On Enduring Success

This address was delivered at the Convocation of Executive MBA program of SIESCOMS on Sept 1, 2013 at Nerul, Navi Mumbai.  
I can almost read the question at the top of your mind. It must be ‘How can I be successful in my career?’ I vividly remember the day when I collected my degree certificate. A lot of hope and a bit of anxiety of being alone in the corporate world.

Fortunately, there are many more good organisations to work for today than the seventies when we took up jobs. There were very few organisations which were good

employers then, and very few choices to a management graduate. I hope and wish that you will find work of your choice. Being successful is just a little easier when you do work of your interest.

But we also have a social context in which we work. Unfortunately, the situation is unprecedented. You read the daily newspaper only to get a fit of anger about the developments around us. Corruption everywhere, and crime stories tell you about a very state of affairs in our society. As a manager you cannot ignore this milieu. The entire nation is experiencing an outrage over a million issues. The Society had never reached such a nadir in morality and values.

I was surprised and shocked to discover that there is a page devoted exclusively to scams in India on Wikipedia. It is called ‘List of scandals in India.’ It lists scams year-wise and covers scams from Nagarwala case to those exposed by the Comptroller General of India. What a shame! By comparison many countries seem to be having far better governance.

Friends, this is the situation and context in which you will be working. It presents a huge challenge. You will want to be successful; you will work with a sense of purpose and renewed determination to make a difference. You will ask yourself: “How can I be successful in my career?”

This is where we will have to stop and think – how do you define success? Imagine that you have retired from your corporate career. Looking back, what will make you feel that you have been a successful manager? 

Fortunately, there is research done on this subject. I am referring to the research on ‘enduring success.’ The study is about real, enduring success — where getting what you want has rewards that are sustainable for you and those you care about. They found four irreducible components of enduring success: happiness (feelings of pleasure or contentment about your life); achievement (accomplishments that compare favorably against similar goals others have strived for); significance (the sense that you’ve made a positive impact on people you care about); and legacy (a way to establish your values or accomplishments so as to help others find future success). More important is the discovery that in order to feel ‘enduring success’ all the four components are essential; take away any one component, and it no longer feels like “real” success.

Let me elaborate on this point by an example. Who in your opinion would feel enduring success at the end of their careers? Take Ratan Tata, Azim Premji on one hand and Vijay Mallya and Phaneesh Murthy on the other hand.

Let us talk about the first two criteria – Happiness and Achievements. With all money and power at their disposal they have experienced a life which must have given them great happiness. The achievements of all these men are stupendous.

And now let us think about the next two criteria: Significance which means the sense that you’ve made a positive impact on people you care about, and Legacy which means a way to establish your values or accomplishments so as to help others find future success. Have Ratan Tata and Azim Premji made a huge difference and positive impact on people they care about? Yes indeed. Can we make the same statement about the Vijay Mallya and Phaneesh Murthy? I think the answer is obvious. Vijay Mallya’s employees feel cheated and so also colleagues of Phaneesh Murthy. Have Ratan Tata and Azim Premji left a legacy? The answer will be a thumping yes. What about Vijay Mallya and Phaneesh Murthy? You decide.

Making difference to the lives of people and leaving behind a legacy – a way to establish values so as to help others find a success is not easy. But do we have a choice of not doing it? We play the role of father, elder brother. Can we play these roles effectively without establishing a sense of good values and without teaching how to practice them?

That reminds me that Steven Covey says that “People, employees, children are not open to teaching, or influence unless they know that you genuinely Care. Nothing will happen until you make the Connection that starts the Relationship. After all, Relationships are what Mentoring is all about. Mentoring comes out of Modeling the “What and who” we are as people.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘“What you are shouts so loudly in my ears I cannot hear what you say.” A very insightful statement. We tell others, not voluntarily, but involuntarily, by what we are. Action speaks louder than words.

We perform our jobs, conduct meetings, and hold personal interactions in public view. Our performance is in public arena. This realisation is important that our performance is in public arena. A wrong step is watched by others as well as a right step, but the conclusions are not often shared. This is why being a role model is absolutely essential. And it is equally essential to disclose our thoughts and feelings so that we are understood well. This means we must tell people what we stand for and what we do not stand for and allow them to hold us accountable by our own standard. That indeed is a tough call, one that requires us to take the bold step of self-development. This also drives home the need to be more authentic.

It also tells us to practise good values. But we know that this is easy said than done. How to do it? All of us are fallible, we commit mistakes, and yet we need to practise good values. The question is: How?
Since we know that all of us make mistakes, we must understand how people learn. Managers like you do not learn by reading books. They can gain knowledge but they do not learn. Learning involves change of behaviour in some way. Learning is about increasing self- awareness. We learn because we reflect on experience. We learn because we meditate over our thoughts and feelings.  If we have to rise in life, in the roles we perform, we will require a different ‘self.’ A better and more evolved ‘self.’ Only meditation can deliver it.

Let me recap what I am saying: We want to be successful and experience enduring success. Four elements are essential to make it happen and two of them are about whether you have made a difference to people and what values you will establish to help others find success. And these values matter in professional career as well as in private life. And practicing good values effectively requires meditation.

I recently read about an article called ‘The Nature of Man.’ it talks about models of human behaviour. The view that we are ‘Economic man’ is well known. It postulates that we are focused on self-interest and will maximise personal gains. It talks about the model of human behaviour which the authors call ‘Resourceful, Evaluative and Maximising Model.’ The REMM postulates that everyone is an ‘Evaluator’ constantly making trade-offs and substitutions among wants.’ The wants are unlimited and so REMM cannot be satiated. To put it in a nutshell, the natural conclusion is that ‘everything, everyone and every value has a price.’ Everything, everyone and every value just carries a price tag. Fortunately not many subscribe to this view of human behaviour, but we certainly see some evidence in the behaviour of people.

In one of the biggest frauds in India’s corporate history, B. Ramalinga Raju, founder and CEO of Satyam Computers, India’s fourth-largest IT services firm, announced that his company had been falsifying its accounts for years, overstating revenues and inflating profits by $1 billion. Satyam was the 2008 winner of the Golden Peacock Award for Corporate Governance under Risk Management and Compliance Issues, which was stripped from them after the scandal broke out.

The moral of the story is that just as we should decide what we stand for, we should also decide what we do not stand for.

I have often found that once a thought is moored in your mind, you keep finding books and articles which help you gain better understanding of that subject. These are some of those happy coincidences. I felt so when I picked up a book called ‘The Honest Truth about Dishonesty.’ The subtitle is ‘How we lie to everyone especially ourselves.’ The book describes many experiments which demonstrate that everybody cheats, and gives some messages about how not to fall in the trap of cheating. Among the messages are these: “many people need control around them for them to do the right thing” and “when we are reminded of ethical standards we behave more responsibly.”

So we have a way to keep ourselves on the course. Create a network of people who will tell you whether you are practising your values and also declare your values so that you are reminded of them.
This is easy said than done, yes, but no path to success is easy. I am sure that you have had inspiring eighteen months here learning from various management gurus. The time is to kick-start the journey. This is the time to rededicate ourselves to the cause of creating great organisations and great nation.

My best wishes to you friends in this journey and I wish you every success,