Ascending a Pyramid

A leadership tip by a follower

Who would imagine that an article with rock-climbing references can have the ingredients to trigger a corporate debate?! It was interesting to note the emergence of many fresh perspectives on the intriguing art of toggling between the work field and the play field. But, of course, the real-world rock climbing carries a lot higher stakes. Any tripping in the balancing act can spell doom for the player. While work and play require ‘horizontal’ balancing; the intense sport of rock climbing is all about maneuvering ‘vertical’ heights. One would suspect, therefore, that the ensuing corporate lessons from this sport must also be no child’s play!

Just like a climber, today’s professionals find themselves lurching in the middle of two worlds: one above, the other below. You see, as we all ascend the professional pyramid shaped rock, the relationships that we build with the stepping stones—the senior stones above and junior pebbles below—have a strong influence on how high our career will scale.

The Paradoxical Setting…

Our (Deepak and mine) father was a no yes-man when it came to work place. He was a very principled professional who could not relate to the concept of “buttering” up his bosses. Thus, while his colleagues would go making courtesy visits during festivals or inviting over their superiors for wining & dining, my dad refrained from such activities. Obviously, he paid a heavy professional price for his ideologies. You see, he was a little ahead of his times.

Today, our planet has evolved. The new generation bosses do not care for outdated “yes-man” functional styles of their subordinates. The combination of Dad’s and new generation’s influence has ensured that I (and Deepak) have adapted well with new ideologies; somehow we have never expected special hospitality gestures from Cybagians on any occasion.

But here is the trick. Even the CEO is not an absolute boss; for he needs to be the organization’s ambassador to customers at large. When my eyes roll up, I see a client; when they hover down, there are employees all around. So while not expecting any unusual warm gestures from subordinates has been my personal discretion, there was a time when this thought process had gotten so institutionalized in my DNA that I adopted the same equality (albeit impractical) while treating Cybage customers.

The identical dilemma is faced by many professionals today. Many of us treat our subordinates so much at par that the reverse extension of this philosophy has led to dilution of our respect towards seniors. Result, come appraisal time, somewhere our appraisers—be it the customer or our bosses—subconsciously shortchange us for our callous attitude.

So, an interesting paradoxical situation has emerged here… the people below us are supposed to be ‘equal’; however, the people above are to be treated at a ‘pedestal’ level! But the indiscriminating laws of nature render this frequent mind-switching very difficult—either everyone is equal, or no one is equal! Unless, of course, you get incredibly lucky and end up running into someone who shows you alternate options…

The Unorthodox Balancer…

Several years back, when Cybage operated out of residential bungalows, a tall, skinny guy walked in for an interview one day—an erect posture, authoritative talk, and a firm handshake. He would use “Sir” title to address, and did everything like an army man, just stopped short of rendering a salute! It was one of those adorations at first sight—five minutes with him, and we knew we had the right person. Later, we discovered that he indeed came from a family of distinguished army officers; his father was Major General and one of his triplet siblings was a Major in the Indian Army.

Once he was on board, he treated his team mates fair and square, and his quick rising popularity amongst his subordinates resulted in his flash elevation to department head, and eventually as one of the big success stories at Cybage. But the objective of this “Shaping Years” blog series is not to glorify anyone, for heroes have their abundant share of fallacies too. Rather, I want to share an interesting tip that I captured from a peculiar characteristic of this individual.

It is meaningful to note here that the relationship of this Cybagian with me has never been based on “flattering” tactics. In fact, he has always been voraciously opinionated. But he does one thing very different, ever since he became a Cybagian—he has made it a point to personally call me on every important occasion, be it birthdays or anniversaries, Diwali or New Year! And the vocals behind each call imbibe the same genuine sincerity as of the day he first strode in for his job interview!

Today, I have gotten so used to having him wish me on every occasion that I actually await his call. There is some kind of warm connection he has managed to establish with me. While this hotline doesn’t give him any benefit of not being pulled up like everybody else, the relaxed personal bond makes it easier for him to clear up the air and reconnect. Now, isn’t that a wonderful privilege to have for every professional while dealing with his customers or superiors? Gurvinder must be feeling so cool to have a boss who remembers HIM on his personal occasions, and occasionally on blogging sessions!!!

PS: Please be advised that the above story is only an illustration of a different relationship dimension between seniors and juniors; by no means am I implying that Cybagians need to start calling me up frequently (one nagging sardar is more than what I can handle happy).

There are two basic rules that assist you in becoming an ace mountain climber…

One, don’t look down! For if you do, you will get disoriented and may fall down. And if you don’t, what is beneath you ceases to exist; it’s like you are standing on a flat ground! Result, everything below you is automatically bestowed the status of being “equal”! It is said, equality is never achieved by being extra sensitive to people below you. Rather, equality is achieved by NOT making any special efforts that may make your subordinates conscious of their lower position.

Two, look at the rocks above you with respect! For these are the rocks that will give you the footholds to help you ascend. True, there will be some loose rocks that you may not be able to trust. But the only way to figure out whether the rock is firm or loose is by tapping it, by closely feeling it to see whether it can be trusted. Smart professionals always “respect” their seniors for they know that the right ones will provide them the footholds to climb faster towards their objectives.

There must be, I am sure, other innovative perspectives of balancing hierarchical relationships. Rock-climbing itself may be holding other corporate lessons as well. So, once again, it’s the turn of the ‘climbers’ in the blogging audience to make their valuable contributions…

Amicable, Original, Attitude, Style


  1. Hi Arun,
    This is really nice blog. The most intresting part I felt was the way you explained “two basic rules that assist you in becoming an ace mountain climber…”
    Being in Cybage I hope I will climb the mountain faster achiving the goals in my life.
    Thank you.

  2. The Nepalese name for the Mt Everest is Sagarmatha, which means Goddess of the Sky and The Tibetan name is Chomolungma (or Quomolongma), which means Mother Goddess of the Universe. Sherpa community living in the foot hills of Himalaya has deep respect for this sacred mountain. All Sherpas offer their prayers and hold the puja ceremony as a respect before starting their journey to the summit. But this respect does not stop them from conquering this mountain because that is their destiny. In our corporate life we also need to respect the mountain but this respect should not act as a deterrent and we should never forget our destiny.

  3. Mountaineering expeditions are successful as one respects the rocks on the way. The rocks below you help you to reach where you are. The rocks surrounding you give you a foothold to remain in your position. The rocks above you inspire you to reach them. Heights are to be taken seriously and one should not play around in unknown surrounding.
    One who has self-respect always respects others. Respect should be behavioural, as well as, true to ones feeling. One must respect all keeping in mind that by giving respect one receives respect. This gives a positive feeling keeping one at peace. Peaceful mind helps to lead a satisfied and successful life.

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Ascending a Pyramid - Arun Nathani Blog