The bowl

Ever since I can remember, the men who roamed the streets asking for alms had one thing in common. The begging bowl. Or the ‘Thiruvodu” as its called in Tamil.  Its made from a shell of a fruit. It gets painted black and its possession proves beyond doubt the status of ‘renunciation’ of the erstwhile era.

A couple of years back, while travelling the interiors of Tamil Nadu, in a small temple, there was a line up of men seated on the ancient stone floor. Sacred ash smeared all over their body, layers of beads strung around their neck, chatting around. Every one of them had the bowl in front.  As we walked by, one of them stood out. Him and his bowl, both stood out.



He smiled, wished me well and was game for conversation. The bowl was bedecked with  striking flowers, inviting an almost reverential parting of a small sum from the wallet.  More importantly, we got talking. Within a few minutes the conversation veered to his Thiruvodu or the bowl. “I am not particularly interested in how much people give, but am particularly thankful that they do give, when there is a choice otherwise”. I remember him saying, something to that effect. But this line I remember verbatim : “Whatever they give, my bowl must be worthy and ready to receive”.

That was then.

Two weeks ago, in the middle of a talent review discussion, someone in the room quipped ‘feedback must be received with a begging bowl’.  Of receiving it fully and comprehensively, sans judgement. In a jiffy the mind ran to fetch the conversation with the old man and his flower decked bowl. I wondered when last was the time I sought feedback with that attitude?

The number of people who want to ‘give’ feedback far outnumber the people who are proactive in ‘seek’ing feedback. Many want to ‘tell’ others what they think of how others are doing. Very few go out on a limb and ‘receive’ in the first place and ‘receive sans judgement’ for it to make complete sense.

In the social, connected and collaborative world we live in, feedback is ubiquitous. It keeps coming our way all the time. Every interaction is a source for feedback. My own hypotheses is this : it is dealing with this public ‘feedback’ that puts the fear into many and gets them stay away from Social tools.

Staying with real world,  here are a few aspects that the leaders who I have worked well with, do well while seeking feedback.

a. First off, they seek feedback. To commence the discussion, they ask very pointed questions. At least, that’s what they start with. Starting by directing the feedback to a defined area, on which the feedback is sought on, vastly increases the quality of the feedback received.

b. They remain very open to any and all feedback that is given. No defensive ‘but you know..’ questions. Questions, if at all, are more asked for amplification or clarification.

There is a strong difference between what they seek and what they accept and do. Listening in carefully sans judgement doesn’t mean that feedback is readily accepted in full. Its just that the processing of it takes place much later.

c. They always provide feedback on feedback. For starters, writing feedback down while it is being received, communicates a level of seriousness A business leader told me once, that writing helps him give a direction to all the energy, when all the feedback is coming his way. Simple stuff like nodding the head and staying attentive to feedback that is coming their way helps them get more!  Another business leader who I talk to more on the phone, makes it a point to paraphrase the feedback at the end of the conversation, beginning with a ‘for my own understanding..’

These to me are aspects that I have noticed in successful leaders who genuinely seek and work on feedback. To have it in one to seek, receive, process and work on the feedback sought is perhaps one of the greatest gifts that superlative leaders are endowed with. Thats something I have noticed.  I wonder what you have noticed.

One thought on “The bowl

  1. Good one, Kavi! We so often don’t leave ourselves vulnerable and open to receive feedback. I have gone through a similar journey from reaction to acceptance. Thank you for sharing this!

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