by L. Aruna Dhir, Featured Contributor
TODAY, I would like to present a set of positive and contra statements that should really form the basis for a professional’s code of ethics and develop into tenets that help you become a super achiever in life.
Let’s call them our Eleven Commandments and see how they work for or against us.
1, I DON’T KNOW
This by far is the single most important statement that can become part of your repertoire. It is loaded with wisdom (you are wise enough to acknowledge what you do or don’t know), maturity (you are mature enough to accept that) and inclination to learn (only when you know and accept that you do not know something that you are willing to take steps in the direction of learning it and making it part of your knowledge bank).
Once my General Manger quizzed me on the International Media plan I had presented to him. He wanted to know why I was allocating the same budget to Condé Nast Traveller in US and UK. I murmured back a weak response instead of getting into a healthy discussion around the fact that I did not know that one had a higher profile and larger circulation and readership than the other. My lame, halting acceptance made me cut a very sorry figure. But the plus side of it, on hindsight, is that I will never ever forget that.
On a cultural ambassadorship to the US and being hosted by some of the most high profile Rotarians in the District, one thing that I noticed strongly was the fact that regardless of the Rotarian’s seniority or position or experience, if he or she did not know something they would say so and would then look at the second part of this – that of getting to know about the topic. Not only did they manage to invite more respect from us for their forthrightness but they also went about increasing their knowledge base in the process.
2. I WILL FIND OUT AND COME BACK TO YOU
On the same Cultural Exchange and amidst the same group of opinion makers, we also noticed that the second statement used by them in tandem with the first was “I will find out and come back to you.” Which, we pleasantly noticed that they did, no matter how small our query or how insignificant our question.
So please do find out and come back. There are two main advantages of this. The first – it shows that you are a professional and a person of your word. Second – it makes you go through the research required in finding out and ensures that you remember the subject for a long time.
3. I WILL COME BACK IN FIVE MINUTES / IN A DAY OR A WEEK OR WHATEVER
This holds a whole lot of importance in the context of India and with regard to the large sense of timelessness that we seem to live in – a concept that is unique to this ancient land and even its modern people. Consider this – we use the same term for both yesterday and tomorrow – Kal – and the timeline seems to glide from one to the other and back in the most effortless manner.
Two poles-apart incidents come to mind here – On a business trip to Washington DC back in 2001, I came across a ‘Men at Work’ sign on a busy road. Along with this sign was another that stated the date when the Public Work had started and the one when it would be completed. Coming from India, it was a pleasantly strange experience for me. Imagine something like that happening in India even in 2011. Can we ever forget the nightmarish construction, mismanagement and botch up that went about in the organization of the recently held Commonwealth Games in India’s Capital City!
One day, I found my boss’s French wife in a terribly pesky mood. On scratching the surface I found out that the poor soul had been held at ransom by the woodworks force working in her apartment. The supervisor had been promising to her, with a big smile and a booming voice, that the simple repair work would be finished tomorrow and then most definitely day after tomorrow. But she kept waiting for Godot and tomorrow never came till the Chief Engineer withheld the money asked for by the Supervisor. Only then did the team miraculously reappear, all hale and hearty to finish the work in a few days time. Sound familiar???
However, now we should be tuning ourselves differently, oiling our mental clocks and resetting our reminders, alarms and electronic beeps. Being denizens of the fifth largest economy in the world and key players in shaping the globalizing businesses, we must be in step with how the world clock moves.
Hence, when you give a timeline for a task or a response to a query or feedback, please respect it. You and I know that the Indian Standard timed response of five minutes for everything usually means NEVER and is not only pathetic but bad publicity for all Indians in general.
4. MY PR MANAGER HAS WRITTEN THE MANUAL OR MY RIGHT HAND MAN HAS CONCEIVED AND EXECUTED THE ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN OR MY ASSISTANT HAS HANDLED THIS EVENT COMPLETELY ON HER OWN
Do not steal credit. Give it where it is due, in time, in the most gracious manner and in front of the right audience.
In 1996 working with the Australian High Commission in New Delhi, I was an integral part of Australia India New Horizons – Australia’s country promotion in India, the biggest that they had done in any country in the world. For the business agenda, I found myself heading the media team for Alexander Downer, the Foreign Minister for Australia then. I was responsible for organizing the main India Press Conference for the Minister at FICCI. At the end of a particularly well-organised and hugely attended press meet, Minister Downer turned to Gai Brodtmann – my boss at that time – to thank her for the stupendous success of the media interaction. Imagine my immense surprise when in front of the entire Australian delegation and its Indian minders Gai told Minister Downer that it was not she but I who should be thanked. She went ahead to speak some more positive and encouraging words. Downer did what was due then and later had a wonderful letter sent to me by the Foreign Affairs Department but it was Gai Brodtmann’s action that went down as one of the best lessons in management for me – a lesson I still recall and always hope to live by when the ball is in my court.
On the other hand, in one of my recent positions, I was handling a big pie of strategic work for my organization – setting a non-existent department, building a brand from scratch, developing international and national media contacts, writing out manuals ………you get the general drift! Somehow, in the latter part of my tenure I seemed to get on the wrong side of the temperamental boss. While he still acknowledged the value I brought to the table but he began to appreciate my work in private (within the four walls of his office or during a one-on-one in the lobby) and completely disregard it publicly. This two-faced stance kept me busy with a sordid guessing game (he is happy today, tomorrow he is not) and managed to be extremely demoralizing and de-motivating. My advice – please do not give such a harrowing time to anybody.
Giving credit, acknowledging team work, appreciating the junior’s praiseworthy deliverables shows that you are a confident, secure and fair professional. Not only do you give good vibes, nurture a healthy environment but also garner a lot of respect for yourself amidst the significant others.
5. I WAS AWAY ON SICK LEAVE OR VACATION OR ……….
Unless it becomes a habit or harbours on absenteeism, we all need a chunk of ‘ME’ time every once in a while. More so if you work six days a week, twelve or fourteen hours a day or work in organizations that never sleep, like the hospitality industry.
So it is OK to take the time off when you need it – sometimes to attend that PTA meeting, to run a personal errand or to simply just relax at home. But please be honest. Give the right reasons. For everything don’t make your mother or wife or in-laws fall ill ever so often and forcibly. Everybody can see through these shams.
If you are well planned, are not given to long and recurring periods of absence and work for a decent, healthy organization then you would enjoy your work times as much as the play times. There would be a proper work-life balance and you will not have to resort to cheap gimmicks.
6. YOU DID A FANTASTIC JOB / THAT WAS AN EXCELLENT IDEA
Compliment colleagues (and at times even your boss) when you feel that they deserve it. And if you are positive minded then you will often feel so.
Have you noticed how one positive comment in the morning sets the tone for the rest of your work day – you exhibit more energy, you make less mistakes, you get along better with people, there is a zing to your step and you happily put in those extra couple of hours; all because somebody took a minute to make that congratulatory remark.
Being vocal and laudatory about a good input by a colleague will help gain currency for you in their mindsets and will cultivate a healthy professional relationship. You may not like a person but even if you don’t like them it does not mean that they are not good people or good workers. Don’t let your personal biases cloud your professional attitude and judgement.
7. I THANK YOU
Three magic words that can thaw the hardest of icebergs and become a bridge between the toughest of feuding opponents. Coupled with ‘I AM SORRY,’ another set of three magical words, they should form the content of your constant communication from the time you learned to speak and add your two bit to this world.
Show gratitude for any and every good gesture that come your way or the help and support extended to you by the co-workers, irrespective of their stature. This includes well-meaning thank yous even to the office boy who gets you your tea or the housekeeping attendant who cleans up your desk. (Yes, it is their job, but they did it properly, diligently and without fail for you, without cutting corners and you ARE grateful for that).
8. I COULDN’T HAVE DONE THIS WITHOUT YOU, MY TEAM / BOSS, YOUR INPUTS WERE CRUCIAL IN GETTING MY ASSIGNMENT COMPLETED
Appreciate the influences from others that impact your work. Remember you are not an island and cannot function in isolation even if you are a lone ranger and head a one person department.
Often in the hectic humdrum of official activity, we tend to overlook the fact that the department is actually not just the lofty name – Front Office, Human Resources, Food & Beverage, Sales & Marketing – but a livewire matrix of people right from the HOD down to the Housekeeping attendant or the Kitchen Steward. And no matter where we may have graduated from – Lausanne in Switzerland or Wharton in the US – or acquired the initial years of experience, we cannot handle the department on our own steam without the valuable contribution from the team.
Similarly, if the organization is not stewarded by the astuteness, vision and brilliance of a top-of-the-line top dog then the organization will not be a happy, productive and optimally performing place that it should be. So, if this is the place you work in and that is the kind of boss you work for, then let him or her know it when appropriate.
9. MY DEADLINE DEPENDS ON YOU, HENCE PLEASE DELIVER YOUR PART OF THE TASK ON TIME
Say it plainly, professionally and without any extra baggage of undue emotion. No drama required, just plain business speak; as many a times the proper completion of your assignment depends on the inputs from others. And if they lag behind then you will fall short of your commitment. The end result – the organization as a whole suffers.
It is extremely important to be assertive and convey your expectation to those on whom your targets depend. You are hired in that position or are considered a good performer because you deliver. And when it comes to delivering well on an assignment, it would be shoddy of you to say that you could not finish because so and so did not give you the information. It is your responsibility to work through the organizational matrix and ensure that all dots are connected.
10. I CAN DO IT!
The biggest mantra in your work life. No, wait a minute, in life itself. From Carnegie to Khera, Vincent Peale to Covey, all motivational gurus have urged you to inculcate a “can do” spirit.
I recently read a highly motivating article about how baby elephants were tied with a metal chain fastened to a metal rod and trained to remain tied. These elephants, even when they grew to be 5000 kilo giants and even when the metal rods were replaced by wooden pegs, refused to develop a “can do” spirit and unshackle themselves from the bondage. This is true for the human mind as well. With several inhibitions and reservations chaining us and a myriad of criticisms, warnings, prohibitions pegging us down, somewhere along the way we forget to realize our potential and shove the “can do” will in the confines of a “will not” womb.
From working on a writing assignment to organizing an event to conceiving a brand new idea to taking on a crisis situation to being a team leader; all along our work lives, we keep coming face to face with thousands of opportunities to which we can enthusiastically say, “I can do it.”
The advantage – it shows off your leadership skills, exhibits enthusiasm, develops a take charge attitude, keeps your learning / practicing trait well-oiled and showcases the winning spirit.
Wonderful opportunities come to only those who keep the door open and “I CAN DO IT” is the biggest mental door of all.
11. I CANNOT DO IT
On the first look, this appears as a contra statement of the earlier positive statement. But there is nothing overly negative about it, if it is used judiciously and is backed by a good reputation. It simply means that you are ready to delegate or are ready to learn or are not willing to pull wool.
Every handbook on management ideas or time management, every self-help book on getting the best out of you expounds the virtues of the ability to say NO.
Use this statement well and in the right places – when you are being unjustifiably overloaded, when it is time to delegate wisely, when the demands or colleagues are being unreasonable, when your targets and performance are at stake, when you KNOW that the request is coming from a sleazy palm-offer who excels in passing on his or her work to you and when it is just too much to handle.
Use this statement inwardly as a personal motivational tool – I cannot do this hence I must learn it / I cannot do it and must find out why can’t I do it / I am an excellent, diligent performer and I will only say “I cannot do it” when I really am snowed under. And finally, I cannot do it as it is not my place or position to do it.
Here’s hoping that you find fewer speed breaks and road blocks and that your ride is as less bumpy as it can be. Remember it is the free spirit and the fearless will that will find the smooth freeways on the highway of professional happiness.