Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Biscuits and Dustbins

For a few years now, I have had too many young techies and consultants mention to me that they consider certain elements of their work 'boring'. They profess interest only towards pursuing those aspects that 'suit' them and 'help them learn'. Upon deeper probing, it turns out that they have issues in doing things that they consider as 'coordination' or 'management' or 'providing status updates'. And then the conversation degenerates into how hopeless their managers are :-).....

Well, I have had the opportunity to reflect through each of these complaints. Admittedly, some of them have merit. I will also confess that I see shades of myself when I hear them. At the same time, I wonder whether these issues have really been thought through by the youngistan of today. More importantly, is rigidity creeping in these minds when one must ideally pursue a different kind of balance?

My post today is about my dreams as I set out on my career 15 years ago. I will then segue into the lessons I have learned & the type of balance I think one must strive for. So here it goes....

In the summer of 1995, I had three simple dreams for life. I dreamed that I would never be a manager. I dreamed that I would have just one manger for life. And I dreamed that my professional peers would be a tiny number. I am not joking. This is all I thought I wanted to make my life simple and easy.

I never wanted to be a manager. Managers, according to me, were excel-and-outlook creatures. They had no idea what they wanted. They would talk at 20,000 feet during performance appraisals. They would never give you the right guidance and always butted into meetings with half-baked knowledge.

This is what I thought & that is why I did not want to be a manager. What happened in my life however was something else. A year into my first job, I was a team lead managing four people. Over time, my teams grew – and at one point, the size crossed 100. Performance appraisals came along & so did the drama in them. To paraphrase Calvin in Calvin & Hobbes, I had transmogrified into that very excel-and-outlook monster. One particularly instructive moment occurred during a skip level meeting. I asked my team what their problems were. Two hands went up. One said there was no dustbin under his desk. The other wanted Britannia Orange Cream in the break-room instead of the boring Marie. 10 years after B-school, I was dealing with biscuits & dustbins.

I also wanted just one manager for life. I planned to understand the idiosyncrasies, wants and warts of just this person. I would then ensure that this one soul is so happy that he/she would completely forget about me and not disturb me.

Again, what happened in my life was something else. Over the past 15 years, I have had 12 managers. Some lasted only 3 months. And yes - when some of them transitioned out, they did not pass feedback about me to the next person.

My final dream was to have very few peers. I had no issues with friends, but peers were different. I had no intention of figuring when I must be a team player in one year so that my teaming skills would be rated better and when I must be an initiative taker during the other so that my personal leadership skills score higher.

Again, what happened again was something else. Over time, my peers multiplied. I was pulled into strange things like hardware budgets and facility movements. At every level, I felt I was moving away from my core and farther from my dream.

Now… most of you would be able to relate to some - or all - of what I am saying. We all want to remain - if possible - a little more technical or a little more functional or to put it bluntly, a little less manager. And when something outside the 'mainstream' sprouts, we get uncomfortable. Well, I am now going to puncture some of your balloons. Whether you like it or not, each one of you is going to be a manager in a few years, if not already one. Excel movies in vivid color are coming soon to a theater near you. While you try to grapple with what you must do with your lives, there will be 10 people reporting to you who will want career advice. Your managers will forget to fill all data points in your appraisal - and so will you.

But let me now tell you a few secrets that will show you that all is indeed well even if your path leads you into becoming a manager. I looked at enormously successful people in similar situations and noticed that they did not complain. They did not let their environment affect them. They understood that there was always something meaningful to create in every situation. And lastly, they developed tons of patience over time. No, they were not aimless in life. They were clear what they wanted. But they had struck that right balance - a balance that enabled them to be focused, yet flexible, in a manner that they would achieve what they wanted regardless of the path. They taught me that true balance was in keeping the journey as meaningful as the destination.
That's it for 2010 folks. Thank you all for your support and feedback this year. Wish you a very Happy & Wonderful 2011. I travel next week to the US (my first in 6 years) & will post again after a month or so. Until then, please keep those comments coming.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience when I asked someone new in my team whether she had any problems and she said she had not eaten lunch for 4 days since canteen food was not good :)