BCG survey are all related to relationships. (money related factors appear at the eighth rank ).


Also important to note that Herzberg distinguished between motivators as being related to intrinsic factors or intrinsic motivation, while Hygiene factors as more extrinsic or environmentally controlled. It is easy to put relationships in extrinsic factors, but that ignores research by Deci and Ryan on self-determination that puts Relatedness as a basic intrinsic human need at par with Autonomy and Mastery.

I think its time to disentangle the effects of good and bad relationships in the workplace, and while conducting research or surveys, its imperative that we separate questions about engagement / satisfaction from questions about dis-engagement/ dissatisfaction; and then we will have a clearer picture of what factors are important for workplace happiness and what are necessary to prevent workplace misery.

Relationships, intriguingly, may figure prominently in both lists. So the bottom line is that other people matter – for good or for worse!