Lend a hand, seek it too

S Giridhar | Updated on August 07, 2020

Follow the curve: We will regularly surprise ourselves with success if we can make peace with ourselves   -  ISTOCK.COM

Help when you can and seek assistance without being self-conscious: A veteran shares his mantra for professional success

From the time I began my professional career four decades ago, I have marvelled at the manner in which some of the leaders and peers in the places where I worked managed their organisations — with intellect, competence, self-assurance and decisiveness. Even as I admired them, I had the good sense to accept that I did not possess these qualities — at least not in the same measure — and was, by nature, different. I also realised that I would have to augment my sincere efforts with support from others.

With this acceptance came the freedom to be open about the fact that what one was achieving was because of help from others. The few things I was good at, I offered to everyone. And that is how I have navigated, maybe no peaks but certainly no wreckage either.

As I reflect upon this, I recall some incidents from my professional career, not so much for myself as for others, especially those who have years ahead in their career. If we, who are the non-masterly variety, seek help without being self-conscious and help where we can, we will regularly surprise ourselves with success.

In my first job as a salesman for scientific equipment, I found it hard in the initial months to bring in orders. Meanwhile Ramesh, our star salesman, was going away for a few weeks for his wedding. It was March, the month when institutions place their major annual orders. His absence at this time would hurt because orders were closed through relentless follow-ups. Since I was going to get only modest business from my territory, I decided to spend some time following up on Ramesh’s customers every day and, on occasion, taking them for a demo to other laboratories. When Ramesh returned, I had the best wedding gift for him — a set of orders from his customers. Somehow word got around that I was the non-striker who ran hard for his partner’s runs.

A year later, I won the largest order of the year for my company from a pharmaceutical giant. The managing director (MD) invited me to the company’s annual business meeting. While senior managers were wondering what I was doing there, the MD made it worse by announcing that I would describe how I won the contract. As I stood at the rostrum, my eyes rested on the grizzled veteran manager who had nurtured the pharma account for many years and passed it to me before tasting success. I knew there was only one thing to say. I remember the sentence as though it was yesterday: “I am merely the person who delivered the cake. The person who ought to be speaking is the man who baked the cake.” I would not know then, but that declaration was why I unfailingly received help from these leaders over the next few years.

Years later, I had a long stint managing a business in Delhi. When the position of a regional manager came up, there were two people in my team who were equally qualified; their personalities were very different but both consistently brought their ‘A game’ to the table. My CEO and I agreed on who would get the role and I had to convey this in a manner that enabled a smooth transition and with minimal heartburn for the one being passed over. I knew of only one way. I called the colleague who was not going to get the job for one of the more difficult conversations in my life. I explained why the other colleague had been selected. Even now I cannot forget the sadness on his face. But through that fog of disappointment, he realised I was informing him before telling anyone else. He knew I would be able to move forward only if he made peace with the decision. It was he who squared his shoulders, placed both his palms on my right wrist and said, “Waqt se pehle aur kismat se zyada na kisi koh mila hai na milega (no one gets anything more than what they deserve or are destined for).”

Some people are good at holding their ground and their argument, adept at convincing people who have differing positions. Others, like me, find it difficult to respond to counter-arguments even when one may have a sound proposition. Often ending up second-best in such situations, I unburdened this limitation to a wise business associate. Looking thoughtfully at me, he said, “But you are quite good in one-on-one negotiations”, thus showing me a path I had not thought of. Some months later, I had to convince the director of a German company to allow my company to also distribute their competitor’s product. He was a good business friend but unyielding when surrounded by his troops. I managed to get him into a one-on-one offsite with me. Away from the stuffy office environs, we could be ourselves, share our respective compulsions and arrive at the best possible agreement. My team was jubilant but all my thoughts were of gratitude for the wise associate.

That is how it has been. I may not have the astuteness to manage various situations but this inadequacy has always been relieved by seeking help and advice. I am aware that for every 10 times I received help, I might have, in return, helped only on the odd occasion. But that in no way reduces the symbiotic spirit. I have reached that age where I believe that to hold your palm face upwards requires the largeness of heart as much as it does to have your palm facing downwards.

S Giridhar is the chief operating officer of Azim Premji University and author of Ordinary People, Extraordinary Teachers

Published on August 07, 2020

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