What’s in a professor’s name?


How should we address a professor? should we use their first name? should we call them “sir” or “madam”? or just “professor” ?

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Smooth Seas Never Made Skilled Sailors

The most effective leaders instill grit and grace in their team. Prof David DeSteno in his recent HBR article on “Managing People” suggested that the best way to do so is by cultivating three specific emotions: gratitude, compassion, and pride.

Cultivating three specific emotions: gratitude, compassion, and pride.

Inspired from how my program team brought back the ‘ship’ into a stable state, and how the leadership team instilled grit and grace in the team, I put my thoughts in a poem, if you will :).

Interestingly that is one such transformation that I am focusing on at the ISB’s PGPPRO program, which is focused on core Leadership and Strategy. While managing schedules between school and profession is truly challenging, what is more motivating is knowing “That the Smooth Seas never made Skilled Sailors”.

In an attempt to instill that grace, a few weeks back I led a SAFe Program Increment planning for my program, and I took the whole introduction session to another level by narrating a ‘motivational’ poem to the whole program team, and worth mentioning – appreciating the leadership team for their efforts in making the program successful.

Let us keep sailing!!!

The tides were high, and furious looked the sea,

Winds were strong, but so determined were we,

We hit an iceberg earlier, so we looked little pale,

With the will of a thunderstorm, you said – “Once Again! We Sail”,

We took on the hooks, not for a moment we were afraid,

Loosely coupled and strongly aligned was the principle we laid

An island of value for our customers, is what you envisioned,

And a promise to bring it for them, we made,

We will pave our way through the ambiguities that are dense,

For we all know, the purpose and support is immense,

This moment is ours and exciting times to scale,

Today we meet again, to strengthen our sail,

A lesson of life we learned from our leaders,

That the smooth seas never made skilled sailors.

Dil maange more

We are part of the digital age where business world is evolving very fast. I am an IT professional with one and half decade into my career and the challenge I took to revisit an academic environment is going on well in ISB by studying alongside like-minded senior professionals. I am someone who has primarily learned management skills being on the job, and  ISB is providing me the perfect way to augment my identifications, hone my technical and soft skills, and ground my practical knowledge with  understanding of business theories. The purpose of studying business at ISB is to marry theory with practice, allowing me to fill knowledge gaps and tackle some of the most pressing issues faced by today’s mid-level managers

Why PGP Pro with ISB:

  1. Compete with myself
  2. Developing a strong professional network
  3. Boosting key knowledge and skills
  4. Accelerating career progression
  5. No time away from work and family life to pursue a traditional full-time MBA.

Challenges for me:

Every alternate day, my team member asks “when he/she will get role change” or someone comes and say “I got job offer with 100% hike so can you match my hike” or someone with 1 year experience come and ask “I want onsite as some of my friend has travelled onsite”. There are many odd questions like this to me and I have no straight answers for any of these. But as a manager of large program, I pretend to be helpful for all these “ASKs”. Few readymade asks as below from my boss/team across projects:

  • My friend got a role change. I have also the same experience and same role maturity. When will I get a role change?
  • My friend got this much hike. Why my hike is so less?
  • My friend got so much payout. Why was there no payout for me this quarter?
  • Doing same work repeatedly for last 3 months can I change my project as my friend is doing automation?
  • My boss asks me to give 4% Q-o-Q growth– which is possible?
  • Bring innovation every alternate day – but how?

I do not have a magic stick where I can fulfill all these aspirations but I need to be on top of these asks and assure them that sooner or later these all will be taken care of.

How ISB is helping:

The implications of this  learning is huge. I am able to put classroom theory into practice and add value to my company straight away. I have the opportunity to learn from an MBA program that is equivalent to a full-time MBA, while still working—this is rare.

  1. There are diverse, definable, and recognized leadership styles. Each style includes different approaches that are based on research. I learned about the different styles and how to apply them in the real-world.
  2. Help to take out of comfort zone and challenge individually – “Dil maange more
  3. Peers are  from different walks of life  and bring a diverse range of skills and professional experience to the classroom, allowing me to benefit from their unique perspective and expertise. What I have found that I am learning alongside a successful tech entrepreneur, a senior scientist, and the Managers of a multinational company. We have all the bullets in one pistol.
  4. I do understand the nuts and bolts of technology as part of my day-to day job but along with that now I understand the business aspects of systems in order to make informed choices. Now I am more efficient or to be efficient to make decisions about my team and budgets.

A Lesson of Life on Agile Mindset: Tale of Two Washing Machines & Detergent Powder

On a Sunday evening, I was revising concepts in Corporate Finance, a course that was recently taught in my Exec MBA at ISB. I was immersed in a Net Present Value (NPV) calculation when I heard the doorbell. And then another call-out-loud, “Jeet, please check the door!”, from my wife who was in the kitchen. I rushed anxiously towards the door, while still crunching numbers in my head.

“Who is it?”, she asked.

“Grocery delivery man, from Grofers”, I said.

I collected the grocery items and thanked the person. While I was closing the door, what immediately caught my eyes was this packet, which had sachets wrapped in plastic. I unwrapped the packet and found detergent sachets, must be around 20-25.

Now that’s something I wouldn’t usually care about, but the MBA courses were playing a role I guess. Or maybe it was my recent read – Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why”. I recalled from the Marketing course, why companies still sell sachets along with big packets (like 2kg+) for detergents, and similarly for shampoos and other products.

But, with finance concepts revolving around my head, I thought let’s see what is the real difference in price of 10 sachets of 200g each, versus a 2Kg packet. Aha, I found she had paid 18% extra for those sachets. Then why buy sachets still?

Oh boy!! Typically an Indian husband waits for such an occasion when he thinks he can potentially win an argument over his wife (especially when the husband is an engineer and wife is a doctor!). I was smiling out of happiness, I peeked into the kitchen to see she was preparing tea.

I went back to my laptop, crunched numbers on excel about 18% extra cash outflow every 3 months for 5 years, and calculated what is the Future Value (FV) worth.

I couldn’t wait, “Twitter! (her nick-name for how much she tweets) You know you are really paying around ~20% more when you buy the sachets versus the bigger box of detergent”, I said. And continued, “Do you know if you save the 20% extra that you are paying now, you could buy lot more detergent in future? Go for the bigger box, save money :).” And then sarcastically I said “But you haven’t studied Finance right? How would you know?”.

I cleaned up the table in the balcony, and sat there with that feeling of “Yes, I won!!”, waiting for the cup of tea.

She got the tea. “Ahemmm… Why are you sounding so logical today?”, she said keeping the teacups on the table. And then kept one sachet too. I knew she is not going to let me win this time too :).

Handing over the cup to me, she said, “When I buy the big box of detergent, I always struggle to guess how much detergent should I put in the machine. 1 spoon or 2 spoons, I couldn’t get a better idea. You remember when I was doing laundry with the bigger washing machine, you always complained about water wastage. Even you couldn’t guess what would be the right water level, because every week the number of clothes was different. You were unhappy with the cleaning.”

 Yes, that is another story, she recently purchased a smaller washing machine (capacity – 2.5Kg). The bigger one I had was 6.5kgs. And she convinced me after arguing for weeks that we needed to purchase another smaller machine.

“You were always complaining about the cleanliness too, sometimes you said that we are running the machine overcapacity”, she continued. “Now, I do laundry 2 times in a week, I use the smaller machine. I exactly know in 1 sachet, how many clothes I can wash. I also have a better idea of how much water will be required, because every time I have an almost the same number of clothes”, she continued.

I interrupted, “But really you needed another smaller washing machine?”, trying to recall previous discussions.

“Yes, because with a lesser number of clothes, it takes lesser time to wash. Since I am doing laundry more frequently, you get to choose between the clothes you want to wear and you wear cleaner clothes now. We save water too, see even you have stopped complaining about water wastage.”, she responded immediately.

She continued, “And for bedsheets and bedcovers, I use the bigger machine and that is only twice a month”.

 I realized all I was doing was – DOING AGILE.

Now that struck a chord in my mind. I was actually hearing this:

  • Her focus was only CLEANER CLOTHES (Quality), even if that requires more investment.
  • With smaller machine and sachets, she had become better at estimation, even better at managing resources (Water).
  • Washing the clothes more frequently removed any ambiguities in scope (no. of clothes), it increased predictability.
  • I was getting to wear clean clothes every day (overall quality improved and responsiveness).
  • Tightly aligned to ensure I wore cleaner clothes, however loosely coupled to the machine (big or small).
  • She learned iteratively to get better, focused on being roughly right than precisely wrong.

What I heard from her opened my eyes to what is truly the difference in DOING AGILE and BEING AGILE.

Being a program manager at work, managing a multi-million USD project, I was perplexed to hear that argument. Day-in and Day-out at my work, I talk about Agile. I discuss team metrics, burn-down graphs and talk about being high performing teams. I collect data about iteration acceptance, and cycle time for global teams, and always push the teams for smaller user stories so that we are more responsive and predictable in our deliveries.

I realized all I was doing was – DOING AGILE.

What I heard from her opened my eyes to what is truly the difference between DOING AGILE and BEING AGILE.

Agile is a mindset, and we hear this every day at work, but what is that mindset is what I learned today.

To my surprise, she had got rid of her big shampoo and body lotion bottles. All that she had was sachets and smaller bottles.

Perhaps I was lost in thoughts, and I couldn’t hear what she said more. She finally snapped her fingers to wake me up.

“What do you think now?”, she said.

Without responding to anything, I just walked to her washroom and opened the closet. She followed me. To my surprise, she had got rid of her big shampoo and body lotion bottles. All that she had was sachets and smaller bottles.

She started laughing. “Buying small, I can try multiple brands and settle on the best. You see now the beauty of small things!”, she pinched my cheeks.

I couldn’t express to her how big a lesson that was to me.

“You” are the difference !!

I first came to Hyderabad back in 1996 as a 7th grader. I relocated from Vikarabad, a small town where everyone knew everyone else and it hardly took a day to explore the beautiful town on foot. My life was cozy: going to school, playing with friends, sharing stories during power outages and star gazing at nights. In contrast, Hyderabad was a whole new world to me. Earlier it was just a place where my grandmother and other cousins lived and we paid visits to them during summer vacations. When we decided to move to Hyderabad for good, I was surprised, excited and scared too. I had never thought of any other place as home. I was scared and thought that all the people in Hyderabad must certainly be richer and smarter. Hyderabad was a big city, it was impossible to walk to your school like before. I had to take a bus. The roads were so wide and everything was overwhelming. I felt as if it were some sort of dream or something. I saw people hanging from the bus and wondered why couldn’t they just wait for another one. I saw how everyone was rushing and it was exciting to be part of it. The big buildings, houses with elevators (if you ever read barrister Paarvateesam you will understand what I felt!), big shops and those big cars in the showrooms. It was a feeling that can’t be expressed. I was loving every moment of it, but the most important thing I remember is in the way my teacher introduced me to my classmates at school. This was the first time she came across me and what she said then always continued to be with me: “Beware girls, Aparna is going to give you all a tough competition”. I was surprised to hear that. I don’t remember anyone saying anything like that about me before. I always used to make sure that I was just good enough so I wouldn’t get any scoldings from my dad. My sisters were always toppers and they used to bring home lots of medals and awards every year. I used to make sure I won at least one. I never went overboard with excelling at anything because I used to think – you just need to be a little bit faster than the one ahead of you and then you are good. I remember once I forgot that I stood 3rd in class and I would’t get any prize that year and I wanted to make sure I get one. I then saw a kho-kho match underway. I never heard of that game but decided to ask if I could be part of it. Fortunately, they were short of one person to commence with the game. I just asked what are the rules of the game were. One of the girls stared at me as to why she was letting me join the game but was nice enough to brief me about the rules. Guess what?! Yes, we won! I had one prize to take home. Coming back , the way my teacher put it that day about me, made me beam with pride. In my little brain, I thought I should prove her right. I cannot let down the person who trusted me so much. That was the first time I started working hard – just for my teacher. I became the topper in the very next exam and from then on there was no looking back: I was the school topper, best student of the year and later on gold medalist in Civil Engineering.

That one sentence made a big difference in my life. It made me who I am. It made me realize what my potential was and what I could achieve. It made me strong. It made me powerful.

Several years later I ask myself how do I feel today? I can factually say that my confidence isn’t where it should be. I feel powerless. I feel I failed me, not because of what I am but what I could have been. I wasted a whole lot of life chewing on if(s) and but(s). I let many situations cloud my decisions. I was so busy being there for others that I forgot to stand up for myself and chase my dream – I let things go their way instead. A few days ago while I was conversing with an ex-colleague of mine, he just said “You are an inspiration, as always. With your caliber I am sure you will rock the market!” This again, coming from someone who hardly knew me and with whom I haven’t spoken in years.

That took me back to that very same day how my teacher introduced me to the class. It helped me realize that there is a lot I need to do achieve and a lot more to accomplish. There are just a few bumps on the road and hell a lot of unknowns but it is still the same me, who got lost in the woods for a while.

There is nothing impossible and nothing insurmountable. It is just the same world with the different lens. Sometimes it might look like there is no way out or you feel like nothing is going to work but you know what, you have YOU”. It’s just that the targets got bigger and the stakes got higher. You just need to know that you have it in you and you always deserve better.

You are the one who will make the difference. You don’t need someone to vouch for you . You need you to trust that you can do it. Don’t let go of yourself as “Your dreams can be achieved only by you!”.