Mumbai taxi drivers are relatively honest. Before Google Maps, they used to propose or inform that the alternative route has more traffic (time) or this route is shorter (distance), etc. The Kali pili taxi drivers took the best route to drop you from one place to another. Well, what can a taxi driver teach you about culture and leadership? There is another story 🙂 here with multiple learnings.
Even if you are the CEO of a company, when you are sitting in a taxi or your car, the “driver” “leads” you :), is not it an interesting fact?
If your driver is as intelligent as the Kali Pili driver of old Mumbai days, he would inform you or at least ask you.
- Should we take this route, I heard on the radio there is traffic on another route. Or
- Sir, which route to take?
In short, even if you are the leader at times you need to give the reign to someone else to make a correct decision.
If you keep your eyes and ears open if you are ready to take a break, contemplate, and introspect there are a lot of learnings from our own life. I will share an old story with some learnings or organizational culture, leadership, communication, and trust.
It was the summer of 2007 or 08. We went off-site for a strategy meeting. We had a lot of interesting ideas, goals for the year, and planning work. The activities and brainstorming were intense. Our team had organized team-building exercises as well.
In one of the activities, two of my colleagues and I were to select our respective teams. Each one of us selected our favorite colleague for our teams.
We three – Reena, Shan [Name changed], and I – followed our instructor. Our instructor took us to a corner. Our teams could not see us from that place. The instructor’s three support staff stayed with our teams for some other activities with them.
The instructor showed us how to make a tent. He did it a few times for us so we can learn it and ask questions if we had any. During all this time, we were unaware of what the activities support staff was up to with our teams.
We returned after some time. All our team members were blindfolded. The instructor and support staff gave us our tents and asked us to stand in open areas with our team. Then came the final note to us. The instructor started – “You are competing with other teams. Your team members cannot speak or see. They have to simply follow your instructions. You have to be as clear as possible, your team members are blindfolded. Examples of your instructions go five steps left pick this item, go left three steps. Give it to the next person and so on”
We all laughed plus we were amazed. Later, when the timer started, we were all competing seriously. It was damn difficult to instruct our team members. Mind you, we selected each one of them amongst our already well-known colleagues. Yet in the present situation, it was difficult to even communicate and make it work.
Somehow, we all finished our activities. Reena’s team came first. My team finished second, and Shan’s team could complete the last.
There were many such activities and learning too. There were umpteen Culture and Leadership learnings from this one activity.
The activity ended. Our team member’s opened their eyes. The first thing for Reena and my team was a surprise. During the activity, they were unaware of what they were doing. When they saw a tent, they said we were unaware of what we were making.
Shaan’s team member said – “though we were the last in this competition, the best thing that happened to us was that our leader told us what we were going to do. We were blindfolded, were trying to make sense of how would it look like, and yet were enjoying it.”
The instructor asked Reena and my team members. What were you feeling? The responses were like this, we were-
- clueless about why we were doing what we were doing
- we felt like a cattle herd that had almost no say in anything
Suddenly everyone laughed. The instructor added, literally yes! You had no say because you were not seeing what was shaping up right in front of you. We all smiled once again.
The instructor turned to us, the leaders. He questioned us, how are you feeling? What was going on in your mind? Why had you instructed the way you instructed the team members.
I replied in shock.
I assumed that when you were training us how to make a tent, your support team taught the same to our teams as well. So, even though when we returned from our training, I was shocked that everyone is blindfolded. Yet in my mind, I was sure, what if they are blindfolded, they know they are going to make a tent.
Secondly, I was frustrated that we had to instruct in small sentences. The instructions were as detailed as moving five steps ahead.
Thirdly, the team I had selected was the closest of my colleagues. Yet, it was difficult to communicate with them and get the work done. I never had any such difficulty working with them daily otherwise. We were just behind Reena’s team, we could have won it had the communication been a little sorted.
The worst was yet to come. The instructor asked all of the teams – if we continue with another activity, would you want to continue working with the same leader or want a change? Many of Shaan’s team members said they will stick with the leader. Some of Reena and my team members said they may want to move. When the instructor asked reasons for requesting the move – some gave few reasons – such as frustration was visible (correction audible) in the leader’s statements. I want to be on the winning team’s side. I want to be with a leader I am comfortable with.
The instructor further probed the team members. You did not hear the other leaders instruct, how can you be sure other leaders were not as frustrated? How do you know or feel that in the next activity any of the other teams will win and not your current team?
This made team members contemplate further, some said, we may want to work with another leader who we feel is more considerate, and feel we can be more productive under them. Sure, we cannot guarantee winning when working under the other leader but hope working under another leader could be encouraging.
It was getting a bit awkward, especially for me and Reena. Most of the team members were from our teams. The instructor sensed it and started concluding the activity and lessons for all of us.
- As a leader, it is your responsibility to communicate your vision as clearly as possible. Shaan did it, and though his team was last, it was a better working team. Had we continued with other activities they might have won. Takeaway – communication makes culture.
- As a leader, you have to bring the best out of your subordinates. Reena was more resourceful and could get the most out of the team.
- Make your goals and objectives clear to your team. Never assume your team knows what is expected or the goal they need to achieve. Pravin assumed the team knew what is expected from the team. He further assumed that the team knew what they were doing, the only thing is this time around they are blindfolded.
- When communication breaks or is not done timely, it may make things difficult. Within half an hour you “selected” teams of your choice and had a tough time with them in this half an hour. You knew your team and leaders well even before the start of this game. Think about new hires or working professionally!
- Frustration does not fulfill the task at hand. You have to either ask your leader to clarify or the leader has to clarify sensing the situation.
- You cannot define winning in real-life situations, yet, you have won as a leader if you can keep your team together. People wanted to switch sides for multiple reasons this will happen always.
The lessons from this exercise go from Culture, Communication to Leadership and Trust.
Bring clarity with goals and objective communication for each project. Instead of getting frustrated ask if the team member needs help or is unclear. This fortunately or unfortunately applies to the team members as well – if they have a concern they should raise it. Though it requires openness in the culture that a subordinate can question for a reasonable answer.
At times you need to listen to the nondescripts. On a lighter note, you may feel this nondescript is blindfolded! 🙂 In fact, sometimes give that nondescript a chance to make a decision for you however small the decision is such as which route to select.
Be it, the Mumbai Kali Pili taxi drivers, or for that matter your car driver. Leadership is listening to your team and giving up on your assumption as well.