Sunday, 27 November 2011

Why Should a Fish Climb a Tree?

 “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will go its whole life believing it is stupid.”  This is so true. Over the years I have received feedback from my managers, parents and mentors. Some of the feedback has been very useful and some has been totally useless. 
One of the most important roles of a manager is to give the right feedback at the right time. I have seen managers giving feedback only when they are forced due to company policy, say at the annual review. I like to get feedback from a person who is observing me on a daily basis and giving me pointers. Pointing out how to make things better with the right examples and right time would make feedback very useful. I have had my “A-ha” moments with feedback given this way.
The feedback has to be meaningful to the employee.  The idea of giving feedback is to help your employees improve themselves. Calling names such as “Bully” or “Stupid” do not give any insight to the employee unless good examples are given. Even worse is when the feedback is contradictory. As an employee getting such feedback, you are left wondering what your manager meant.
A common mistake that I have seen managers make (I am also guilty of this and I see parents making it too) is to try to make their employee someone they are not – making them fit to a preset mold. This brings me to the starting point of this blog – why do we make the fish climb a tree? Why do we try to turn the fish into a monkey? Even if it tried its whole life, it would not excel. Instead, if we believed that each of our employees is a genius and brings a special value to the team and then make full use of their talents, the team will benefit.
I learnt this the hard way when my son was 4 years old. Wanting to make him a math genius, I signed him up for Kumon classes which emphasizes learning math through repetitive activities. I learnt that it is impossible to make my son do repetitive jobs. He is good at math but he cannot learn it the Kumon way. Each person has an inherent personality and talent. I have had to be very creative in recognizing and bringing out his talents.
One piece of feedback I have recently received  is that my English is bad. At 40+ years of age, it is going to be very difficult to fix this. I agree that my English isn’t the best, but the bigger question is - is it good enough? I seem to be able to connect to hundreds of people with the language I have. One of the best speakers I know mixes languages almost every other sentence but boy, is she a good speaker!! She kept the 400 people crowd engrossed in her speech. One of the authors I like is Chetan Bhagat. He has very vibrant characters in his stories – he mentions that his language is not technically the best and would never win a Bookers award but his books sell.
As a manager, as a parent you need to get the best out of people. Focus on enhancing people’s positive points. Reiterating what they are incapable of doing is not going to achieve results. If you notice that the feedback to your employee is the same year after year, probably the feedback is not being meaningful to the employee. Make a fish flip and do a somersault in the water but don’t make it a clumsy tree climber. Don’t make the fish think it is stupid because it is a clumsy tree climber. Make it believe it is a great swimmer and can do even better.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Contagious Leadership

Microprocessor design was a passion that began in college and has stayed with me even after 23-24 years. In our 3rd year of Engineering, I was introduced to the 8085 Intel microprocessor as part of the curriculum. Professor V. was very friendly and gave the students a lot of room to try out the different experiments and projects. I was enamored by the Architecture, Assembly level language and the SDK kit that we could do all our experiments on. I literally spent my 3rd and 4th year in the microprocessor lab. I was hooked on CPUs and microprocessors.  I ended up taking many architecture courses in my graduate school and many more after I joined work.
When I was about 2 years into my career, I got a job at IBM in the CPU design team.  The team was very large and we were working on a CPU that was at least 4x in performance compared to the best performing CPU available in the market at that time. I was very excited to have landed a job in a CPU design team and finally I had my dream job.

Few months into my job at IBM is when I met the Mr. R, our design manager of the project . He was a very good people manager and he would walk into people’s offices, sit down with them and have casual talks. He made it so comfortable, that I could talk to him very openly. Here was a senior manager who led a 200+ people team – not just any team, a hardcore CPU design team, took the time to talk to a junior person like me and would discuss issues that I am facing.  This is when I decided that I wanted to be a design manager – not just any design manager but one like Mr. R. who could lead a cutting edge technology team and also relate to the people.
This is what I mean by contagious leadership. You just want to be like them. This was how the journey began for me; this is how I set my goals. These goals drove me through all the difficult times of work-life balance and kept me going through 20+ years of my career. Simple efforts by leaders make a big impression on people.  The leaders probably do not realize the impact they have but it takes people through a long way.
I met many more leaders that I want to emulate post IBM. It reminds me of the Jungle Book song “I wanna be like you. I wanna talk like you. Walk like you, too. You'll see it's true. Someone like me. Can learn to be
Over time, your goals do change.  I have moved on from the CPU design teams. But, what has remained constant is that I want to have positive impact on others. I want to be a contagious leader too...

Who am I and Why do I want to Blog

I am putting this site together to jot down my thoughts and learn from others. I want to make blogging a way to make the tech industry a close knit community. I think it is wonderful that people share their thoughts and one can learn many things from bloggers all over the world.
I have been in the hardware industry for over 20 years and have now recently started working on software products also. I went to graduate school at Georgia Tech and worked in multiple companies (most of them global) as an individual contributor, technical lead, architect, and as a manager of large organizations (100+). I have worked in some of the largest computer companies and small companies. I have worked in US and in India and equally appreciate both the cultures.
I have had the most interesting experiences – some great successes, some dismal failures. I have met the most interesting people, most humane people and some difficult people!  I have met some of my best friends here.  I have had many wonderful managers and mentors that have helped me grow and learn a lot over the past 20 years.  I am going to share and question some insights and observations.
I am married to a techie for over 20 years. We have two lovely boys. I learn a lot about people management by parenting my kids and handling my husband. I take with me a lot of learning from my work to home and vice-versa.
This is my industry, this is what I chose, and it’s my home away from home. I want to make it a better place for us and our future generations.