A short version of this article appeared in Travel section of The Star Newspaper on 12 Jan 2023. This article is available here for a limited period only.
" If there is paradise on Earth, it is here, it is here, it is here."
This was what coming to my mind many times during my 5 days stay in the land of atolls in the middle of the Indian Ocean, Maldives.
December was a slow period at my workplace and hence I could take a couple of days’ vacations that I merged with a weekend to make this Maldives trip fruitful. I like to be a solo traveller and like to plan out my trips, that gives me flexibility on things that I want to focus and things that I am OK to skip. And so I planned out my trip for Maldives – half of the duration I will spend in the Capital of Maldives, Male’ and the remaining half I will be spending in a very small island called Maalhos in the Baa atoll. I chose Baa atoll (though logistic wise it was bit difficult) because the Baa atoll is recognized by UNESCO as World Biosphere Reserve due to significant biodiversity in its waters.
First, let us talk about the journey. I have planned this trip months back and hence was able to manage cheap flights to Maldives from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After reaching Male’ at night on a Saturday and staying in Male’ overnight, next day I boarded the flight to the Dharavandhoo island of Baa Atoll. Dharavandhoo airport is perhaps the smallest airport I have seen in my life. When we landed our flight was the only aircraft at the airport. From Dharavandhoo I had booked a boat (yes, I had to book a complete boat!) to take me to Maalhos island.
Maalhos island is a very small island, at its length it is just 7.5 kms from one end to another. At its width it is only 0.5 km. On my first day I have literally circumnavigated the island on foot. It was a great experience as sea waters were pristine turquoise colour and sand was simply as whitest as a beach could be. While circumnavigating I realized the rising sea level certainly encroached many of the woods area of the island, leaving almost no path to walk and I was often walking in knee deep waters in my endeavour to circle the island. Global warming is not an abstract concept here in Maldives, it is a harsh reality! It is perhaps no wonder that Maldives was the first country to sign the Kyoto protocol!
At night on the same day, after dinner, I decided to take a stroll at the beach again. It was very dark as there was no streetlight at those areas. However, there were some lights caught my eye. Those are not from any artificial sources, neither from the sky, those are of living organism – bioluminescent planktons. I heard about them earlier but never thought those are so glorious. It was as if blue tears moving up and down at the shore as sea waves are hitting the beach. And then there are some abrupt movements of lights , I realized those are due to the crabs that got in contact of those planktons and running inside the land at the beach and of those fish also, certainly contacted those planktons, which are drifting into the sea. After some time, I realized, I am also wearing a light shoe and as I was moving and agitating the planktons, my feet are glowing with natural blue colours! While I was amazed with this, but I could not help to think on the fate of those planktons – though I could hardly do anything at that point of time.
Next day morning, I decided to explore the waters. There were no guides, however, the hotel provides snorkelling equipment. I hit the water wearing those gears and for a long time was searching for a good spot of reef where I could see many fishes. And then finally found such place, oh, that is a wonderful land with so many colourful fishes. I have also seen a shark, few dolphins and parrotfish. I was feeling grateful to God for creating such paradise on earth. I was also feeling grateful to my parents for bringing me in this world! I was particularly feeling grateful to my father, as unless he did teach me how to swim, I would have not dared to go into such depth of waters. And at last I was grateful to all who contributed to me in some way or other, for them, I was shaped as the person that I was at that point of time as I was contemplating.
The next day it is time to go back to Male’. Male’ is the namesake of Maldives, Maldives means islands of Male’ (though some people also claim Maldives came from Sanskrit word, Mala – garland and Dwipa – island). Many tourists skip Male’ but the capital city has some interesting places to check. And most of them are in walking distance from one another. I visited the Old Friday mosque in Male’ which is at least 350 years old. I visited president’s residence which used to be palace during the sultanate era. Next, I explored Islamic Centre and National Museum of Maldives.
A hermit crab
Memory of the 2004 tsunami is still vivid in the minds of the people of Maldives, I visited the Tsunami monument at the southwestern corner of the Male’ island paid respect to people lost their lives during the event.
I know the memory of my recently concluded trip to Maldives will linger in my mind for a long time. I wish I can also share this experience with people whatever way I can. Not only the narration of beautiful island but also the more important narration of impact of climate change that is happening on those fragile ecosystems – that is the part I want to focus and communicate to the people.
Some people wait for afterlife to visit paradise, who knows God has already given us paradise to live and we have not understood it yet! Can we not do our part, whatever way we can, to protect the environment – so that these paradises are intact, and our future generation find them as beautiful as they are on today’s date? We still have time, but if we delay even further – maybe it will not take long time for these paradises to be extinct from the face of earth! The Choice is in our hand!
Old Friday mosque at Male' , Maldives
The New Beginning
The summer of 2018 was overwhelming as I took up a new role, completed my coaching assignments, and handled a toddler/family and domestic stuff at home. Transitioning to a new role held the utmost priority item on the list. I was replacing Mary, who handled the current position for 3-4 years. Towards the end of the transition to the new role, I was a part of a year-end review of Patty with Mary. Feedback from Mary seemed like Patty was good for nothing. I could sense that it was the first feedback session between them. I wondered why anybody would have to wait until the end of the year to give feedback. Is it Patty's responsibility also to ask for feedback? This incident worried me greatly as I was gearing up to start my new role. I was afraid to have an irresponsible and inefficient individual like Patty on my team. The most significant burden was the inefficiency of Patty’s would reflect on my performance.
Looking back as a mentor
Over the past decade, I mentored over 40-50 individuals. Mentoring is critical in a growing organization, where we used to hire hundreds of fresh graduates every year. I was very successful as a mentor as I closely noticed mentees transforming themselves, achieving their goals, and moving up their career ladder. Mentors go the extra mile to invest significant time and effort to identify each team member's strengths and areas of improvement and enable them to perform well in their specific work areas. Acting as a mentor and watching someone else grow is incredibly fulfilling. Some of them did acknowledge my effort in shaping their career. As it was a growing organization, we used to have many responsibilities when teams were not set for value to add work that we would do ourselves. There was reverse mentoring also in some cases. One of my mentees suggested that weekends are for relaxing and finishing personal stuff, which would energize and recharge us for the following week. I took this as great advice and stopped working on weekends until it affected business and needed attention immediately. I invested my weekends in family/hobbies/learning/domestic work. This success of mentoring led me to explore the world of coaching. Mentoring involves sharing experiences, advising, and guiding, whereas coaching involves asking instead of telling, enhancing self-awareness, etc. The difference between coaching and mentoring could be as simple as this - "A coach has some great questions for your answers; a mentor has some great answers for your questions”. “Coaching is transformative and brings a change in the workplace”.
The art of getting used to the new role
I balanced my daily duties as a manager and built my team. I put a few protocols in place to ensure that deliverables do not affect. I had my eyes on achieving targets and zero escalations from the stakeholders. I set up daily connections with all my reports. It helped to get hands-on experience with various processes handled by the team, track the progress, and identify their issues and challenges. Stakeholder management was as important as a team. I was trying to build trust and confidence in them. As humans, we experience fears; like feeling that we do not belong and are valued, and similar desires; such as being heard and being part of a team, being accepted and appreciated. I had to connect with my peers to understand the best practices and listen to their views on my challenges. Mailbox flooded with hundreds of emails, and back-to-back meetings were the new norm. It was a learning phase; I would go to my team members to understand the background and the best reply to some of the emails. I had to prioritize the meetings of all invites that I received.
"You cannot teach anybody anything; only make them realize the answers are already inside them." Galileo Galilei
It was evident that Patty struggled more after the feedback session with her previous manager. She skipped many team meetings and online get together. It looked unprofessional to join late for the calls often. She responded to some of the emails at midnight. This role demanded something at midnight seldom. She had to work on time management and prioritize her work during the day. I started painting a vivid picture of how I see her positively affecting the team. I strongly desired to use my coaching skills for her transformation as an efficient resource. Coaching is necessary for the workplace, as many employees would have the deepest motivation and aspirations. How do they strive to achieve them? They could be having deepest fears and how they avoid them.
"All personal breakthroughs begin with a change in beliefs." - Tony Robbins
The way forward
Bit by bit, I started to appreciate her work and thank her for helping me with my request and all her hard work. It looked like she wanted to be valued and admired for her work and gain some confidence. You do not have to be best friends with your reports for coaching to work, but you must build a relationship of trust. A solid relationship with your team will allow you to coach, lead, and bring out the best in your reports. Initially, I helped her with best practices to organize her work better by using online tools, time management, and tweaking how she communicated over emails.
Over a period, I started coaching Patty. Coaching is not a one-size-fits-all process. Tailoring your focus to the person you are interacting with is essential. Coaching is a personal advancement and objective-focused process. We had regular connections to help her identify issues/challenges/concerns. The list was long. We started focusing on the highest-impact areas for her.
We would break down the overarching goal statements with a structured coaching conversation into bite-sized pieces. I helped Patty to prioritize the items to discuss in every session. Every discussion of ours was goal oriented. Open-ended questions play a significant role in individuals exploring themselves with the coach. I could sense the profound thoughts she had to succeed in life. She responded to my questions by thinking deeply and being open. She had psychological safety, as it was a non-judgemental zone. I was surprised that she had umpteen ideas to put the process in place, achieve targets quickly, and dedicate time for high business impact work.
The stakeholders appreciated Patty for her excellent work. He always admired how organized she was with any data requested at the last minute during their proposal submission or just before orals. Her work reflected her transformation. She was being more confident, organized, and managed deliverables carefully. Coaching challenged her thinking, improved her morale, and offered new options to achieve harmony between work, life, and relaxation.
Coaching sessions got her to think more critically about her professional growth. Also, encouraged her to become more mindful of her actions and interaction with others. One of the skills anybody usually picks up in coaching sessions and then – consciously or unconsciously – applies to their day-to-day interactions with others is the ability to ask thoughtful questions. Knowing how to ask the right questions and work towards a mutually beneficial solution can help build an organization with an empathetic team and promotes collaboration across departments. I witnessed Patty being part of volunteering and enjoying the work that she did for the social cause. Volunteering was one of her essential desires, which she had not explored due to lack of time.
Benefits of coaching skills at work
· Consistent coaching helps individuals to stay relevant means adapting work styles and leadership styles much faster than what is comfortable.
· Coaching encourages communication, reflection, and self-correction.
· Coaching also, positively affects team effectiveness and productivity as the individuals feel valued and cared for with coaching sessions.
Essential coaching skills
· Listen to Learn – Listening patiently to understand the issue/challenge is one of the basic skills managers have to possess. This makes the individuals feel valued and leads to trust between us. In the coaching process, one must be aware of the intentions and aims of the session.
· Inquire for Insight – While the coaching conversation is on, managers have to look for a clue in the statements made by individuals to ask powerful questions back and draw insights out of them.
· Empathizing - Helps the client to think more deeply about their wishes, motivations, and feelings and share them with the coach.
Challenges in Coaching
· We are investing time in coaching around the margins of our busy schedules.
· It takes time to develop trust between the coach and the client
· There could be a lack of accountability by the client
One of the most important things you can teach your team is the proper perspective on failure. When you believe that failure is just a hurdle to cross, something that makes you better every time you fall and picks yourself back up, anything is possible. Coaching is compelling as it allows individuals to tap their resources and think of solutions. It is a continuous improvement process. I habitually asked my reports for feedback/ideas/suggestions regarding their work. This act led them to feel more inclusive. By every measure, workplace coaching significantly improves outcomes for employees. Allow sufficient time for changes to stick.
With this success, I truly feel #IamRemarkable.
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Library of Congress, Washington DC : It is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States.
New York Public Library , New York City
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A public library in Kuala Lumpur
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And yes ... this is certainly not the complete list , there are many such bookstores and libraries in the world and in upcoming days we will try to add as many of them possible in the list.