It is quite common to see boss and subordinates getting importance and priority in a team set up, especially when deliberations or interventions for team building are initiated. Peers and equals mostly get lesser priority, in case they don’t take a back seat, in these circumstances. Peers are more like a dignified extra or a supporting cast, in best of scenario, in a star studded movie. They are necessary backdrop in our mind space but are not considered quintessential variable for our success. They are there as a key cast members but often seen as competitors and contenders for limited company resources and limited space in the charmed circle of the boss. Does it all sound a bit harsh? Let us see how it pans out in the real world!
Whilst writing this piece, I have been mindful of two sets of events from near and distant past. These events highlight concern & care, or lack of it, for peers. In the first instance, it spotlights a situation where it all led to positive outcomes. The second set of events capture catastrophic manifestations of indifference and insensitivities towards one’s equals.
On 5 Oct 2010, Ishant Sharma helped VVS Laxman to pull off a highly unlikely win over Australia by one wicket in the first test at Mohali after India had fallen to 124/8 in pursuit of 205. Ishant provided support to Laxman during 81 run partnership in which he scored 31 valuable runs. In 2013, Ishant gave 30 runs in one over, the most expensive over by a front ranking Indian bowler, in India- Australia one day series. But, Dhoni persisted with Ishant. In July, 2014, Ishant took 7 wickets at Lords against England, leading India to win at Lords after 28 long years.
I will like to believe that despite 2013 and similar aberrations, team continued to respect Ishant. Those 10 men in blue respected Ishant for whatever he was. Imagine Yuvaraj, Harbhajan and Gautam Gambhir laughing at Ishant in dressing room on that fateful day of 11 November 2013 after his 30 run over. Imagine them ‘reminding’ Ishant in July 2014 what he did in 2013.
We are aware that Draupadi had laughed at Duryodhana, when he stepped on that apparently solid part of the courtyard of Palace of Illusion, and he found himself in the waist deep water, drenched from head to foot. It was no fault of Duryodhana, who like any other mortal had become victim of a marvel of architecture and building science. Draupadi laughed at Duryodhan’s fall from grace and went on to call him: “Andhasya Putrah Andhaha: Blind man’s son is blind. This incident is often considered as a ‘definitive moment in the history of Mahabharat, leading to Kurukshtera war’. It is said that this misdemeanor of Draupadi, her insensitive laughter and comment on predicament of Duryodhana (a peer, a compatriot and a cousin of Pandavas), pushed him to wrestle power and avenge insults heaped on him by Draupadi and Pandavas.
We know the rest of story. The prolonged drama in the court of blind king Dhritrashtra was outcome of numerous indecencies of an otherwise strong persona we know as Draupadi, scion of King Drupad. Bhishma, the patriarch of the Kaurava family, in his explanation to Draupadi’s call for help and honor, says: “Course of morality is subtle and even the illustrious wise in this world fail to always understand it.”
Talking Indiscreetly: Commenting Impolitely
Imagine Harbhajan telling (he didn’t), even in lighter vein, a crestfallen Ishant on 11 November 2013 in the dressing room: “Buddy, you screwed our team. We were sailing happily, but for you we are looking at the bottom of the barrel.” We all hear words like that often in corporate meeting rooms, review meetings or near our coffee machines.
Students and practitioners of emotional intelligence hold their horses in such situations. They ‘watch’ over their thoughts, feelings and ‘temptations’. Emotional awareness reflected in ‘recognition of one’s emotions and their effects’ and self- control visible in one’s ability to keep disruptive and impulsive emotions in check are two hallmarks of a good colleague. Awareness of other’s feelings, needs and concerns define if someone is imbued with empathy: a vital component in building and nurturing relationships.
So, what now?
So, what now? Enroll with Daniel Goleman for a crash course on Emotional Intelligence? Not really! Of course, you can read Mr. Goleman and join an EI course with an established training vendor in your city or enroll for an open ware online program. Yet, you may like to note following:
For millennia, saints and wise persons have been recommending us to connect with the inner self. The Suda, a 10th century encyclopedia of Greek knowledge, says: ‘the proverb (Know Thyself) is applied to those whose boasts exceed what they are.’ It is always a good idea to introspect and explore your primordial tendencies.
A senior colleague once confessed that he enters rest rooms in his office very quietly these days. He shared that he often overheard interesting stories, anecdotes, innocent comments about leaders (including himself), which were, more often than not, humbling and realistic. We are not suggesting you to become a professional eavesdropper, but keep your ears to the ground. Stand before mirror, be alert in getting info about your style, and enter into a dialogue with your alter ego.
Respect Your Peers: Her Challenges: His Failures
We all fight our own battles; though we might be comrades-in-arms. Each one of us comes from a unique background (significant person in one’s life like parents, teachers, value systems, beliefs, assumptions, etc. define our uniqueness). It is important to value and respect our peers’ circumstances (past and present). In other words, as Michael Schumacher once said about other Grand Prix contestants: ‘You are not driving his car. You don’t know his machine. You don’t know his roads, his terrains, and his world’. Just acknowledge it. If you can help him, do that. If you can’t, just don’t sneer or laugh out loud like our impertinent Draupadi. Momentary sense enjoyment and indiscretion lure us often; so, watch out. Ask yourself: Do you laugh watching people fall on banana skins. If yes, rush to Dr. Freud.
You Are A Star: Despite Yourself
Wherever you are right now, remove your shoe or sandal and put your feet firmly on the floor. Feel cool energy floating and moving up your spine. Repeat like a mantra: “I have my feet firmly placed on the ground. I am mortal. I am vulnerable. I am true.”
Acknowledge people would have helped you, known to you or not, to shine and dazzle in your regal robe. Gratitude ushers happiness; and positive psychologists recommend that one should write (and read & re read) a ‘gratitude journal’ as often as one can. Incorporate names of your peers and equals in your journal, and acknowledge them for their subtle and soft value adds.
Your peers are fighting their own wars. If you are not in their platoon, don’t sympathize even if they are bleeding. They are matured enough to organize self-care and self-renewal. Brave soldiers don’t like soft lullaby. No corporate leader relishes his compatriots to be condescending and patronizing. Empathy is OK; sympathy is No-No.
Humility, Yes: Flamboyance, No
You know what happened with Kingfisher Mallya, who believed in creating hubris and false self- image of invincibility and infallibility. Hero of Good Times is a runaway billionaire today. On the contrary, iconic leaders like Ratan Tata, Narayana Murthy and Azim Premji have been always soft spoken and low key. Probably, humility is a rare currency on table of human fortune.
In brief, your comrades in arms matter no less in your professional journey of individual and team excellence. If you take care of their sentiments and ego-esteem needs, they die for you. You honor them to honor yourself. You are known & defined by the company you keep.