Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Quintessential Indian Mother: Subtle Principles of Effective Management

Today, May 13, 2012 is Mother’s Day. The day serves to remind ourselves of what we owe to our respective mothers for being what we are. Apart from carrying in the womb for nine challenging months without any step-down of work or home pressures during the period, the mother moves on to bring the baby up through the childhood and adolescence into adulthood until he or she is ready to marry and lead his or her own life. Despite the intense pressure, the olden day mothers underwent these challenges iteratively in proportion to the number of children. The modern mother may limit herself to one, two or three children but is also taking up career as an overwhelming passion too. The modern mother is as much a home maker as career builder. One may forget anything in life but would never forget what one’s mother did for oneself.

From nursing mother to nurturing mother and from teaching mother to protecting mother, the typical mother provides the guide path to growth. No one would forget how one is bathed, dressed, fed and taken to school by one’s mother at great odds fighting for time and marshaling every bit of energy looking after also a rather demanding husband and usually uncompromising parents-in-law. Many mothers in the joint family system would, in addition, have faced several other “in-law” pressures. Yet, the mother bears all these pressures to build and stabilize a family and see her children prosper. Many mothers, even if illiterate or less literate, succeed in either learning a few things for their children or providing an emotional support to them as they course through their studies.

Managing life

Professional managers study and practice to manage businesses and corporations. They usually have the teachers to learn from, superiors to guide, past practices to follow, peers to network and subordinates to derive work from. Each manager has an ecosystem of his or her own, within a larger organizational ecosystem. Unlike a family, everything in a corporation evolves as per a plan based on goals and resources. There also is a whole external environment which is all too eager to transact with the business or corporation for mutual value creation. Businesses or corporations are born for viability and growth by design, and certainly not by default. To summarize, management is a predictable facet of a predictive business or corporation. Yet, management of business or a corporation is considered challenging and arduous by even well endowed managers.

In contrast, the typical bride, who would be a mother is brought into a family or is ordained to make a family by destiny, or almost by accident or default, even if it were to be a marriage by mutual love and choice with the bridegroom. There is neither a goal that is preset nor resource base under her control. Unlike a corporation which is set to thrive on external interface, the bride is expected to be confined essentially to an internal interface. Even if she is a career woman, the primary responsibility would be only homemaking. Yet, in contrast to a professional manager, a mother shapes life, not only for her husband and parents-in-law but also to children, and in some cases for other members of the family too. All this she does without forgetting the basic moorings to her own parents, and brothers and sisters. A successful mother, especially in the Indian setting, thus creates, shapes and manages the life in totality. It would be instructive to analyze the mother’s way to management.

Mother's way

The successful Indian mother has a way of management and leadership that is progressive and futuristic. Some of the principles of the Indian Mother's Way of Management are as follows:

Induction by observation
A proactive bride in a typical traditional Indian family setting has no airs about her. She moves into the new family, treating induction as her own responsibility and duty. Typically, no one teaches her anything but she learns everything by observation. By fulfilling the expressed and latent demands of the family members she secures all-round acceptance. Customer-centricity, so often touted as a behavioral trait to be built into aspiring managers, comes naturally to her.

In contrast to the above, the dependence of the new entrants to an organization on external coaching rather than self-development is disturbing, in contrast. If the young executives and lateral entrants combine what the organization teaches with self-driven learning, professional development in organizations would be extremely rewarding.

Clarity of goals

A would-be Indian mother clearly understands that family making is a responsibility that cannot be shirked; in fact she welcomes it as an opportunity to build a legacy that outshines the present and the past. Until the new baby is born, a would-be mother visualizes, aspires, plans and strategizes establishing and growing a family. Thereafter too, she continues to plan and course-correct. As she goes through the iteration of the next child, she carries out the task with additional processes of goal enhancement and resource optimization.

Many managers tend to reach the limits of creativity and diligence with the first set of achievements. Most are also reluctant to create something out of nothing. The mother who strategically plans a future for her children and family is a role model for executives to be creative and expansive.

Selfless to the core

The typical mother derives her satisfaction from the family’s success. The security felt by the parents-in-law, the growth achieved by the husband and the educational milestones crossed by the children all contribute to her success. She is willing to sacrifice all her day hours and early dawn hours to be the engine of energy for her family. Her health and aspirations become absolutely secondary to supporting and enabling the children's aspirations relentlessly.

"What is in it for me?" is an apparently legitimate question that many executives ask of themselves and their organizations many times as they move through their careers. The model of the mother who derives her own growth and satisfaction through the development and growth of her family has some relevant lessons.

Values as the basis

One thing a traditional Indian mother teaches to her children before anything else are the values. Indian culture is so rich with great mythological epics such as Mahabharatam, Ramayanam and Bhagavatam as well as masterly knowledge treatises such as Panchatantram and Subhashitham that the traditional mother has an overwhelming reservoir of pure and ageless teachings that surprisingly and pleasantly are relevant even after thousands of years. Children whose knowledge base is primed on these classics are found to have absorbed all the life's good values and also be conscious of the treacherous trappings at an early age.

The Indian managers have a great tapestry of knowledge in the treatises such as Artha Shastra besides the classics referred above. Assimilating such knowledge would equip the Indian manager with a unique combination of Indian spirituality and western management.

Learn to teach

Long before the concept of “tiger mom” came into vogue, the Indian mothers had been fierce in their commitment to the higher education of their children. In fact, the lower the mother's educational qualification, the higher tends to be her educational aspiration for her children. The mothers' ambition to learn and re-learn the new subjects to coach their children even in the late nights is to be seen to be believed. When some subjects are truly challenging, most mothers go the extra mile to identify the right teachers to coach.

The mother's yearning for knowledge has an important lesson for corporate leaders; rather than feel smug that the new generation of employees would naturally know more, the leaders must update their own knowledge to add greater value to their new entrants. This leads to a virtuous cycle of mutual challenge and incremental learning that will only render their organizations more competitive.

Large resources with small savings

The Indian lady of the family is synonymous with small savings. The beauty of the Indian DNA of small family savings is that it silently but surely builds huge resources for important milestones in the family; from school and college fees to home purchase and marriage expenses. Much of the savings is passed on through generations in the family through family silver and gold jewels purchased at every step of price advantage or festivity trigger. The Indian mother is rather uncharitably accused of having a craving or fascination for gold and jewels but those in the know understand how these act as a safety net and resource base for the Indian families besides stimulating a huge gems and jewels industry that has achieved for India a measure of global competitiveness.

Cost management and waste avoidance are two pillars of orderly capital formation and judicious capital investment. Executives must save every Rupee under their discretionary control to build investible surpluses for future investments.

Health with nutrition

The Indian housewife toils like a robot on a number of chores but the one she enjoys the most is to cook a variety of dishes for the family to relish fresh food at least four times a day. The housewife continuously innovates, adapts and even transforms herself in cuisine so that recalcitrant children, time-teased husband and handicapped elders get the right types of nutrition. Apart from the various ingredients and the recipes that go to make a dish good, her love in preparing the dish truly makes it great. Decades may pass but the true Indian housewife is proud to be a great cook fundamentally.

Managers and leaders who consider their fundamental functional competency as infra-dig would do well to remember that the organization's key needs must always be served by them; it could be employee engagement, coaching, a functional specialization, or anything else.

Growth with austerity

The conscious mother likes to develop and grow the family but is also aware of the need to channel and husband resources for optimal impact. An ability to look simple and effective while preparing for the complex and challenging is very much a part of the mother's fundamental disposition. Running a tight family budget with itemized allocation and measuring variances comes naturally to her.

Non-finance executives and managers who are loathe to be governed by budgeting processes could travel back on their life's progress and recall how their mothers managed growth with the discipline of budgeting that optimizes the balance between spend and austerity.

Letting go

The true Indian mother also appreciates that letting go of her children once they reach adulthood, secure jobs and get married is as much a prime responsibility as bringing up the children. In fact, in the Indian family system, which is traditionally based on arranged marriages, searching for the right alliance is very much the mother's aspiration and execution. A philosophical training to adjust to the emptiness of children's leaving enables the parents, especially the mothers, to cope with the emptiness of transition.

Here again there is a leadership perspective. If some assets and businesses of a corporation would do better under a different ownership and dispensation, one must be prepared to let go. If some employees of a function or a business would function better in a different function or business, or shine better under a new boss the leaders should be willing to let go such employees.

On call, always

The sterling quality of the Indian mother or the mother-in-law is that she never considers her responsibilities as fulfilled. There may be retirement for the male members of an Indian family but the typical Indian housewife never ceases working. She is always at call to serve the next generation of grandsons and granddaughters with the same dedication and passion as she would have served her sons and daughters. In fact, the enthusiasm of the aging mother to take care of the “next to next generation” has enabled the passing on of fundamental values over ages seamlessly, and helped the succeeding generations with more optimal management of careers and families.

The Indian professionals must see their life's quest in neither the titles nor the retirement but in continuous enablement and dissemination of knowledge to build national wealth.

The mother and the society

The quintessential Indian mother is proactive and observant, goal-oriented and clear, collaborative and compliant, value-based and value-driven knowledge-seeking and knowledge-driving, selfless and sacrificing, energetic and energizing, saving and investing, austere and growth-seeking, attached yet detached and aging gracefully while working ceaselessly. She is a role model of acting locally (at family level) to build globally (at society or national level). It is not that the Indian mother’s life is a bed of roses. She faces many distractions, obstacles and even criticisms, some of these from elders and peers of the same gender. The successful Indian mother is an epitome of patience, fortitude and pragmatism, overcoming all these hurdles, and serving as a builder of the institution of family, and through the family, the institutions of society and nation. She is a manager par excellence of singular management and leadership.

On this Mother's Day, it is my pleasure and privilege to express, though this blog post, the society's gratefulness to the Mother as an institution builder by bringing out certain managerial facets of the mother, with special reference to the quintessential Indian mother.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on May 13, 2012

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