Category Archives: Leadership

Settling for less though one can achieve more

My next few blogs would be on a variety of perspectives which one can look at becoming successful in life.

The current post is about – how people in spite of having the potential in them still hold themselves from getting in to too many things and prefer to stay focused on the one thing which they are very good at.

The beautiful article by HBR “The Disciplined Pursuit for Less” sets one to actually think whether one wants to be known as by the longest career pole in his career or would one like to be in a state where one ends as the “Jack of all & master on none”.

The question again comes back of how one becomes successful in life, which is aptly elucidated in a step wise manner in the article where there are the below steps:

  • Keeps practicing and becomes specialized in an area and becomes successful
  • Success gets more opportunities and areas on to the way.
  • One starts putting in efforts in the plethora of opportunities which have come his way through success.
  • Distributed efforts going in to all these activities finally starts getting down where you are no longer successful.Highest Point of Contribution

We are now on an issue which has much to be contributed from the either sides.

Greg McKeown very beautifully explains how one should prioritize the various things one is capable of doing, then comes the point of self audit/self check where one needs to decide which of the available options is the one which describes him/her and which is the one is passionate about.

A deeper thought process would tell you that the entire process is about discovering your highest point of contribution from among the various parallel opportunities available and there by dedicating oneself to it.

The below post from linkedin also reiterates the search for the highest contribution point and continuing with the same.

There would be a number of examples in the current scenario which are all in the similar fashion whether it be drop in Sachin’s performance once he takes over the Captainship of the team.

Just a few thoughts to mull over…


Sunil Vadlamani

The #1 Career Mistake Capable People Make

Greg McKeown

December 06, 2012

I recently reviewed a resume for a colleague who was trying to define a clearer career strategy. She has terrific experience. And yet, as I looked through it I could see the problem she was concerned about: she had done so many good things in so many different fields it was hard to know what was distinctive about her.

As we talked it became clear the resume was only the symptom of a deeper issue. In an attempt to be useful and adaptable she has said yes to too many good projects and opportunities. She has ended up feeling overworked and underutilized. It is easy to see how people end up in her situation:

Step 1: Capable people are driven to achieve.

Step 2: Other people see they are capable and give them assignments.

Step 3: Capable people gain a reputation as “go to” people. They become “good old [insert name] who is always there when you need him.” There is lots right with this, unless or until…

Step 4: Capable people end up doing lots of projects well but are distracted from what would otherwise be their highest point of contribution which I define as the intersection of talent, passion and market (see more on this in the Harvard Business Review article The Disciplined Pursuit of Less). Then, both the company and the employee lose out.

When this happens, some of the responsibility lies with out-of-touch managers who are too busy or distracted to notice the very best use of their people. But some of the responsibility lies with us. Perhaps we need to be more deliberate and discerning in navigating our own careers.

In the conversation above, we spent some time to identify my colleague’s Highest Point of Contribution and develop a plan of action for a more focused career strategy.

We followed a simple process similar to one I write about here: If You Don’t Design Your Career, Someone Else Will. My friend is not alone. Indeed, in coaching and teaching managers and executives around the world it strikes me that failure to be conscientious about this represents the #1 mistake, in frequency, I see capable people make in their careers.

Using a camping metaphor, capable people often add additional poles of the same height to their career tent. We end up with 10, 20 or 30 poles of the same height, somehow hoping the tent will go higher. I don’t just mean higher on the career ladder either. I mean higher in terms of our ability to contribute.

The slightly painful truth is, at any one time there is only one piece of real estate we can “own” in another person’s mind. People can’t think of us as a project manager, professor, attorney, insurance agent, editor and entrepreneur all at exactly the same time. They may all be true about us but people can only think of us as one thing first. At any one time there is only one phrase that can follow our name. Might we be better served by asking, at least occasionally, whether the various projects we have add up to a longer pole?

I saw this illustrated some time ago in one of the more distinctive resumes I have seen. It belonged to a Stanford Law School Professor [there it is: the single phrase that follows his name, the longest pole in his career tent]. His resume was clean and concise. For each entry there was one impressive title/role/school and a succinct description of what he had achieved. Each sentence seemed to say more than ten typical bullet points in many resumes I have seen. When he was at university he had been the student body president, under “teaching” he was teacher of the year and so on.

Being able to do many things is important in many jobs today. Broad understanding also is amust. But developing greater discernment about what is distinctive about us can be a great advantage. Instead of simply doing more things we need to find, at every phase in our careers, our highest point of contribution.

Leadership Lessons From Alexander the Great

Leadership in the modern times happens to be one of the most loosely coined terms. Many institutions, coaches, personal trainers, CEO’s, senior executives constantly keep talking about it. But honestly I feel leadership can never be taught, it can only be learned. I strongly believe in the phrase that “Wise people are wise because they committed more number of mistakes and learnt from them”. My next few blogs would be a few endeavors to show case the various leadership lessons that we can learn from the great leaders of the past.

A look at the Greek history would show you numerous famous names emerging but the most prominent one which comes up is of Alexander the great, born in 346 B.C in Macedonia.  The Greek history has many shades of Alexander portrayed as a conqueror, emperor, one of the greatest  cavalry generals, a mass murderer, a tyrant etc but for the present context we will only consider the leadership abilities of Alexander the Great. Post drawing these leadership abilities we will try to compare them with the present day leadership crisis existing in the corporate world.

Re frame Problems:

One of the strongest ability that all the great leaders possess is their ability to perceive a problem in an entirely different manner and the ability to make people look in their way. This can be called as Problem Displacement/Problem Replacing. The greatest leaders do not try to tackle the impossible problems directly but they try to create a different problem, solving which will automatically solve the prior unsolvable problem. This phenomenon is known as “Problem Displacement”, and it is also questioned by many a wise men.

Example 1:

Alexander’s battle with Darius III, the Achaemenid king whose dynasty had controlled Persia for more than a thousand years,commanded


a formidable navy of about 200veteran warships is a remarkable example. In contrast, Alexander had only a small coastal fleet and food-carrying b

arges. The problem was obvious: How could Alexander protect his food supply when the Persian navy could so blithely intercept the coastal barges?

The most obvious answer was by building a fleet. His tenuous control of his army and homeland precluded the luxury of spending a year or two to locate resources and build a fleet. He would have needed trees cut down and cut up, mines mined, ores smelted, fittings manufactured, sails sewn,


ropes made, and so on. He would have needed to captain and man 200 warships, train their crews, and provoke the Persians to confront him in a pitched battle. Then, he would have had to win that battle against a fleet of seasoned commanders. This direct approach to solving the problem

was not a reasonable option. But what else could he do? Alexander carefully gathered information about his enemy and found out thei

r weakness for fresh water.

Alexander soon got control over all the fresh water sources

 and poisoned those which he didn’t want to control. The enemy lost due to their limited ability to carry fresh water for limited period. His ability to restructure made him becoming the first successful general for defeating a navy on land.

Example 2: The battle at River Hydpases:

Once again his ability of problem displacement surfaces in his battle with Indian king Porus whose army was four times the size of his army, adding to that were the 200 huge Indian war elephants. Alexander being a cavalry general won most of his battles with his core on cavalry

, however in this case the problems existing were identified to be:

Horses are very much afraid to elephants and smelling them, they would run wildly loosing control of the rider, only when they are acclimatized to elephants from early birth they would not be able to sustai

n elephant presence (while Indian horses were acclimatized from birth).

200 war elephants can crush the Greek army and were hence placed at important strategic points interspersed in front lines between soldiers by Porus.

Without his cavalry, Alexander’s army would be quite vulnerable to Indian cavalry.

Now Alexander re framed his problem and came up with som

e of the most surprising solutions.

He divided his cavalry in to 2 parts, one feigned and attracted Indian cavalry to a long distance while the other part attacked from behind there by butchering Porus’s cavalry.


He spread out his army in to ranks of 8 i.e. thinning so that the entire width of enemy could be covered.

Usage of Sarissa, a special weapon(A long spear like weapon distancing them from Indian soldiers sword) to keep his soldiers out of the reach of Indian soldiers while killing them.

His tactful usage of highly skilled mounted Sogdian archers (a

kin to sharp shooters) to kill the mahaouts controlling the elephants. After killing the mahaouts (Each elephant develops a special bond with a mahaout since its childhood and cannot be controlled by anyone else), they blind the elephants, which by pain and rage would crush the interspersed Indian soldiers.

The battle was won by Alexander 220 cavalry men, ten archers and few infantry soldiers where as Porus lost 4000 cavalry and 21000 infantry (9000 killed outright by elephants and other 12000 injured).
The ability to analyze problems from a very different angle starts the mark of awakening leadership.

Find below some interesting links which reiterate the facts:

A link from the movie Gandhi where he actually transforms the anger of the Indians to stand unitedly in the way of non-violence.

Al Pachino’s excellent speech from “The Scent of awomen” where he elevates the case against a student to the institutional level, there by solving the smaller problem automatically.