Leaders & Change

Leaders are born into change, defined by change and needs to lead by change.

Recently I decided to watch the movie The Two Popes on Netflix – following the movie being nominated for multiple awards and the premise of the interesting dynamic between the outgoing Pope Benedict and the incoming Pope Francis (Years ago, I had wrote about this moment here). I found that the movie was a beautiful and well made fictional imagination of the events surrounding the surprise abdication of the papacy by the former and latter’s ascension into the Chair of St. Peter.

Leaders are born into change, defined by change and needs to lead by change.

If there is one thing I learnt from the movie about leadership is that leaders are born into change, defined by change and needs to lead by change. When the movie starts we see the papal conclave convened following the death of Pope John Paul II, where the church decides to stick with tradition and elects the aging Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI over the radical Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. The conservative former is shown as being apathetic when compared to the more reform-minded latter. Seven year later, we see a church stuck in the Vatican Leaks scandal – a quagmire of corruption and abuse cases against the clergy that rocked the church to its core and tainted the papacy. Frustrated with these events, Bergoglio had submitted his resignation and since the Vatican never accepted it, he books the flight ticket personally to go and deliver his resignation note. At the same time he receives a personal invitation to visit Rome from the Pope. As the two meet, we see a beautiful and remarkable clash of personalities; divided by language, traditions and politics, yet united by their love to the church and what it means to them. There is a dialogue from the movie that basically explains these two leaders and what they stood for:

“- Pope Benedict: You talk about walls as if they are bad things. A house is built of walls. Strong walls.

– Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio: Ah… Did Jesus build walls? His face is a face of mercy. The bigger the sinner, the warmer the welcome. Mercy is the dynamite that blows down walls.”

Anthony Hopkins – Pope Benedict, Jonathan Pryce – Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio

There are two leadership styles here – one that believes that tradition will hold its sway till the end and the other which believes in reform – real radical reform. Both styles are right and needs to be conducted with balance and foresight. A leader cannot go on blindly with the status quo yet cannot be delusional and creates radical changes too often. Both are needed within equal measure for the leadership to have any meaning or substance. This balance is often misunderstood as doing nothing and most leaders default to this position. In the movie, Bergoglio laments about the sway that traditional thinking had for too long and how it almost destroyed the church when he said the following:

“We have spent these last years disciplining anyone who disagrees with our line on divorce, on birth control, on being gay. While our planet was being destroyed, while inequality grew like a cancer. We worried whether it was alright to speak the Mass in Latin, whether girls should be allowed to be altar servers. We built walls around us, and all the time, all the time, the real danger was inside. Inside with us.”

Jonathan Pryce – Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio

This lament is striking and one that yearns loudly for change – one could look back at those dark days and recollect the sheer horror at the descent of the church into infamy while all these scandals went on. Since the church stuck with tradition and allowed the scandals to rage on using outdated methods at enforcing the rule of law, frustration and despondence started setting in among the believers – the cry for change couldn’t have been more ferocious. It was amplified by the general feeling that justice was never served.

“Confession cleans the sinner’s soul, it doesn’t help the victim. Our whole church is in need of forgiveness. Where is our humility? Sin is a wound, not a stain. It needs to be treated, healed. Forgiveness is not enough.”

Jonathan Pryce – Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio

It was this call for change that shook Pope Benedict XVI into resigning and allowing a reluctant Pope Francis to take over the reins of an embattled church.

The biggest insight that one has when watching the movie is that if leaders do not understand change or even realize that they are born into change, defined by change and needs to lead by changethey fail miserably.

Image Courtesy: Bing

Mental models

In his fascinating book Smarter, Faster, Better the author Charles Duhigg explains the power of mental models and how they improve productivity. What are mental models? Mental models are created by human beings within themselves based on their experiences and interactions with the world. These models have been speculated to assist in how humans reason. As Charles explains in the video below, mental models are simply stories that we tell ourselves as things are unfolding. In the same book Charles explains the story of Qantas Airways 32 and how the plane with critical engine failures was safely landed only because the pilot, Richard de Crespigny took control of the failed plane, blocked the information overload that informed him on how the plane is ill-fated and modelled his mind to operating the plane as an oversized Cessna. He safely landed the plane in Singapore saving countless lives. You can read more about that here.

Mental models are a fascinating tool at one’s disposal before embarking on any venture, making decisions or even conflict resolution. As I mentioned in my earlier post on Decision-making using stories, I tried to explain this technique in lieu of making critical decisions by simply imagining them as stories. Ask yourself first, what is the story here and what is my role in this story? Stories are often said as what we tell others. Can we change that and imagine ourself as being part of the story? A story where we are able to influence the outcome by taking charge.

As part of my job as a Process Safety Engineer, one of the tools that we use commonly is something known as a BowTie process. Shaped in the model of a BowTie, this process creates a pictorial representation of an incident and the ‘barriers’ that prevent the causation of or the escalation from a loss of control scenario. The objective is to tell a story of how things can go wrong and how do you prevent it and also how you would recover from it. People who partake in this exercise knows beforehand based on their experience and reasoning the entire story before it even happens. This trains them or the organization to behave proactively and avoid complacency.

I believe this approach should be used extensively as a habit in our lives. It helps us to think more and better, prepare us for any scenarios, since we have already modelled the story in our head. Now what if something different happens. Does this approach fail? Nope. It gets calibrated to new data points and thereby continuously learns. We should feed the model by consistently exposing ourselves to newer experiences in lieu of reading books, travelling and meeting up with new people. This helps the model to be predictive and help us in lasting success.

unsplash-logoDan DeAlmeida

“We all have mental models: the lens through which we see the world that drive our responses to everything we experience. Being aware of your mental models is key to being objective.”


Decision-making using stories

We all love stories. Humans enjoyed telling stories to each other. A story is a simple narration with a beginning, middle and the end. A proper story should have the beginning and the end tied up with the middle providing the structure to the story. If you look at any of our conversations, they always take the form of a story. We are told stories all through the time we grow up, we tell stories about everyone and everything and we are breathing, living and dying a story. We are the story. Now we need to write one.

We are the story

The center point of the discussion here is how do leaders grasp this very understanding of story telling in making critical decisions. For example, you are faced with a sticky situation at work or in life. The natural tendency is fight or flight. However how many of us have paused and analysed the situation in the narrative of a story. Have we ever tried to ask “What is the story of this situation?” No we do not. We are busy living the story with us trying to tackle the situation rather than taking a step backward and understand the story and then analyse how we can be the scribe or the creator of this story.

We can be the scribe or the creator of this story

I believe every moment that life presents to us is like part of a story that we are presently living in or a new story that is yet to commence. Most of the time we do not or cannot control the outcome of the story. However we can be intentional about our part in it, once we realize or understand that there is a narrative that is taking place.

We understand why the narrative was there in the first place

Being intentional provides us with the right mindset to take charge and explore the fine boundaries of the story – its structure. As we relish that moment with its ups, downs and confrontations, we get to understand why the narrative was there in the first place, why it begun and when it is time to exit. As we exit, we should do it with a sense of purpose to tie it back to the beginning, relieve loose ends and complete the narration.

What are the main takeaways here?

  • Every situation in life, is the beginning of, part of or even the end of a narrative that you may know or do not know.
  • Seeing scenarios in life as a story gives you a bigger picture view of what is the true meaning, the essence of the situation and provides you with hints on how to be intentional in seeking lasting resolutions.

unsplash-logoNong Vang

Driving is not a one way street

Did you know that one of the most important things that you do each day is to drive? If you haven’t – yes it is. My instructor used to tell me – you are not driving a vehicle that can take you from point A to point B. You are driving a weapon each day. You can find all sorts of online resources to give you an array of stats about driving.

If I were to speak one word about driving, I would say it is designed to create order in a seemingly disorderly world. The rules around driving now enforced across the world by means of driving tests, seeks to emphasis this very idea – getting humans to think, behave and conduct themselves on the road in an orderly manner. When you drive your own vehicle, in addition to the insane power at your hands that is assisted by your engine; you learn key habits of responsibility, sharing and adhering to the rule of the law all while driving. Either you do it, or will be forced to do it from the demands of the vehicular traffic or by law enforcement that patrols the roads each day, across the world.

The vehicular traffic that one encounters each day while driving can teach you so many things about the society that we live in each day. I remember during the boom days how the traffic in Dubai or for that matter Alberta used to be crowded and during the bust cycle, the traffic congestion was very lean. You should drive on a ‘holiday’ or one of the special days such as Christmas or Easter Monday to know the dangers of intoxicated driving. There are many such patterns that one can infer from driving – the rush hour traffic in the morning or evening or the peaceful non-rush hour traffic dominated by various transportation vehicles.

From the moment that one seeks to drive from his house to his destination, the expectation is to reach there safely. As soon as you leave your home, you leave everything to chance and we battle with the expectations of such a chance. While we rely on chance, it is imperative that we adhere to the expectations of the game- traffic rules. However we cannot expect others to follow the same, only pray that they do. However driving shouldn’t be expected to be a one way street. You cannot only give and expect the same in return – will be the common refrain. However this belief is misplaced. You cannot change the driver next to you or far from you. However you can try to be safe in a practicable or predictable manner and aim for a proactive defensive approach.

Being proactive is one of the greatest virtue of driving

Being proactive is one of the greatest virtue of driving. You should make it an art to read the opposing vehicle or the one next to you. You should learn to keep a minimum but effective stopping distance from the vehicle ahead of you. Being proactive behind the wheel in my opinion can also develop a sense of passive aggressiveness which can come a long way to improving one’s driving.

To summarize, driving is never a one way street, however one should always expect it as one.

Photo Credit: RS2Photography Flickr via Compfight cc

To write

Why I didn’t write for a long time?

It has been quite a long time since I wrote something on my blog. I do feel guilty that I have not been paying attention to my blog of more than a decade. However writer’s block is one cruel son of a gun – it sticks with you like forever and cripples your imagination, disables your sense of purpose and encourages procrastination.

It is good to wander and let time and space play its magical dance.

I enjoy writing. Writing to me frees up the mind and allows it to wander. It is good to wander and let time and space play its magical dance. When I do not write, I feel trapped and suffocated. So one would think that the natural remedy would be to write. However it is not simple as that; especially when one considers the enemy of writers – the famous writer’s block.

I often wonder, why do a writer have writer’s block? Is it even an actual thing. My wife would often say, it is because you are lazy. It is the same habit or behavior that encourages one to miss a deadline – or an important to-do list item or task. It could even be lack of purpose. I did feel a sense of lack of purpose. It happened mainly because I got sucked into a routine of sorts for sometime and I feel that I need to get out of it.

So you might think that is writing a means to an escape, an end. Is it not serious for you that you take your readers for granted. I had people reach out to me many times during the past few months as to why did I totally stop writing? I feel that it is a sort of betrayal and cowardice on my part.

I believe the biggest mistake I have made as a writer, is to seek closure to each of my blog or article. This creates a false rift to expectations that I set out in the beginning. Maybe the approach is all wrong; maybe one should sit with a paper and pen and just write – see where it takes me.

Maybe the approach is all wrong; maybe one should sit with a paper and pen and just write – see where it takes me.

Photo Credit: The Philosophical Fish Flickr via Compfight cc

The coming of spring

Spring heralds new beginnings. It is a time when the darkness and uncertainty of the winter is replaced by light (actually lots of it) and the certainty or sometimes that hope is here…finally. Spring is celebrated in many cultures by religious occasions that show new beginnings. I often wonder why do not the Roman Calendar begins with the first day of spring – it used to be at one time. But that is the topic for a different day.

We all love new beginnings. Starting afresh has been used so many times that it is more of a fad. Most of the time we have the intent to change – it doesn’t work. We go hard on ourselves citing our lack of willpower – but most of the time new beginnings start with doubt or uncertainty. Let’s think about the creation – God made everything so beautiful, created man and rested on the 7th day. What happens on the 8th,9th or 10th day? There is a certain sense of uncertainty partly because it is inherent by design. In the story of the creation, there was a tree placed right in the middle of the garden with clear instructions that though shall not eat from that tree. Now who would do that? On top of the uncertainty what would happen you place the lever for failure right in the middle of the garden.If one knew what men where, they are known to never follow rules or adhere to order. What happened was exactly as one could easily predict. Observe an young child they will always try out what they should never be trying – or what they have been told explicitly not to be doing so.

Our inability to have new beginnings can be traced to our incapability to adhere to any sense of order. We are not designed inherently to adhere to order or normalcy. We are inherently troublemakers and people ‘who love to poke the sleeping bear’. Thus within a short period of time we end up back to we were prior to the new beginnings. This cycle goes on and on.

If you look at the seasons, you can derive an analogy from it too. If spring heralds the start of a season, we have summer when the new beginnings are at its brightest followed by fall or autumn when it begins to falter and summarized by winter where a full cycle is hence completed.

What am i saying, every great initiative goes through a natural cycle of life and death. This invariably the cycle of life.

New beginnings are no different. They too have to follow the cycle of life. These self evident truths are the very nature of human existence and creation. Mainly because they are the inherent rules of the universe.

But is all hope lost? No, with every cycle there are remnants that keep feeding with each cycle – these are what we call in systems and processes as lessons learned or as history. they keep adding up and slowly the remnants make their way to what the outcome was first envisioned to be.

Photo Credit: Jim Morefield Flickr via Compfight cc


If there is one progressive benefit of internet, I would unequivocally state that it has given millions of people all around the world, a voice. Over the years we have seen how the voice metamorphized into a roar as more and more people are exposed to the power of this amazing medium. One of the most important aspects of internet is that, you can find answers to your most pressing questions with the help of an array of ‘experts’ from around the world — the prominent one being online reviews. Let’s consider that you want to buy something from online — the first feedback that you would seek to ensure that the purchase is a sensible one, would be to check how well is it rated; 5 stars vs 4 stars vs… The next stop likely would be user comments. By relying on these two sources, the mind naturally starts to develop an opinion. This generation of opinion today has been manipulated heavily to such an extent that one can be really unsure of what is actually happening.

I do Google Rewards surveys regularly, where I answer few non-intrusive questions for paltry Google Play credits which I can use later for purchasing movies, eBooks etc. I regularly check the Google surveys of establishments that I frequent to get an indicator of how well they are performing. Recently I discovered to my aghast, the power of how these reviews can conversely result in bloody consequences. One of the establishments I frequent, on one occasion had a receptionist who was having a particularly bad day. The next day, I received a notification of a new review for that establishment completed by one of Google’s empowered local guides. The receptionist was blasted with the unkindest words in this review by reviewer who even went far to blame the former’s callousness to a spate of mishaps happening external to the establishment, that had affected its patrons. The receptionist was soon let go from their job based on this one review since the corporate office had zero tolerance to negative reviews. As I witnessed this farce, I was flabbergasted at the sheer impunity of ruthlessness — one that takes the human away from the equation and allows livelihoods to be trampled based on some John Doe’s opinions formulated from behind a screen.

To add to this facade, I came across a news article that showed how competitors in the world’s largest online marketplace employs fake reviewers to promote one’s products and demean competitors’ products — including the extent to which these companies stoop in these efforts. These disturbing tendencies have only increased in a commercialized and increasingly competitive world. I have heard that AI provides the employers of today with sophisticated tools that vet people based on their online presence (or even lack of) and develop highly intelligent virtual models of them on which variables can be applied to measure responses. Based on these responses, significant insights on personalities and how they are a ‘best fit’ to the organization can be developed.

To summarize, online reviews has now been reduced an artificial banter of no substance that has been harmful and undermining the purpose of why the internet was established in the first place. It has become a cancer that is slowly devouring online consciousness due to the scale of its savagery. Since this has remained unchecked for a long time and that no one wanted to make the needed efforts, only time will tell what will become of this anomaly.