Self-Awareness and Self-Management – M.S. Srinivasan

[A story on the essence of self-development and the foundations of leadership and management, set in the corporate context]

Anand, the young Plant Manager at Revathi Engineering, was shouting in phone angrily at one of his peers, another plant manager:

“Look Rahul, don’t blame me; it is your fault; you have not kept to your schedule. It is your incompetence—”

Anand was interrupted by loud shouting at the other end. There was heated argument between the two and finally Anand slammed the phone with his whole body shaking in anger.

It took sometime for Anand to recover his poise. He said to himself, “Let me get back to work” and rang up to one of his supervisors, Ashok and asked him:

“How much work yet to be done in the boiler project for Rolex?”

“It will take two more days, sir.”

Anand was again red in his face and said in a sharp voice:

“Two days, what the hell are you talking? According to the production schedule it must be over yesterday.”

Ashok muttered,

“But, sir there is some problem in our welding and milling machines.”

“No excuses,” Anand barked, “I don’t know what you will do, you have to finish it today.”

As he kept his phone and tried to concentrate on his work, phone rang. Anand took the phone and heard the familiar, crackling tone of his boss, Gopal, General Manager. “What is happening in your plant” Gopal asked in commanding tone. “I saw your progress chart for Rolex yesterday. It was too slow. You must understand we have to send the boiler to our customer within two months and you have not done even half the work. You have to speed up.” Anand said, “But sir—.” His boss interrupted and said firmly, “Don’t give your usual excuses, and just speed up.”

Anand kept the phone, suppressing all the anger and resentment raising violently within him. Anand wrapped his face in his palms and muttered, “O, this is becoming too much I have to consult my mentor.” He rang up to his mentor Prof. Ranganthan who was his teacher in the Guindy Engineering College, where he studied. Anand said in phone, “Sir, I am Anand, I want your guidance, urgent.” A clam voice replied from the other end, “Come to my home at around 8 P.M, we will talk over it.”

As Anand sat before his mentor, Ranganathan gazed at the face of his protégé for a few minutes and said with affection, “My dear boy, you look very disturbed and tired. What is troubling you?” Anand narrated what happened and asked.

“Why I am not able to control my emotions and anger. How to achieve control over my self.”

Ranganathan smiled sympathetically and said:

“Before gaining control you must become conscious of yourself. You can’t control something which you are not conscious of. You are not able to control your emotions or anger because you become the emotions or anger. You are asking, ‘why don’t I have control,’ but when you have the emotion or anger, there is no ‘I’ to control. You are the anger or emotion and there is nothing left of you or the ‘I’ to control. So the first step in acquiring control or mastery over our emotions is to recover the ‘I’. When you have the emotion or the anger, you have to become aware ‘I am having the emotion or anger.’ When you are able to do this, then the next step is to know that ‘I am’ is different from the emotion or anger. You are not the emotion or anger. The emotion or anger is something happening in you, an inner movement in you and you are not that. This is the second step towards control. Tomorrow, you put this into practice and tell me what is y our experience, when we meet again here at the same time.”

As Anand tried to live his mentor’s words, he found that the very act of becoming conscious of his thoughts and emotions, leads to a certain amount of detachment and mastery over them. The next day as he narrated his experience to his mentor, Ranganathan said:

“Good, you are now aware of a faculty and power in you which you are not fully conscious before. Now you know that you have a faculty within you which can stand back from the flow of your thoughts and feelings and watch them as a witness. The next step is to make this detachment deeper more and more complete and perfect. Step back and disidentify your cognitive mind entirely from the flow of thoughts and feelings. Just watch them raising and falling like waves on the sea. This is your assignment for the next few days. Come back again this Sunday and we will discuss further.”

Again as Anand tried to put into practice his mentor’s words, he found how little he knew of his own self and how much is there to know. He was experiencing a growing inner freedom and understanding which comes from increasing self-awareness and self detachment. On Sunday, when he again met his mentor, Anand said thankfully,

“Sir, I don’t know how to express my gratitude to you. You have opened a new world of knowledge for me which is bringing practical benefits to my life. I am now more peaceful, conscious, less stressful and more in control of myself.”

Ranganathan laughed happily and said:

“Very good. But don’t remain satisfied with what you have achieved proceed further. Be more and more vigilant and alert and try to discover the innermost source of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, impulses, volitions and motives. You will find there are coming from different parts of your being. When you have negative feelings like anger or jealousy try to identify the points of ego or desire from which it raises. You will find that most of the negativities and disturbances come either from hurt ego or dissatisfied desire. Similarly you must fully experience the fact that the detached witness you have discovered is not only a mere observer but has the power of control. The witness has a will which can reject those thoughts or feelings which it doesn’t want, retain others which it wants and cultivate new thoughts and feelings. This will be a life-long inner journey and exploration.”

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