Of emails, meetings and multiplexing

As I left Infosys, during the various farewell meetings, people shared few observations that they felt were the strong points of my leadership and that they liked it very much. These were a) quick response to emails, b) being available always to listen to anyone for any of their issues and c) the ability to handle multiple things at the same time.

The first I think comes from the fact that I don’t see a reason in keeping anyone waiting when I can respond immediately and also I had spent some time early on in my career in learning typing. I won’t say that I have mastered it, but at least it has helped me being able to type pretty fast and that helps in responding to emails quickly. Since I know that I can respond to an email within a couple of min (If I have the answer), then why not respond right away? Why wait till you actually tend to forget about the email and the need to respond to it. If I don’t have an immediate solution, I reply back saying that I will get back shortly. This way, the person knows that I have seen his/her email, and am working on it. 

The second comes from Infosys’ open door policy. Well it isn’t really a policy in black and white, but more of a cultural thing that I noticed early on. Managers always propagated that they are approachable and also were to be called by their first names. I liked this, so the time I moved into a cabin, I immediately had the auto door-closer removed, so that I could actually keep the doors of my cabin open always, except when I was in a meeting and had to close the door to avoid disturbing others around me. If you are busy, you can always tell the person to come back a little later, but this later should be a reasonable time, not pushing it away for weeks. I personally felt that I could always take a few minutes break to hear out what the person had come to me for. If this was to take long, I would then politely ask for meeting up another as a scheduled meeting. Such meetings also require another soft skill and that is the ability to listen. Many of us, spare time to discuss issues with others, but we either jump in too quickly with solution, sometimes without even fully knowing the problem at hand or keep cutting in with too many side questions. It may so happen that the person isn’t even there to ask for solution, but just wanted to share with someone so that he/she would feel lighter. When you listen, you let the other person talk and you only occasionally pitch in. You also don’t give solutions, but guide the person in arriving at the solution. This way the final solution doesn’t appears as something that is forced on the person, but something that the person arrived at by using his/her own logic and will find better acceptance. You could guide the person to the solution you want, but the final solution should at least appear to be coming from the person. 

I think at the core, both are essentially part of communication philosophies. During many leadership courses, they teach about effective communication. People tend to make big plans afterwards like they need to do floor walk at least once a month, go talk to the people during this time/that time, have skip level meetings, but fail to notice this simple point that you could meet them up during lunch hours also. People will have needs at different times and their ability to reach you quickly is what will determine how approachable you are. 

I have heard views on how one should not respond to emails quickly and rather take some time to create that impression that you are very busy and have had to find time to check and respond to the emails. If you respond immediately, people think that you don’t have any work. I personally never liked the creation of such false impressions. If I have time and can respond quickly, I would rather close the topic right away, rather than keep pushing everything to be addressed later. I have seen that in general we have a tendency that if a mail goes below the scroll level in the email client (1 page), then it is typically gone – out of sight is out of mind. 

I think these are very simple things, don’t take any special effort, but go a long way in ensuring good relations between you and your team and others around you. Hence my suggestion to all would be to be as prompt in the email communication as you can be and also be available ‘in person’ to listen.   
Finally on the ability to handle multiple things I guess this is more of attitude issue (while also is an expectation as you move up the role ladder in an organization). This multiplexing isn’t only about the routine work like you could be working on multiple proposals, writing a paper side by side and working on creation of a demo application, but is more on the mix of your day job and work outside of it. Sometimes we tend to push things aside hoping that they will get addressed on their own in time or it is the importance we associate with each activity. Things we feel are less important automatically go down in our priority list and tend to take a back seat. I had a personal passion of doing something’s more than my day job. I enjoyed working with people for the betterment of Infosys Pune DC in general and hence ended up working with almost all teams and committees. Each such opportunity provided me with so many interesting insights, so many new learning and so many different people to meet and work with. Yes, this takes a bit of effort initially, but once you get a hang of it, it should just happen. Again, my advice will be, especially to senior folks (so that they set the right example), to take up at least one extra activity outside of their work area and spend time on it. We all like to do charity in our own way. Maybe treat this also as charity work that you are doing in your personal time, with no expectation of being paid for it. 

I think my basic core leadership mantra is to lead by example, as, if I cannot do something, how can I ask my team to do it? 
If you agree, then I will only request you to go ahead and implement this in your own life :-)


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