Blind Side 2

Another Blindside : the 2% bureaucrat

K.P. Joseph turned 88 last week. He is a great grandfather twice over. I grew up watching him return home everyday from an office in which his designation was the organisation. In Calcutta, it was the " THE OFFICE OF THE AUDITOR GENERAL OF WEST BENGAL". He retired three decades ago as the AG of his home state.

Ten years ago I visited him after a gap of several years in his small rented flat in Trivandrum. And I asked him about when he was going to move into a permanent place. He smiled and told me about the land that he and his wife had booked. And that they were moving in soon. I asked him excitedly about where and how large. He quietly answered " 6' by 3'. In the Cathedral cemetery." He was of the belief that if you come with nothing, you also go with nothing.

Which is why KP Joseph was no wallflower. Nor a pushover.  Pilfering politicos and other dodgy demagogues worried about him everyday. He had a considered and measured view on a variety of issues. He wasn't militant about any of them. He wasn't shy of them either. He was just elegant and gracious in his convictions. And so he delivered spotlessly for three decades and a bit.

He belongs to a peculiar breed called the 2% bureaucrat. Unfortunately, our stereotype of the sleazy, underhanded civil servant is so strong that it is difficult to perceive such people as anything but accidental misfits.

Not entirely true.

We all know, that even in any corporate set up, it is the exceptional 2% that drive value. A large number of passengers and cynics make up the rest. Ask any serious HR professional.  Why should it be any different for the bureaucracy. Here's what I think: companies actively seek out, recognize and reward these 2%. Spurring greater motivation and productivity. We, as the primary shareholders of government, refuse to do as much with the bureaucracy. They are perforce left to be recognized and rewarded by their political masters. But unfortunately for a different set of KRAs!

This is a tragic waste. Because the true calibre and character of this 2% is only underscored by their ability to deliver and make a difference within the work environments they inhabit.

We normally walk into a government office assuming a wasted couple of hours. I can remember the number of times we have walked out whispering "what's a guy like him doing in a place like this". I am certain that you can think of at least a couple who could walk into any global board.

In the end we only deserve what we seek and celebrate. A great student, teacher, boss, employee or public servant can only be as effective as we see him to be. And if we are honest we will admit that we look at the entire bureaucracy through the lens of a very tinted glass.


Blind Side

Blind Side

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air

Thomas Grays Elegy is a piece of classical verse that has remained with me since high school. But its true import I have felt only over the course of a decade and a bit in consulting.

Most of us are familiar with that helpless feeling, when we come upon an outstanding employee who is evidently underutilized, or an obviously gifted young adolescent who is misdirected?

Who can forget the lightning gloves of a Sadanand Vishwanath, the on court ballet of a Hana Mandlikova or the sheer audacity of an Amy Winehouses vocal chords? They were patently the stuff of genius. Our collective hearts will bleed for them, and forever wonder how good they might have become.

These are the ones who got our attention. But for every one of these celebrated near misses, there are a million others who meet this fate anonymously. Unrecognized, under- leveraged or misdirected talent, running into oblivion every day. In our work too, we frequently encounter businesses (and even geographies) with very similar futures.

When we talk about unlocking value in boardrooms, there is a strange, almost impersonal, monetary ring to it. Who will unlock it? Where is it lying now? When will we unlock it?
Very often these outstanding gems disappear meekly into the darkness forever, because they werent overtly worth our time and effort. And there lies the bigger tragedy. Most often. That we fail to recognize the purest ray in individuals, organisations and entire communities. As leadership, we are often blindsided to the not so obvious lustre of ordinary mortals who work for us or alongside us. Of recipes and reputations that can so easily be ignored.
But what happens when we actively engage and pursue these doggedly. A TATA, a Fabindia, a Leander Paes. Entities who consistently punched well above their weight. Because somebody cared enough to recognize, nurture and exploit their winning traits.
Over the course of this year, I would like very much for us to talk about all those outstanding assets that need our attention, time and investment - that we will have so many more to celebrate.