16: OD Consultant, Vinesh Sukumaran on Building Better Business and Lives

Many businesses are looking into rebuilding better post-pandemic. Instead of building ‘back’ better, how about building ‘forward’ with the agile mindset?

In episode 16 of Agile Leaders Conversations, hear from my fellow Forbes Coaches Council Member, Organizational Development Consultant, and author of From Behaviour to Well-Being, Mr Vinesh Sukumaran. He shares insights on how businesses can use the agile mindset to address the multiple paradoxes in their lives and build better businesses post-pandemic.

Connect with Vinesh Sukumaran at https://www.linkedin.com/in/vinesh-sukumaran-1a452447/

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Vinesh Sukumaran 

I mean, he kept telling me that you are so attached, Vinesh, to your concept. You’re attached to your philosophy. You’re attached to your theories, you’re attached to what you believe in, and so on. And you got to be detached. Detachment is everything. You have to be detached from life, you have to be detached. And then at the end of this, I told him, look, I think you’re really attached to this idea of detachment.

Chuen Chuen Yeo 

Welcome to agile leaders conversations where executives, business leaders and experts from all sectors come together and share leadership insights around leading in today’s workplaces. They will be sharing some tips on how they use the agile mindset to make sense of the complexities and lead with authenticity and ease. Hi, everyone, my name is Chuen Chuen and I’m an author, executive coach for the fortune 500, a speaker and a facilitator. I specialise in leadership agility, helping organisations and leaders grow the agile mindset, so that they can sustain the success in both life and career. And in this episode, I’m so happy to have Mr. Venish Sukumaran as my guest, and here’s a little about him. He’s a positive psychologist based out of Bangalore, India. And as an organisation development consultant, he has trained and coached over 20,000 people to bring about behavioural change and find more meaning in work and life. When as a result oriented consultant for several individuals and corporations like Hewlett Packard, Boeing, Coca Cola, mercedes benz, and over 100 others. He has a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Missouri, USA. And his research was based on applications of positive psychology, and sports psychology for better coaching, leadership and performance. He is also the author of the book, from behaviour to wellbeing. Welcome to the show Vinesh, would you share a little about yourself, please?

Thanks a lot for having me over. I’ve also gone through thanks for mentioning my book. I’ve also, you know, read your book. And, you know, the eight paradoxes of leadership agility. And there are quite a few insights that I gathered from that. So I’m looking forward to having this interesting chat with you. Thanks,

Chuen Chuen Yeo 

Vanessa. We connected on the Forbes coaches Council, which is why I love that platform so much such a wonderful network, bringing people together, really happy to have this conversation to speak with you. So I’m wondering, Vinesh, after reading my book, eight paradoxes of leadership agility, what are your general thoughts after reading it?

Vinesh Sukumaran 

So you know, I just started reading it to see what the book was about. But it turned out to be something which, which was pretty useful. It was great to see somebody like you, who’s also learned a lot of lessons from leaders they’ve coached or you know, you also mentioned that in your in your acknowledgement. And that’s, I think, true of all of us, right. We’re coaches, trainers, consultants, I think our biggest biggest teachers are our clients. And you also talk about stress, and how stress is an optimal level of stress. And when I read that, I said, Well, this is something that I totally agree with, because I think there’s a lot of recent times, there’s been a lot of research by people like Kelly McGonigal, who’s talking about how stress is not a bad thing. And you know, it’s your idea about stress, that’s a bad thing, and so on. But I think even beautifully, for a long time, I thought stress was a pretty useful thing. And there’s a right level of stress, which will be good for good for people to function. So that’s, those are my first thoughts. I also like, you know, if I think back about the book, I mean, I read it a few weeks ago, but I think one thing that sticks out is your, your focus on values. You know, you talk about values, you talk about how values are an important thing. And I think as coaches, the constant challenge is to get people who we coach to do, not even the things that we want, but the things that they want, in fact, so talking about, I think value based leadership, value based coaching, I think is an important thing. And I like the fact that you’re being really honest in your book, in terms of saying that, saying exactly what you can deliver, and what you can’t deliver, right? Like, for example, you mentioned that I can’t make, you can’t make clients’ problems go away. Right. And I think I like that very honest, open, transparent attitude because I’m a little wary of somebody who shows up and says, I can make all your problems go away. I’m going to be taking what now what That about Yeah. And of course, I like the crux of your book, which is the, the race for the Audi a4 model, which is about reconstructing refreshing, renewing rebuilding, which I think is. I mean, though, people might have seen this happen, like, have you given structure and definition to it, I like the fact that he talks about metaphors. Because typically, business books are constantly appealing to the, to one side of the brain, right? It’s logical, it’s reasoning, and those sort of things. But this, this other side of metaphors, because a lot of times we live our lives based on some metaphors that we build around ourselves saying, Oh, I’m a hard working guy. Money doesn’t come easily, you know, these, these are stories that you that you create, like, I keep telling my clients, sometimes we create our own clubs, and we become members of our own clubs, and then we don’t know how to get out. So I like the fact that you don’t just talk about the metaphors, but you tell them, what’s your metaphor now? What’s your new metaphor, and even even make them ‘brought out’? Right? So which I found that thing, that idea to be quite interesting, because it it gets people to explore things from from a new light, which is, which appeals to the the emotional, creative side of the brain? That that is fascinating.

Chuen Chuen Yeo 

It is the notion, our idea of what stress is, yeah, that maybe leaders need to revisit, and I think that’s connected with your book on wellbeing. And we will go into that later. metaphors. Yes, I love them. I think we have two sides of the brain, you know, why not use the entire brain? We have been, I think our system has always made us very cognitive and logical, and that’s probably tapping on half or way less, of the brain and what kind of possibilities perspectives can we unlock, if we tap on the entire brain? So now with all the eight paradoxes in the book, so I’m wondering which one resonated strongly with you?

Vinesh Sukumaran 

Well, one, one paradox, which, you know, first of all, I think it was obvious to me when I read the book that you as a coach, and having worked with leaders, probably came across, I don’t know, 16, 20, 25 paradoxes. And you sort of, hand picked the top, the top eight, right? I think that there’s this one paradox, I think it’s really the last one, where you talk about principle versus adaptable, and how you have to sort of stay true to your true north, you talk about the story of Kelly, who’s focused on, you know, she tries to relook at her role, refocus on her priorities, and she takes a family on the trip, and so on. So I like I really like that paradox, because I think that really spoke to me. Because a lot of times, what we’re battling with is sticking to one thing really strongly, you know, whatever that is, and there’s a need to be to be adaptable. I’ve also seen, like, my own paradoxes, right? For example, when I coach people, especially leaders, sometimes they’re thinking, should I focus on my own career, like as a, as a director, as a CEO? Or should I focus on what’s good for my, for my company, right? And not just in not just in the corporate world, but also in you know, should I focus on being happy right now? Or should I do something not so comfortable? Like, you know, I don’t feel like going for a walk, but I’m going to do it. So that I feel I feel happy later. So I think there’s a constant paradoxes, but this one was, was quite in that the importance of adaptability. And you know, some years ago, I spoke with a martial artist. And we were talking about this whole idea of attachment. So he, I mean, he kept telling me that you are so attached, Vinesh, to your concept, you’re attached to your philosophy, you’re attached to your theories, you’re attached to what you believe in, and so on. And you got to be detached, detachment is everything, you have to be detached from life, you have to be detached. And then at the end of this, I told him, look, I think you’re really attached to this idea of detachment. So yeah, that makes that makes two of us. So you know, we’re both, we’re both attached. So I think just like that, in your book, you constantly talk about, you talk about both, like you talk about tasks are important, but also the bigger picture is important. You talk about, you know, focusing on people as well as focusing on relationships and so on. So there is a sense in the book that, you know, the middle path is the right thing to do. But what I like about this paradox is that it’s good to be at adaptable, it’s good to say, I don’t have to be do both. I’m going to just choose one. I’m going to choose one over the other. You know, like, Can I remember, in one of the interviews, Salman Rushdie says, if you don’t stand for anything, then Then who are you? You know. So sometimes it’s good for people who read your book, to also realise that this is what Chuen says, to do a bit of both, or to the right combination of both in the circumstances of your life, but it’s also okay for me to be adaptable, and just choose one thing.

Chuen Chuen Yeo 

this is great. I think the world is never in black and white. And there’s a time and place for being principled or,  being attached to something and being highly flexible and adaptable. There’s never a best solution. And I think the right solution for different individuals, different leaders really depends on the context, depends on their North Star, their moral compass. So it might not be in the middle. And sometimes people just want that peace of mind that whatever I’m choosing, it may not be the perfect solution. But this is my solution. This is my decision. So yeah, I love that perspective. So there’s also this definition of leadership agility, and of the various paradoxes in the book. So how do you see both of these, especially through your lens and your work, you know, with working with so many different companies?

Vinesh Sukumaran 

Yeah, so I mean, I like I like what you say about you define paradox quite well, in the book, saying that it’s something where one thing and the opposite are both true in a given in a given case or context. And I think that’s an interesting way to look at it, because I, I live in Bangalore, India, I mean, India is a place, India is a place full of paradoxes. There are various parts of the world where they think we are an extremely poor country, not realising that we have four or five of the richest people in the world from India, right? Likewise, you know, there’s this education and uneducated paradox, where we have a lot of uneducated people also in the country, while we have some of the most educated people in the world who were from India. So I could relate to that idea of something and the opposite of that being true. In terms of leadership agility you talk about agility as being something, you know, where somebody is, you know, it’s about being flexible, to go through the various uncertainties and complexities and you know, and still come out and function from a place of from a place of authenticity. So, you know, that’s, that’s really what you’re essentially saying about about leadership agility. I like that idea for authenticity about being real and being genuine, because I think that’s a big part of, it doesn’t matter how agile you are, if you don’t, if that’s not what you feel, if that’s not what you really think it’s not going to work for you, you know, you’re just going to be acting and putting on a facade, and sooner or later, that’s going to blow. I also think that, you know, from my point of view, and from my work, one of the big drivers of this leadership agility is what happens in the market, you know, sometimes, quite a few times, I think the markets going to tell you what to do. So like, during the pandemic, during the lockdown, there was this huge shift towards online training. You know, sometimes clients call you and tell you, they tell you how to be agile, they tell you, we’re looking at online training, do you do online training or not? And if you say, no, then you start losing your chance to be an agile leader. Likewise, you know, it’s not just about the pandemic. But you know, I remember some years ago, client said, we could do a leadership training, but each of the challenges are different. So the clients telling you what to do. And I said, How about having a training programme for a day, and then I need all of them on a one to one coaching sessions for two days. And that was a new model, which came out of it came out with the clients idea. So I think it’s a good idea to listen to what the market is telling you. I also want to add that, you know, this, this is a popular quote, which says, How you do anything, is how you do everything. And there is a sense among people, I coach that you know, I’m going to be agile, I’m gonna be an agile leader only in office. But you it’s quite difficult to to put that button on, you know, when you come to work, so you have to be an agile leader, even when you’re organising a party in the weekend at home, you’re going to be an agile leader when you go shopping. And, and everywhere, you know, and that’s something which you which you carry with you.

Chuen Chuen Yeo 

I particularly like this sentence that you said just now how you do anything is how you do everything. And I think in our coaching world, we are always are advocating for leaders for very busy professionals to embrace both the personal side and the professional side, because that is the way you can lead with ease and authenticity. So you know, Vinesh, as right now there is this movement, you know, I mean with pandemic, no one is being excused all organisations or governments or individuals are having to flex and adapt, as we now look back into as we now look forward into building better businesses. What do you think, are some areas that leaders should consider, especially now looking at you know, well being as a hot topic? So what do you think leaders should consider?

Vinesh Sukumaran 

Oh, well, first question, I want to I want to purchase insurance. And by that, I mean, you know, I don’t want to talk as if I have all the answers for a post, pandemic, you know, workplace, because even the leading organisations in the world like the WHO are saying, we don’t know, what’s, what’s really happening with the virus, we don’t know what’s gonna happen next, is there going to be three vaccines or a yearly vaccine and so on? So I want to say that I’m not really sure what exactly is going to happen? Because I don’t think anybody is. But there are some things which I’ve been telling my clients, which I’ve been coaching leaders for which, have been telling organisations, which I think is going to work. The first thing is that, I think it’s a great idea to stop fighting, you know. So you’re from Singapore, and I spoke to a client, I don’t name them this client in Singapore, who wanted me to do a programme for the leaders to get them back to office. Right. And I was talking to the HR person, and he said, you know, we got to get back to office. And so I asked him, so why do you think people should come back to office? Like, why should they come back to office? Because they’re gonna ask me this, if I do this programme. And it’s the main agenda of the leadership programme, they’re going to think, well, Vinesh Sukumaran is just firing the gun off the CEOs shoulder, or they got to ask me, why should we get back to office? So he, the HR person told me something about the value being collaboration, and this and that, and so on. And in the end, asked him, you know, after the conversation is over, you know, a lot of times the truth comes out after the conversation is over, after you’ve shaken hands and said, Thank you. I said, Hey, now that the meeting is over, what do you want to do? You’re the HR manager, you want to get back to office? And he said, No, I don’t want to. So I think one of the key things is to stop fighting it. And sometimes it’s a good idea to do what’s worked for you. And if you feel, you’ve learned useful lessons during the pandemic, about maybe saving money, saving thousands of dollars every month on real estate, because you don’t really need an office. You know, maybe you should do that. Maybe if you learn that teams can work as well, without travelling, I think that’s something you should do. You know, there was a story and an article that was published and, and this anecdote, over a decade ago, it said, which was the Brit, who was the biggest competitor to British Airways. So you know, when they ask people this question, people said, Oh, is it Singapore Airlines is it you know, Lufthansa, you know, who’s the biggest competitor to British Airways. And it turns out that the the biggest competitor is video conferencing, and Cisco’s video conferencing software, because because people could talk face to face in that time, video conferencing was pretty new, you know, now it’s all over the place. You didn’t have to go take a flight and go to another city to meet somebody. Right? So just like that, if you have realisations during the pandemic, you got to use that I think that’s really the first big lesson. The other thing is, I’m just reminded of what Jeff Bezos mentioned, in one of his interviews, he said, some things are always going to be, what should I say, the right things to do. Customers will always want something of good quality, you know, I don’t think that’s going to change. a customer’s always going to want something faster than slower. Those things are going to be universal, and they’re going to last forever. So I think it’s a good idea for organisations to pick those things. For example, another big one is sticking to promises. No client is ever going to be unhappy that you stuck to your promises. Right? So picking those things is going to be a real solution, which works pre-pandemic, during, after the pandemic and whatever. The other thing is, you know, I mean, this whole idea of building back, you know, many companies around this mindset of let’s go back to where we are. I think if you’re trying to go back, then you’ll learn nothing through the last two the last two years. The idea is to build if you like build forward, and maybe you’re going to change slightly, you’re going to change moderately are going to change completely. I think that’s a good way to look at the post pandemic

Chuen Chuen Yeo 

salon. So I was furiously typing notes. Now, so many great things that you said. And I think it might not be directly related with what we are saying, but I think there’s so so good. I’m going to recap for the listeners. Number one, the truth comes out after the conversation, I just had a coaching conversation this morning, you want people to come to you with the truth, and the conversation not after that, and not to tell everybody except you because you need to know the truth. I think that’s what I think is a excellent leadership reminder. And I think the second point that you said, maybe it’s for leaders to challenge the perception and bias about what a good workforce is. And you know, in my coaching model, the second step is Refresh your lens. So is there a perception? Is that a bias, prejudice that no longer work? What if having a good workforce is not related to a workplace? You know, what if that’s that, I think something to consider. And the third thing is customers still want the same thing, regardless of where you are doing your work from? They still want great products, better quality, delivered faster? And what if you could do all that – still satisfy your customers? No matter where you’re working? Does that give you more breath, more resources to experiment with? And I particularly like what you said just now, instead of building back better, how about building forward? We are not come trying to get the line back to zero. I think maybe the perception is the pandemic set us back many steps. And we are just trying to get back to the starting line. What if as we are now building, rebuilding all businesses all work structure, systems. But if we are building forward as well, what kind of possibilities can that bring? And is that also a great time for us to drop something that isn’t working well? Wonderful. Vinesh, would you have a couple of minutes just to share a little bit about your book, please.

Vinesh Sukumaran 

So I was writing for for a few magazines in India, with health, wellness and lifestyle magazines. So I had a few hundred articles. So I published just 64 of those articles. The first thing I want to say about the book is that it’s handpicked, it’s not, it’s not like I had, 60. And I sent all let me stretch it to 64. And it will become a book, no. Okay, so the quality of what I’ve written, I think I have my best ideas out there. The other thing is also what the book is about, you know, because mostly, as a coach, as a trainer, I’m working with people’s behaviour and bring about behaviour change. And this behaviour could be something as simple as showing up to office on time, or just showing up on time anyway. Or it could be something even more complicated, like learning to use cloud computing, okay, but each of these is a behaviour. And one of the simple and easy ways in which I defined behaviour in the book is that behaviours are anything that you do, if you wake up early, that’s a behaviour. If you drink every night, that’s a behaviour, you know, if you workout regularly, that’s a behaviour and so on. So I’m saying that look, if you want to change anything, if you want the results you want, if you want to, even if you want to just be happy, it takes practice, you know, so there’s a lot of research, which shows, vacations are supposed to be happy times. But many times, the time before the vacation when you plan and the time after the vacation, when you think back are actually better than the real vacation. Because you’re going to carry yourself with you to that vacation. So it’s a good idea that you develop good behaviours before you go in for that vacation. And then when you carry yourself with you, you’ll have the right person in the vacation. So that’s really one of the key ideas in the book, when I say if you keep doing the right thing, if you get up every morning and play tennis for two hours, even without a coach, even without any, you know, even without working on your technique, you still become a good your game is going to improve after a month. It’s just impossible for that to not happen. So that’s really the crux of my book about you know, changing behaviour and eventually that changes results in the changes the way you feel.

Chuen Chuen Yeo 

Excellent. So yes, I think we definitely look need to look at ways to make behaviour changes permanent. And I’m sure all listeners, viewers right now will be interested to learn more about the outstanding Vinesh. I’ve learned so much from a conversation with you. So I’ll include his social media links in the show notes and as well as the link to his book, so please feel free to reach out to him. And I also encourage you to please grab a copy of eight paradoxes of leadership agility or the leadership agility blueprint from my website. So it has been such a great time speaking with you Vinesh and let’s stay in touch.

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