A quick review of history may help us gain valuable insights. From the beginnings of creation to the present day, we see stories replete with examples of survival of the fittest.
The word ‘fit’ though deceptively simple, has pervasive significance for us all. The random House College Dictionary describes ‘fit’ as: proper or becoming; adapted or suited; qualified or competent; worthy or deserving; prepared or ready; in good physical condition or health; of the right size or shape – all keys to survival and possibly endurance.
Why then, the hostility in some quarters, to a management philosophy which promulgates that only the fit must survive, particularly in the underdeveloped and developing economies?
This philosophy holds that the ‘fit’ continue, while the unfit either improve their act, or find other avenues for sustenance. One factor that explains antagonism to such a thought is the lack of social safety nets in our society for those who are rendered jobless as a consequence of ‘right-sizing’. For instance, lack of employment opportunities helps the ‘unfit’ justify absorption of the jobless.
We are trapped in a vicious cycle which legitimizes hiring people regardless of merit. It is believed that at least this way we will have fewer disgruntled job seekers on the streets! As a consequence, most of our public-sector corporations and government departments, in particular, are grossly mismanaged and inefficient. To witness glaring examples of poor governance and inefficiencies in large entities like Pakistan Steel, Pakistan Railways, PIAC, OGDCL and others is heartbreaking.
Our world has become very competitive and fast-paced, where only the ‘fit’ will survive. This oft repeated notion is driving many managers and CEOs to high levels of stress caused by fear of the increasing uncertainty in the corporate world. A common consequence of heightened sense of insecurity is mindless frenzy. This entails huge economic and social costs. Bad decisions, strategic or tactical, made in haste, are a case in point.
With the disruptive changes taking place around us, we need to counter the ‘waste of haste’ effectively through better planning and looking ahead. Dr H J Witteveen quoting Hazrat Inayat Khan says:
“Every plan has a period of development and if man has power over his impulse by retaining the thought silently in mind, he allows the plan to develop and to take all necessary changes that it may take for its culmination. But when the impulse expresses the thought, it – so to speak – puts out the flame, thus hindering the development of the plan. The wise speak with their mind many times before they speak to anybody.”
It is only calm and patient minds that ‘nurtures the flame’ of creativity and innovation by making sense of the complexity in the socio-economic and political environment.
The fastest is not necessarily the best and the strongest is not the only basis for endurance, as strength can easily be squandered. Something has to be said for our innate ability to act with patience and in an appropriate manner in a variety of situations. Our ability to adapt, reflect, change and transform is what makes us fit.
Fitness applies to individuals, organizations and nations. It is the leadership team in organizations, both commercial enterprises and non-profits, that need to shoulder responsibility for preparing people to deal with the changing environmental dynamics – locally and internationally. For example, the inspiring change led by Dr Ishrat Hussain at the State Bank of Pakistan in early 2000 shows what is possible if we become sincere to our role as leaders.
Wouldn’t having healthier and fitter organizations stimulate a nation’s economy, increase employment opportunities, attract investment – local and foreign, and provide greater revenues to the exchequer? Triggering a virtuous spiral can benefit us all by ensuring that only the ‘fit’ lead the much needed transformation in their respective organizations.
Building responsiveness, flexibility and agility in any enterprises will remain the key leadership challenge. This is achieved by having power over impulse to successfully involve people at different levels within the organization in decision making and orchestrating plans for continuous capacity building. Adherence to principles of good corporate governance points the way.
Every discipline in life, whether worldly or spiritual, has a clear sense of what is fit. The quote from Hazrat Inayat Khan points to what is needed in managers in most situations. Patience, reflection, contemplation, discernment, analysis and timing are essential ingredients that contribute to fitness of any professional.
Setting new standards of performance and quality is therefore of the essence. Commitment to excellence is just that. However, pursuit of excellence remains a pleasant abstraction if we fail to embed tangible dimensions of caring; dreaming; expecting; and risking in the entity’s corporate culture.
Conduct an honest self-appraisal now as a leader, by asking yourself the following questions:
- Am I prepared and ready for what I need to do today, next week, next year and in the coming decades? This can only be determined if I know where I am headed; if my goals are clear, for the immediate, medium and the long term. It is one thing to wish for things to happen. It is quite another to actually make them happen! Can wishing alone qualify me as being fit?
- Am I worthy and deserving of what I am getting and hope to achieve? This largely depends on my self concept. How I see myself. Many think they are mere cogs in a big wheel. While others think no end of themselves i.e., they view themselves as gifts from God to mankind, without doing a thing about it. Both views are extreme and quite counterproductive. This begs a moment for reflection. Is your potential infinite? Is what you do contributing to the big picture?
- Am I adapted or suited to my environment? Am I flexible enough to adjust my behavior to different people and situations? Am I like water in a stream that flows freely around obstacles and meets with the ocean? Am I open to learning and new ideas? Do I display empathy – being able to see and feel the pain or joy of another?
Reflect. Make time to plan. Involve your team, your internal and external stakeholders, to positively transform your organization, thus putting it on track for sustainable growth.
Residing deep within us all is our potential to excel in any chosen field or vocation. Tap this infinite potential in you and in your team or embrace mediocrity which stems from apathy and ignorance.
It is worth remembering that we are seduced by the comfort of status quo when we don’t exercise power over our impulse.
By Kamran Rizvi