Playing to Your Strength


My company wanted me to contribute an article for the quarterly journal InTouch .Here’s my effort .Trust it will be published soon !

In the very early stages of my career , I came across this quotation ,attributed to Mao, which left a lasting  impact on me ; “Where the enemy is weak attack in great strength and overwhelm him, where the enemy is strong, retreat.”A very emotive and decisive observation, isn’t it? We don’t often follow this apparently straight forward doctrine and pay the price for it, don’t you think? Mao goes on to say, in the Little Red Book, “It should be pointed out that destruction of the enemy is the primary object of war and self-preservation the secondary, because only by destroying the enemy in large numbers can one effectively preserve oneself. Therefore attack, the chief means of destroying the enemy, is primary, while defence, a supplementary means of destroying the enemy and a means of self-preservation, is secondary.” A truth most of us subscribe to is, attack is the best form of defence!!

I like to view all of corporate life in military terms and while it is not the intention to charge ahead swinging a sabre , the strategies of the battle field do seem to apply in many ways to the corporate world. More so, when you are in must win situations, the doctrines of war seem that much more applicable.

 

The strategies of Sun Tzu in the Art of War, which many of you may have read or heard about , have been applied not just in the battle field for all of 2500 years now, but from poker games to the corporate world amongst  others ,and the doctrine continues to have relevance even today. Sun Tzu says, Victorious warriors win first and then go to war; while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win. The clear message here is that those who go into war with the desire to win, and a game plan, will always succeed against those who have no vision of victory at the outset.

 Sun Tzu goes on to say in an  even more telling way,

 One who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be in danger in a hundred battles

One who does not know the enemy but knows himself will sometimes win, sometimes lose

One who does not know the enemy and does not know himself will be in danger in every battle.

Sun Tzu is telling us that it important to know the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy and our own, in order to plan a successful campaign.  Therefore it is necessary to go to battle with a clear vision of victory, a balanced view of the battle situation and a game plan to play to one’s strength.

Playing to our strength requires us to get the best out of each member of our team and utilize their unique strengths and capabilities. This, as research work at the Wharton School of Management indicates, leads to a positive and energized work place that people, not just love to work in but contribute significantly to the organisations successes. “Allowing employees to focus on their strengths, rather than fixing their weaknesses, creates a positive environment. This positive leadership draws workers in, boosting performance more through the carrot than the stick……. If you see people who are really good at something, they are in a job that plays to their strengths. Some of them landed there naturally. Others simply started looking for ways each day to do more of what they enjoy most. Little by little, their jobs transformed into an ideal fit”( Wharton@Work Sept 2008).

In my very first “battle” for HCL in the then Hindustan Reprographics Ltd (HRL) ,I was appointed as a District Sales Manager(DSM) for Micrography Products in the Western Region .My  predecessor had been asked to leave for poor performance and his two man team, which I inherited, had their probation extended with a warning that they may be asked to leave if their performance didn’t improve in three months. I was also in a difficult situation of sorts, as I was inducted as a DSM and not an Area Sales Manager(ASM), as I was not considered to have the right background and needed to prove myself. I also had to live as an enforced bachelor, as I couldn’t find a house to stay in Mumbai , very tough in those days , and the company never had a policy of special allowances or residential support . I had to manage as best as I could.

I was allowed to build a new team, if I thought it necessary .However I stuck to Harish Muthana and Thomas George and our humble but efficient Admin Assistant Edna D’Mello. We inducted an SMT, Sanjeev Saxena to add to the team .Then started a remarkable turnaround story that enabled us to clock more sales in the Western Region that year than the combined sales of the North, South and East Regions put together. It was thanks to Harish, George and Sanjeev that I won my spurs as a Leader, albeit the Commander of a Platoon.

If there is a single source of pride and satisfaction I retain, as I look back at my long career in the battle field of the corporate world, it would be that in some way or the other, I helped nurture and develop scores of individuals who fought alongside me in battle after battle… in times when we won and at times when we had to retreat. That many of them hold positions of responsibility in diverse companies today is an immense source of joy for me.

I read recently, a very interesting article about the Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell .Campbell did a lot of research into the lives of mythological heroes and also the world’s greats over the centuries. The Hero’s journey as per Campbell, starts with the Hero’s call deep within us and then the courageous move to beat past the Threshold Guardians and make the arduous journey that eventually leads on to a new threshold ,of achievement and service. Unfortunately many of us just ignore the Hero’s call and plod along in our respective lives. You can “Google” this to learn more about this inspiring and thought provoking study and perhaps heed your own Hero’s call and embark on a new phase of achievement and contribution.

Author: hari008

Business Leader , Mentor and Executive Coach with a long track record of achievement , developing high performance teams and mentoring team members who now hold responsible positions in several leading companies

12 thoughts on “Playing to Your Strength”

  1. Dear Hari,
    For me this a truly inspiring article! In the military terms, (a student of which I am) I have seen many similarities with that of the corporate and do try and impart as much as possible to my friends who are dealing with Corporate strategy. Military strategy, Tactics and leadership have all got their uses in the corporates. All stratas of corporate management need lessons based on military learnings….you have ignited my mind to work more in this area!! Thanks!.

    1. Hi Vijay , Yes the corporate world can gain immensely for the application of military strategy .You are very well placed to put together a training / presentation pack .Give it a shot !!!

  2. Dear Hari,
    Its quite a motivating article. And in certain areas an eye openner too. You have always been a great leader and boss to work for…..cheers.
    Rajat

  3. Dear Sir,
    Absolutely great and inspiring article.
    You have always been a great source of motivation & insirations in my life.
    Best Regards,
    PK Jain

  4. Good article Hari.

    I have a couple points to mention.

    First, chairman Mao supposedly killed 70 million people.
    That’s right – 70 million.
    And all his own people too, not foreigners.
    With this number he relegates Hitler to second place. That poor chap could kill only
    50 million (which is the estimated casualties in the 2nd WW).

    Second, in another article you mention interest in Buddhism and I expect
    you traveled to japan in the pursuit of that interest.

    Violence comes in various forms – physical, psychological, etc.
    Even satyagraha or hunger-strike is a type of violence.
    Give me my desire or I’ll starve myself to death and you will bear the responsibility of my demise.

    Now buddhism talks of complete non-violence as the starting point in the effort of a shramana (monk). That is obviously the complete reverse of the corporate world which is avowedly cut-throat. Plus you quote Mao also.

    So I’m a little confused.
    A thing cannot have opposite qualities at the same time.

    So which is the real Hari – the corporate Hari or the buddhist Hari 😉

    1. Hi Anil , Thank you for reading these posts !! I guess it is true that all of us are a curious mix of various facets . I took to Buddhism in the early nintees when I was introduced to the Bharat Soka Gakkai by a very good friend. Yes I did go to Japan , the home of this movement and have benefited very much by the teachings and practices of this movement. A lot of what I imbibed through this movement has rubbed off on my corporate life and other aspects of my life.My experiences have been captured in the narratives in this blog . Best wishes , Hari

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