Lessons Learnt From A Unnyque Guru

It has been my fortune to have spent the last 8 under the leadership of someone I hold in great esteem. I have learnt many things working under him. Even as he leaves, he has left me with another tidbit to ponder on!

It was late and well past our usual office hours. My boss Unny and I were having a casual chat and the conversation turned towards a discussion on a life-altering decision he had his heart set on. He had spent nearly 11 years with the company and had been pondering moving on, into the social development sector. It was a decision he had been contemplating for a few years now. He had finally decided to take the plunge. Even as I tried to understand where he was coming from, I was slightly anxious knowing I would miss him immensely.

“Are you sure, Unny?” I asked.

“Yes”, he said with a smile.

“What makes you so certain you are ready for the plunge?

“Not any one particular thing, really. But it’s mostly my need to find more meaning in what I do.”

Trying to relate to his decision, I replied, “I suppose somewhere deep down we all want to do things that will make a meaningful impact in the world we live in.”

“Yes, but I am doing it so that I can make my world a better one. I am doing it for myself.”

Unny and I, in our need to nurture our teams, spoke often and passionately about individual’s differing perspectives; how each person not only has his own view of things, but lives in his own personal version of reality – the world as one sees it uniquely from one’s own vantage point. We have talked often about coaching team members to step out of their own realities into each other’s and lend his team-mate an ear, with attentiveness, care and genuine interest. I saw Unny’s decision to move into the social and development sector as an act of stepping into other’s realities and helping them with it. He stressed he was still only trying to improve his own.

The profundity of that thought gave way to the realization that these regular “after 6” discussions that I had come to cherish would soon be a thing of the past. Let me share now a few more bits from those conversations that I believe we can all learn something from:

  • On Growth – Focus on your team’s growth and you will grow

Flashback to 2010. I had just joined Maxus and learnt Unny had to leave for the US in a week’s time. I was told that I had to make a pitch to a new client whom we had been trying to woo for a while. To set this up, Unny called for a “chemistry meeting” – with the intention of giving the client a sense of confidence and assuring him his business was in safe hands. I remember well that during that meeting Unny did not speak much. He had left it on me to do the song and dance. It did not strike me then how difficult it must have been for a boss to take a step back and let the younger one shine. I have learnt from Unny that it is critical at times to downplay yourself so that the younger one shines better, for it is when they grow that you grow too.

  • On Motivation – “I’ve Got Your Back”

What drives teams to perform? Each individual is different. So surely, what motivates one may not motivate another. Among the many drivers that work, I believe that one stands out – feeling a sense of security and trust. As I state this, one particularly tough situation comes to mind. I once had to take a call on whether to keep a client’s business or decline it owing to the constant unprofessional behavior on part of the client. It is not easy to let go of an existing client relationship. From its immediate effects on the books, to the souring of relationships on a corporate level, to repercussions it may have with other clients, the vagaries and domino effects are many. After deliberation, I took the tougher call to let the account go. It was knowing that I had someone who had my back made that made a world of difference in enabling me to tackle the problem head-on instead of avoiding it. It becomes our duty as managers and leaders to hold the back of those that report into us. We need to give them our trust not just when things are cheery, but during the tough times as well.

  • On Retention – Focus on purpose and people

Retaining talent is one of the biggest challenges we agency folks have. People quit for either Pay, People or Purpose.  In a networked agency Pay is a factor that’s beyond our control. However, People and Purpose are very much within it. Over years, I have seen Unny’s philosophy bear fruit time and again – (a) Drive purpose by aligning an individual’s strength to the company’s vision and (b) Always stay open to creating the required interventions that make the working environment people centric.

  • On Introspection – Be obsessed with self-discovery and self-improvement

Unny’s application of thought towards the betterment of his teams has been equally applied towards the betterment of his self. It has also played its role in nudging me along on my own journey of self-discovery. We improve ourselves by observing and assessing every aspect, good and bad, of our own being, learning about ourselves along the way, tweaking this and tweaking that, holding on to the best and letting the weaker bits breakaway. There is always more to add, and more to leave behind. It is as fascinating, never ending journey!

  • On Balance – Family is more important than work-life

We all know this one about valuing family more than work. And we’ve all neglected it every once in a while (or is it twice, thrice or a million times?). Unny puts it rather nicely. Family is not just important, but our personal lives and relationships with our better halves have a strong bearing on how we act and behave in our professional world! He walks the talk. You will very rarely find Unny having a good time without his better half. Try traveling with the couple and you will know what I mean J

Unny may have decided to move on, but like all our Gurus, his teachings are here to stay!

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