V Pattabhi Ram
For the first time in many months Wafers realized the import of what her professor had once told the class. He had said, “In life you will almost always be let down by the very people whom you have trusted the most.” At that time she had smiled. How someone close to you could let you down, she had wondered. Her friend had pointed out to the Greg-Ganguly spat but Wafers let it sail, as she wasn’t sure who had let down whom.
The professor had gone on to add, “When you do a person a favor, howsoever significant it might be, never expect a return favor. Remember, life is about free lunches”. The events of the last few weeks were proving him right. Her best friend of many years was behaving strangely. Her highly respectable colleague at office had shocked her.
She had helped them so often in the past with their power-point presentations. Today, when she needed help on a report, they were actually avoiding her. “Hey, I am working on a deadline, I will revert to you tomorrow”. Tomorrow never came. It was a humbling experience.
Her professor had closed out, “When they don’t bail you out, and sugar coat their behavior; don’t hold it against them.“ Wafers realized that yes this was the only way to retain sanity. The professor had continued, “After all, at one point you had trusted them. May be they are really unable to help you and aren’t saying so in that many words. And it is also very possible that just like them you might have hurt someone similar”. Today as she remembered her professor’s words Wafers tried to check whether she too might have let someone down, unintentionally. Maybe her parents, whom she might have just taken for granted. Unintentionally.
Working in the corporate environment Wafers very rapidly lost her innocence.
A few months into her first job and Wafers had her early feel of the shenanigans that ruled the corporate world. On the outside people appeared calm and unruffled but deep inside it looked like they were jockeying hard for the space that was becoming narrower as they climbed the corporate ladder. What shocked her most was the lying and posturing that went with almost everything.
A week ago, the business unit head had given her team leader (TL) a job to be completed in 48 hours. The TL had bargained for 96 hours and finally settled for 72 hours. The job was assigned to Wafers and she completed it in 24 hours. When she learnt that her TL had borrowed 72 hours by convincing the boss that they were all pressed for time, she was surprised. Actually she had ample time with her. The TL then gave her her first lesson in corporate life, “Under promise, but over deliver.”
Another day, she saw two team leaders, Ranjan and Rohit, conversing. They reported to a common boss. And the two had been assigned different jobs. Ranjan told Rohit that he had completed 60% of the job and Rohit told Ranjan he had completed 80% of his job. Later Wafers learnt that while Rohit was speaking the truth, Ranjan was economical with it. He had actually almost finished the job.
Next morning Ranjan handed over his report ahead of Rohit. When Rohit asked Ranjan as to how he managed it, Ranjan remarked, “Hey I burnt the midnight oil.” When Wafers confronted Ranjan, he said, it was a “harmless lie” and “anyway, by letting Rohit not know of the actual status of my work I let him slip on his guard. Tomorrow when the time for promotions comes, this will help me”.
To Wafers that was the second corporate lesson, “Keep your competitor, even if he is your colleague, in the dark.” She didn’t like that one jot, but that looked to be the reality.
Here people would say, “I will help you get this done” with no intentions of helping it get done. When you get back to them they would say, “Hey, I am a little busy.” That was when she would remember what her professor had once told her. “When a person says he is busy, he simply means that it is not attractive for him to do what you want him to do.” To her that was Lesson Number 3.
One day she took time to talk to the man to whom she reported, whom she admired and respected a lot. She poured her heart out. About how what she was seeing in the corporate world was so very different from what she had learnt when she grew up. About trust, honesty, loyalty and friendship. She told him about the loss of trust. How she had to every time second guess the real import of what her colleague meant whenever he said something. She told him about the loss of honesty. To her if you did not keep your word you were dishonest. If you gave your word without the intention of honoring it you were dishonest.
She told him about the loss of loyalty. To her if you gave up your job to join a competitor you weren’t being loyal. If you used the office to search for a job via the website you were being disloyal. She told him about how these were affecting friendships. How friendship cultivated with great care over the years were crumbling at the drop of a hat over petty, minor things that should have in the first place not erupted. How people were rapidly moving on in relationships burying old ones and creating new ones as though it was like moving from reading one book to another.
She wondered whether she was a misfit in the new world.
The sane sober head explained to her that times had changed. That in today’s world people took care of themselves. That people keep changing the definition of professionalism to suit their convenience. “If you delay on a job, you are inefficient; if I delay its because I am hard pressed for time”. Today many believed that by bending to the winds of change you were professional! Wafers couldn’t buy it. And it was then that the Head told her something that she would remember forever.
He said, “In the end, you must stick to core values. If you want to reach the top you must have integrity. And integrity means being trustworthy, honest, loyal and keeping one’s friendships.” And added, “Whatever people may say and do they at their end, they expect their leaders to practice these good virtues. . If you want to be a leader practice these unmindful of whether the world outside is trustworthy or not.”