Running on Empty

imageLast night one felt some satisfaction, but more than that one felt happy.

Back some thirty plus years ago, I used to handle Unilever’s treasury. It was one of my first assignments in that huge machine, which excelled at absorbing us humans into its folds. I used to regularly deal with a banker, who stood out as a human being. He was in senior career (having the Unilever account, must have been a status definer) and so could have acted the part. However, so transpired that he acted very normal, laughed, joked and guided me in my early days of learning banking stuff. I found that status and professional success had not defined him. He was himself, no frills.

I note this, because it has been my observation, that status and symbolism gets into our heads very easily. At a fairly young stage, our executives tend to play a certain role. Perhaps they do it because they are ‘expected to’, but more likely it is because they feel they have gained consequence. This cocoon which acquires us, begins to define us and tell tale signs become visible quickly. Having watched it for more than three decades, I can tell you, it owns the vast majority of us.

It begins with the feeling that ‘I am right’. Such a simple statement, but such disastrous results. Then it graduates into a more self propagating mode of ‘I know better’. Subsequently, it shuts down our listening skills. By the time a person has reached mid career (mid 30s), these habits are already ingrained in us. Once you are not listening, you quickly start talking more. This then gives you more consequence. You feel you know, because so few are telling you their version. It becomes a vicious circle and self fulfilling and makes you more diseased at each iteration. Soon the dinosaur is devouring many and hurting plenty. Till disaster strikes one day for whatever reason and the edifice you stand on collapses. And just for the people who do not realize it, the end happens in all cases. Our lives always descend into nothingness. You then realise you have been running on empty.

So to get back to my source of happiness, after a long digression. Some 30 years on, I met the same banker last night. Much aged, comparatively, but he still looked well. The same smile, same physical posture but more importantly, same demeanour. This was the same heart I once knew and appreciated. He even treated me the same. Oh, he knew, had followed my history and the various worldly successes. But, I tell you he treated me exactly as he treated that young manager decades ago. Still more typical of this person. His words. “I have been retired a long time now. Really enjoyed it. So much to do in life. No reason to miss work. I am busy with stuff all the time.”

Allah bless him. It re-invigorated my faith in humanity. Some can still be good and real. They do not have to impress anyone, are happy in themselves, and everything has its place and right value. Nothing really is above goodness and happiness. Some of us go to ‘art of happiness classes’. I learnt it in a few minutes conversing with a genuine human.

To all the young people out there. Enjoy your work and its benefits, but please do not let it own you. Be yourself, the genuine you, do not inflate yourself into a hot air balloon. Do not run after goal posts you will never catch. You will be much the better at the end, by just living. Enjoy it!

* picture is from

Kamal Ahmed Rizvi

Another icon from an age gone by has departed this world. Kamal Ahmed Rizvi died day before yesterday.

In the mid-1980s I would go for Friday prayers to Masjid-e-Farooq, which was new at the time and was located across from the Boating Basin market. Since Friday used to be a holiday in those days, a very sizeable crowd would collect for the Juma’a prayers.

I had recently returned from my studies and Friday prayers was a time for bonding with friends and to feel the soul connection, which I had missed during my years abroad. Into this mix should be thrown a famous presence, who used to turn up every Friday. He was a tallish, very fair, bright eyed man, wearing a white kurta pyjama. The kurta was made out of malmal and reminded me of all the connections with my childhood and old Karachi. Especially the fact that it was paired with a pyjama, which more or less by then had been discarded in favour of the shalwaar. Kamal Ahmed Rizvi on those Fridays, for me, stood as the epitome of my childhood and a Pakistani culture, which was rapidly disappearing at the time.

Kamal sahib, would walk in tall and upright, displaying a beaming smile and work his way to the front ranks in the masjid. He would acknowledge the salaams and stares with verve and panache, which seemed to say ‘these things matter not’. His kurta and pyjama were starched and white as white could be and his demeanour and method reminded one of the nawabs of ages gone by.

My memory (and those of my generation) of Kamal Ahmed Rizvi relates to many years of Allan and Nannha (Alif Noon). A quite fascinating sitcom, which besides being funny, dealt with many of the social issues of the 1960s. For years this was the most watched program on PTV and the roads used to be deserted when it was being televised. In the program as much as Nannha (Rafi Khawar) was a loved character, Allan (KAR) was generally not liked and yet an essential to the program. One never forgot the faces of Allan and Nanna and though 45 years might have passed, they remain vivid and real.

It is all very sad. Artists and people with culture, depth and character are disappearing. Society as it grapples with the modern era is changing. As it changes the values are altering. People who put their heart and soul into trying to put a culture together in Pakistan, are passing on. As they pass on, it seems there is not enough depth left in society to replace them. There are none of those writers/thinkers/artistes who would spend their evening in the cafes of Karachi, discussing social and human issues. They were connected with the people and were so much part of us ordinary humans. We now seem like a populace lost, too attached to our technology, speed and material needs, Do we really see that our lives have become hollow? One is reminded of it, when those survivors of a different generation die and the loss is seen as irreplaceable.

The passing of Kamal Ahmed Rizvi, as some others of the same ilk, is like a body blow to people in my generation, who saw a brighter and more hopeful world. Somewhere sometime, the lights are being switched off one by one. May Allah grant Kamal Ahmad Rizvi maghfirat and Jannah for all the good deeds he has done.

An Emotional Intelligence Lesson

imageThere is an emotional intelligence lesson going on in London and I doubt if many management gurus are watching it. Most who follow football would be aware of it, when I mention the names of Chelsea, Mourinho and Stamford Bridge.

For the uninitiated. Jose Mourinho, the most successful manager in the last decade, has won European Cups and League Championships with more clubs than anyone in football history. His football sense is exceptional, but many have tactical nous. It is his strategic sense, the ability to create a vision and teams which makes him exceptional. He will create a siege mentality, so players bind into a team. Coupled with their football skills, team bonding drives the purpose and brings trophies. Mourinho has won European Championships with Porto, Inter-Milan and league championships with Porto, Chelsea, Inter-Milan and Real Madrid. Not to forget the local cups he has won. He has ended up winning 22 trophies in an eleven year period.

This is obviously a Rolls-Royce of a manager, with a very aggressive confrontational management style, but his teams are at one with him.

So, when Chelsea (English Champions) stepped into this season, with a couple of additions to the squad, they came as favourites. Somewhere, unbeknownst, things were not quite right. My own inference is that the head was not quite in place. Arrogance begets strange children.

The team preparation was not adequate. I think they fell into a trap of complacency. So pre-season being inadequate, they came into the season not at the top of their game. In modern day sports, the difference between dominant professionals and very good ones is minuscule. It meant a bad start.

From then on, human psyche took over. An early reverse, meant that Mourinho and team were under stress. They were angry that they were not living up to their reputation. Mourinho knows one style only. Its confrontational and generally directed at the press, referees and sometimes other teams. Here bad results meant, he was looking for rationale. He turned inwards to the peripherals of his team – theoretically where least damage happens. A very strange and largely irrelevant storm blew up against Dr Eva Carneiro, the team doctor. Since this is sub-judice, one cannot comment on it. Suffice to say, it had little to do with football and coupled with a gleeful media, it became a storm, which has now ended up in the courts.

What it did to the heads of the players is the more relevant issue. Managing a team, football or otherwise is a very delicate balance. The leader has to lead. The moment a team realises that a leader is not in control, it sheds doubt on his/her leadership. Mourinho, I think lost control of the situation immediately. The moment you lose control, the team is gone. The common enemy, common purpose, the feeling of belonging begin to unravel. The results showed it. They were not disastrous, but were decidedly mediocre.

Next step came the players. They start with a mind set, ‘we are good players and at the moment the team is a problem’. As the results decline, supporters become agitated and the press target them, personal confidence slides. After a while, even the players start losing confidence and perform sub-optimally. This eventually resulted in a couple of bad results and Chelsea now hover right above the relegation zone.

We are now at a stage where the atmosphere within must have come apart. Typically it results in a blame game and descends into politics. Sure enough! With Eden Hazard (rather dismissively) going off injured in the last defeat against Leicester, Mourinho has now gone on record as feeling betrayed by his players. This is a man, whose basic tenet of management has been that his players are great and that he is a wall of protection in front of them against the big bad world out there. Now just imagine the feelings of his players. They have lost their protector, leader and friend. They have been cut loose to face the world.

At this stage one of two things happen. Mourinho has either taken a risk and hopes to shock his players back into togetherness or his ego is now in justification mode – ie I am not responsible for this mess. It is the stage where rationality has now gone out of the door, with the ratcheting up of risky actions. I would be surprised if the owner Abramovic does not step into action by the New Year. So either way, the status quo is about to change. Chelsea go up suddenly or Mourinho goes out.

This is a salutary case study of management. The whole facet of it. An exceptional system, leading to exceptional success. Complaisance due to over confidence, leading to temporary decline, an unthought reaction, an unravelling of the team spirit, an implosion inwards and now arbitrary decision making. It is now in the realms of luck.

* picture is from


imageAn advice to all ardent and young people, who are in search of jobs and go to interviews or are prospecting for business.

Many who have been in the corporate world will recognise this statement.

“I am so passionate about this brand, growing it and taking the brand into new areas which it can expand into. I want this to be my legacy.”


This is the typical fluff we all con ourselves into believing. It is a statement, which one hears in many interviews, from hopeful candidates. Can you really be passionate about a commercial product, which has been created to attract consumers, with the sole motive to make money. Is this what your life is about? Not Allah and spirituality, not your family, or your country, nor the poor and underprivileged? If you have to descend from these high moral passions, then at least let it be the arts, or the sports or some lighter comic stuff.

When we were kids or in our teens, do you ever remember anyone ever saying they would die to be a Corporate President or a Marketing Director, or a Sales Director. Why? Because the young are real and say things which are reality. They do not have to be hypocritical and mush their stuff with constant fibs.

The truth is that as adults we need money for our present day existence. So we all have to earn it (Unless we are one of the very few, who are born with the proverbial silver spoon). Therefore, when we have to earn it, then we have to work hard at it. I personally think search for the legal tender, is not natural to us humans, but we compromise because its needed. So then lets be truthful and accept that we are doing it perforce, rather than putting up dramatic, oft repeated, idiotic statements, which most HR people actually never believe. You are being hired for your ability, experience and perceived integrity, not on seeming to be passionate about your role. We all know that given a ‘better job’, almost all of us (including the interviewer) will move on.

Now to understand the aspirational side of living. Most of us require higher aspirations, rather than just earning money (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). There is a time and place for that definitely. The way to do this, is to have a larger vision in life and in the business, ie a method of achieving a higher moral stance in a business. That larger vision should drive us and if you are living that vision and are really passionate about it and work as a team, then the business will succeed also. When the business succeeds, it means that profit will happen and careers will do well. This will be the side effect. Allah works in strange ways. You work sincerely on a higher purpose and he will provide you with worldly success.

So next time when you are in an interview and asked about your motivation, then say that you are working hard because you need to do well in your personal life and ambitions. At the same time, you hope to do well and benefit those not so lucky as yourself. It works like magic. Because its the truth! So be passionate about the truth.

* this picture is from…a free picture site.

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