|Ashridge: Founded as a monastery in the
13th century, Ashridge today is a top B-school in the UK
explains angus Clark, "is like Tai Chi. It's about balance,
harmony, and oneness with your environment." It's seven in
the morning and it somehow seems appropriate that we should be talking
about leadership standing on the lawns of Ashridge-one of the leading
B-schools in the UK-just a few feet away from an oak tree planted
by Queen Victoria around 1823 when she was four or five years old.
For, I've flown 6,500-odd kilometres just the day before to Ashridge
to partake in a leadership conference intriguingly titled "The
Roots and Treetops of Leadership". It's the third in an ongoing
series, I am told, and this year there are some 90 participants,
largely from the UK, but including some from places as far off as
South Africa and Gambia.
Ten minutes before in the Wyatt Room, where
the 11 of us stopped for coffee, fingers were crossed. Although
August is supposed to be one of the "driest" months in
London, the sky looked ominously grey. Sure, Angus would have been
more than happy to conduct his class indoor, but we really wanted
to be out there among the ancient trees, breathing the sweet crisp
air, and relishing the thought that we were standing where Queen
Elizabeth I may have once walked as a child. Mercifully for us,
the clouds decided to bear their load for one more day, and I got
my first taste of Tai Chi. (The next day it rained, but unmindful
of it the group-considerably smaller, courtesy bar bingeing the
previous evening-spent three quarters of an hour doing Tai Chi on
Tai Chi is nice, but too slow for an impatient
man like me. And the thing about Tai Chi and leadership? There's
no disputing the fact that we need leaders with energy and ambition,
particularly those who can keep their cool in a crisis. Tai Chi
I dare say is an excellent way of achieving that inner balance.
Does Tai Chi make great leaders? I guess that would be stretching
things a bit. But then, Angus never said it did.
|Angus Clark (in purple track pants) taking
us through the "swing". Angus was the last westerner
to study with Tai Chi grandmaster, Chi Chiang Tao.
The roots and treetops analogy, nevertheless,
was apt. The roots are the young in the organisation, the stem and
branches the middle management, and the treetops, the senior management.
The question implied was how do treetops continue to inspire and
energise the roots. Some answers came on day one from Mads Ovlisen,
Chairman of Novo Nordisk. A one-time lawyer, Mads ventured into
pharmaceuticals and today heads the Danish Kroner 23.77-billion
Novo Nordisk. Somewhere along the way, Mads must have forgotten
all about law, because at the insulin giant, he's doing unlawyer-like
things. He's a champion of something called the "triple bottomline
reporting" (that's the first time I heard of it). This is a
measure of the company's performance on three fronts: social and
environmental responsibility, and economic viability.
Every year for more than a decade now the company
issues a report on the triple bottomline, detailing how it fared
on issues like eco-efficiency, bioethics and animal welfare, access
to health, particularly in developing countries, and the overall
socio-economic impact of Novo Nordisk's global operations. What
I found interesting, however, was Mads' take on leadership. His
job, he said, was to get his employees excited about working in
Novo Nordisk. Or "make them feel like running to work every
morning". In these days of shareholder value, it was reassuring
to find that there are CEOs who think excited employees are worth
Later in the evening, all of us were invited
to express our own ideas of leadership through sculpture. For that
we had to split up into groups of four or five and walk along a
trail in the Ashridge garden. Along the way, the groups were supposed
to pick up objects that could go into the making of their sculptures.
Back in the fernery after their hour-long stroll, the teams were
offered a range of sculptural aids-from spray paint cans to thermocole
to glazed paper to duct tape-to build their creative pieces.
The result, variously, was hilarious and stunning.
One group built an inverted pyramid out of three sticks and dangled
something in the middle to suggest the regenerative part of leadership,
and somebody else had returned with a silkworm and put it on a garden
lamp with a glass cup on top to symbolise transformational leadership.
I stuck a short stick-like branch of a tree on a piece of thermocole
and called it 'The Mahatma' (it was a hilarious sight).
|At breakout sessions like this one, participants
were encouraged to explore their own styles of leadership.
Coming Full Circle
For most of us, a big part of Ashridge's charm
was its history. Edmund of Cornwall, nephew of King Henry III, founded
Assherugge in 1283 as a monastery. Following the Dissolution (between
1535 and 1539, Henry VIII ferreted monks and clergy out of their
monastries and convents when the Pope refused to agree to Henry's
divorce of Queen Catharine of Aragon), Ashridge became a royal home
for Henry's children. When his daughter Elizabeth I died, her Lord
Chancellor, Thomas Egerton, bought Ashridge in 1604.
Thereafter, Ashridge was owned at different
times by Bridgewater and Brownlow families. During the First World
War, Ashridge was offered as a convalescent home by its then owner
Adelbert Wellington Cust, also called Lord Brownlow III. When he
died in 1921, Ashridge was to be put under the hammer. But pressured,
the British government stepped in and helped the National Trust
purchase Ashridge. A period of uncertainty followed during which
some contents of Ashridge were auctioned. Finally, it was acquired
by Urban Hanlon Broughton and gifted to the Conservative Party.
He set up the Bonar Law Memorial Trust (Andrew Bonar Law was Britain's
Prime Minister between 1921 and 1922), and Ashridge became a college
for training Conservative Party workers.
Only in 1957 did some companies including Unilever,
Guinness and Shell come together to create the idea of a business
school at Ashridge. By 1959, the school began offering executive
development programmes, and thirty years later it graduated its
first batch of executive MBAs. Now, Leslie Hannah, its CEO, wants
to create an international profile for Ashridge. And between India
and China, he's betting on the great elephant.
But looking at Perween Warsi, I couldn't help
but wonder if a leader needs an MBA at all. Warsi first came to
the UK in 1975 as a young mother. Frustrated by the quality of Asian
food sold in the supermarkets, Warsi started making samosas in her
own kitchen and selling to local stores. Today, the "Samosa
Queen" is the richest Asian woman in the UK, and her £100
million empire spans four factories, 1,300 employees, making everything
from Indian to Thai to Malaysian foods. In fact, her vindaloo inspired
a hit football song in the UK during the World Cup (football) in
Back on the plane to Delhi, as I looked back
at the three-day conference, one thing became apparent to me. Leadership
is not about sterile systems and processes. Rather, it's about inspiring
and guiding people. Of making them do things they never thought
they could. As I threw back my second bottle of airline wine and
pulled the eyeshade over, I think I saw the image of an old, fast-walking
man flash by in my head. Or was it the poor sod I saw at Euston
Bad form in weight training
is the worst you can do in the gym. For one, not doing exercises
correctly negates their very benefits. For instance, if your
shoulders do more work than your triceps, cable pulldowns
are unlikely to help you build your triceps. But worse, when
bad form becomes a habit, you run the risk of injuring yourself.
Here's a quick run-down of some common mistakes we all run
the risk of making and how to fix them.
Bench Presses: A typical mistake that beginners make on
the bench is to change the arch of the spine while lifting
the bar. Apart from the fact that this doesn't help in building
the pectorals (chest muscles), over a period of time it can
lead to debilitating spine injuries.
How to fix it: Place feet firmly flat on the ground while
lifting and concentrate on keeping your upper body motionless
while you lift the barbell. If your spine tends to change
shape, reduce the weight you're benching.
Triceps Pulldown: Most people who try to increase the weight
they pull down use their shoulders to push. That's silly because
this isn't an exercise for the shoulders but for the triceps.
How to fix it: Keep your shoulders low and your elbows tucked
into the sides of your body.
Biceps Curls: If you find your upper arms moving forward,
then your targeted muscles-the biceps in this case-aren't
doing the work.
How to fix it: Keep your elbows close to your body throughout
the movement and your wrists slightly outwardly stretched.
The latter helps in maximising the benefits of the curls your
Lat Pulldown: This is obviously for the upper back muscles
but you'll be surprised to see the number of people in gyms
who use their arms to do most of the work.
How to fix it: Through the exercise of pulling down the
bar, keep your back stretched so that your shoulder blades
approach each other (a trainer I know says try to bring them
as close as to be able to hold a pencil between them!). This
targets your back and not your arms.
Crunches: While doing abdominal crunches, don't swing your
head forward. This can cause neck injuries.
How to fix it: While doing crunches, touch the tips of your
fingers to either your temples or just behind the ears and
imagine you're holding a cricket ball between your chin and
your Adam's apple. Your neck stays straight and the crunches
rip your belly.