Dear Readers, in this series, we offer you real life stories from contemporary heroes who have demonstrated the courage to follow their conscience when confronted with difficult dilemmas or challenging circumstances in their daily lives. This segment is an ode to the strength of the brave-hearts who chose to listen to the voice of their conscience, thereby abiding by the values of Right Conduct, Truth, Love, Peace and Non-violence, even though the choice had appeared tough.
In our previous issues, we brought you inspiring stories from around the globe. These included the experiences of Mrs. Priya K-Alldis, Mr. Dev Taneja, Mr. C. B. S. Mani, Mr. Karthik Ramesh, Mr. Amar Vivek, Mr. Krish Venkatasubramaniam, Mr. Hiten Morarji, Mr. N. Prabhakar, Mr. Sathya Jambunathan, Mr. U. Pardha Saradhi, A courageous woman executive (Part 11), Mr. Shalabh Mittal, Mr. P. S. Kannan, Mr. Sai Mudigonda, an anonymous charity board member and Mr. Vivekananda Sahoo (Part 16).
Imagine being handed over keys to a successful life at a young age; hands-on knowledge that would enable us to overcome every obstacle, meet every challenge and create a lasting impression of good character wherever we went. This tapping of all the good that lies within each of us, happens when we put into practice the five D’s: Discipline, Discrimination, Dedication, Determination and Devotion. This month’s contributor reveals how by making these powerful human qualities shine in her life and living by their guidance in every action and decision, she was able to create a successful career and demonstrate to her colleagues at work how human values can win even in the toughest of situations, where opinions vary sharply.
By Mrs. Annapurna Shankar
An alumna of the Anantapur campus of the Sri Sathya Sai University, Mrs. Annapurna Shankar completed her Bachelors in Arts (Philosophy) in 1993. Subsequently, she acquired additional certifications from leading professional institutions. She started her career as a Technical Writer before moving into the area of HR, specializing in recruitments. Initially, she served as a Senior Consultant in a recruitment firm, and later went on to manage and lead the recruitment function of various services as well as product-based multinational IT companies. After about 10 years of corporate experience, she joined her husband to set up a consulting firm, an IT solution provider for Capital markets. She oversees its HR solutions. She also runs a home based business specializing in traditional and ethnic women’s wear.
Each one of us has something special in our lives which we cherish. It could be a relationship, a beautiful slice of our life, a piece of timely advice, a facet of our personality, or even a value that is close to our heart.
For me, the most indelible and treasured experience has been my three years of stay in the Anantapur campus of the Sri Sathya Sai University; and for definitely good reasons. In fact, it was in those years that I learnt the true ABCD of my life – Always Be Careful of the Ds – Discipline, Discrimination, Dedication, Determination and Devotion.
What I appreciated and absorbed intellectually then, I have now practiced over the 12 years of my corporate life. And today, I feel so empowered and fulfilled materially, emotionally, as well as spiritually. How did this actually happen and why do I feel so good? Here are a few glimpses.
This happened more than a decade ago. It was during my days with the first organisation where I began my recruitment career. Fortunately for me, I had a great boss who appreciated human values a lot, and also positively encouraged me to hone my talents and fine-tune my personality. As I disciplined myself more, I could increasingly rely on my inner voice to make the right decisions.
For instance, one day, we got a mandate to hire a senior candidate for an executive position for a key client organisation. Our approach was to meet each applicant in person before going ahead with the further processing of their application, as we felt, that was the best way to evaluate a candidate completely, including their emotional quotient and general demeanour.
As we got on with this assignment, I met quite a few senior candidates and there were some who were unwilling to drop into our office for a preliminary discussion. One such case was of a very senior person who was highly qualified, had rich experience working for reputed companies, and had recently returned from the USA.
He was looking for a break in India and was open to this opportunity. I had a first round telephonic discussion with him to check if he fits the bill, and also explained how a face to face meeting would add to the comfort levels of both of us.
Although his profile could have easily been the best pick for any client, as I conversed with him, I strongly felt there was something missing in him; my heart was actually not too convinced about his candidature. And to add to this, it was a real challenge to convince him for an in-person meeting.
Finally, he did agree, and I suggested to my boss that it would be better if she too was present with me for this meeting. On the appointed day, the prospective candidate did drop in, but with a big “attitude”; that a person of his caliber and profile be asked to meet a consultant was very disconcerting for him.
My boss and I had a marathon three hour session with him, during which time we found that his body language and behavioral patterns were not in line with what his profile in the resume claimed to be, and eventually our in-depth interview brought the cat out of the bag.
“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters
cannot be trusted with important matters.”
~ Albert Einstein
Towards the fag end of our conversation, we shared with him how there was so much disharmony between what he said and what his body language communicated. He was quite taken aback and realizing his mistake, said, “I have met many people in my corporate career, but not consultants like you who could penetrate this deep into a person, and not only make him understand what was going wrong but also help him come out with the Truth”. Saying this, he thanked us generously and parted ways.
This episode was a clear affirmation for me to follow my inner voice steadfastly. I was very keen about the value system of the person more than his impressive resume, and what helped me to judge him rightly was my own disciplined set of values (like adherence to truth and transparency in my dealings) which had endowed me with a powerful inner sense of discrimination.
"Always tell the truth, that way you don't have to remember what you said."
~ Mark Twain
I moved on, with time, to head the recruitment function of an IT product firm in Bangalore. My job was to build an effective team of recruiters, mentor them, strategize, build vendor relationship, hire senior candidates, and manage the delivery as well. I gave my 100 % to this job, and soon my efforts yielded great results: my organisation grew from 80 to 200 plus within a short span of 8 months, that too with very stringent evaluation criteria (natural for product development businesses).
However, what was shocking and definitely demoralizing was the complete apathy of my boss. Despite being appreciated by my colleagues and overseas managers, my boss trivialized my achievements during my performance appraisal largely due to internal politics; he pretended being blind to all the obvious evidences and performance records. I did try to explain my position once, but that meeting, to put it mildly, was unpleasant.
I was terribly despondent, still had not decided to put in my resignation; I wrote to my boss a detailed mail humbly sighting my contribution to the organisation in various spheres, and hoped he would change his mind. But what happened was exactly the opposite. In fact, he added insult to the injury by stating that whatever I had written was false.
I was devastated and shared my sorry story with my husband who was in an equally respectable position with another IT Company. He advised me: “For all your sincere efforts and commitment, you have received only brickbats, and not even a passing compliment. This kind of behavior by your boss is most undignified, and bordering on wickedness. Now, don’t try to prove, justify or explain anything - your performance is already there for them to see. There is no need for you to self-introspect; be confident. Their attitude, sooner or later, will lead them to their ruin.”
There was already a strong prompting within me to part ways with this company, and the supportive thoughts of my husband only reaffirmed this. So, I lost no time and put in my papers, even though I was advised by many, colleagues and others, to take the matter higher up to the authorities in the US. I decided against this as it could lead to unnecessary pain in the lives of many employees.
The decision to quit was not an easy one though, because but for the boss, everything else – position, remuneration, organisation’s standing, etc. – in that job was extremely satisfactory. Before I left, I sent a gratitude mail to the boss thanking him for all the support he had extended to me until then, and also wished him and the organisation the best in the future.
Now, my heart was light; I had no regrets about my decision, even though it was a big loss materially, as I was very sure that I did not want to be part of an organisation that did not respect human values.
I later learnt that after three months of my resignation, that organisation fell apart as the core team disintegrated and distanced from the company. Soon, the boss too was shown the door by the parent US company.
This only vindicated my belief that if we always discriminate well, and respect the voice of righteousness, that same righteousness will, in turn, protect us. In fact, it will not only safeguard us but also ensure our sustained welfare, as I saw it in my life. Leaving that company actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me, because that gave me a golden opportunity to explore entrepreneurial ventures, and today I am a successful and satisfied self-employed executive.
“Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines,
but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes.”
~ The Buddha
While, in this situation I was able to take a stand and live by it; adhering to truthful principles in life has not always been so easy or difficult (depending on how we look at it). I remember, in one of my previous employments in an IT product development organisation, when I was just two months old in the system, I was given the mandate to build a team of recruiters.
As I was going about this assignment diligently, identifying the right talents needed for the job, my boss, the Managing Director of the Company, wanted me to hire a particular individual. And this person, I learnt later, was actually referred by the Sales Director, who was in the good books of my boss. I was open to the idea so far as it met the requirements and so, interviewed this person. To my dismay, in spite of all the years of experience he had, at least on paper, and the recommendations that he came with, I did not find him having the required skill-set for an experienced recruiter; he did not seem to be a fit into the team.
I frankly shared these observations with my boss, but he just could not take it positively, as he had interviewed him even before hiring me and had decided to recruit him. Generally, we have three levels of interviews, and the other people who interviewed this person after me, also did not share great feedback about him.
Nevertheless, my boss directed me to hire him and I had no choice. But the most unfortunate thing was my boss misread that I felt insecure because of this person’s selection. In fact, he told me plainly that this recruiter would not be a threat to my position. Actually, I had never felt insecure, and my only dominating intention was to ensure that we hire a person who fits into the organisation culturally and also possesses the right set of expertise and knowledge.
However, there was little I could do in this circumstance, despite clearly being aware that the candidate lacked the required skill-set. Reluctantly, I processed his application and gave him the offer.
And what happened next was revealing. Within 20 days of his appointment, negative feedbacks about his lack of performance, uncouth interactions with internal customers, laid back attitude, etc. started pouring in from many departments. Besides, he was irregular to the office, citing personal reasons which were unconvincing.
I had to bring this to my boss’ notice, and also apprised him how our work was being adversely affected by the newcomer’s irresponsibility.
It was then that my boss realised the gravity of the problem and acknowledged the correctness of my original judgement. Eventually, this person himself could not cope with the pressures and expectations of his role, and resigned from the job.
It is many such instances that has instilled in me, again and again, the courage to follow my conscience, or inner voice (whatever one may call it) with dedication and determination to whatever extent I can. I know for sure that ultimately it is truth alone that triumphs.
Moreover, I have seen umpteen occasions in my life where I have come out of pretty tight or tricky problems, only by sincere dedication. In fact, events unfold quite magically when we are determined to follow the right path.
During my tenure as the Recruitment Manager with an IT MNC in Bangalore, I was asked by a client company, to hire a team of professionals with a stringent combination of technical skills. It was virtually an impossible task as that was a niche area and to find people who would accept an offer in a week’s time was really a pipedream. But it happened! We rolled out 10 offers in 7 days, and in fact, were awarded the ‘Best Recruiter Team’ for this pilot project.
“Struggle ends where commitment begins.”
We were so determined and dedicated in this project, that we actually became deeply devoted to our work; as a team, there was absolute harmony in our thought, word and deed. As a result, it was no more work, it had transformed into worship. And that is why, I feel, the seemingly impossible became possible.
“Dedication is not what others expect of you, it is what you can give to others.”
These five Ds, starting with discipline and culminating with devotion, and going through the process with discrimination, dedication and determination, have become the unsurpassable support system of my life. And in fact, this is what I always share with all, especially the young professionals.
I observe that today’s youngsters come with exaggerated expectations of salary, growth and responsibilities even at the very beginning of their careers.
This attitude in them eventually gives rise to unrealistic ambitions, and is often the cause of an early disenchantment with the job leading to frequent job moves.
Therefore, I take it up as my challenge to make these excited young aspirants understand the long term benefits of working initially with certain organisations, even if they are not the best pay masters.
I explain to them the advantages of exposure, and the learning curve they could gain by exercising more discipline in their desires.
“Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There's plenty of movement, but you never know if it's going to be forward, backwards, or sideways”
~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Citing my own example, I emphatically orient them towards these crucial five Ds and also impress on them that along with knowledge and experience, what we need to combine is faith in ourselves, which in effect, is faith in God. Because it is only when the journey from discipline reaches the stage of devotion, that huge resources of the universe get unlocked for us. And to this day, I am in touch with many of these youngsters, who are now heading organisations, but are grateful to me for that timely guidance.
As far as I am concerned, I accept their kind words but pass it on mentally to my Divine Master, Bhagavan Baba, the revered Chancellor of my alma mater, Sri Sathya Sai University. I am indeed eternally beholden to Baba, who instilled in me these precious values through His overpowering message and magnetic personality. Whatever I am today, it is because I am an alumna of this hallowed University.
Dear reader, if you have such inspiring tale or know somebody who would like to share his story, we would only be too happy to feature it in this section of Heart2Heart. After all, what is Heart2Heart without tales of love, inspiration, values and compassion? Please write to us at [email protected] with your name and country. Thank you for your time.