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The Chair that regrets (4)

By G. Balasubramanian

As I walked into the campus of that prestigious National Institute known for producing leaders in technology across the country, I was well received by my friend who was a senior professor and Head of the department. “What a pleasure to see you after a long time!” His words were not casual, but he did speak from the heart. And in a few minutes after exchange of goodwill, he turned to me “okay, now you tell me, whether you would like to have coffee or tea.” I responded. He turned towards his lab and accosted “sekar, would you mind washing those two cups and getting us some coffee from the coffee stall nearby.” The young man smiled and proceeded to comply with the instructions. When the young man brought the tea and kept on the table, I could see a grin on his face revealing some kind of pain. I smiled and said, ‘thank you.’ As he left the scene, I asked my friend “Is he your lab attender?” He replied quickly “No, No, he is my research scholar.” I was shocked and could not compromise with the idea of the Research Scholar being used for this work. Well, there are occasions when people who work together may oblige some personal work of others, but using the authority to engage someone on a routine basis or doing work which they are not supposed to do is indeed cruel. Several intelligent people who want to display their innovation suffer from a sense of fear for the chair and fear of losing their seat, and hence oblige out of compulsions. I have seen similar situations in several research units where the subordinates and the contractual persons doing intelligent work are dealt with in a shabby manner for personal favors. Such actions rob young men of their self-esteem and self-worth. It kills their spirit of freedom to innovate as they start feeling that they are expected to comply than conquer. “Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be” says Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The chair needs to understand that the people collaborating with them have their own personal aptitudes, choices and behavioral patterns, and they have a right to exercise them. Several decades ago, as I walked out of the room of one of the senior executives on the executive floor, I was called by another executive in whose department I was working . “Why did you go to his chamber? You are working only under me” I was asked. I explained that the concerned head wanted to use some of skills for a public function for the organization. “Did you agree?” and I said “yes.”

I know that my decision was not appreciated as both the heads were at loggerheads on some personal animosity. Unfortunately, in many organizations, the personal animosities between senior leaders in chair divides the entire organization into factions and fractions. They fail to see the organization from a larger perspective and try to measure the growth and popularity of the organization on their personal yardsticks. Many organizations suffer due to lack of shared vision. In a professional environment, it is important to know that all chairs are like various parts of the automobile, and they can run well and safely only if they co-exist. "It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed" says Napoleon Hill.

Oftentimes, the unique talent and popularity of one in a chair may give him a great visibility. The stakeholders may well receive his talents. But talent alone does not qualify a person for the chair. “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships", says Michael Jordan.

Oftentimes, many in a chair complain and comment “see, all the people who come here see only that person, no one takes note of my presence. They do not even walk into my room.” The popularity or the gravitation of the other person due to his personal trait attracts the people. Or they find more intellectual and professional discussions possible with that person. This triggers them to do all that is possible to ensure that the other person is put into some tight corner or troubled water, so that the image or the brand of that person is challenged. I have seen this trend in many organizations including corporates. “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do” says Henry Ford. Those who have some reputation for what they have done naturally gravitate people around them and not those who, despite being highly productive, have not demonstrated their competencies. “A brand is a voice, and a product is a souvenir” says Lisa Gransky, the American entrepreneur and CEO.

The chair, like Time, is a witness to people, events, happenings, feelings, success stories and disasters. It has moments to celebrate its being there and has regrets it wants to record somewhere. It is important to listen to its voice so that we empower ourselves with qualities that would decorate the chair.