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Case Study: Leading The Mind

“When we avoid the responsibility for our own behaviour, we do so by attempting to give that responsibility to some other individual or organisation... We then give away our power to that entity” — M. Scott Peck, American psychiatrist

Photo Credit : Shutterstock

Shamsher Rao was delighted to see Raghav Kashyap, coach and mentor to some good senior managers in India, jog in his direction. This was too much of a coincidence. For, that morning, Shamsher had sought the advice of old friend Sanjeev Sachar of Egon Zehnder and it was Sachar who had suggested to him to enlist the help of Raghav.

Shamsher knew Raghav. They had all been together at university and met periodically at the alumni meets. Shamsher shouted out a familiar greeting and Raghav reciprocated. They exchanged mild pleasantries and soon the two were strolling down the tracks talking business.

Taking opportunity, Shamsher, who was the chairman of Lafette Industries, asked Raghav, “I need some advice. Can I? ”

Raghav: Oh, please! Do tell me.

Shamsher: I will tell you very briefly and then if need be, we can meet for lunch early this week?

And Shamsher told him about a senior manager at Lafette, Madhav Saha.

Shamsher: Madhav has been with us some 14-odd years. Good fellow. Likeable. But now, in his 360-degree appraisal, his boss as well as his subordinates are telling him that he needs to be more assertive. That is not natural behaviour for Madhav. As a result, his upward mobility is at stake. Right now, he is senior product head and there is a slot he can move up in the foods business.

Now, let me explain. For long, the sales function of his business has been ineffective. It has been decided that for three years, we must have a marketing person heading sales so that the downstream chaps get to grips with how the selling needs to be made very product centric. And then, later Madhav will move back to Marketing. He is essentially a Marketing guy. I feel if he excels in this new role, he will be perfect to take over as marketing head for his business in two years. I really like to see him there. The chap is good. He has great training behind him, great experience, great track record, deep knowledge of the company, as he came to us as a MT and has grown up with the best training and mentoring. At this stage of our growth, we all feel that a marketing chap in sales will be the best. From my perspective, it will give Madhav a well-rounded experience to be in sales and being product head he has the product-centric-ness that we need. And then, he comes back all set for the promotion to business marketing head.

But his two bosses say if he does not develop assertiveness, he will pull down the Sales function. He will ruin the efforts of the past and worse, they will not recommend his promotion in December 2018.

Ab batao! I find this a bit senseless. Does he really need it, Raghav? Or does he need it because two of his bosses think he needs it?

Raghav: Do you think he needs it?

Shamsher: I am not an aggressive person myself. And I run this company! It is the times that demand aggression. Am I getting it wrong?

Raghav: Sometimes your behaviour has to be out of line with what your natural tendencies are, because it is required of your role. Now, the point is, it does not come naturally to you, hence a role has to be played.

Shamsher: That is why I want you to work with him for the next 6-8 months. I have been working with Madhav for the last four months and….

Raghav: And? What changes are you seeing?

I spoke to him a few days ago, and he was gung-ho. He has started becoming assertive in a way and says people are surprised. Earlier he was taking on everyone’s work, but now he finds he is free to do more important things and it makes him feel responsible for a larger cause, and so on. So, this is a behaviour that he has adopted, which is not in line with his inherent nature.

Truth be told, he has begun to gather the theory of assertive behavior but it is not just coming to him … know what I mean?

Raghav: Yes, it does not come naturally, he has to be consciously, deliberately assertive, construct that attitude and style.

Shamsher: His bosses say, ‘We see a lot of improvement’…. . But are they seeing real change ? What do you think? Can the transformation happen soon?

Raghav: It can… has happened earlier in some cases. Depends a lot on the nature of the person.

Shamsher: Yes, but is it sustainable if it happens earlier?

Raghav: Sometimes, I think the coachee has to experience the benefits of the behaviour. If he does and he gets excited about it, it can be lasting change. He will have to ‘act’ himself into a new way of thinking, if you know what I mean. Along with acting the part, he has to also subscribe to it as a valuable change.

Shamsher, this is about behaviour. We don’t try and change people, because changing people inherently is not an easy job. I don’t think coaching gives you the mandate to go out and change people, but certainly making them more satisfied with their day-to- day interactions, behaviours…The intention is to help them perform a job, skilling them to perform the job. One part of job skills is knowledge based, and one part of skills is behaviour based. Please note, I am not directing Madhav’s conduct. I am discussing with you how there usually is a gap between nature and behaviour.

Behaviour is the visible aspect of a person. It is deeply linked to a person’s intrinsic nature and to his identity. These are intricately woven into his personality and when he effects a change in one, it will result in change in behaviour. So, behaviour is largely self-driven.

Shamsher: Interesting the way you say it. I would not have put it like that. But how do you differentiate behaviour and nature?

Raghav: Take a mango tree. What you see above the ground is the net result of what lies under the ground. Its capability to be a mango tree, lies under the ground, not visible. The tree produces mangoes because it has the capability to produce mangoes and its values and attitudes below the ground are also mango led or mango driven. And below that is the identity, the seed. The seed knows it is a mango tree. Therefore, it grows in the direction of being a mango tree, not an apple tree.

Then, there is above the ground, the environment. It is possible for you to display a certain behaviour in a certain environment but not in another. If a mango tree receives unseasonal rain or storm, the tree is destroyed or damaged.

Shamsher: So, behaviour is contextual…

Raghav: Yes! Behaviour is very contextual. So, when you come home and you are with your kids, your tone and language is different than what you use with peers at work. In a certain environment, you use a certain behaviour, which you cannot, or may not, use in another environment. We have seen that some people when transferred from sales to logistics are a disaster. So, when environment is changed they are unable to display appropriate behaviour.

Shamsher: But that behaviour is also rooted in knowledge!

Raghav: Yes, that behaviour comes from capability.

Shamsher: So, which is why when you put a sales person in logistics, he struggles as even his attitude may not be logistics oriented?

Raghav: Capability is easiest to handle because capability can be trained.

Shamsher: But then, capability requires attitude and desire to know, I would insist!

Raghav: Now, we are getting there. Hence in Madhav’s case, you recognise that to change behaviour in a lasting manner you need to go down below the mango tree. For example, if a CFO, a functional specialist, is to takeover to be the future CEO, you have to work on him at the level of his identity, and get him to think like a CEO, more broad based and global in his thinking than a functionary!

In depth coaching, we should address all the layers — attitude, capability, identity, only then behaviour can be impacted. But usually people do not have the time for all layers and seek results in behaviour overnight.

Shamsher: Can it not come with self-study?

Raghav: Yes, it does for a rare few, for whom, to think is to intend. Their intention is so strong that they are able to put into action, both attitude and capability in one go. For others, it remains theory. You need to practice attitude changing, behaviour changing... it is experience that tests the waters for you within.

By that I mean, you introspect, you think about yourself, you work on yourself, take short experiments with your honesty... about the intensity of your goals, with the assistance of a coach or without, depends entirely on your shraddha as we call it. Ummmm… ‘dedication’ would be a very limited translation, sadly.

But in the real world, people have placed their goals before their application. Think about it. You want to get that promotion even if you don’t have the wherewithal! Whereas wherewithal is what you need to work at every day, so that as the goal post shifts you have new strengths that will support your effort. Madhav needs to get that promotion if not this year, next year. He, therefore, needs to start behaving in an assertive manner, yeah? Knowledge capability is not in question here, but an attitude — the job performance needs the ability to be assertive; I was trying to say that during his testing period, his values and attitudes are going to be a bit misaligned.

Shamsher: So, you are saying he needs to start behaving in an assertive manner even if his values alignment with attitude will come later?

Raghav: That is how it will be initially, he will not naturally deliver at being assertive but he will have to develop assertive responses. It will cause temporary stress for, his behaviour will be out of line with his nature. Attitudinally he is not assertive, his value system likely does not lean towards assertive responses, yet we will want behaviour that is assertive and that will be forced.

Shamsher: So, if behaviour comes from him, you will work with the rest? Or the rest of it will happen on its own?

It depends , on how long the engagement of the coaching is, and on how intensely the person feels the need for change. In this case, if Madhav says, ‘I must get my promotion next year, otherwise my career is finished, my self-respect is gone, I cannot get overlooked twice’ — if he is determined to bring about the change, (‘I want to become assertive!’), then, yes... he will make it.

Shamsher: If it was so simple my friend, we would all be doing it no!

Raghav: It sounds simple but as I said earlier it must be seen as a process of change and the change must be managed like a surgical process. In this case, Madhav needs to divorce behaviour from who he is — his identity. Personally, I do not subscribe to changing people; it is mostly enough if we change their responses to situations both, thought level and verbal responses.

Shamsher: This whole mind thing is rather fascinating. Makes me wonder what is this mind. Is it me, or is it merely an instrument that enables my work, my very actions?

So, then tell me, under what conditions do you say ‘No’? Show me that. I mean the mildest of mild persons also say ‘No’ under some circumstances.

Raghav: Correct. There are some very compelling moments in everyone’s life when he or she will protest, no matter what. So, if you see that the prescribed behaviour is not breaching your value system, you will be able to develop the capability that is needed to behave in a certain manner.

Shamsher: The emphasis, I imagine, would be: duty to your role, your function, your department, your team, your organisation.

Raghav: Right, and that capability is the driver of, or nourisher of your value systems; and that is why we work layer by layer — behaviour, capability, nature, identity. Aligning the whole tree can take time, hence we must ‘force’ the behaviour to begin with.

Shamsher: I would like to give coaching a chance to see if we can help Madhav develop a new personality that will wash with his bosses.

Raghav: There is an interesting theory presented by Krishna in the Gita. I relied on this guna theory to explain my mango tree metaphor. Allow me to share a bit about this. It is interesting and explains behaviour well. Principally, guna is an operating mode. It refers to three operating modes of behaviour in people. The mode can be satvik, rajasic or tamasic and usually is a blend of these with one guna being predominant which can be seen in the attitude. Along with a person’s nature (the intrinsic constituted quality of a person, let us call it a mental DNA) the predominant guna determines the most likely manner of action or response. Of course, the environment in which all this plays out also has a role.

For example say, Madhav is very bright and we assume he has a satvik clarity of mind and understands concepts with their short and long term implication. Now, this quality flourishes and leads to excellence if it is supported by an environment that is also predominantly satvik. Suppose Madhav was working in an organistion that is very low on ethics then there are two scenarios: one, he can regress and withdraw and become dull, angry, irritable, (what we call tamasic); or he will reach into his potential and canvass for correction in his organisation environment. That would be rajasic.

To want to correct is rajasic. For a king, leader, is one who wants to correct and bring about change, perfection and so on.

Shamsher: Where then does Madhav’s assertion that “I am not the aggressive kind”, fall?
Raghav: But he has not said “I cannot be assertive”. Gunas are what point to your behaviour, your attitude to situations. Your values and attitudes may be in place but if the gunas are not working in tandem with that, then the capability building will/can be a challenge.

Shamsher (smiling deeply): Would you say that all Western theory and psychology is shallow?

Raghav: That would be incorrect. The Western scholars got close to the prescriptions of Vedanta, but could not pack in the conviction that Vedanta delivers — maybe. Then again, speaking for myself, I got to Vedanta via Carl Jung and others. When my questions did not get answered with conviction by Western psychology, I turned to Indian knowledge traditions and the explanations of, say, the guna theory as an example, delivered the a-ha effect. So, I would say Vedanta is deep and sophisticated. Yes, it is true we doubted our own traditional knowledge and sought Western validation and then were doubly embarrassed to find that our quest and deeper thoughts pointed to the knowledge traditions sitting in our own backyard. For instance, our varna theory, which is akin to Hartman’s personality profile, was turned on its head by people who, not understanding Sanskrit, explained it as caste system — which it is not!

So, now we are stuck with ‘caste system’, which has nothing to do with Indian tradition. It came to be, thanks to misleading definitions and ignorance. But let us not go there now.

Take this concept of dharma. I ask my coachees, ‘Don’t tell me what is the best option but tell me what is the right option’; suddenly you open a new window in the person's mind. You make it possible for him to think right and not think optimum. Thinking right is linked to your inner dharma, or what we have grown up calling ‘conscience’ in a limited way. ‘Optimum’, on the other hand, is the language of profits, gains. Dharma is not about gains, but benefiting greater good.

Shamsher: So, how will you go about it?

Raghav: We have to place before Madhav the fact that he has a given nature, a certain environment to which he has subscribed and that environment is dynamic, will keep changing, and he has a certain capability residing within a given or inbuilt potential. That capability is less than his potential and he needs to keep reaching into his potential to enhance his capability. Add to this a concept of who he is. We need to align all these so that he can perform the function, because that is what he wants. Upfront he has said, ‘I want this job, I want to be in this function, I want to be the sales head (or whatever else)’.

But he is being told again and again that he lacks assertiveness, and he has been told several times by different people that, that is a core part of the job requirement. If Madhav wants that job, he has to see how he can introduce assertiveness into his attitude. You say that he is seeing changes in his own approach to understanding his role, discovering a new ‘Me’.

But even this new Me will stick if you have conviction, if you keep working at it, if you accept that this is what you want. But if this new Me does not resonate with you for whatever reason, you will again start reverting to the old Me.

Shamsher: Therefore faith in the coach, you would say?

Raghav: In the process he has to trust your reasons for asking for this change. That I or you or whoever else guides him, has no axe to grind – neither for himself nor even for Lafette. If Madhav has this faith, then he will work at the new Me and keep establishing his foothold every time he thinks he is slipping. But if he finds the new Me is causing dissonance with his identity, then he will back off…. Back off the process, back off the mentoring and maybe, back off the organisation too in case the process leads him to believe that the organisation has an axe to grind. Hence, internalisation, nishtha, becoming established in the new identity.

But the problem is that in the corporate world, there is no time; we want this new Me in six months, so the organisation does not have the patience for the employee/manager to bring about the change from within, from the level of his identity. So, if Madhav can display changed behaviour, if he can present marketable behaviour that is visible so that the environment deals and responds in consonance to the organisation goals, then it is win-win.

Shamsher: So… it’s a gamble?

Raghav smiled. “It’s about pure intention...”

To be continued

Case Analysis by: Mala Sinha | Subhabrata Ghosh ‘SG’ | Kaushik Gopal