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ET-020: The Discipline to Succeed – in Parenting, Study and Business

With Vidusha Nathavitharana

ET-020: The Discipline to Succeed – in Parenting, Study and Business

and your host Wayne Brown on November 8, 2022

Episode notes: A conversation with Mr. Vidusha Nathavitharana

Many times in life, things happen unexpectedly and on some occasions with positive outcomes. The chance meeting and subsequent friendship with Mr. Vidusha Nathavitharana is a great case in point, and I’m reminded of the quote “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

This gentleman who has appointed himself the “Destiny Architect” of his company High 5 Consultancy is a true gentleman, scholar, and successful entrepreneur. And as you will hear repeatedly during our conversation, has an incredible sense of humor but understands how to mix business and pleasure.

Maybe this blend was not always evident as Vidusha’s father pointed out during one discussion.

“The problem with you is that you take yourself more seriously than taking your work seriously. Take your work seriously. Don’t take yourself seriously.”

Only the other side of the coin, Vidusha considers discipline something that he brings to his parenting, his study, and his professional career.

I am strict, by the way. I make no bones about this. I do tell my kids that, to me discipline is fundamental. Being able to focus on something is fundamental and being well-mannered and values-driven is fundamental. Those are not things that are up for negotiation.”

I hope you will join me through this wide-ranging conversation. 

Today’s Guest: VIDUSHA NATHAVITHARANA

In our episode today, we travel to the island of Sri Lanka, or as some of you might remember, this country was formally called Ceylon. And we speak with one of their most famous sons, Mr. Vidusha Nathavitharana, or V, as many of his friends refer to him.

A true legend in his field of leadership, a trainer, and an HR expert, but as we uncovered during our conversation, he’s so much more. Ranked in the top 30 Global Leadership Gurus this year, Vidusha is the author of more than 60 books.

He’s contributed in excess of 500 hours of pro bono work toward youth leadership development, and he’s trained more than 120,000 participants. He’s a passionate disciplinarian, and he lives his private and personal life by a set of well-defined principles. A lifelong learner with multiple degrees attained overseas and at home, Vidusha has what appears to be a thirst for new challenges.

Our discussions before, during, and since the recording has been wide-ranging, and I can confidently conclude that the time dedicated to his study and his career has been well spent.

Vidusha is a brain’s trust of knowledge and has practical experience in the incredible ability to articulate his thoughts through story and humor.

  Vidusha Nathavitharana | LinkedIn

♦  High 5 Consultancy

  Luminary Learning Solutions

Vidusha Nathavitharana’s FREE book library –  booksbyv:

In this library you will find a great collection of topics addressed under 5 main categories:

Selection of essential videos

What You’ll Learn @ Luminary Learning Solutions

At Luminary Learning Solutions they develop content for both internal training and self-learning requirements. Their pool of specialists focuses on getting the right mix of tools and techniques together, while also focusing on how it is presented to ensure learning is both engaging and fun.

Final words from Vidusha: In answer to my question – if you had this skill set or if you had this knowledge, it’s going to help you as you move into the future?”

Vidusha’s response (abridged) – “a few things jump to mind. I think let’s start with the person first because I think the only person who you can… Well, the only thing that you can really control is your actions and behavior.

Likeability:   I think one of the most unspoken, or hardly spoken of skills that you need to develop, and in fact, it isn’t even considered a skill, is likability. I genuinely think that you need to be likable. It’s a starting point for everything else.

Relevant:     So being relevant means knowing which phase of the journey your team is in and being able to morph between these different characteristics. And remaining relevant also means that you need to understand that sometimes you are not the best one to lead. And being able to step down and tell somebody else, “Hey, you know what? I think you are better suited for this than me.” I’ll still be your manager or your senior manager, or your director, or whatever my title may be.

Redundant:  And finally, I think it’s very, very important at some point in your leadership journey to understand and make the switch that you do need to make yourself redundant. And I know that’s a difficult thing to do. Sometimes genuinely neither party grows if you don’t do it. You need to consciously make yourself redundant and be okay with it, and therefore find something else to do. And I think those are integral parts of your leadership journey.”

[music] 

0:00:03.8 Wayne Brown: Hello, I’m Wayne Brown, and welcome to the ET Project. We’re delighted to be delivering this podcast for executive talent all over the world, whom we’re affectionately referring to as Team ET. In our episode today, we travel to the island of Sri Lanka, or as some of you might remember, this country was formally called Ceylon. And we speak with one of their most famous sons, Mr. Vidusha Nathavitharana or V, as many of his friends refer to him. A true legend in his field of leadership, trainer and a HR expert, but as we uncovered during our conversation, he’s so much more. Ranked in the top 30 of Global Leadership Gurus this year, Vidusha is the author of more than 50 books. He’s contributed in excess of 500 hours of pro bono work towards youth leadership development, and he’s trained more than 120,000 participants. He’s a passionate disciplinarian, and he lives his private and personal life by a set of well-defined principles. A lifelong learner with multiple degrees attained overseas and at home, Vidusha has what appears to be a thirst for new challenges.

0:01:18.8 WB: Our discussions before, during, and since the recording have been wide ranging, and I can confidently conclude that the time dedicated to his study and his career have been well spent. Vidusha is a brains trust of knowledge and has practical experience in the incredible ability to articulate his thoughts through story and humor. There were many times during our conversation when we got a little bit too deeply engaged in theoretical constructs, and Vidusha would introduce a moment of valuable simplification and meaning, coupled with his broad disarming smile and friendly mannerisms to bring us back on track. Albeit, a lengthy conversation, the episode is so crammed with valuable insights that I would urge everybody to take full advantage of it by getting yourself ready to capture as many lessons and learnings from this conversation with Vidusha and myself as possible, in the episode titled, The Discipline to Succeed in Parenting, Study and Business.

[music]

0:02:33.9 Speaker 2: Welcome to the ET Project, a podcast for those executive talents determined to release their true potential and create an impact. Join our veteran coach, and mentor, Wayne Brown, as we unpack an exciting future together.

0:02:47.6 WB: All right. Well, team ET, today, a very special guest on our show. I’m super excited to be able to talk with Vidusha. And as you heard in the intro, this gentleman is somewhat exceptional. We’re going to try and cover a very broad spectrum of topics and geographical locations as well, because we’re going to bounce around the globe a little bit. Vidusha is such a find, I have to say for me, and a privilege for me to be able to talk with… With you, Vidusha. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule.

0:03:30.0 Vidusha Nathavitharana: Absolutely wonderful to be there. So thank you very much.

0:03:33.7 WB: As we were just talking before we started, you’ve just come out of a PhD session…

[laughter]

0:03:40.3 VN: Exam, yes.

0:03:41.7 WB: Having an exam. So, I’m gonna touch on this point a little bit more later on about your love for learning and your lifelong learning journey. It’s Saturday as we record this, and there’s no rest for the wicked. I have to say.

0:03:58.7 VN: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Completely with you.

0:04:02.7 WB: I would love to start by just getting a little bit of background if I could, about who you are? What was your upbringing like? You’re based in Sri Lanka, by the way. I didn’t mention that at the opening, but you’re based in Sri Lanka. If you could help the listeners to understand what did life look like for you as you were growing up?

0:04:22.0 VN: Okay, So growing up I think was wonderful. I really do. And I do know, whenever somebody says this, it sounds very nostalgic and it sounds very cliche to say I had a wonderful childhood. But I’m being absolutely bone honest, I think my teen years were tough, but my early childhood was absolutely wonderful for two reasons. Firstly, I come from a bit of a paradox of parents. I have a dad who comes very much from the village, large family, 11 in the family.

0:04:52.5 WB: Wow.

0:04:53.0 VN: And 13, if you take a look at my grandparents, my grandfather had 13 in the family. My grandmom had something like 12 or 13 again in the family from my father’s side. So it’s a very, very large family. And we were about one and a half hours, two hours away from Colombo in a little wayward town called Deraniyagala. Even in Sri Lanka, very few people know of Deraniyagala. In fact, it does raise quite a few eyebrows. So my dad went to Deraniyagala Central, all his life, came down to Colombo when he was 18, because he wanted to learn English. Fun fact, back in the day, and this is not a yarn, it’s actually true. Back in the day when my dad was growing up, they couldn’t wear long trousers unless you spoke English or unless you were a civil servant. So my dad had skinny legs and he used to often joke about the fact that what motivated him to learn English was he wanted to… He didn’t wanna wear shorts all his life, and he wanted to make sure that he wore long trousers.

0:05:52.1 VN: So he came to Colombo, spent nearly two years bunking out of a temple because he had no place to stay and educated himself. And that’s where he met mom, at the Sri Jayewardenepura Campus many years afterwards. So, my mom on the other hand, is very much blue blooded as blue blooded as it gets. She went to probably one of the most prestigious schools in Colombo. She comes from a very educated family, speaks English at home rather than in Sinhalese. So you couldn’t find two parents who were so polar opposite to each other. So in a sense, I got the best of both worlds. I would come to Colombo for my studies and such, and we lived in Colombo and… And mom would speak to me in English, and my grandma from my mother’s side was also around, and she had a love for English literature. Whereas my dad would speak to me in Sinhalese and we’ll go to their hometown over holidays and be an absolute vagabond that nobody would care. So you grew up soaking in such paradoxical cultures that it made life so easy later on in life for me, because I could literally morph into any situation I was put into.

0:07:09.7 VN: Growing up early childhood was very, very blessed. There was a lot of freedom, I played a lot. My dad was one of those people who didn’t actually ever refer to your mark. I was his son, and that was it. You get 35 marks, he says, “Okay.” You get 95 marks, he still says, “Okay.” There’s no difference in the tonality whatsoever. Whereas mom, of course, labored over education and made sure that, you did your homework and such. I think what triggered probably who I am today was going to St. Thomas’s. Now, St. Thomas’s is… And I sincerely hope anyone who’s from my school listening in doesn’t take this the wrong way, but I think to a large extent, St. Thomas’s is always considered an elite school, founded by Bishop Chapman and he was from Eton. So St. Thomas’s is built around the Etonian ethos, as well as the… If you take a look at the structures in the school, it resembles Eton in many, many ways.

0:08:09.8 VN: And so, it’s going there really did something to me because, A, you are acutely aware that you are out of your depth, and I was in many ways. Not to say… And I must mention here, one thing that I often tell people that I was very, very fortunate about is that no one in the school made you feel small, once you walk in through the doors, you’re Etonian first and everything else second. So there was no one who turned around and asked who your dad was, what did your dad do, what car did you drive. None of that takes place. So elitist, because everyone looking at the school from outside feel that you’re slightly snobbish, but once you are in it, there is no distinction whatsoever. I very fondly remember that our minor staff worked in the school that children could come to school on scholarship, and they mixed and mingled with us as if though they were just part of the family. There was no distinction whatsoever. However, as a young 10 or 11-year-old, walking into a school of that stature was difficult. My parents are very middle class. I took the bus to school when most of my fellow schoolmates would actually come in a car and get dropped to school.

0:09:24.5 VN: You were acutely aware that you were the poorer cousin, so to say, right? And in a way that triggered off this little journey that had lasted this long. And I must admit, even though my mom would often tried me saying you had a chip on your shoulder, I don’t think that was true. Looking back at it in retrospect, I think what it gave me was a bar that I wanted to achieve. Because St. Thomas was famous for its sports people. And I wanted to have a career in sports, which never happened. But thankfully there’s also many, many, many other activities for a young student to dabble in. And I took to all of them with absolute eagerness. And that fueled a passion to just learn things. And I still do. So I think… I know that was a long winded answer, but that was what childhood was like. And that’s what probably did the pivot.

0:10:20.2 WB: There’s so many tangents I can go down from that answer and say, “Hey, thank you.” But one that I wanna touch on, and we spoke about when we first connected was about sport. And being an Australian myself, I was very eager to have the conversation about how good your cricketing skills were. But I learned that cricket wasn’t one of the sports that was you played.

[chuckle]

0:10:46.9 VN: No, I’m very strange that way. I’m one of those very few… Very, very, very few Sri Lankans who somehow never took to cricket. Three days of watching anything, I think is a bit much for me. [laughter] The only time you actually enjoy a cricket match is in what we call the Royal Thomian. So we have two schools, which has had rivalries for a hundred plus years. One is St. Thomas’s, one is Royal. And we have, if I’m not mistaken, we have the longest standing ongoing cricket match in the world. It beats The Ashes in tenure. So in that sense, we have a rich tradition at St. Thomas’s of Cricketing. But that’s the only time you go and… You don’t go to the Royal Thomian to watch the match, you go for the revelry. So you just don’t know the score. You’re completely drunk by the end of it. And the only people who are interested in the cricket are the people at the crease. So, no, never took to it.

0:11:45.8 WB: Very good. And I’m curious with the polar opposite parents as you said, what is your style of parenting?

0:11:53.1 VN: Right. So, I think this is karma coming at back at me. I swear I used to tell my mom growing up, “When I have kids that I will never be like you. I will be the cool dad, I will take it easy,” and that never happened. Instinctively, I think my wife is a lot more laid back than I am. And growing up… And I think, to be fair by me, I think I didn’t have much of a choice either. My daughter was born prematurely, so she’s what you call an IUGR kid, and I don’t know what it stands for, but I do know that it’s for kids who are born early and therefore have multiple challenges that they have as young adults growing up.

0:12:36.4 WB: Right.

0:12:37.0 VN: And one of that is that their cognitive abilities are not fully grown, as should be. So she found it tremendously difficult to grasp simple, basic things like what comes after five is six.

0:12:51.4 WB: Right.

0:12:51.7 VN: It’s absolute common sense, but for her, it wouldn’t compute. And I was very keen for her not to go into what you call a special unit. Because my argument is that you didn’t have a special unit in life. And I know this is, was a very controversial decision. It was a tough decision to make, but for me, in my head, you’re gonna turn 18 at some point, and when you do, you’re just not gonna be able to turn around and say, “Hey, you know, I’m a special kid, therefore give me special attention.” That’s not gonna happen in life. So I told myself that the earlier on we take the bull by the horn, so to say it, the better it was for everyone concerned. And for whatever reason, my daughter always felt that she needed to have good grades. And because of that, I kind of inadvertently took on the role of her tuition master, if you like, after school.

0:13:44.2 VN: And so, I don’t think I had much of a choice but to be that because whenever I’m home, I’m with her and the book. But truth be told, the moment she turned 18 and she had finished her studies, I told her, “You look, you know what? You’re 18 now. Do whatever you like.” My parenting so to say, in that sense stops. So I think I take on a bit of both. I am strict. By the way, I make no bones about this. I do tell my kids that, to me discipline is fundamental. Being able to focus on something is fundamental and being well-mannered and values-driven is fundamental. Those are not things that are up for negotiation. I don’t care what to do, but those are fundamental. So you will wake up in the morning, you will make your bed, you will clean up your room, you will wash your toilet. I don’t care how tired you are.

0:14:31.8 VN: Those are things that will happen every day. You will make sure that your books are kept right. You will make sure that you’re polite at home to everyone at home. You will make sure that whatever work that has been given to you, has been done and done right. If you’re sitting down to study, you will focus on it. Those, to me, are non-negotiable. And it doesn’t matter how old you are. It starts very young. It starts when they’re five or six years old and it continues throughout their life. There is no compromise on it. Everything else is completely up for grabs, which subjects you choose to study, which sports you decide to do, what extracurricular activities you want to spend your time on, that is completely optional. But the fundamentals, as long as you are in my house, that’s the way it shall be. [chuckle]

0:15:18.0 WB: Is this… I wanna call it a character trait, but I’m not sure it is, but is this something that you bring into business as well?

0:15:25.9 VN: Yes, I think so. And this is probably one of those things I think people ever so often who are working with me closely find very difficult to switch on to. I move between an absolute clown to being dead serious in a second. And I think for me, it’s instinctive. Because I think you need to have fun at work, no doubt. But you need to draw a line and distinguish between having fun and being frivolous. And that’s really important. Your work is… In fact, whatever you undertake, it doesn’t matter what you do. Whatever you undertake in life to me needs to be given that pride of place of importance.

0:16:08.6 VN:And you do need to give it your 100%, or I’m one of those people who are a binary code. It’s either an all-in or an all-out. I honestly don’t find a happy medium in between. Now that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a priority list in things. There are things you’d have to be dead serious about, there are things that you can say, “Hey, you know what? Take it easy. It’s okay for sure.” But overall, if you are undertaking something, especially on behalf of somebody else, and whether you are working in a corporation or whether you are on your own, almost every piece of work you do is on behalf of someone else.

0:16:48.1 WB: Right.

0:16:49.5 VN: You have to be 100% responsible for that. I really do think that’s important. So once it’s done and the way you go about doing it can be hugely fun-loving. But the work itself, I think has to be given almost a reverence, if you like. I know that’s stretching it, but that’s how I view it. It’s almost a reverence. So to me, I take work as reverently as a pious man would be going to church or to temple because it’s my livelihood. It’s what feeds my family. It’s what gives me a vocation. And I treat it with that amount of respect.

0:17:32.6 WB: And I haven’t had a lot to do with you, but in doing my own research and trying to understand you and your characteristics, two things come through very clearly to me. And you’ve just explained it beautifully. One is that you like to include humor in your conversations and you’re a great storyteller that goes part and parcel. And then on the other hand is you have a long list. And I doubt that you set out to make it a list, a long list of achievements. And I can see that that fits so beautifully into what you were just saying. So I can see that you live by what you say. So it plays out very much…

0:18:15.9 VN: I try to. I try to.

[laughter]

0:18:17.4 WB: I really want to just close out the conversation on the learning side of our discussion before we move off into the main topic, which will be around leadership. As we were joking about at the beginning, you are really an avid learner, and I think… You’re working on a PhD at the moment, but you have three MBAs or two, and you’re working on a third MBA. You have a BA. You studied in the UK, you’ve studied from Sri Lanka. What is the drive for you, this obsession I like to see it as almost? [laughter] What drives you to… A desire to continually learn, or is there something broader than that?

0:19:05.4 VN: Well, to be honest, the reason, learning per se genuinely is something that I’ve always… It’s wrong to use the word passion. For me, it was more fundamental than that. I think learning to me has always been a way out. Let’s put it that way. Of mediocrity. Because back then we didn’t have Google. [chuckle] So you couldn’t search engine a word and figure out what it meant, you did have to literally go to school, or to a library. And one of the things that I instinctively do is, I don’t learn because I love knowledge, I learn because I understand that the more you know, the bigger chances you have of applying some of that and getting a result. If you know only so much, whatever you do you’re circling around that. And it’s a bit like toolkits, right? Take a look at an average toolkit of a wonderful garage, a top-end garage, and take a garage in Sri Lanka which is by the wayside.

0:20:13.5 VN: Now, both of them can have equally excellent mechanics, will understand through years of experience this is exactly what’s wrong with your engine and this is how you need to fix it. Both of them do that. However, the toolkit that a seasoned veteran engineer-cum-mechanic would use probably has 20,000 different little things. Whereas, the mechanic down the road will probably have no more than 10. Now, they get the job done, for sure. However, sometimes that little, little screwdriver or that little wrench or that little piece of equipment, you might only use it once in a year, but it gets the job done to the absolute perfection without any after effects, so to say. Whereas, those who do not know it, will probably go in a different way and get the same job done, but the result is subpar. You probably would have made something else worse because of it. So, to me, knowledge and learning has been a way of making sure that I am as good as I can get in my craft.

0:21:21.7 VN: So I don’t learn necessarily for knowledge sake, I learn to make sure that whatever I learn I can put it into practice, see whether it actually works, and the thrill and the buzz I get is knowing which concept, which tool works in which context. The moment you can connect the dots that way, you know instinctively, this is exactly what needs to be done. And that to me is invaluable. The qualifications, on the other hand, is a completely different story. Now, the degree was because I always wanted to come to the UK for my higher studies. That was one of those little dreams I always had. I always wanted to come to the UK. So that was that. My first Master’s was actually because, genuinely I did feel the need to further study in my chosen subject. I’ve read all the books I can possibly get my hands on; I knew something was still missing. I do believe that a certain level of humility that you require to be taught as a student is a good thing to have, because otherwise sometimes you get a little too cocky and a little too arrogant about what you know. Versus being humbled about what you don’t know.

0:22:33.5 WB: I was going to add to that, what you think you know versus what you don’t. [chuckle]

0:22:38.5 VN: What you actually know. Absolutely.

0:22:41.0 WB: Yes.

0:22:41.3 VN: So I took on my Master’s about, probably about eight, 10 years after my Bachelor’s. And it was wonderful because it was partly done online and it was partly done in the UK. And that was a great balance, because that allowed me the freedom and the flexibility to pursue my higher studies, which at the time, wasn’t available in Sri Lanka. You didn’t have part-time or online programs out here. Actually, the second Master’s, or the MBA that I did, was honestly just to make sure that I could take a photograph for my parents. Believe it or not, I did my Chartered Institute of Marketing, and by the time I was to graduate I was in the UK doing my Bachelor’s. I came back from my Bachelor’s to work, and graduation happened to fall on a month where we were on peak season, and I really couldn’t take time off. My first Master’s finished off, I came back, I was on assignment when the graduation was taking place, and I just couldn’t afford to take time off.

0:23:41.4 VN: And I remember my mum casually mentioning, and she never generally picks up on these things, but she casually mentioned going over a set of photographs, and said, “I don’t have anything of you graduating.” So the MBA honestly was just to make sure… And it was done locally so that I could actually come for graduation here. Which meant it was only one day. You have to only take one day off work, rather than a week if you’re flying out. So that mum could actually see me with the cap, and take a photograph with them. My dad turns 80 this year, so I knew time was running out. So last year got that done and that was that. And the third was actually, once again, because on one of those conversations, I realized that, even though my chosen vocation is predominantly in HR, my consulting work is in HR, I never pursued higher studies in HR. Because I didn’t start my career in HR in the first place. I started my career in marketing and branding and advertising, and then went into manufacturing and operations, and finally actually when I turned up in HR and that has stuck. But I don’t have a single qualification or any form of formal study in that area. So I thought, “Hey, you know what, let me take on a Master’s specializing in HRM and Human Resource Development.” Because I thought it’s time. So that’s what that was. The PhD, well, that, I genuinely always wanted to do. And that’s for dad.

0:25:08.7 WB: Okay.

0:25:09.7 VN: The PhD is for dad. He worked in the campus, Sri Jayewardenepura Campus for some 36, 37 years of his life. And he holds academics and knowledge highest of regard. And for him, the epitome of the evolution of a human being is actually to have a PhD. By a PhD, he doesn’t mean just the title of it, but the journey you undertake. And I remember very, very, very vividly, he would have a motley crew of students and academics at my house on a regular basis over a drink. And whenever they leave… And I was very small, I would’ve been just six, seven, eight years old at the time, he would keep me on his lap and turn around and say, “Can you say who the PhD was? And he… This was almost like a little one of those guessing games. So I would turn around and say, “Was it him?” And nine times out of 10, I’ll get it right. And, he asked this subsequent question, “How do you know he’s a PhD?” And most of the time it’s purely the plethora of aspects and areas that they would speak on and the ability to interconnect each one of these to the topic of conversation at hand. And he would always have this beaming smile and tell me, “That’s why you need a PhD.”

[laughter]

0:26:30.2 WB: Very nice.

0:26:31.8 VN: So yeah, the PhD is for him.

0:26:34.8 WB: When do you finish, by the way? Or when you are you scheduled to?

0:26:37.6 VN: I finish in two years.

0:26:38.5 WB: Two years?

0:26:39.1 VN: In about two years, hopefully.

[laughter]

0:26:39.2 WB: Well, I don’t wanna be the bearer of bad news, but after what you told me, one answer that you put in, in your exam paper today, I’m not sure that will be the case.

[laughter]

0:26:54.4 VN: Well, I can’t help myself. I really do think, and this genuinely refers back to something you said earlier on. Humor in all seriousness, to me, is a way of making sure that I don’t take myself too seriously. And on occasion, and this is something I’ve worked very, very hard on because both my parents are very down to earth, very humble people. And one of the biggest fears they had of me going to St. Thomas’s was that I will be pigheaded, to put it mild. And I think it’s very easy to get that. It really is. Not that you mean to be that. Or it’s not that you want to be that, but you achieve, you know what you know, you are seen in a certain way in society and it comes in without you ever realizing it. And I’ve often caught myself off guard with it. And one day, when I was probably in my early 20s, late 20s, somewhere thereabouts, and my dad drops these little nuggets ever so often. He doesn’t speak much.

[laughter]

0:28:03.9 VN: He really doesn’t. He’s a very, very silent person. But he drops these little nuggets ever so often. And he turned around and told me, “The problem with you is that you take yourself more seriously than taking your work seriously. Take your work seriously. Don’t take yourself seriously.” Genuinely, until he spelled it out, I didn’t know to distinguish between the two. I was my work, right? My work eats me, that inseparable. But the moment he said it, the penny dropped. It really was true. I don’t have to take myself seriously to take my work seriously. Let me do what I do with great passion and absolute focus and give it everything I have. But let’s not put the same attention to myself. So whenever I kind of find myself getting there, so to say, which every, so often I do, even in my studies, I walk into an exam hall with supreme confidence at times because I’ve done my work, I know it inside out, there’s not a question that you can throw me from the curriculum that would take me off guard. Whenever I am in that situation, I consciously and purposefully actually go there and write something blasé.

[chuckle]

0:29:20.4 VN: To say that, “Hey, you know what, let it be enough that you know.”

0:29:24.8 WB: Correct.

0:29:25.6 VN: “You do not have to get the 100 out of 100 and actually snub it in everyone’s faces. You know you know, all of it. Let that be enough.” So ever so often… And of course even the opposite is also true, by the way. When I don’t know, I don’t fudge it. I actually write saying, “I don’t know the answer to this.”

[laughter]

0:29:45.9 WB: Back to our comment a little bit earlier.

[laughter]

0:29:49.7 VN: Even when I don’t know it, I actually do answer on the paper itself. “I do not know this.” Even if there are multiple answers. And once a lecturer actually asked me, “Vidusha, there are only four answers. You can take a guess.” “At this level, I don’t think you want me to guess. [laughter] You want me to tell you, I don’t know.” So yes, that’s where it comes from.

[chuckle]

0:30:18.5 WB: Let’s shift a little bit to the left and start bringing the business element into play. You’re a leadership trainer. You’ve trained an inordinate amount of people around the world, different countries. Where are we at the moment with our thinking around leadership? I’m talking very generalized comment now, but where are we at the moment in our thinking around leadership?

0:30:42.6 VN: Well, genuinely, I think we are in one of those moments in history where we are truly at crossroads. So I genuinely think on the one side, all over the world, I think, more than ever before, we need leadership. On the other hand, whatever we are doing doesn’t seem to be working either, in the sense of… I think there’s a great amount of literature of what good leadership should look like, for sure. However, I think there has always been a big flaw in that, most of the time whenever we talk about leadership, we are looking at characteristics or behaviors that a person should demonstrate.

0:31:27.7 VN: Now, a person isn’t enough in leadership. I’ve always been a proponent of collective leadership. I’ve always been a person who looked at leadership as a process rather than a person. And when you craft it like that, unfortunately we don’t have enough examples to show. And the reversal is more often than not, highlighted saying too many cooks spoil the soup. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians. All of this is put around and say, you need to have that one person right at the top barking out the orders and everybody else to be able to follow through.

0:32:00.4 VN: Now, the problem with that is that I don’t think there’s a single human being that can actually demonstrate all the requirements of good leadership. I really don’t think that’s possible, and I think it’s asking for too much. [chuckle] Because it’s only average people like you and I, who ultimately take on leadership roles, at some point in our life.

0:32:18.9 WB: Yeah.

0:32:19.2 VN: So we are flawed in multiple ways. The only way we can be perfect is if we have the perfect combination of people in order to do whatever we are trying to do. So depending on the task at hand, the composition of the team needs to change. Now, here is the play and the big play, for me around the future of leadership. I think the future of leadership is to be able to understand that leading and following both need to interchangeably play in an organizational setting. And it should not be pegged to hierarchy. There’s nothing wrong with hierarchy. Trust me. I’m not one of those people who take pot shots at a hierarchy. I think hierarchy are a necessary evil. It just needs to be there. Because if not a hierarchy, what would an organization look like? It’s unfathomable. What would society look like if not for hierarchy? So it’s not possible to not have a hierarchy for administrative purposes.

0:33:17.0 VN: However, from a leadership perspective, there is no reason why a junior level executive cannot take the helm of running an assignment, a project, or taking leadership role in a strategic initiative and the CEO plays second fiddle or him or her. There’s no reason why that cannot be done. And in many organizations, we are moving in that direction.

0:33:42.2 WB: Yes.

0:33:42.6 VN: The traditional rigid hierarchy when it comes to leadership, is breaking down, but it’s not enough because I genuinely feel we do not have frameworks, systems, and alternative structures that we’ve explored enough to make this sustainable and work. Because it can’t operate in a vacuum. It can’t operate because somebody felt like it. It needs to have an ecosystem that nourishes it. But the moment you develop that, I think wonderful things happen. Let me give you a quick example of it. Thankfully now I have a reference point to this rather than a purely conceptual one.

0:34:19.8 WB: Okay.

0:34:20.3 VN: And right here in Sri Lanka… [chuckle] So Dankotuwa Porcelain is something I always speak about. In the recent past, I’ve spoken about them a lot. Dankotuwa Porcelain is a pretty famous local brand. I think about 30, 35 years old. And for the last eight to 10 years, the business has not done well. They’ve had heavy losses. They haven’t given the increments, bonuses. It is a listed company. So stock brokers wouldn’t even mention the name of the organization. Let’s put it that way, if you wanted to buy stock. But a new CEO took over, and when he did, he did something radical. What he did was he took the entire middle-management team, the senior and middle-management team, roughly about 30, 40 people, and he broke them into six groups cross-functionally.

0:35:05.8 VN: Now notice the fact that sometimes not every team has all of the departments even represented. And what he did was they brainstormed some ideas. They had a broad, overarching direction and strategy, and then he turned around and told the teams, each team has complete jurisdiction to run two months of the business, including their PnL. They can do whatever they like, but they had to hit the numbers.

0:35:29.4 VN: And once that two months is up, they pass the button on to the next team, and then to the next team and to the next team. In the first quarter itself, they turned the business around second quarter, they were making massive profits. By the year-end, they made the best top line and bottom line in the history of the organization. Now, this year, he broke the same groups into five groups and gave the last group the sixth two-month period to a bunch of young executives, handpicked by the rest of the 30. This year in the seventh month, they hit their numbers. Now, by the eighth month, they realized, and their targets were something like 40 or 50% more than last year, which was their best year.

0:36:11.4 VN: And mind you, Sri Lanka is going through a recession. We do not have any form of capital infusion taking place into the country. We have fuel shortages. We don’t have foreign currency in our coffers. And this is a local brand. Only 15% of it is sold outside of Sri Lanka as exports. And a retail organization like that, when all the macro environmental factors are completely against you, having done their annual budget, which was 50% more than the budget that was there for last year, which is the best year they’ve had, it’s phenomenal by any standards.

0:36:51.4 WB: Absolutely.

0:36:52.3 VN: And their stock price has gone through the roof. If I’m not mistaken, they’ve nearly doubled or tripled the value. But this whole thing works there. Now, the inner workings of it, I’m still studying, and that was one of the reasons I took on my PhD study because I genuinely thought here was something that was worth studying. And the hope is something like a Harvard Business School or a Stanford Business School actually does a case study on them, because I think it… Unfortunately, unless one of those top tier schools take it, we do not have the resources to be able to put some solid frameworks around it. But here is a formula for collective leadership at work at a radical level. Everyone who has been with the business from Day Dot, they have not hired anyone outside. They have not fired anyone neither. COT… Remains the same, which tells you something.

0:37:40.3 WB: I would love to be involved in the research myself on this company. It sounds an incredible journey. I’m studying team coaching myself at the moment, and I’m looking at systemic ecosystems and the interplay between the parts and team of teams, and teams of leaders, etcetera, and a whole realm of these possibilities. And this organization that you’ve just described sounds to fit that mold very beautifully.

0:38:07.5 VN: Best of all, it was just an experiment. [chuckle]

0:38:11.0 WB: Yeah. Very interesting. If you look at my audience, which our executive talent, so is there anything that stands out to you in business today that you would say, if you had this skill set or if you had this knowledge, it’s going to help you as you move into the future? Is there anything that jumps to mind?

0:38:35.6 VN: Oh, absolutely. I think a few things jump to mind. I think let’s start with the person first, because I think the only person who you can… Well, the only thing that you can really control is your actions and behavior. Is it… I don’t think there’s anything else much. Everything else you can influence, but direct control, I think you’ve got yourself. So let’s start there. Fundamentally, we miss out on a couple of simple things, which often becomes politically incorrect to say. My apologies for saying this, and I don’t mean this lightly. I do genuinely believe in this. I think one of the most unspoken of, or hardly spoken of skills that you need to develop, and in fact it isn’t even considered a skill, is likability. I genuinely think that you need to be likable. It’s a starting point for everything else.

0:39:25.0 VN: Now, that is not to say you cannot be affirmative, assertive, or even controversial. You can be radical if you like but still be likable. It helps tremendously as you go through your career. Especially when you have to make those tough, hard decisions to be likable. Because the moment you are likable, the chance of you being heard and heard right is much more than when you’re not. So I think spend a little time in trying to find out what makes you likable and what are the things that you can put out there so that you do become likable.

0:40:03.1 WB: That would be one of my questions. What is likable in the sense of leadership? So what are some of the characteristics you would have?

0:40:11.9 VN: Sure. So I think a lot depends on who you are. I think very importantly, you shouldn’t try and put this on. That’s a big no. If you try and fake this, it’s gonna end up disastrously for you. But I think here are some fundamentals. Firstly, being able to relate on different aspects makes you likable. So it helps to know different things, sports, cars, different cultures, language itself, whatever, help you become likable because you have something relatable to talk about that helps. Secondly, I think helping someone makes you likable instantly. So pick and choose your sports because sometimes, helping for the sake of helping is not what I’m talking about. Helping when it matters the most, even when you don’t have the time. Even when it’s more difficult for you when the other person really needs it. Even if you are not asked to help, volunteer to help, because instantly there is value that you offer and that is when it’s needed the most.

0:41:17.1 VN: And I think the third one is to actually go and be present in as many things as you possibly can. And I know there is this whole thing about introversion and extroversion and so on and so forth. I’m an introvert and I’ve always told people there’s a difference between being sociable and being introverted. Be sociable. I think that’s important about being liked. Be present for company events. Go on that trips on outings, have family gatherings. It helps. Because there is no substitute for a shaking of a hand and a hug. There really isn’t. Or a meal shared, a conversation over beer. There really is no substitute for that. So if you do these little things, you’ll find that you are generally likable.

0:42:07.4 VN: It’s not to say that you have to. Some people are naturally… I don’t know the answer to that one. [laughter] Some people are naturally so. You just like the guy. I don’t know what makes that. But I think if you do these three things, it’ll make you relatively likable. Once you’ve established that, the second thing is to be able to remain relevant and add value. And I often tell people, and I always joke about this, about parents, since we started there. I often tell I love my mom to bits, don’t get me wrong okay? I really do. But I often tell she’s irrelevant to me now as a 46 year old. Because she treats me like a 10 year old. [laughter] So the more senior you become inside the organization, you need to remain relevant. You can’t necessarily do what moms do or what dads do, and I’m very conscious of this as my daughter is 20. And I keep telling myself what makes me relevant to her at 20 is very different to what makes me relevant as a dad when she’s five. But both are equally important. Don’t get me wrong. I can’t be the liberal kinda lazy fast type dad at five. Neither should I be the directive dad at 20. That evolution should take place for both of us simultaneously.

0:43:36.2 VN: So being relevant means knowing which phase of the journey your team is in and being able to morph between these different characteristics. And remaining relevant also means that you need to understand that sometimes you are not the best one to lead. And being able to step down and tell somebody else, “Hey, you know what? I think you are better suited for this than me.” I’ll still be your manager or your senior manager, or your director or whatever my title may be. But leading this initiative, you take charge. So remaining relevant and adding value. And finally I think it’s very, very important at some point in your leadership journey to understand and make the switch that you do need to make yourself redundant. And I know that’s a difficult thing to do. Sometimes genuinely neither party grows if you don’t do it. You need to consciously make yourself redundant and be okay with it, and therefore find something else to do. And I think those are integral parts of your leadership journey. Which is done at which point in your life is very much up to the individual. But I think these are things that by and large remain the same for all of us.

0:44:44.2 WB: I can imagine the last one you mentioned about making yourself redundant. For a new leader, this is like a red flag [chuckle] because you’re coming into a role. You’re trying to prove yourself. You’re trying to paint the S on your chest that you are superhuman, you have all the answers. And the thought of making yourself redundant is something that just doesn’t comprehend. So I can imagine a number of listeners, because we will have that young demographic, a number of listeners will probably be thinking, “Wow, there’s no way. I can’t do that.”

0:45:18.6 VN: So let me contextualize this for you.

0:45:20.2 WB: Yeah.

0:45:21.8 VN: Making yourself redundant doesn’t mean that you are unwanted. For starters, let’s get to basics. So management is a title and a role, leadership is an interchangeable role. Management is fixed. Leadership isn’t. So the moment you make yourself redundant in this current role that you are playing, it opens up the opportunity for you to do something else. You cannot function at the same level that you’re functioning, making yourself the center of attraction and dependable to everybody else and think of yourself in any other way. You have to let that go. And I draw analogy on this. As a dad, I’m consciously aware that my daughter is gonna get married at some point. Yes? When she does, my role as a dad shifts completely. And if I don’t let go of the role I’m currently playing with her, that is when all of it goes completely pear-shaped, and there is all sorts of rivalries and comparisons and all of this nonsense. Her husband takes on a role that I played until now. And I’m not being sexist here in any way. So you can be completely gender neutral about it. It can be my son and my daughter-in-law. Same thing. So when my son comes of age and when he gets married, when my daughter comes of age, and when she gets married, my role as a father, as the breadwinner of the family, the person who would actually lay out all the rules and so on and so forth, need to completely let go. Otherwise, I’m no longer relevant. Correct?

0:47:04.7 WB: Yes, yes.

0:47:09.8 VN: As a father. Now what do I become then? Now, that’s a good question. And in fact, whenever we do emerging leader programs for first time leaders, we start with this, say, give yourself an expiry date, and start working backwards. Because if you don’t, your next phase of growth is never gonna happen. Now, I need to step back as a dad when my daughter gets married, and actually play the role of a confidant, a coach, a mentor, not only for her but for her husband and when grandchildren come along, probably to be the person who would take off some of that burden to give a little bit of advice but not to run her life. Or to check her WhatsApp messages as my wife does. [laughter] So as a leader, if I am not consciously making myself redundant, how on earth am I gonna take on a different role? You can’t. So steps, I always bring the analogy of a step ladder. If you’re in one step, if you don’t let go of it, you will never climb a ladder. You have to let go of the step that you’re on. But that’s the safest. The closer you are to the ground, that’s the safest.

[laughter]

0:48:23.5 WB: There’s definitely less distance to fall. And I guess, in this discussion, one of the ways of becoming redundant is learning how to become a good delegator.

0:48:38.5 VN: Absolutely. Absolutely. Not only the tasks, but also your leadership role too. The moment you say delegation everyone thinks of only the task.

0:48:46.9 WB: Right.

0:48:47.3 VN: Don’t only think of the task, think of your role as well, delegate the role and oversee if you must, you will actually be pleasantly surprised many times over.

0:48:57.0 WB: I read somewhere about a comment you made about motivation, about motivating people. And if I paraphrase it, it was to say that, “There’s little value in you motivating people, you need to help people understand how to motivate themself.” Could you elaborate on that a little bit further?

0:49:14.5 VN: Sure. So here’s my take on this, and I struggle with this as a parent, and I come back to base every single time. I honestly don’t think you really can motivate anyone for too long unless the fire burns within. My mother tried, I tried. [laughter] It doesn’t work. It’s exhausting work. It really is. And nine times out of 10, it ends up horribly wrong. And only thing that happens is you get frustrated with yourself. You get frustrated with the person that you’re trying to motivate. And relationships are because… So here’s the thing, the thing with motivation is that… And I do accept that there are multiple theories of motivation, and I’m an HR practitioner. I advise organizations how to do this. [chuckle] But what I’m saying is that, I flip it. I turn it on and until… Every one of us have sweet spot. We really do. Some of them are obvious, some of them are not.

0:50:14.3 VN: Now with my son, it’s very, very obvious that he loves his football. Now, you can anchor almost everything else to that. If there are two passions he has, it’s ornamental fish and football. Now nine times out of 10, if I tell him I’m gonna buy you an arowana, he’s gonna get good grades. But how many arowanas am I gonna buy him? So the challenge for me in parenting and in leadership is to find out what would actually spark an interest in you. How can I get you to see what I am seeing? How can I get you to understand why this is important for you as much as it is important for me? Now, I make no bones about the fact that I want my kids to get good grades. It makes me feel good. Let’s accept it. Right? I as a parent I feel good.

0:51:06.9 VN: I’m not only doing it for his sake, I’m doing it for my sake too. It gives me great joy to know, “Hey, you know what? You got straight A’s, fantastic.” But why should he do it. Now, I want him to understand that studying is not just for the sake of the grade. Studying, is being able to practice discipline, which becomes the baseline for everything in life. And I often tell him that doing what you like, you will do anyway. Where the rubber meets the road for life is when you have to do things you don’t like to do, which is essential for the success you want to have. That is where the real crux of the matter is. Now, everything else let it be, but the essential things that you have to do, even if you absolutely hate it, because it is fundamental for the success you want to have.

0:51:57.6 VN: Being able to do that makes all the difference in the world. And most people fail in life because they can’t do that for themselves. And I don’t know whether it is called motivation, I don’t know whether it’s called discipline, I don’t know whether it is called mindset. I don’t care what the label is, but you need to be able to do things you hate with the same level of enthusiasm that you would do the things you love, because it is essentially important for your success. The moment you kind of get that switched on, life becomes easy. So you don’t work it between I like this, I hate this. It’s a question of what is it that I need to do in order to arrive where I want to arrive at and switch yourself onto that. Hard work I know but it can be done over a period of time.

0:52:43.5 VN: It’s not gonna come easy. But the moment, and I’m glad my mom, this is something that I offer kudos and blessings to my mom on a daily basis. She just made sure I had… So at a very early stage in my life it became very apparent to me that I’m not gonna get away with it by whining or whatever. I had to do it. So there was… If I was stubborn, my mother was stubborn square. So I think it comes easy to me now, and that’s one of those things I try and instill in anyone that I work with or that I work for because I think that is fundamental. And the moment an individual can do that for themselves, you can throw anything at them and they will succeed.

0:53:25.9 WB: There is a line that I was thinking of while you were talking about that in a movie, and I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called, but it was something that one of the professors said to his son that said, “You have to do the things you have to do to achieve the things you want to do.” So, it’s very much along what you said. But this, what you’re talking about is actually a level deeper if I understood correctly than… When we look at motivation in a pure sense, we often talk about intrinsic extrinsic motivators. This is actually a little bit deeper than that I would suggest. Rather than just an intrinsic motivator. It’s really having that awareness and understanding of why it is you need to be doing it rather than just having this awareness of what your drivers are.

0:54:11.1 VN: Correct. And a quick parallel there. If you can give me a little bit of latish a little time.

0:54:18.9 WB: Sure. Sure.

0:54:22.3 VN: I draw a lot of inspiration from a wide variety of subjects I read on. And I’ve always been very, very interested in comparative religion. And in Hinduism, there is a strain of Hinduism called Advaita Vedanta which I’ve been fascinated about for the last probably decade or so. And the highest achievement from a philosophic or a spiritual sense is enlightenment, isn’t it? And the path to enlightenment… There are many paths to it. There can be devotion and there can be practice or even consciously doing something. But there is a path to enlightenment through pure intellect. And I think we need to bring that intellect, which we are gifted with as human beings to work. And it’s one of the things you don’t honestly. Because see, the moment you say motivation, your emotion is involved.

0:55:08.4 WB: Yes.

0:55:09.4 VN: And I’m not for a moment saying, you need to remove emotion from a human being because you can’t. We can’t remove emotion completely, however you can rationalize with it. So if you actually learn to rationalize what is it that you need to do versus what is it that I would like to do. The distinction between them makes all the difference. Now I want to be a leadership trainer, and if I don’t like to speak, that’s irrelevant, isn’t it? I don’t have to like to speak, but I must learn to speak well and be able to articulate whatever I’m saying. And if I enjoy that process, it’s a huge bonus. [laughter] It’s a huge bonus, but because I’m scared of it or because I don’t think I’m good at it right now, or for whatever reason that I put in front of me should not be an excuse not to pursue that path if that’s what I have chosen for myself.

0:56:11.6 VN: So I have only two choices, either I must change course and take on something that I like to do, or I must be able to change my emotion and rationalize with it and be able to understand cognitively, intellectually that step A, B, C, D is gonna arrive at where I want to arrive. And that should get me excited. So the path doesn’t get me excited, but the end destination should excite me. So switching from the here and the now to the long term benefit is something that I’ve learned helps tremendously.

0:56:38.9 WB: Right. So the ability to rationalize and reason back to our fundamental distinction, what makes us human is very critical. And when we talk about motivation in some theories, we make this distinction between the rational and the emotion. So as you’re saying, we need to be able to rationalize, to be able to understand the value in what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. As we draw near to the end of the conversation, is there anything you’re working on at the moment that is really exciting you?

0:57:13.9 VN: Yes. In fact, one of the things that I think I’m blessed with in the vocation I am in, is the ability to merge whatever I’m learning into whatever I’m doing. And one of the things I’m thrilled about is the fact that fate had it that when I was contemplating doing the PhD was when Duncan Duo Porcelain started doing what they started doing on collective leadership. And that is something that I’m truly, truly passionately involved in right at this moment.

0:57:42.4 WB: Where would people go if you want people to find you, where would they go to find you and connect with you?

0:57:48.4 VN: All right. LinkedIn, I think is the safest bet, but any book I write will be available on, www.booksbyv.com.

0:57:56.6 WB: Okay. We’ll put that in the notes anyway.

0:58:00.7 VN: All of them are free. All the books are free. One click download. You don’t have to give your name or your email address or anything like that. If you like it, just download.

0:58:08.7 WB: Very nice. You know, you spend a lot of your time in High5.

0:58:13.2 VN: So High5 is the parent company, and High Five is right now doing only consulting. It used to do training work as well, but the training side of the business took a life form of its own, and we thought it’s not right to restrict it, so to say. So we set up a different company called Luminary Learning, and all of the training now is parked under Luminary. So Luminary over the last couple of years has grown exponentially, and we have about 20 trainers, 25 trainers now. About 10 international trainers who are working exclusively through us.

0:58:47.1 WB: Vidusha. We’re going to wrap up. It’s been an absolute pleasure and a delight. But I really appreciate you taking the time and you’re such a wonderful guest. I wish you all the very best and…

0:58:58.9 VN: Thank you very much.

0:59:00.9 WB: I’m sure that our audience will get untold insights from the conversation, and I really hope that they take the time to connect with you because you’re a wealth of information. You’re a wealth of… You’re a fantastic resource.

0:59:17.2 VN: Thank you very much.

0:59:19.5 WB: Yeah. So thank you very much.

0:59:20.2 VN: Thank you very much. And thank you for having me.

0:59:25.3 Speaker 2: Thank you for joining us on the ET project, a show for executive talent development. Until next time, check out our site for free videos, eBooks, webinars and blogs at coaching4companies.com.

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