One of the best things in life is having the luxury of sitting (or lying down) in one corner with a good book and nice cup of tea or coffee. I cannot remember when my love affair with books actually began. As far as I can recall, I was a big fan of “Sweet Dreams” series back when I was still in high school. I was one of my school’s pocketbook “libraries”. My classmates would often borrow the latest Sweet Dreams books from me and I was just too eager to share my “goodies” with them. For me, books are meant to be enjoyed by as many people as possible because they seem to become more meaningful if their pages had been touched by countless fingers and ‘yellowed’ slowly by the passage of time.
Looking back, I think that my love for writing also developed from my love of reading. When young people ask me the question, “How can I become a writer like you?”, my initial reply would often be, “Just enjoy reading and experiencing more of life.” There is really no magic formula, I guess. However, I can say that reading helped me tremendously in my writing and analytical skills. Reading not only helped me understand the world and people around me, it also allowed me to explore my imagination and enhance my creative thinking.
As I grew older (and hopefully, wiser!), my taste on books also evolved. I began reading the classics such as those written by Jane Austen (author of Emma and Pride and Prejudice, among others), Fyodor Dostoyevski (author of Crime and Punishment), and Charles Dickens (of A Tale of Two Cities). And then, I began ‘falling in love’ with works using the magical realism approach such as those by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (of One Hundred Years of Solitude), Isabel Allende (of The House of the Spirits), and Laura Esquivel (of Like Water for Chocolate). I hungered for more and began enjoying the philosophical-literary (if there is such a term?) approaches of Milan Kundera (of Unbearable Lightness of Being) and Marcel Proust (in Search of Lost Time). I also began reading works of Asian/Asian-American writers such as Arundhati Roy (of The God of Small Things), Amy Tan (of the Joy Luck Club), and Sun Tzu (of The Art of War).
It also became a necessity that I began reading books tackling management and leadership. One of my favorite reads in this department is Winning by Jack Welch (with his wife, Suzy Welch). It is actually a gift from a very good friend of mine so if she gets to read this post, she’d know that the book did not go to waste. Anyway, Winning is a good read because it gave a lot of real-life examples to stress important points. Mr. Welch used to be the chairman and CEO of General electric (GE)–where he stayed for forty years–so you can be assured that he knows what he is talking about.
The first part of the book, under the heading, “Underneath it All,” discussed important corporate issues such as on mission and values (with emphasis on the values of candor and differentiation). I think these two values are controversial and tricky issues particularly that they require gut-level honesty and integrity. Mr. Welch, in his straightforward style of writing and speaking, said this:
“…I have come to realize that I underestimated its rarity. In fact, I would call lack of candor the biggest dirty little secret in business. What a huge problem it is. Lack of candor basically blocks smart ideas, fast action, and good people contributing all the stuff they’ve got…When you’ve got candor–and you’ll never completely get it, mind you–everything just operates faster and better.” (Winning, page 25)
While I do not agree in everything that he discussed in the book, this is an analysis that I had readily accepted as true in most cases. I think that people, managers, and companies should really encourage and embrace this trait or value. In the Philippine (and even Asian perhaps?) setting, I think that this is easier said than done. I do not mean this in a derogatory way but more on a situational and cultural analysis. I think many Filipino (and even Asian) managers will agree that it is simply difficult to be straightforward and candid with co-workers and colleagues. “Hiya” or the feeling of shame is just an important aspect of relationships here that it is always a consideration when making decisions in the workplace. I think many will agree that it is simply difficult to tell your subordinate that he is not doing well. It is fairly easy to praise someone’s work and outputs but telling him he messed up on his latest project is like going to the guillotine. No one looks forward to moments like that.
However, Mr. Welch is right in saying that “candor gets more people in the conversation”, generates speed, and saves the company significant resources. “Think of how candor replaces fancy PowerPoint slides and mind-numbing presentations and boring off-site conclaves with real conversations, whether they’re about company strategy, a new product introduction, or someone’s performance,” he emphasized.
These words are sources of wisdom. While it is indeed challenging to be affront and candid, I think that businesses and companies can achieve more if there is more openness and frankness in the workplace. And this openness should be practiced in both levels–in the management and rank-and-file levels–because it is not fair to to allow management to give a candid (honest) evaluation of their subordinate’s performance but not allow subordinates to enjoy the same openness when evaluating the performance of their superiors.
This culture should be practiced in all aspects of management including human resources management, such as when evaluating and closing the files of employees who decided to move on to other companies or pursuits. For example, there is an industry practice of doing background check on prospective employees before they are hired. This procedure should be critically evaluated because it summarily (and unfairly?) puts the prospective employee in a “no-win” situation because it often leads to a one-sided judgement. An employee who had been candid enough to his bosses and may have good and valid reasons for leaving a company can still be misconstrued as a “bad” employee simply because the HR personnel or manager who answered the phone call from the prospective employer had an axe to grind against him (who, for example, had been candid enough to express that there was something wrong with their department’s strategy). Who gets to validate such judgements? Oftentimes, prospective employees are not even given the chance to explain their side. Their CVs automatically go to the trash bin. This, I think, reeks of too much injustice. If I am an HR Manager, the more should I call this type of prospective employee to an interview because I would definitely be curious as to what really happened in the company that he left and more importantly, how he learned from his experiences, which may sound negative at first (particularly if heard from the former HR Manager’s perspective). I am sure that I would also learn insights from his experiences and maybe, motivate me to avoid the same errors in judgement or pitfalls.
Mr. Welch may have not really expounded so much on other HR concerns but the book covers many other facets of the corporate life and even offers advice on career and time management. For instance, he devoted a whole chapter on work-life balance (Chapter 19). There is a lot of honesty in this chapter because he himself admitted that he had oftentimes relegated the tasks associated with family life to his wife. Such candid approach makes him more credible. He offered these bite-sized knowledge and counsel:
- Work-life balance is a swap–a deal you’ve made with yourself about what you keep and what you give up.
- It is not that bosses want you to give up your family or your hobbies. They’re just driven by the desire to capture all of your energy and harness it for the company.
- If you want real work-life balance, find a company that accommodates it as part of its everyday business.
(Direct quotes from the book, pages 318, 321,and 328.)
In one of his parting words, he said that “…leadership is helping other people grow and succeed. To repeat myself, leadership is not just about you. It’s about them.”
I think this is indeed a reminder that a true leader does not prioritize his achievement but is fired up by the passion to motivate people to grow, succeed, and also become genuine leaders for the sake of people whom he serves. I enjoin you to lead with both the heart and the mind!
(For more details about the book, you may want to visit this link. This is not a paid blog.)