Why is work life balance Not a Leadership principle in Indian Corporates?

Now, you might be thinking that why is she writing about leadership and related topics all the time? I have been reading a lot about some great leaders and also trying to decipher the leadership code by talking to colleagues, friends and people whom I consider leaders in their respective field of work. I have been bitten by leadership bug, not that I am trying to transform myself into a leader, but only my curiosity to understand this whole “hullabaloo” about leadership.

Wrong choice of word? Yes, I call it hullabaloo (fuss) for various reasons which I will probably explain in my next blog. Today’s blog is dedicated to a very keen observation that I have had over the years, working in Indian Software Industry.

A few disclaimers: This blog is not targeting anyone or any policy of any organization.

It was valentines day (Yes! yesterday). I wanted to leave early (read “on time”) from office. I had no plans for valentines day, but my car-pooling gang was waiting for me because I had told them that I would be able to leave early in the evening. Its a pain to get a cab in Bangalore during traffic hours and I didn’t want them to go through it.

As soon as I expressed my desire to leave early, a comment popup up, “Yes, we know its valentines day”. And we all laughed out loud. I didn’t try to clarify about my urgency to leave, neither was I asked. Anyhow….because we were done with other work, AND because of my repetitive reminders, I left almost on time.

However, another colleague (a male colleague) also packed his laptop with me, and got up to leave and immediately he got all the attention….”Hey man, where is the valentines day date”, followed by a roar of laughter (from me and others).

This incident for sure was a joke for everyone and it should be considered as harmless office humor. However, its also true, that personal life and choices are least valued in Indian corporate houses. I must also emphasize on the fact that men have more impact on their personal lives due to missing work-life balance because they have no right to leave early (on time). Women are excused mostly because “they have to cook” (pun intended). Men, sadly, have to compensate for their female colleagues who have to leave office “on-time” due to household duties.

Anyways, the whole idea of putting this incident on paper was to trigger a few thoughts:

  1. Why are our leaders not bothered or let’s say, do not respect their and our day-to-day work life balance?
  2. Why is finishing your work and leaving ON-TIME not valued?
  3. Why is staying late, beyond working hours, considered more competent and flexible?
  4. Why is a college graduate told during his/her induction to project, “This is the time you can learn, so don’t look at your watch or days, just stretch, work and learn”
  5. Why?

In this blog, I discuss some of these questions and I write mostly for my male colleagues, because again, “women have to cook”.

During my starting years of work life, when I was not married, I used to finish my work, including learning and implementation, with in my working hours. I was never addicted to tea/coffee/smoke and so, breaks were short, mostly water or washroom breaks. However I used to stay back for aerobics classes in office which was my stress buster and also my way of staying fit.

Once in a while I got to hear comments like, “Generation these days is not interested in learning, its a just 6 PM and floor is empty”. And I wondered, what kind of examples our managers wanted to set? I felt that an employee like me, would never be good enough because I left at 6 PM, I wanted to stay fit, I wanted to pursue a hobby, I wanted to be idle for sometime of the day.

It is sad, that Mr. Narayan Murthy’s beautiful message about “not staying late” in office has made several rounds on social media over the years, and still died without much impact on the working culture.

Moving on to middle years of my career, I got married and realized that aerobics had to be replaced with workout in society gym because time spent with my husband was important to build a strong foundation of our married life. So my 6 PM schedule remained.

But that does not mean that I was not flexible when there was an urgent release. I have worked late nights when I had WORK to do. I have learnt something new until whee hours of morning because learning is important, because I felt responsible for my work, not because someone was keeping a count of my “online” hours.

And now, when I have a kid, I still try to maintain the same routine, because, future of my child, and an entire generation depends on me. My duty is not only towards my work, but also towards the lives that define my existence and whose existence is dependent on me.

This was my story (so far) in short.  On the contrary, many male colleagues of mine gave up their personal life very soon, because they thought that working late and ignoring hobbies/friends/family was the key to success. For sure, their Linked In profiles prove, that they were right. However, I wonder, what kind of leaders would they be now? Probably, replicas of their own managers, wanting their team to stay late, ignoring their families?

A few days back, I had a chance to chat with a senior manager of a firm and he mentioned that, “It is so difficult to find employees with right attitude these days”. I can’t agree more with him, because over the years, WE have ruined the attitude, WE have created an impression to our next generations that dedication is not valued. Who is to be blamed?

Ironically, when we travel to other parts of the world and observe that how much “work-life balance” is valued there, we boost about it. In Germany, when an employee says, “I have to attend my daughter’s annual day”, he is encouraged to leave early because people there are aware of the fact that “happy moms/dads make happy employees”.  However in India, when an employee says, “I plan to leave a little early today, because my son has a rock music concert”, he is given a “don’t even think about it” look. How can we then expect our employees to not think of their jobs as “9 to 5 jobs”?

The other day, talk on the lunch table was about being a fit leader and how one might loose out on his progression due to fitness issues. The only thought that came to my mind was that, until 10-15 years of work life, everyone talks about working late, stretching at work and then everyone wants fit team members and leaders. Its similar to giving chocolates to a person until he turns diabetic and then asking him to give up on sweets.

Basically, I see the entire system collapsing, and any amount of perks and HR initiatives will not help our industry, unless WE re-define our leadership principles. Passion will be seen at work, only if a happy and content life exists, outside office premises.

So what shall we do? I thought of some simple ToDo list to start with:

  1. Reduce number of meetings, specially non-conclusive meetings. DO NOT name, unnecessarily long meetings as “Brainstorming sessions”
  2. Stop presentations. Microsoft power point is indeed a great tool, but do we really need a slide for everything that we have to convey?
  3. If you want to smoke, then smoke alone. Meetings over smoke sessions not only kill time but also people. Do you remember that passive smoking is more injurious to health?
  4. Keep the work bays lively and vibrant, not the coffee areas. A simple coffee maker & water dispenser would do.
  5. Learning is not an after office task. Plan tasks to include time for learning and innovation.
  6. Remember that we are human beings, the most intelligent life form on earth and not donkeys (bad use of words, can’t help it)
  7. Understand and follow that nothing (apart from nation) is more important than family.
  8. A bug not resolved today will be resolved tomorrow because it was created by you (I copied this line from a colleague)
  9. Trust (DOT)
  10. Valentine’s day is the day of love. Celebrate it and spread some love (I couldn’t help putting this one at the end :D)

And to sum it all, I will say, office is our second home, and let it not overshadow our first home.

I found the post from Mr. Narayan Murthy which is so apt, only if we could follow it.



Image Source: https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-work-life-balance-image18087828


Leader or Ladder?

4 years back, I was travelling to Germany for an assignment. Lufthansa terminal was bustling with activity. I could see that a lot of Indian professionals were taking the same flight to Frankfurt.

I found myself a chair and took out my novel to read. It has always been a habit to read a book while travelling. There were two men sitting behind me, their back facing mine. I could clearly hear their conversation which went like this…

“Raman, are you also booked in Holiday Inn?” asked one of the guys in an authoritative tone.

“Yes, I am in 501”, Raman answered.

“Good, then as soon as we reach, lets review the presentation. I don’t like how the content is all scattered right now. I have some ideas in mind on how I would like to present this topic, lets align the presentation exactly to my thoughts”, said the authoritative guy.

“Sure”, Raman replied and discussion ended there.

I was surprised, it was one sided conversation, where in, Raman was just told to do something and he agreed. I wondered how experienced Raman was, may be he was just out from college and was not as experienced about business presentations as his “bossy” colleague.

Anyhow, boarding announcement happened soon.

As I got up, and turned to pick up my bag, my eyes met Raman and I tried to give him a reassuring smile and he reciprocated in the same way. After boarding, I realized that we were neighbors. “Its going to be interesting”, I thought to myself.

It took a while for the plane to take off and after settling in my seat, I took out my book to continue reading. Raman took out his laptop. I didn’t mean to pry but my curiosity got over me and I asked him, “Looks like you are going for a very important presentation, I heard the other guy talking to you at the terminal. Don’t you want to get some sleep? I guess you have to work as soon as you land in Frankfurt!”

“Yeah, that was my boss. It’s very difficult to please him, that’s why I want to work on the presentation and complete it before we land”, he just said, clearly in awe with his boss.

“Please him? I don’t think you were trying to please him. And anyways he is going to change your presentation as per his ideas, so why are you so worried about completing it?” I knew it was not a very professional comment but I was clearly not understanding his point of view.

“No, its not about completing, but if I put in a little more thought and make it as per his idea then I will be able to prove that I can think in the same lines that he does. That’s what leaders look for, team members who their vision”, he clarified himself.

“Really? So if you are able to make this presentation similar to your boss’ idea, the idea that resides in your boss’ brain as of now, you will prove yourself worthy of this job or whatever you are travelling for? Moreover, that’s how you will gain his respect?”, I was flabbergasted.

“That’s how it works in our organization”, he said as a matter of fact.

“Ah, and we talk about creativity, innovation, empowerment and leadership”, I muttered to myself.

This incident was one of the many that I decided to pen down today, which have got me thinking about corporate leadership. I write from Raman’s perspective. His boss was absolutely right about delivering a great presentation, because that was his job, to get business for his organization. However, was his behavior towards Raman justified? Was it expected from a true leader? I would have respected Raman’s boss, if he had given Raman an insight into his idea and then discussed about it, instead of giving an order and putting Raman into a self-doubt mode.

In my opinion, a leader is not someone who is given that title officially. A leader, according to me, is a person, whom we observe, interact, work with, are inspired by his/her actions not because, he/she holds the position of “more” power than us, but because his actions make us believe in his/her vision.

Great leaders, that I had a chance to work with, had one trait in common, “Humility”. They were all so modest about their knowledge and achievements. Over a period of time, I realized that this very trait helped them expand their knowledge base and achieve the most difficult targets. In none of the discussions, they ever projected that “I am Mr. Know it all”, or say something like, “leaders have decided” because true leaders don’t say that “they decide”, even though they do. Leaders show a vision and work towards it and their team eventually starts sharing the same vision. Its not by force or fear. In presence of true leaders, I never had to “mind” my words, or keep my opinion to myself, or have a moment of “what will he think of me”, because they were humble enough to listen to me and at times also learn from me.

Many a times, humility is considered as a weak trait of leaders. Many “leaders” assume that being arrogant means portraying a confident character. However, researches and studies are now revealing that humble leaders are most sought after and also achieve their goals faster and in most satisfying manner. Humble leaders have a self realization of their strengths and weaknesses and they don’t fear to seek support to bridge the gap. True leaders are not called “boss” by their subordinates.

Bosses like Raman’s tend to believe that, as a Leader, they hold the authority and right to intimidate their team members. However they fail to understand, that intimidation can only lead to an annoyed team which doesn’t take much time to collapse.

As the title of this blog suggests, there is a subtle difference between, being a Leader and a Ladder. A leader is a lone fighter, he doesn’t need people to follow him, but nevertheless, people follow him by choice. And when a leader transforms himself into a ladder, he just becomes a path, that people needs to take, no matter what, to fulfill their own ambitions. That’s when a leader looses his identity, work becomes less important and sustaining the Leadership title becomes highest priority. Hence the aim should be to build a ladder and not be a ladder.

Many organizations are driving themselves with leadership principles these days and I fail to see “humility” in the list. My limited interaction with top leaders in some organizations, tells me that  a lot of work is still required, if organizations want to become really great, in terms of business, numbers and people.

Its high time, organizations re-form their leadership principles and ingrain “Humility” from top to bottom, so that true leaders evolve and not transform into mere ladders of short term success for people. Whether leaders fly or not, they should give wings to their followers to fly high.