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Dr Santrupt Misra, Director, Human Resources, addressed students from technology and management schools who made it to the final short list of the Aditya Birla Scholarship Awards 2004.

To the group of young people with high energy levels, waiting to take off on their chosen career paths, Dr Santrupt Misra said, “The first challenge of managing self is to understand oneself.” At his behest, various words prefixed with ‘self’ such as self-made, self esteem, self worth, selfless, self evaluation, self improvement, self discipline, self control, etc., were thrown up by the audience.

Dr. Misra urged the participants to understand what each of those words meant to them. "From selflessness to selfishness is one continuum, with the self as the centre. The same self moves to one end of the spectrum and then to the other. But the locus of control is with us, influencing the decision of moving either towards selflessness or towards selfishness," said Dr. Misra. So knowing where one stands in relation to each of these "self" words is the starting point of self-awareness.

Understand yourself
Said Dr. Misra: "Often we don't realise how we perform. We don't realise how we learn. We have been brought up in a school education system where it is believed that when the lecturer or teacher speaks, every student who hears him learns from the process. But what we fundamentally miss is the fact that not all of us learn the same way. Some of us learn through listening and some of us learn through reading. The interesting thing is that very few people learn by both — listening and reading. And far fewer know which of the two they are good at.

"Let me give you an example. Dwight Eisenhower was the general of the allied troops in Europe during the World War. One of the brilliant things about him was that he was fantastic at holding news conferences. Whenever a question was asked, he would have all the data, encapsulated in two-three very elegant sentences. But when he became the President, people found that he got very negative press because most of the press people felt that this guy was incoherent. He never listened to any questions. You asked him one thing and he went off on a tangent on something else. This surprised many people.

"While researching the anomaly, they found that Eisenhower the general, when he was leading the allied troops in Europe, got his deputies to ask the journalists to submit their questions at least half a day before the press conference. The deputies used to write out all the facts and detailed answers, which they presented to Eisenhower. He would then read out these answers and, therefore, put up a great performance before the media fraternity. When Eisenhower became President, he obviously could not perform in impromptu press conferences because he was not good at listening. And he had no readymade answers.

"So the important question to ask yourself is 'How do I learn better?' Do I learn better when I read something, do I learn better when I listen to something or is there any other way that I learn better?

"The other important thing for you to do is find out what is it that you enjoy doing and are good at. In corporate India, in my area of human resources, I often find that if you put the wrong person in the wrong job you don't get any output from them. If you put advisors in an operating role they will not be able to take any decisions, because advisors know only how to give advice. They are very good at telling you all kinds of things. But when you tell them to do it, they can't do it because they are not used to doing it!

"If you ask people from strategy or counselling background to lead a business, they may flounder. For they've always drawn various matrices and quadrants, but they have never done things themselves.

"You put operating managers in strategic advisory roles and they cannot perform because they've not channelled themselves to think from a macro perspective. Very few people have the ability to both strategise and to be excellent executives.

"Similarly, some people are great at leading teams, but others are excellent at being team members. Not everybody is cut out to be a leader. And not being a leader is not necessarily a negative thing. Imagine a situation where you are an unwanted team leader of 20 teams vis-à-vis a deeply wanted member of 20 teams. Which would you prefer? So the take home is 'play to your strengths, rather than trying to be somebody completely different.'

Positive v/s negative
"Do you know how many 'encounters' a person has on a typical day? A psychologist would say roughly 20,000 interactions. Can you recollect who was the first person you saw in the morning, whom did you talk with — the liftman, the milk vendor? Each contact is an encounter. In each of these encounters, you create positive or negative energy around you, which touches you and the person you have encountered. When somebody says hello to you, do you smile and reply? If you do, you are creating positive energy. If not, then you are not creating huge amounts of negative energy, but have missed out on an opportunity to create positive energy. Creating positive energy initially takes effort, but later on becomes part of your personality.

"Here's an example. Prisoners of war in Korea were found to have the highest mortality rates. Thirty-eight per cent of them died even though Korean prisoner camps were considerably less brutal compared to many others. The prisoners were unattended, not chained, not tortured. But they still had the highest mortality rate.

"A psychiatrist's research indicated that the Koreans created so much negative energy around the prisoners that it just reduced their life expectancy. For example, if a child was born in the family of a prisoner and a letter announcing the good news was sent to him, the prison authorities did not give the letter to him. But if the letter said that his wife was divorcing him and marrying someone else, they would promptly give it to the prisoner. If the bank was badgering a man for payments on his house or car, that letter would promptly be delivered. The Koreans mastered the art of creating negative energy around the Korean camps without torturing anybody, which increased the mortality rate of the prisoners.

"Life is the biggest B-school. It keeps on teaching you everyday."

Learn to empathise
"Empathy is a very simple expression. Many a time we react based on what the other person tells us. If you could step back and think, is there something bothering him or her? Why is he or she doing that? If you ask that question, you start empathising. But the moment I say something rude and you respond with equal rudeness, that's creating a negative attitude, which we don't realise. The question is to step back and say, ok what happened? Why did that person say that? Learning to let go is important. There is this one big thing in all of us called E-G-O. Learning to keep that under control is one of the biggest challenges that we as human beings face. And it is the most important part of self-management.

Keep learning and changing
"You are all very bright people. But please understand that being bright does not mean one knows everything. Often brightness creates a disabling amount of ignorance, because such people are unable to see merit in what others are doing or saying. My father taught me this very important lesson: When you think you are a great person, look ahead and find that there are a million people standing ahead of you in the greatness ladder. When you feel like a miserable wretch, you feel you have done nothing with your life, then look back and see how much better off you are than the millions behind you. And that keeps you going.

"There is a lovely shloka in Sanskrit. It translates into: The sun rises and sets with the same copper colour. Similarly, a truly great and wise person carries the same demeanour in times of both prosperity and adversity.

"I would also like to emphasise that the key drivers of success keep changing during the different stages of our life. And the challenge for us is to recognise this fact and change accordingly. As a young student, what made me successful is not likely to make me successful as a young engineer. If I become a manager in an organisation, I cannot continue to behave like a student. A professor may ignore my coming late to class every day, but arriving late every day will not be looked kindly upon by my organisation. Similarly those traits that made me a successful manager need not make me a successful CEO. So it is important to know and understand that success drivers are different at different career stages.

Stand up for your values
"A value system, to put it simply, is what is acceptable to you and what is not. It is a belief system that has been repeatedly tried and tested in your mind. There is a difference between standing up for your values vis-à-vis being arrogant about your values. And learning to make that subtle distinction is where the success lies.

"Being able to manage oneself is to be able to understand what my values are. Where do I draw that line? For example, two gentlemen don't get along. Man One knows that the boss doesn't like Man Two. The easiest thing for Man One to do is to say some mean things about Man Two to his boss to curry favour with him: 'I know you are always right and this fellow is a third class fellow." Man One made a value choice when he said that. He gave in to a short-term temptation of currying favour by letting a colleague down and taking advantage of the privileged knowledge that his boss doesn't like him. But remember the famous saying, 'when you live by the sword you die by the sword.'

"Many times we have to grapple with value dilemma. Here's a value dilemma. My company's policy is that we shall not bribe people. The company has imported machinery that is sitting at a port in India somewhere. It is sophisticated machinery, on which the company has spent about Rs. 500 crore. It needs to be got out of the port and into the factory. But the port authorities say, 'Oh, this document is deficient, that is deficient.'

"Now if it is deficient or not, you don't know. The officer has the authority and can find deficiencies. He gives you a reasonable amount of hint that you have to give him 20,000 bucks to release it. Your company doesn't believe in bribes. You don't bribe. What would you do? For example, I will not willingly encourage people to take money when it comes to this situation. I will try to persuade the officer first. Second, try to reason with his boss.

" At the end of it, if an entire system doesn't listen to me, I still have accountability to shareholders, customers, and lenders to whom I've committed that my project will be up and running. My commitment as a value to my stakeholders that my project will be over by a specified time, conflicts with my value that I will not pay money. There is a choice I have to make. What is the relative impact of holding onto one value vis-à-vis another? Here is a clear case of conflict. That's what the purpose of education is all about. To prepare ourselves to take those calls and those unique moments of value conflict. And that's why life is the biggest B-school. It keeps on teaching you every day.

Leverage self confidence
"There will be times when you need to leverage your self confidence to your advantage. But let me caution you that you can't make self-confidence a substitute for your ignorance all the time.

"I remember I attended, like you, a scholarship interview many years ago. There were 11 men and women sitting around. They said, 'Oh, you've done political science, public administration and personnel management. What do you know about Simon?' I told myself 'Oh boy! There is Saint Simon, who is a social thinker and there is Herbert Simon, who is an organisational theorist. If he is referring to Saint Simon, I can tell him loads, if he means Herbert Simon, I don't remember all the specifics.'

"Quickly, I did all the processing in my mind and decided to try my self-confidence. So I said, 'Sir, you mean Saint Simon or…' I took a pause so he said, 'Ok, tell me what you know of Saint Simon. ' My self-confidence propelled me to play a gamble. But I came back and asked myself, 'I got away once, but can I continue with my ignorance of Herbert Simon for the rest of my life? I need to plug that.'

"I know we cannot know everything. But those who believe that self-confidence is a substitute for ignorance can carry it off up to a point. Beyond that, no matter how bright you are, it will start showing. So the lesson in self-management is not to embrace the bravado that I can always substitute my ignorance by my self-confidence.

Look at the larger picture
"Does your behaviour reflect the degree of awareness that you have about yourself? For e.g., if you believe that you are emotionally mature, does it reflect in your behaviour? How do you take disappointment, success or conflict? Many of us don't know how to deal with conflict. How do you deal with conflict with your parents, girlfriend and boyfriend? Do you sulk? Do you talk it out? Do you moan? How often do you do tu tu main main with your friends?

" For example, if you have a friend who is always bumming cigarettes off you and you don't like it, do you tell him? No, you don't get around to telling him, but it is impacting your relationship. That's avoidance of conflict. Managing conflict is not about fighting all the time, but it is about not being able to verbalise your feelings about an issue that is bothering you. Your behaviour and decisions should reflect your self-awareness.

I would like to conclude by saying that whenever I had small disappointments in life, I always told myself that maybe bigger things are waiting for me so I lost out on the smaller things. That kept me going. Believe me when I say that there are many big things in life to pursue. Disappointments and failures don't bring an end to this world unless you choose to bring an end to it, or God chooses to bring it to an end."

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