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Lessons Learnt by a Trek Leader

Who is a leader? One who holds the group; One who owns the group; One who carries a group.

‘A team may have members with varied backgrounds, thinking ways, and cultures. But a leader is someone who despite the difference, is expected to maintain cohesiveness and lead the way to the success of the team. The quality of a good leader is being fearless, able to face challenges, and remaining unshaken.’ This is what we would define, and every other personality development trainer would teach.

But are we ever taught to think that like all members of a team, a leader is also human? Are we made to think about why even the best leader can fail? Are we taught to ask the leader if they had a good day?

To answer these questions, I would like to take the reference of my personal experience in this aspect and break the discussion into two parts. First, I would like to list the aspects of leadership I have learnt by taking on a role of a trek leader since 2019. In the second, I would like to discuss the realizations made while reflecting upon the situations that were created that brought me closer to a meltdown in 2022.

Part 1: Being a trek leader

There were times when I had to adjust. Once, while on our way to Kodachadri, our bus broke down. In the middle of the night, I had to stand on a highway and wave at every other bus that came our way which could accommodate the entire group. finally, when we managed to find a bus, there were two seats. I, being a trek leader had to adjust and sit on a crammed floor of a traveler just so that the rest of the team had the comfort of the seats so that they all could sleep well and save energy to complete the hike successfully on the following day.

There were times I had to carry. When a team member fell with an epileptic attack, when someone sprained their ankle or a bunch of new trekkers was all bogged down by the weight of their backpacks right in the middle of a trail, I have had to support them.

There were times when I had to convince others. The worst thing that can go wrong on a trip is to have all four tyres of your vehicle flat. With a group of thirty people, it was no joke to be stranded on a village road at midnight. When all attempts to find alternate transportation was futile, it was a leader who had to convince the team to agree into taking a tractor ride to the destination.

There were times when I had to hold the team together. When a murder took place right in front of the team, the morale of every member was shattered. Nor was I, being a trek lead prepared to face something like that. But I had to hold them all in decent spirits let not the visuals and the fear take over the minds of the remaining members.

I have had to control. Control the schedule, control the people who deviated from the rules, channel conversations and involve everyone to participate in the group.

I have had to assure anxious parents to trust me with their daughters’ safety while traveling with me and I had to assure unsure solo travelers about their apprehensions to backpack with a leader who was unknown to them. All to only come back after the trip and receive positive testimonials about me.

Being unbiased with the age, gender, caste, and economic strata with whom I interact, I have been told that I inspired people (in many ways that I do not know). My no-fuss, no allergy, and ever-willingness to try any food that looks new and the ability to snooze in any space when I am sleepy solves half the problem and makes it easy for people to connect with me, I have been told. I have been confident in my ability to adapt to absolutely any environment and figure out a way to make it a memorable journey. I have always believed that my ability to adapt and connect to people on an individual level has been my strength.

I have always believed that successful people should be able to recognize their strengths and weaknesses. No human is perfect and without shortcomings. But a true leader will work on the weaknesses and not let them bog him/her down. With an awareness of what makes him/her weak, it allows one to be better prepared to oversee a situation that might arise posing the same threats. This self-awareness is vital to being a confident leader.

Part 2: When a leader is shaken

What does it look like when the confidence of a leader is broken, when the leader is made to feel that he/she has always been wrong about himself/herself? How does it feel when the leader is made to feel that he/she was never correct?

A recent personal experience of a series of events dragged me to the edge of having an emotional breakdown. When I sat back and reflected upon the decisions, I had made in the past year which had finally gotten me to where I was at the time of this meltdown, there was a lot of self-realization I made. None of which pointed towards any evident wrong decision-making ability of mine but to the situations that were created for me to act.

Cut to August 2022, I was on an overseas business trip to a country which is considered to be on the conservative side compared to the rest of the world. I had been accompanied by a team of seven men and one girl. Despite being with such a large group, I was hit by a feeling of abandonment. It was a feeling of being unavailable for and by the people of my tribe when I needed it and of being restricted from physically going out to do things that made me happy.

It had shaken me so much that I used to have emotional meltdowns at the drop of the hat. I had begun to reanalyze and doubt all my decisions made in the last year, the on-goings, and the future ahead created by my own decisions. The situation brought with it, my inability to trust human beings in the same way that I did until stepping into the new land. I had failed as a person and all my leadership skills learnt over the last few years felt void, if it needs to be put in that perspective. All I needed was an anchor to bank myself in a land unknown across the ocean.

To me in this case, it was my boss at work who put on the hat of a leader. After spending a few weeks by then in the new country, it was the first ever interaction I was having with my boss. It was the first face-to-face interaction between us and the most basic question for any conversation to begin, I was asked about how I was doing in the new country. The most basic and simplest of questions had me shaken and the accumulated dam of emotions was broken. A word of assurance that there was someone to look up to was all I needed to get back on track, and this was one such. It was an interaction post which, I was alright and back in form to continue with my regular duties.

Lessons learnt from a leader: The first two may be generic, it is to have a good personal relationship at work or off work. The third lesson is specific to the workplace.

• A leader should be available for his team always. Whether or not related to work, it is essential to build a relationship of trust with the teammates.
• Keep clear and timely communications within the team. Whether there is a work update or not, communicate to stay connected.
• Assign clear work roles, and expectations, and follow up on progress.

Takeaways on a personal level:

• Any leader can be shaken. They too are human.
• In the end, nobody but only you will remain to care for yourself.
• Whether you see a person happy or strong, a greeting and a smile at a stranger cost you nothing but it can heal a person.

India Unlock 1.0 – Going back to school

So, we finished our exams in March (Read- Annual appraisal). There’s an ongoing worldwide pandemic. And our summer vacation began (A nationwide lockdown in India). We were not allowed to go out anywhere to spend the vacation. All we had to do was stay indoors for the entire period, until school (Read- workplace) re-opened. Until when? That was indefinite!

But yeah, typical of any Indian schools, they would not let their pupils enjoy their summer vacation just like that. So, load them with holiday assignments. (Yes, I worked from home. From Monday to Friday!)

But believe me when I say that even without leaving home, this was the BEST summer vacation ALL my life. As a matter of fact, we have visitors in our house almost on 360 out of 365 days in a year. And when our family of four decides to take a vacation, it is either one person short or we have a tag along. It has NEVER been “FOUR” of us. And this has been the story of every vacation and every summer for as long as I remember. On the contrary, we are glad we lived this NEW normal. Chilling at home with JUST family was the most luxurious vacation EVER. (How we chilled staying indoors, that’s for another story- Click here to read further).

Come May’20: It’s result time. Performance card didn’t look good (company & market condition is bleak, thanks to the global pandemic).

Come June’20: India unlock 1.0 begins. My summer vacation ends. And the school re-opens…. 08-June-20, I’m asked to report for work.

Typical scenes on a night before first day at school:
Pull out the uniform from down under the shelf. Press them to perfection. (Yes, my workplace has a uniform). Find the school bag from the upper cabinet (yes, I carry a backpack to work). Pack the essential books and stationary (oh, they’re called laptop, electronic gadgets and their accessories). Set an alarm so that I catch the school bus on time, the next morning. (Yes, I travel in a company provided bus/ transport). I have barely slept that night. I’ve checked my phone every half an hour to know if the alarm was working fine.

On the morning of 08-Jun-20:
Hell yeah! First day, after summer vacation. Gobbled down the breakfast in a jiffy, packed lunch (just to avoid mass gathering at the company canteen) and happy feet (wearing a training shoe for the first time since lockdown). Off I go!

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That’s how we roll! 😀

Did I forget something? Remember, a handkerchief was always pinned up to your uniform bib? My mum came running after, this time with a facemask (Times change, man!) Dad pulled out his favorite friend from the garage. He has mostly continued his tradition of dropping me off on first day of school, this time too. Mom stood waving a bye from the portico. I waved back at her while riding away on the pillion seat…

Butterflies in the stomach. I’m going back to school after summer vacation. The only difference now, I go back to the same classroom. I’m not promoted. Again, this year too!

How travel can help your country’s economy?

Indian economy is in a downturn. Everyone is complaining..

The automobile sector is seeing its worst crisis in 2 decades. If automobiles don’t sell, it not only puts my job at a car manufacturing OEM at risk, but has a cascading effect to hundreds of related industries. The steel, the large chain of vendors and sub-suppliers, sales, marketing, advertising agents, dealers to local garages, accessories, insurances, the indirectly dependant canteen, cleaners, gardeners, drivers, IT, so much so that even fuel station workers will lose their jobs. Why am I telling you this? I am no economist, I am no business man, I am no social activist…. I am a Travel blogger and influencer. So why this rant???, one may ask! It is because I want all of you to travel! Explore! Contribute your tiny bit to help our country’s economy.. by TRAVELLING!

It was a casual conversation with a colleague when we discussed about a meeting of his, with one of the top management members of a vendor company, a septuagenerian with over 40 years of experience in the automobile industry.. 4 decades..!! From the day of tariff commissioning to, date where it is more about survival than competition in the industry, he’s probably seen the entire cycle of the “Auto revolution” in India.. His experience and insights were commendable! Most of his qualms with the strategies to boost the sector was to do with the Indian mindset in general. Here is a brief of his insights into what can be done and further elaboration with my own thoughts based on my experience of Thai culture during my maiden trip outside of India!

We Indians have been raised with a mindset to save money. Stash up either in cash or in gold. By doing so, we are pausing the currency from circulation. A country needs monetary circulation for the economy to sustain. There should be buying and selling, both. One way to do that is, to travel.

Ofcourse, there is an endless list of intangible benefits of travelling. From strengthening existing relationships to creating newer contacts, from exposing newer cultures and landscapes to trying new food and meeting new people, travel teaches newer lessons everytime you step out. But the tangible benefit it reflects is that by helping the economy.

Let us start from planning your trip. You browse! So many people out there make up the content on the internet, develop softwares, manage them.. Agents for all your booking needs.. There is a whole lot of people working behind the scenes.

Okay, now you have a plan sorted and are stepping outside your house. You either drive your own car or use public transport. You are in the process, using your automobile.
1. This automobile would need to run. So, you go to a fuel station.
2. Either before, during or after the travel, this mode of transport would need a checkup- you visit a service station.
3. You get some funky accessories for your car/bike if you are using your own mode of transport, or the owner/driver does this incase of a public transport.

Now, you decide to take a pitstop on your journey. You have a cup of chai and some biscuits or let us say hot pakoras by the roadside. You just helped a small business flourish! Oh wait, not one business. He in turn buys the biscuits, milk and the ingredients for the pakoras from several other vendors!

Then, assume you have reached destination ‘X’. You dine at a local restaurant. You stay in a hotel or a homestay. You buy souvenirs. You pay entry fees to so many places of visits. Voila! You helped so businesses  survive during your trip. Do you see how many others depend on him for indirect employment?

Now, you tell me, you are not in a mood to travel to a different place. It’s okay! Take your family out for a dinner. Or even better, go shopping. Go to a spa. Go for a walk and eat Pani-puri. Sign up for a course, buy a book, watch a movie. Don’t stash up the money by staying indoors. Go out and do something! Your contribution to the economy is pretty much explained already.

The Thai people are probably the only ones in the world, who spend so much time with family or friends outside their houses. For most of the household don’t even have a functional kitchen. They mostly have food outside,  because not only does that allow them to explore newer restaurants, it also saves them the time spent on cooking and money on setting up and managing a kitchen. Their personal life is healthier than we Indians. Even a country as small as Bhutan, measures not the GDP(Gross Domestic Product) but the GNH (Gross National Happiness) index for the country’s progress.

When there is consumption, there is demand and supply! With that, the currency flows, in and out. Businesses start, grow, flourish and sustain. This empowers them with money. Money allows them to buy an automobile of their own. They start travelling. And one fine day, the poor vehicle grows old. What do you do? You buy a new one. The cycle continues… In the process helping the sustenance of hundreds of jobs and stabilizing the country’s economy at large.

By stepping outside your four walls, you only grow, you learn, you evolve. I make it a point to spend atleast 30% of my earnings on my travel needs. I feel rejuvenated, more confident and mentally sound every time I get NEW air away from home.

What is your take on this view point?

 

The inevitable change – Job rotation

<16-July-13>

Having completed 2 years of work- I can say I have put in my best to handle work in 2 areas(filling in for another member). As explained in my earlier post: The car hospital job, I have loved my job as a neurologist, dermatologist and as a general physician. Even though the hospital wasn’t a great place for the doctors- the nature of work was a great pushing force to wake up every morning and board the bus to office..

In what seems very unusual compared to other employers, this place does not believe in letting a person to settle in one area, specialise and build a comfort zone.. When they find someone picking up things soon, they bring in a change with something called as job rotation. In the last 1 year, I have been considered for this change thrice:

job-rotation-objectives

Option 1: Customer Relations: This is an extension of the ward boy job

Once the check-up, surgeries and trans-plantations are done, it is the time to handle the patients’ reactions. The Out-patient Dept.(OPD) or the CR does that. You don’t need to be a doctor or a technical guy to do that.. Situation 1: A few come back complaining that they lost their bananas in the car during service- You only have to promise to give them a replacement to close the call. Situation 2: Some hear kala-kala noise while some hear laka-laka noise. Some find durr-durr sound while few others find tur-tur sound (read the sounds as you want to) All are referred to from the engine. All you have to do is record the voice of customer(VOC), find the root cause and convince them. Such occurences are not isolated and have to be dealt on a daily/hourly basis. This post for a quality person at the CR was later withdrawn due to managerial issues.

pareto_chart_customer-complaints

Option 2: Quality Planning

Considered to be one of the powerful departments in the company- I was on the TPL(Top Priority List) for the barter of candidates for an intra-division rotation. But, it was a definite NO from my side for the job which is definitely non-technical.. Great tools like setting the company road-map, hoshins, quality rules sounds alluring but it is definitely NOT my thing and I was enjoying my surgical job more.. Finally, after a week long drama and refusals to give away candidates like me 😉 – another guy was pulled in for the role 🙂

Option 3: Claims reduction- THE destination

I really have no idea why this one had to come to me.. Numbers and I don’t share a comfortable relationship.. Moreover, there is no clarity on the roles and responsibility of the PIC here.. But, there are reasons galore which has finally led me to accept this new intra-department rotation. So now- cutting down on medicines, not giving free replacement for broken parts, heavy diagnosis charges for scans, X-rays etc. all to reduce warranty and increase profitability is going to be my work..

images

I would like to move forward taking the positive things of this change.. Setting new targets, standardising rules and paving a new way itself is going to be a challenge I am going to set for myself.. Taking it by my stride- It is going to be a good learning opportunity and a great way to prove myself and make all those people envious of the same job that was rejected by them….

P.S.: All paretos/graphs do not hold any references to real values.

Thank you Secret Santa :)

<26-Dec-2012>

In a bid to wake up the dead souls of a boring office- Someone rightly came up with the idea of celebrating Christmas week.. And one of the events was to play ‘Secret Santa’. We all picked up our chits a week in advance and were thinking what to gift the person whose choices we barely know.

Finally the day was here –
I walk into my office in the morning and when I reached my table: I had the biggest surprise that I could least expect from any colleague in office 🙂
Well- It was a gift from my Secret Santa 🙂 Right next to my desktop laid an aquarium with 2 pairs of swimmers inside. A stick-post on the glass read: “Dear Hitha, your new friends :)” and another note read their names: “2 yellow Gouramis & 2 Blue Gouramis”

My Christmas gift :)
My Christmas gift

I was like >>> Wowwww…. It’s such a lovely gift for Christmas..!!
The thought that struck me first was “How could someone in this office ever have the patience to carry an aquarium with water and fishes from home? That too by (company) bus traveling about 50kms??
My Santa is a real patient one :)” Hmm.. But I took a wild guess and I was right the first time itself 😀
The reason he gave me for choosing this gift was: ” Your grumpy boss sits to your left side; So these fishes on your right side would take away all the negative energy that flows across :D”
Anyway… Thank you for such a thoughtful gift dear Santa- You made my day.. and Everyday 🙂

So now, the 4 new inclusions to our work force have not only become my responsibility but also my obsessions.. Every morning and evening I feed them the granules and make sure that I get a glimpse of what they are upto in between my hectic schedule.. Having no net access in office has led me to sitting for hours infront of my PC at home google-ing for facts about these new pets.
It did not take me too long to figure out that I have 1 male and 3 females in my tank- The man is too horny and kept chasing the hottest chick for over 2 days; In a bid to survive the hyperactivity caused due to gush of the hormones in the male; the 2 blue females have lost half of their tail each.

Though these kids are from the same species, this threat to the females had caused me immense worry. So, my homework was to google further to understand the behaviour of these fishes. I realised that these fishes need hiding places-usually plants, clay pots & other aquarium accessories which would help them to camouflage. Then, it was shopping time for accessories for my little friends.

Next, morning I arranged these plants in the tank. Also, It was time for me to name these fishies. Since, they were 4 new manpower (fishpower rather) to our team, we named them according to the area what each engineer handles.(I prefer using the 1st letter of their names owing to company policies of information security- E, B, C & T) It took sometime for them to get used to the new things in their surroundings; but soon it was followed by a lot of peace in the tank. E & B (2 blue females) found comfort and security amidst the ferns. However, C (yellow female) chose to attract the yellow male(T) by chasing him. However, T seemed uninterested in her, and grew equally restless while he was unable to find B. This continued for the day..

My gouramis in their new surrounding
My gouramis in their new surrounding

However, next morning was worse, T had chosen to chase C with no other choice as E & B were still hiding. On some aquarium hobbyists’ online discussion forum, I found the solution. I had to finally separate the male from the tank. But, I rather took a chance and added some more plants in the tank. But, the risk was worth it- There is utmost peace in the tank now with all the girls hiding safe in their confines 🙂

Watching and studying the behaviour of these kids is such a relief I tell you… truly..!! It literally boosts up my mood every time while I am pissed off at work.
I thank you Santa- For such a thoughtful gift that keeps me alive every morning  🙂

My First Job at the Car Hospital

If you are new on my website, WELCOME! If you have been following me for sometime, you may be already aware that I graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and soon after graduation, I was recruited by one of the LARGEST automobile manufacturers in the world! It is every mechanical engineer’s dream to be able to pursue a job in the same field that we studied. I was lucky to have JUST that.. My first job gave me an opportunity to work closely with cars with a sort of freedom that I had seen only in documentaries or on episodes of Top-Gear on BBC.

But, Since there are SO many things I involved in my roles and responsbilities in this position, that I often find it difficult to explain it in a ‘ley man’s’ language. The simplest I can call myself is a ‘Car Doctor’. In this post, I would like to share what I do (apart from writing travel articles) on a daily basis, in my first job at the car hospital.

<14-Sept-11> I’m on the mezanine floor….

A cap whose colour is forgotten behind the thick layer of oil & grease, a pair of knitted white gloves which now look like dark leather ones with the dirt, black heavy leather shoes with metal cover for the toes, newly introduced punk looking helmets which make me look like a cyclist, arm covers, wrist guards, goggles- the deep sea diving types…. These are my safety gears at work… and I’m all set for some action..!!!

I’m told that there’s some problem with the shoulder joints(the front door hinges) and he needs a physio- so I ripped both the hands(the front doors) apart.. His eyes (headlamps) were flickering.. And I checked for some electric signals that the brain sent across.. The MIL(Malfunction Indication Lamp) was glowing.. So I removed the eyes out of the skull. Even then, the MIL was on. Now, it was time to pull out the nose and dig deep into the nostrils (the hood and everything under). Then, the spine (the steering column) came out. It was then time to shave the head off (the dashboard/ Instrument panel covers) and I directly pulled out all the nerves (wiring harness) that I could catch in a grab. The signals continued… I removed the medulla (immobilizer ECU), cerebrum (theft warning ECU), cerebellum (injector drivers) and the current flow still continued.. I have removed out every possible source of these signals and now I know the source is “the Master Control- The engine ECU”. It is in my hand right now. Yes, the blinking has stopped!

My job doesn’t end there. In fact, it starts only now.. So, there I am.. Investigating which Neuron (circuit on the PCB) lead to this current outburst.. I broke open a few capacitors and relays. The resistors were already ripped apart.. and finally found the culprit… Unbelievable but true- a tiny ant had pee-d on one of the soldered circuits which lead to corrosion which in turn caused the malfunction of the brain. Hmm…

But my work continues… I will now send the part to the supplier(literally..!!) and follow up with him to identify the root cause and take countermeasure on priority..!!!

OKAY…!!! So, I’m Dr.Neurologist cum dermatologist here… I work with the brain(ECU) and nerves(all electrical and body parts)

But there is a cardiologist too.. My colleague-friend: He treats all heart related ailments (Engines).

And there’s an orthopaedician too- he treats the limbs (the chassis, suspension systems etc.)

We are the soldiers guarding the Siachen border- We have complete freedom to rip a person apart- part by part and win accolades for it.. Destruction gives us all a complete sense of accomplishment.

We are rarely idle. But, when we think we are, we put back everything and go for a long drive.

And then, we are back for yet another postmortem..!!

Fortuner-3_0
One of my patients- during the regular check up on the test track

Ofcourse, I have MUCH better pictures of my patients going through even worse treatments.. But, I had to rely on this internet photo for confidential policies 🙂

Picture courtesy: Google images

Click here to read about out my next job assignments.

  1. The inevitable change- Job rotation
  2. Monsoon- Showers of hope

Click here for other daily inspirations from work:

  1. Things I Learnt, the Toyota way
  2. My breakfast platter- Baat-O-Bath
  3. India Unlock 1.0- Going back to school