Quest for managers

Monday, 25 July 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Being confident about what you do is an important requisite of any manager. There are several key qualities associated with confidence. David McNally, an international speaker, in his favourite book titled ‘Even Eagles need a Push,’ has discussed five such qualities of confident people. Today’s column is about the relevance of such for Sri Lankan managers.



I recall reading McNally’s book around 10 years ago and the key ideas still linger in my mind. Moreover, I have been using the video based on the book more than 100 times so far in my programmes.

Every time I watch the video, it gives me a ‘push’ to go beyond my limitations to unleash true potential. The way training participants have appreciated and saw the connection between what they do and what the five qualities mean was very encouraging. As such, I am very much convinced that five qualities of confidence have much relevance to Sri Lankan managers. Let’s Discover what and why.

Confident, empowered people

Interestingly, McNally refers to a category of people called “confident, empowered people”. They are the ones who are clear about where they are going, why they are going there, and how they should be going. Their confidence comes from deep within. They are also, empowered in the sense that they take charge of their lives without complaining.

How about the Sri Lankan managers? Are they also confident and empowered? Without being naively judgmental, let’s go through the features of the five qualities, and then make our assessment.

Five qualities

According to McNally, five essential qualities of confident empowered people are self-appreciation, vision, purpose, commitment and contribution. As in the case of most management concepts, we find that these are nothing new. It’s a case of re-packaging what we know. Yet, due credit should go to McNally for popularising them in the context of individual and institutional development.


McNally compares our lives to a hull of a boat. Like a hull, our lives can be covered with layers of “barnacles”. They are the self-limiting beliefs about our worth and our ability to contribute to work and society. Being aware of such self-limiting beliefs is the first step of improvement.

Once McNally was having a successful business in Australia, and started experiencing problems. His business got bankrupt and he became so upset about it. His wife came to the rescue in saying, “David, you are becoming so ordinary”. That was a wake-up call for him to look out for fresh opportunities.

The logic is simple. Parts of a boat when put to the sea separately will sink. When they are together as a boat, it will sail. The calling is to appreciate our full potential, in identifying our strengths and shortcomings.

How good are the Sri Lankan managers with regard to their self-appreciation? I see a significant potential for improvement. Most of the soft-skills training programs try to address this issue, as to how to have a better appreciation of who you really are. Managers attempt to compare and complain on what they do not have or what others have better than them. More they complain, more resentful they will be.

Instead, what should be the positive path? Self talk will be very handy here. You may go in front of a mirror (preferably alone) and see the complex creature called “you”. Talk to yourself and appreciate who you are as it is. You are unique to the whole universe. (I can say this safely at least for few decades until scientists master human cloning.)


The book of Ecclesiastes, in the old testament of the Bible says something very insightful. “When there is no vision, there is division”. Vision binds a team together. Vision gives a sense of clarity to an individual, in identifying a desired end dream. The old saying of inspiration goes on as follows: “Dare to dream, dare to act, dare to fail and dare to succeed.”

McNally identifies vision as the second quality of confident empowered people. As many a great people on earth have shown us, vision without action will be a day-dream. Action without vision will take us nowhere. Vision with action will lead to the fulfilment of aspirations.

It reminds me of Alice in Wonderland story. When the Cheshire Cat approached Alice, she was playing in a lawn next to a beginning of several roads. Cat asks Alice where she would like to go, Alice says “I don’t know”. Then the cat says, go on any road, and it will lead you to the place called “I don’t know”. There is a similar saying in the local vernacular. Either you are heading to ‘Katharagama’ or you will end up in ‘Atharamaga’ (in between).

How about the Sri Lankan managers? We claim that we have fabulous visions. In most cases they are framed pictures with dust and cobwebs. Vision is to there to be shared and to obtain support from all concerned. It is not happening to the level that we would like to see. Stephen Covey says: “Begin with the end in mind.” That’s when the vision matters.


McNally relates the moving story of Terry Fox. He lost one of his legs due to cancer, yet, ran more than 3,000 miles to raise money for cancer research. His target was US$ one million and he ended up raising US$ 24 million. This aptly demonstrates what a powerful purpose can do.

Vision talks of what. Purpose goes beyond in identifying a big, burning “why” within. Perhaps, one of the best recent examples is the Sri Lankan armed forces as to how they defeated the most ruthless terrorists in the world. When you have a purpose, your life matters.

Having a purpose gives a fundamental reason for one to live. There are many success stories, from the annals of world history.

Victor Frankel was a Jewish doctor who was serving a rigorous imprisonment in Auschwitz concentration camp. Having seen his whole family getting killed, he got the idea of committing suicide. What prevented him in doing so was a strong sense of purpose to live and to tell the world the atrocities committed inside the camp. Power of purpose persisted in him to survive and to escape. ‘Man’s Search for Meaning,’ the bestselling book, was his creation highlighting the wonders a solid purpose can do.

How are we with regard to our purpose? Have we identified our purpose of living, in leading a purpose-driven life? Purposeful managers, particularly entrepreneurs have made a difference in their lives as well as others. It can be someone like Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela or even Steve Jobs.


McNally cites a University of Chicago study where successful people and their parents were interviewed. In most of the cases, the parents said, it was the other child who was doing better in school. Commitment is the fuel that drives achievement, in utilising one’s capabilities to the fullest.

Author Ken Blanchard says that there is a difference between interest and commitment. If you are interested, you do something when you feel like doing. If you are committed, you do it whenever needed, no matter what the circumstances are. The best example is a mother giving birth to a child and thereafter taking care of it. It is not a choice but sheer commitment.

Are Sri Lankan managers showing the needed commitment at work? What we see is a mixed scenario. It is naïve to say that it is better in private sector than in the public sector. It is far more realistic to say that wherever there is greater fostering on individual and institutional purpose, higher commitment can be seen. Ultimately it boils down to one’s involvement and association. Overall, we can do a lot more to further improve the level of commitment towards work.


McNally shares an interesting story of a pig and a cow. The pig complains that the cow is being respected and appreciated more, despite both giving everything they have for people. The cow responds saying, “I give while I am living.” The truth lies here. We are called to contribute while we are living. In other words, we should contribute consciously, when we can.

There is a growing wave of awareness on triple bottom line (profits, people, and planet). Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or sustainability initiatives are all revolve around the principle of contribution.

It reminds me of a song by late Gunadasa Kapuge: “Let’s not be mountains trying to beat one another, and instead be streams of water leading to one river.” Live is not about cutting others and making headways. It is all to do with succeeding whilst sharing.

Sri Lankan managers can do more with regard to this respect, in teaming together for results. The starting point is the realisation of the need for contribution. Taking it into a macro level, let’s connect ourselves with South Asia, the region with best brains and worst poverty. Contribution is one key word for us to progress.

Way forward

We’ve looked into five qualities of confident, empowered people. We saw their relevance to us as individuals as well as Sri Lankan managers, in general. The quest of inculcating the above five qualities is open for all of us. It is a forward journey with high self-appreciation, clear vision, strong purpose, consistent commitment and genuine contribution. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Let’s take that step now.

(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is a learner, teacher, trainer, researcher, writer and a thinker in the areas of Human Resource Management and Organisational Behaviour. He can be reached on [email protected].)

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