Book Reviews

Using fables to glean insights

Leo Fernandez | Updated on October 02, 2021

Stories help the author craft life lessons for managers 

Two of my favourite fable-based management books have been The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt and Selling the Wheel by Jeff Cox and Howard Stevens. In The Conscientious Manager- Nurturing Workplace Ethics and Synergies, Phani Medicharla takes that approach and pivots it – rather than teach us from the pulpit of a single fable, he takes a slice of life and mini-fables approach.  

 Through stories from his own journey as a global IT manager and through fables crafted with an obvious passion, he culls insights to help managers create their own north-poles. It’s an interesting choice of title and theme. Can managers craft their own touchstones that help them deal with teammates and customers better? Can they focus on long term growth and not just short-term profit? Can they dive within for inspiration and motivation rather than be needy and grasping in their search for external motivators? Can they see themselves not just as managers of projects but farmers of people – sowing, nurturing, harvesting, multiplying? 

Imagination and range 

Medicharla is a storyteller, and he weaves his stories with imagination and range – we travel with forest dwellers and deep-sea pearl divers and a manager presenting his robot prototype in 2035. So, the reading doesn’t get repetitive as you move from one scene to a dramatically different one. He follows each story with a reflection segment. Workplace Whispers helps us bring the story into a real-life context at work or in our everyday life. DRONES (Discovering Roadblocks to Nurturing Ethics and Synergies) nudge us to look at obstacles we are already encountering or may encounter in practising the themes that the story suggests. Key Resonating Actions shows us actions that need to follow from the reflection and StickyNoteWorthy gives us a quote that reinforces the theme. This segment serves as the bridge to take the stories from entertainment to insights and actions.  

Medicharla’s writing is easy and conversational. He writes as I imagine he talks. He accompanies the reader without being intrusive. His story telling shows a deep desire for learning and growth for himself and for those he works with. His stories and facilitative style bring out his underlying belief that conscientious managers will build and nurture conscientious teams which will in turn create conscientious organisations. He is a keen observer, eager to harvest learning even from ordinary everyday situations. 

Given his background as a Sweden-based senior manager with TCS, many of the insights and practices drawn can seem more relevant for the IT industry and BPO industry managers, but with a little reflection, they really could apply anywhere. The lessons are really human-lessons, life-lessons. Beyond the lessons he showcases for us, he is also role-modelling what all good managers should do – listen, observe, reflect, learn, practice, teach. 

Real-life anecdotes 

Personally, I preferred his real-life anecdotes that anchor the lessons he provides. Beyond the Mist, his first little slice of life urges you to pause before reacting. Mop Stick gives us an inspiring role model. Fist Bump is gut wrenching and deep. Volleying Nicely has us play fly-on-the-wall with the author but we should stay with him as he takes the time and the space to translate what could have just been a sports conversation into lessons and practices to take into work and life. His fables bring memories of Aesop in some, the Panchatantra in others – they are simple and crisp. 

One of the strengths of the book is that as you read the anecdote or fable, you come up with insights and lessons of your own even beyond what the author intended in his insight sections. He leaves some money-on-the-table that the reader can fashion and take away. These show why the fable-based approach can often work better rather than the straightforward presenting of inputs and ideas that a typical management book would take. As Medicharla explains in his introduction, “Stories get out of the way (of learning) and unburden the reader/listener by not imposing a direct expectation of learning…the reader goes through a positive reaffirmation of known management values/principles or gets introduced to new ones gently.” 

Some of the fables may seem a little ‘worked backwards’ from the lesson. In some of them they could be trying to do a little too much, a little too hard. His DRONES or obstacles are good yellow flags for managers to be aware of; but perhaps a little positive-psychology with green-flag actions that show you are practising the skill or value could have also helped by providing a positive template for managers to follow. But these are minor quibbles in an otherwise enjoyable and enlightening book with an unusual format. We must hope Medicharla will keep observing and keep writing.

 

 

The Conscientious Manager by Phani Medicharla

Published by Sage Publications

292 pages

Rs 448

Check this book out on Amazon

(The reviewer is the CEO and co-founder of TalentEase)

Published on October 01, 2021

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