Friday, May 22, 2009

Anger Management Made Simple




My pet Doberman girl
Sherry is my best teacher in the Art of Living.

[Actually she is a Doberman X – a cross between a Rampur Hound father and a Doberman mother].

This morning she gave me a lesson in Anger Management.

Our spacious bungalow, located high up on a hill slope, affords a beautiful panoramic view of the verdant wide green expanse of Girinagar all around.

This morning while we strolled on our lawn sipping rejuvenating cups of piping hot amruttulya tea in the lovely mist and slight drizzle, I noticed Sherry standing alert at the bungalow gate looking intently, focussing on something outside, and gradually getting angry, as evident from her focussed eyes, slow growls, heightened breathing, stiff upright tail and vivid line of hair standing taut on the centre of her neck and back, hackles raised.

I walked towards the gate and looked outside – the object of her attention was a huge white cat that was walking nonchalantly towards the gate, almost defiantly.

The moment the cat came close, Sherry suddenly lost her temper, started barking, violently jumping, infuriated with anger, desperately pleading with me to open the gate.

The cat stopped dead in her tracks and crouched, and I knew that if I let Sherry out, she would desperately, frenziedly chase the cat down the hill, and if she caught the cat, there would ensue a violent fight to the finish, and most likely it would be the cat who would be finished.

So I just walked away and Sherry realized that I wasn’t going to open the gate, she went so wild with rage, that she ran amok, running wildly all round the spacious compound, taking high speed runs, jumping over hedges, barking, chasing, leaping at birds, running fast at top speed round and round the bungalow, till she was totally exhausted, after which she went to her water bowl, lapped up cold soothing water, and lay down on her rug in a cosy manner, calm, tranquil, totally relaxed, her anger totally dissipated and dissolved into peaceful serenity.

That’s what one must do when angry, isn’t it?

Let me tell you it works - the moment you sense anger rising within you start exercising, run, jog, take a brisk walk, dance, move your limbs, sway, do something.

Just do some physical activity till your anger dissipates and exhausts itself into a state of calm.

So, Dear Reader, the next time you start getting angry, do what Sherry does – just start running till your anger disappears and you collapse into a cosy state of peaceful calm and tranquillity.

There is a lot to learn about the “Art of Living” from our animal friends, isn’t it?


Thursday, May 21, 2009





[Book Review by Vikram Waman Karve]

It was indeed a pleasant surprise to chance upon this engrossing treatise buried in the books that adorn the shelves of my bookcase, last evening.

I had first read this book long long back, maybe fifteen years ago. I read it again. I enjoyed the book thoroughly and found it inspiring, educative, enjoyable and stimulating, and decided to tell you, dear reader, about it.

“19 Stars” is a comparative study of the contrasting styles of leadership by four of the most outstanding American generals of World War II.

The book attempts to capture those elusive qualities that have made great leaders of Generals Marshall, MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton. The title of the book symbolizes the total number of ‘stars’ these four Generals wore on their collars.

The book starts with a lucid description of their early years as Cadets and traces their diverse backgrounds.

It is revealed that whereas MacArthur and Patton belonged to families with rich military heritage, Eisenhower grew up with no knowledge of, or any inclination towards, a military career. He could not afford to go to college, qualified for entrance to Naval Academy, Annapolis, but was overage, so opted for West Point, which had a higher entering age.

Marshall just decided to follow his elder brother into the Army.

MacArthur’s career as a cadet was brilliant.

Patton distinguished himself in the qualities of a soldier and athletic skills but faced difficulty in academics.

Eisenhower has been depicted as indifferent, carefree and careless.

An absorbing narrative encompassing World Wars I and II and the interregnum is the highlight of the book. It is a thoroughly researched analysis interspersed with a large number of anecdotes and reminiscences.

The author avoids platitudes and presents his analysis with remarkable candour.

Whether it be the ‘flamboyant’ Patton, ‘imperious’ MacArthur, ‘genial’ Eisenhower or ‘austere’ Marshall, a pattern of common leadership qualities emerges despite their contrasting temperaments.

It is revealing that these intrepid men were groomed under the tutelage of various patrons who not only furthered their careers but also bailed them out of professional crises on a number of occasions.

The numerous first person reminiscences of eminent personalities, lucidly illustrate the universal respect and honest relationships, totally devoid of sycophancy that they developed and loyally sustained.

Hallmarks of leadership like Decisiveness, sometimes based on a “Sixth Sense”, Outspokenness, and an uncanny knack of spotting the right man for the right job are highlighted in various episodes, as also their inner strength and courageous attitude towards reversals and adversities, over which they invariably triumphed.

The author has succeeded in organizing and presenting his analysis in an extremely streamlined and readable manner.

This is a very inspiring, educative and enjoyable book which is do delightfully written that once you start reading it, it’s unputdownable.


Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this review.

A Inspiring Life Story


A Soldier’s Story by Omar N. Bradley

[Book Review by Vikram Waman Karve]

I love reading autobiographies, as there is nothing more inspiring and authentic than learning about the life, times, thoughts and views of a great person in his own words.

It’s a lazy hot Sunday afternoon. I browse through my bookshelves and pick out A Soldier’s Story by General Omar Nelson Bradley, one of my favourite autobiographies, and certainly my all time favourite military autobiography.

Come Dear Reader, sit with me for a while, and let’s leaf through and peruse this fascinating book.

General Bradley (1893-1981) known for his calm and resolute leadership and affectionately called the “Soldier’s General” commanded the largest American combat force in history and rose to be the first Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

This is a story, not of my life, but of a campaign…I have sought... to tell a story of how generals live and work at their chosen profession the author says at the beginning of his memoirs which focus on his participation in World War II.

Candidly written with remarkable humility in beautiful expressive language it is a wonderful memoir embellished with interesting episodes and lucid characterizations of many renowned military personalities.

In the preface General Bradley says: “In this book I have tried to achieve one purpose: To explain how war is waged on the field from the field command post… To tell a story of how and why we chose to do what we did, no one can ignore the personalities and characteristics of those individuals engaged in making decisions…..Where there are people, there is pride and ambition, prejudice and conflict. In generals, as in all other men, capabilities cannot always obscure weaknesses, nor can talents hide faults…I could not conscientiously expurgate this book to make it more palatable…if this story is to be told, it must be told honestly and candidly…”

The author writes in a wonderfully readable storytelling style and starts his riveting narrative on September 2, 1943, driving to Messina along the north coast of Sicily when, suddenly, General Eisenhower summoned him to tell him that he had been selected to command the American Army in the biggest invasion of the war – the liberation of Europe from the Germans. He then goes back in time and starts his story with vignettes from his early formative days of soldiering.

General Bradley vividly describes how, from General Marshall, he learnt the rudiments of effective command which he himself applied throughout the war: “When an officer performed as I expected him to, I gave him a free hand. When he hesitated, I tried to help him. And when he failed, I relieved him” - isn’t this leadership lesson valid even on today’s IT driven world where delegation seems to be taking a back- seat and excessive monitoring, interference and intervention seem to be on the rise.

Rather than encourage yes-men, ego-massage, sycophancy and groupthink, General Marshal sought contrary opinions: “When you carry a paper in here, I want you to give me every reason you can think of why I should not approve it. If, in spite of your objections, my decision is to still go ahead, then I’ll know I’m right”.

When it was suggested to General Marshall that a corps commander who had an arthritic disability in the knee be sent home rather than be given command of a corps in the field in war, he opined: “I would rather have a man with arthritis in the knee than one with arthritis in the head. Keep him there”.

“For the first time in 32 years as a soldier, I was off to a war” he writes on his assignment overseas in February 1943 to act as Eisenhower’s “eyes and ears” among American troops on the Tunisian front in North Africa.

He vividly describes the chaos after the American defeat at Kasserine, the arrival of Patton on the scene who growled “I’m not going to have any goddam spies running around in my headquarters” and appointed Bradley as his deputy, a defining moment which was the first step of Bradley’s illustrious combat career.

This is easily the best book on Patton’s stellar role in World War II, complementing General Patton’s Memoirs War As I Knew It and Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago. Though his admiration for Patton is evident, General Bradley writes about his long association with Patton with fairness and honesty and reveals unique and remarkable facets of Patton’s leadership style and character.

Sample this – "Precisely at 7 Patton boomed in to breakfast. His vigour was always infectious, his wit barbed, his conversation a mixture of obscenity and good humour. He was at once stimulating and overbearing. George was a magnificent soldier." (Can there be a better characterization of General Patton?)

Bradley vividly describes how Patton transformed the slovenly and demoralized II Corps into a fighting fit formation. “The news of Patton’s coming fell like a bombshell on Djebel Kouif. With sirens shrieking Patton’s arrival, a procession of armoured scout cars and half-tracks wheeled into the dingy square opposite the schoolhouse headquarters of II Corps…In the lead car Patton stood like a charioteer…scowling into the wind and his jaw strained against the web strap of a two-starred steel helmet.”

General Bradley writes superbly, as he describes how Patton stamped his personality upon his men and by his outstanding charismatic leadership rejuvenated the jaded, slovenly, worn-out, defeated and demoralized II Corps and transformed it into a vibrant, disciplined, fighting fit organization that never looked back and went on winning victory after victory in most difficult circumstances and against all odds.

There are bits of delightful humour in this book.

Commenting on the ingenuity and improvisation abilities of Patton’s staff, the author writes: “…Indeed had Patton been named an Admiral in the Turkish Navy, his aides could probably dipped into their haversacks and come up with the appropriate badges of rank…” Though, at times, the author appears to be in awe of and enamoured by Patton’s larger than life charisma, he is candid, dispassionate and, at times, critical when he describes how he was bewildered by the contradictions in Patton’s character and concludes: “At times I felt that Patton, however successful he was as a corps commander, had not yet learned how to command himself.”

Their techniques of command varied with their contrasting personalities. While the soft-spoken unassuming Bradley preferred to lead by suggestion and example, the flamboyant Patton chose to drive his subordinates by bombast and threats, employing imperious mannerisms and profane expletives with startling originality; and both achieved spectacular results.

Many of us are at a loss for words when asked to qualitatively appraise our subordinates. See how easily General Bradley lucidly evaluates his division commanders, bringing out their salient qualities, in so few words with elegant simplicity and succinctness: “…To command a corps of four divisions, toughness alone is not enough. The corps commander must know his division commanders, he must thoroughly understand their problems, respect their judgment, and be tolerant of their limitations…among the division commanders in Tunisia, none excelled the unpredictable Terry Allen in the leadership of troops…but in looking out for his own division, Allen tended to belittle the role of others… Ryder had confirmed his reputation as that of a skilled tactician…his weakness, however, lay in the contentment with which he tolerated mediocrity…the profane and hot-tempered Harmon brought to the corps the rare combination of sound tactical judgment and boldness… none was better balanced nor more cooperative than Manton Eddy…though not timid, neither was he bold; Manton liked to count his steps carefully before he took them.” Aren’t the author’s understanding, observation and articulation precise and remarkable?

Throughout the book, we find honest, frank and incisive appraisals of characters in this story – superiors, peers and subordinates – most of them renowned and famous personalities. He writes with candour about the problems of command during the planning of the invasion of Europe.

From then on the story gathers speed and moves so captivatingly that one is spellbound as one reads the author fluently narrate the events of the campaign with remarkable preciseness and detail, one realizes what an engaging and compelling book this is – it’s simply unputdownable!

All important events, turning points, and personalities are vividly described with the aid of maps, charts, pictures and appendices; from D Day (the Normandy Invasion) to the surrender of the German forces. Towards the end of his memoirs General Bradley reflects “Only five years before…as a lieutenant colonel in civilian clothes, I had ridden a bus down Connecticut Avenue to my desk in old Munitions Building… I opened the mapboard and smoothed out the tabs of the 43 US divisions now under my command…stretched across a 640-mile front of the 12th Army Group...I wrote in the new date: D plus 335…outside the sun was climbing in the sky. The war in Europe had ended.”

While this autobiography is a “must read” for military men and students of military history, I am sure it will benefit management students and professionals for it is an incisive treatise on Soft Skills encompassing aspects of Leadership, Communications, and most importantly, the Art of Human Relations Management in the extremely complex and highly stressful scenario of War where achievement of success (victory) is inescapably paramount. It is a primer, a treasury of distilled wisdom, on all aspects of management, especially human resource management. One can learn many motivational and management lessons from this book.

Nothing can surpass the experience of learning history first hand from a man who lived and created it rather than a historian who merely records it.

The Art of Leadership is better learnt from studying Leaders, their lives, their writings, rather than reading management textbooks pontificating on the subject and giving how-to-do laundry lists.

The Art and Science of Management owe its genesis and evolution to the military. Modern Management theories, concepts, techniques and practices emerged from the experiences and lessons learnt during World War II [particularly in The United States of America].

It’s ironic isn’t it that the reverse is happening today?

It was the military that gave modern management principles to the civilian corporate world, and today we see military men running to civilian management institutes to “learn” management and acquire the coveted MBA which is the sine qua non and all important passport for entry into the corporate world.

I love reading stories, all kinds of stories, fiction, fantasy, parables, fables, slice of life.

I like Life Stories, biographies, particularly autobiographies, as there is nothing more credible, convincing and stimulating than learning about the life, times and thoughts of a great person from his own writings. It’s called verisimilitude, I think.

A Soldier’s Story is a magnificent book. A unique masterpiece, a classic!

This autobiography is enjoyable, engrossing, illuminating and inspiring. Dear Reader, I commend this superb book.

Do read it; I am sure you will learn a lot about the art of leadership and feel inspired by this life story.


Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this review.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Groupthink - Yes Men, Ego Massage, Sycophancy Management




Tradition has it that conflict is bad; it is something to be avoided.

The culture of many organizations implies explicitly or implicitly that conflict should be suppressed and eliminated. It is common for managers to perceive intra-organizational conflict as being dysfunctional for the achievement of organizational goals. Most of us still cling to the idea that good managers resolve conflict.

Current thinking disputes this view. In the absence of conflicting opinions, harmonious tranquil work groups are prone to becoming static, apathetic and unresponsive to pressures for change and innovation. They also risk the danger of becoming so self-satisfied, that dissenting views – which may offer important alternative information – are totally shut out. In short, they fall victims to a syndrome called “GROUPTHINK”

In a study of public policy decision fiascos, I.L Janis identified “GROUPTHINK” as a major cause of poor decision making. As he describes it, ‘groupthink’ occurs when decision makers who work closely together develop a high degree of solidarity that clouds their vision, leading them to suppress conflicting views and negative feelings about proposals, consciously or unconsciously.

A manifestation of the groupthink phenomenon is the staggering irrationality which can beset the thinking of the otherwise highly competent, intelligent, conscientious individuals when they begin acting as a group or team.


The net effect on the group is that it overestimates its power and morality, it creates pressures for uniformity and conformance, and its members become close-minded, living in ivory towers. Some manifestations are the illusions of invulnerability and the encouragement to take great risks and to ignore the ethical or moral aspects of their decisions and actions.

This author has witnessed close-mindedness on the part of several managers which then permeated their teams. One project manager took this to the extreme and in effect defined his environment as consisting of two kinds of people, either "friends" or "enemies" - The "you are either for me or you are against me" syndrome.

The friends were people who completely agreed with his favoured solutions and supported his project. All others were enemies.

Soon his entire project team was echoing similar sentiments having fallen victim to “GROUPTHINK”, resulting in unbending positions, heated arguments and subsequent lack of respect for anyone who disagreed with them; the ultimate consequences can easily be guessed.

The symptoms of groupthink include:

(i) An illusion of invulnerability that becomes shared by most members of the group.

(ii) Collective attempts to ignore or rationalize away items of information which might otherwise lead the group to reconsider shaky but cherished assumptions.

(iii) An unquestioned belief in the group’s inherent morality, thus enabling members to overlook the ethical consequences of their decisions.

(iv) Stereotyping the dissenters as either too evil for negotiation or too stupid and feeble to merit consideration.

(v) A shared illusion of unanimity in a majority viewpoint, augmented by the false assumption that silence means consent.

(vi) Self-appointed “mind-guards” to protect the group from adverse information that might shatter complacency about the effectiveness and morality of their decision.

Not very surprisingly it has been suggested that individuals most susceptible to groupthink will tend to be people fearful of disapproval and rejection. Conversely, an outspoken individualist who freely airs his views and opinions, if trapped in a groupthink situation, runs the risk of being ejected by his colleagues if he fails to hold his tongue.



Firstly, because the CEO [or the “Boss”] dispenses all favours, his biggest problem is to avoid being treated like God. Secondly, the “Boss” must avoid thinking that he is God.

Indeed, in many organizations, it is not easy to contradict or argue too vigorously with the boss.

Even when managers feel that they know more than a superior, they may suppress doubts because of career considerations.

Fear, respect for authority, and even admiration may make sceptics hesitate when confronted with a confident CEO or dominating superior. This is less of a problem if the leader acts in the organization’s interests, possesses requisite soft skills, and has strong ethics and cognitive capabilities to make decisions.

However, if a leader does not force serious questioning, he or she will sometimes make mistakes and errors of judgement. Colleagues will become “yes-men”, and groupthink will take over decision making. And the dominant CEO may not discover his or her mistakes because fearful employees withhold information.

What can lower-level managers do about the boss who has lost touch with reality and seems to be driving the organization in the wrong direction?

One can adopt three different strategies:

(i) “Exit” (Leave the organization)
(ii) “Voice” (attempt to force changes from within)
(ii) “Loyalty” (accept things the way they are)

Each individual can evaluate the risks and benefits of each strategy.

However, if the organization is really on the wrong track, true loyalty requires an attempt to communicate one’s reservations and concerns to the leader.

How can a confident, independent CEO avoid the pitfalls and temptations of absolute power? The obvious (but difficult) answer is to make sure that power is never absolute, and surround oneself with other confident, independent people, and encourage dissension and debate on every decision.

In his autobiography ‘A Soldier’s Story’ General ON Bradley has exemplified this aspect in the decision-making style of General George C Marshall, Chief of Staff of the US Army in World War II, a dominant leader who was instrumental in the Allied Victory owing to his resolute management of the entire war effort. “Gentlemen, I am disappointed in you. You haven’t yet disagreed with a single decision I have made,” he told his staff after one week in office. “When you carry a paper in here, I want you to give me every reason you can think of as to why I should not approve it. If, in spite of your objections, my decision is still to go ahead, then I’ll know I am right.”

Rather than search for views that might reinforce his own, a CEO should seek contrary opinions to avoid groupthink. Some suggest using devil’s advocates for all major decisions by assigning some individuals in all groups and teams to argue against the dominant view.


This is a “groupthink” situation in which individuals or groups low in the hierarchy are powerful enough to do what they want, even when contrary to organizational objectives. Such power may be based on specialized expertise or privileged access to information. Parallel power can lead to groupthink in two ways.

Firstly, senior managers may accept ideas from lower-level managers that are not necessarily in the organizational interest, either because they have insufficient information to ask the right questions, or because opposition would not seem legitimate.

Secondly, top managers may make decisions without all the necessary information because subordinates do not provide it due to vested interests arising from misplaced loyalties to a limited function, department or team, rather than to the organization as a whole.

Such situations can be mitigated by ensuring that managers rotate between different units and positions.


When everyone in power instinctively shares the same opinion on an issue, the wise manager should be wary. Natural unanimity groupthink results in an inward-looking organization detached from its environment.

Escape from this predicament almost certainly requires a fresh perspective that can come only from outside, by hiring new managers or appointing outside consultants.

A CEO may lay overemphasis on staff – line cooperation in the belief that the easiest way to ensure implementation is to recommend only those actions that the line managers agree with. But this is not necessarily useful to an organization and may lead to mutual admiration and, ultimately, ‘natural unanimity groupthink’.

The effectiveness of staff - line dichotomy depends on maintaining a certain tension between the staff and the line managers. When the tension disappears, the staff may not be doing its job.


The key element in any strategy for avoiding groupthink is to instil checks and balances into the system. Formally, this can be achieved through cross-functional teams, staff advisers, external consultants, or procedures like “devil’s advocacy”.

Informally, managers must learn to tolerate dissidence, criticism, contrary opinions, discussion, brainstorming and debate and encourage their colleagues to express doubts about proposals. Propositions from various parts of the organization need to be treated transparently, equitably, and consistently, to avoid groupthink.

In a nutshell, for effective decision making, steer clear of yes-men, ego-massage, sycophancy and groupthink.


Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

Friday, May 8, 2009






A renowned management guru entered a huge lecture hall where he was scheduled to deliver an inspiring lecture on the topic of “Motivation” to management students of a premier business school.

He was shocked to find that the lecture hall was empty except for a lone unkempt man in shabby clothes man seated in the front row.

The lecturer asked the lone man in the audience who he was.

“I am a Cook in the College Canteen,” said the man.

The management guru, pondering whether to deliver his lecture or not, asked the Cook, “You are the only one here. What do you think – should I speak or not?”

The Cook said to scholar: “I am a simple man and do not understand these things. But if I came into the Dining Hall and saw only one man sitting I would give him food.”

The management guru took this to heart and began to deliver his lecture with zest and passion. He spoke for over two hours, articulating his repertoire of knowledge with élan and flamboyance. After that he felt highly elated at his grand performance and wanted his audience to confirm how great his lecture had been.

He patronisingly asked the Cook, “How did you like my lecture?”

The Cook answered, “I told you already that I am a simple man and do not understand these things very well. However, if I came into the dining hall and found only one man sitting there I would feed him, but I certainly would not give him the huge quantity of all the food in the kitchen in one go and expect him to properly digest the entire amount.”