Corporate Management - BOARDROOM SPIRITUALITY
by Anupama Bhattacharya
1. Do you feel that you must buy something if a salesperson goes to great lengths showing you things?
2. Do you have difficulty starting a conversation with a stranger?
a personal stress profile by listing things that cause you stress: occupational, social, cultural and physical.
some hobbies and spend time with friends
A rolling stone gathers no moss,' is an ancient adage parroted by parents,
teachers and wannabe well-wishers. "But is moss—that gooey growth of
stagnation—really desirable?" wondered a speculating youth. "A rolling
stone gathers no moss but it certainly gets polished," explained an out-of-the-ordinary
teacher, changing the course of this youth's life.
Today, a renowned corporate trainer with a headful of silvery hair, Rooshi Kumar Pandya hasn't forgotten the lessons of his early youth. "I was a stupid, hesitant, middle-class boy from the western Indian state of Gujarat. If I had settled for that, today I would have been a stupid, hesitant, middle-class teacher." Mossy indeed. But Pandya decided to roll, and polished himself to a degree where he could take the world in his stride without blinking an eye.
Nobody comes out of his workshop without being impressed. A clientele that tends to look like a virtual who's who of the corporate world including Indian bigwigs Godrej, Madras Refinery, Tisco, G.E. Shipping, and RBI, to Coca Cola India, American Express and UB group of companies, as well as assorted Indian celebrities such as Pandit Jasraj, Protima Bedi, Dr Prakash Kothari and Shekhar Kapur, Pandya tackles tricky questions with perfect ease and teaches various managerial skills with examples from Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata with interesting anecdotes thrown in.
"I came across this big burly American in a plane who told me that he taught eschatology," says Pandya and looks around. A roomful of white-collar executives keep mum. "Do you know what eschatology is?" asks Pandya. No hands go up. "This is what I'm trying to demonstrate. We don't ask questions, we are ashamed to say 'I don't know'."
"But what is eschatology?" asks a participant—the first step in changing the preset behavior patterns. Pandya looks pleased. "You should ask. Eschatology is the study of the after-death. The American used this word because he had seen Indians pretending they knew what it meant, which gave him a chance to ridicule them."
That's Pandya's version of assertiveness. "For people like me who always equated aggressiveness with assertiveness," says Anand Arunachalam, team leader with American Express, "the workshop changed the entire perspective. For the first time I realized that assertiveness is not incompatible with politeness."
In fact, politeness is the very basis of assertiveness, claims Pandya: "Assertive skills have to be developed keeping the cultural traits in mind. You can afford to be blunt about your feelings in the USA. Not so in India. Here, you can't tell your father that you don't like what he says so would he please not interfere in your life." In other words, assertiveness is the ability to act in harmony with your self-esteem without hurting others.
But how do you say what you want to say without being blunt? "That's where communication skills come into use," Pandya elaborates with his characteristic smile. Communication, according to him, is one of the most popular courses in the corporate sector. "They also want motivation and selling, but since communication plays an important part in both, it ends up being the most important aspect of management."
Communication, however, can be both verbal and nonverbal. "What would you do if a person with shifty eyes, a slouching posture and nervous movements tells you that he is extremely confident?" asks Pandya. "You'd either think he's lying or you'd think there is something terribly wrong with his self-analytic faculties." In effect, we tend to rely on nonverbal communication more. No wonder actions speak louder than words.
"As part of the workshop, I conduct self-image exercises where participants write down how they perceive themselves, their strengths and weaknesses. The idea is to find out the fallacies in people's self-image," explains Pandya.
For example, a person who believes that he can never speak up might discover that it is his self-image, which hinders his authority. "This can help them feel better about themselves and be more assertive. I also hold dialogues between the participants so that they understand the knowable aspects of communication. There is also a role playing exercise where each participant acts out personality types."
But at a time when New Age corporate gurus are sprouting by the dozen, what makes Pandya different? "My initial reaction to him," says M.M. Bhatt, addl. general manager of Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilizers, India, "was cautious since I had attended a couple of corporate workshops and found them rather ineffective." But his first interaction with Pandya changed his mind.
"Being in charge of personnel, my job requires handling of sensitive matters. The workshop taught me how to retain inner calm even during moments of tension," says Bhatt.
The sentiment is echoed by D. Sivanandhan, Joint Commissioner of Police, Crime Branch, who attended Pandya's stress-relief workshop when he conducted it for the Mumbai Police. "Our profession is extremely stress-prone. But after doing some stretch exercises that he recommended, I feel fit for the whole day," says he.
The most noticeable change, however, was reported by P.N. Venugopal, president of the life sciences division, UB group of companies, who has attended four of Pandya's workshops. "It helped me realize all my dreams," says Venugopal, "I tried his self-hypnosis to secure a foreign job. In a couple of years I had a Singapore-based job, a terraced house and even a car matching the color I wanted."
For Pandya, the road to success began with a public speaking competition whose winner was to be sent to the USA for a year. Pandya, then a teacher of Sanskrit and music, decided to participate. As luck would have it, he was selected. "When I told this to an English-speaking friend," recalls Pandya, "he guffawed and said: 'Rooshi, you can't speak English, you don't take liquor or eat meat, you've no table manners, what will you do in the USA?' But he finally took pity on my condition and taught me some basic English sentences."
So Pandya set off, lock, stock and barrel, to big bad USA. Awed by the sight of plastic cups (they hadn't arrived in India then), he collected them as souvenirs. "Those were the most exciting, learning and horrifying experiences of my life. I was struggling to come to terms with the language, the culture, the food. The Americans were friendly. But when they would ask me why Indians don't kill and eat the millions of cows crowding Indian roads, I would only smile in return. Only two kinds of people reply with a smile: idiots, for they know nothing, and sages, because they know everything."
Initially, Pandya thought that he was being bullied because he came from a developing country. But later, he realized that this was also happening to American students who would go to developing countries like Mexico and Brazil as Peace Corps Volunteers. Dr Manuel Smith, who was then heading the team of psychiatrists in the Peace Corps, realized that these students required a different kind of training. They devised a training based on psychology and behavioral skills. Pandya, the course professor, felt that it would be useful if he could bring the system to India. "So, about 12 years back, I put this course together and started teaching it here," says Pandya.
There were the usual hurdles. The Indian business community hadn't yet woken up to the globalized economy and didn't understand the need for corporate management. "I had to literally start from scratch, go to corporate houses, and explain what I intended to do," recalls Pandya. That was in 1973. Today, Pandya still feels that Indians need his workshops more than anybody else.
"As a culture, Indians tend to be defensive since we have been invaded so many times. The increasing globalization makes it imperative that Indian corporate houses learn better interpersonal skills. Otherwise, they go out and gawk at things since at the back of their minds they still have a slavish mentality," says Pandya.
"Corporate management is more relevant today since we are facing higher levels of stress due to the opening up of our economy," says Bhatt. The rules of the game are fast changing and so is the corporate structure. Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilizers has sent over 150 odd employees to attend Pandya's workshops. With an elaborate system of sponsoring employees for self-development courses and regular in-house training programs, they seem all set to meet the challenges of a New Age corporate policy. American Express also holds regular workshops and makes it mandatory for new recruits to undergo a week-long leadership training program. Timex sends its senior managers every year to attend personal growth workshops.
"The Indian corporate world is beginning to realize that human resource is more important than money," says Krishan Khanna, of Indo-Asian Business Group, Mumbai. He feels that the future belongs to teams, which is why HRD is the most important aspect of management.
Jitendra Kumar Dhaka of Timex, who had always been a shy person, feels that Pandya changed him: "I head a workforce of about 300 people. Pandya's workshop taught me how to handle them without hurting sentiments."
"When I came to India initially," recalls Pandya, "the most popular workshop was interpersonal communication. Now it is stress management (see box). Not surprising in a globalized economy where the top management is always under pressure." Pandya also teaches goal setting and conducts workshops on presentation skills.
A lucid speaker, an accomplished sitarist and a master hypnotist, Pandya is a man with many talents. A disciple of Indian classical music maestros Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Annapurna Devi (sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar's first wife whom Pandya later married), he believes that humaneness is the key to interpersonal relations.
"Corporate management is not just about how to get your way but also about respecting others, feeling concern for their well-being and being a complete person," says Pandya. Which gives a distinct touch to his version of management. "I feel that his workshops are aimed at developing a positive attitude," says Prakash Jha, general manager at K. Raheja Builders, Mumbai. Prabha Narayan, from the HRD department of Hindustan Petroleum, joins in. "I feel that his workshop has introduced me to myself once again."
So how different is his concept of management from personal growth?
"It could be the same," says Pandya. "Good managerial skills make a good man. It is about compassion, empathy..." he hesitates, and then brightens up, "Yes, perhaps you could call it my idea of spirituality." From boardroom to the psyche, Pandya covers it all with a large sweep of his hand. A corporate trainer who could easily pass for a musician, he represents the quintessential element of integrated management whose focus is man taken in totality.
With inputs from Rupali Patil
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