Sometimes in life we ask for things, and only when we get it do we realize that we do not really want it. A moment like this happened to me a few years back. Covid just closed the world and there was no surprise that my business wasn’t doing very well.

A potential client reached out to me, and the conversation, to my total delight, was moving rapidly towards a paid contract. Even with all the NDAs in place, all I knew about them was that they were in the dating platform business. They connect people.

Finally, they put an obscenely large contract before me. The timing here is very important. This was at a time when my bank balance was heading towards a perfect zero. It was around then that I realized that this company was in the business of connecting people, where the connection would be risk free, confidential, and assured. Finally, they shared that they are world leaders in connecting married people so they can cheat. My personal red flags went up immediately. Although, it is not legally wrong, I had a choice. I stared at the contract, with a bizarre smile on my face, I said, “I cannot do it”.

The ‘I cannot do it’ came to me very easily, without having to think about it, because I could see that I am a publicly traded company. I have a board consisting of two members, my daughter, Raka, and my wife, Chitra. I didn’t want to think about what they would say when they heard about this project. Beyond the board, I also have shareholders. Clint, who has been working with me for over twenty years, others in my company and my clients. What would they feel about their connection to ZenMango?

I realized that we all live in a connected world. We are not isolated. Anything and everything we do, has individual consequences, but they are connected to the life of others. I am responsible for my actions, the consequences, and the feelings of my shareholders. These decisions are not always easy and sometimes, in moments of personal weakness, we do take a few shortcuts. But taking a shortcut does not have to be the end of the game; as what we do next defines us more.

The news of a Scottish runner, Joasia Zakrzewski, suddenly comes to mind. She runs ultra marathons. Recently when she was running a 50-mile marathon from Manchester to Liverpool, she took a 2-mile car ride from a friend. Before anybody gets judgmental, I would like to share that this was a practice run for her. She was not competing.

But then the story takes another turn. Upon finishing, as they were distributing medals, she went up and collected a medal. Later, it came out that she took the ride and was banned for 12 months of running.

What I loved about this story was what happened next. She took a shortcut. After running 48 miles she was tired. So instead of asking her, “What were you thinking?” when she collected the medal, I want to ask her, “What were you not thinking?” Most of us will never know what it feels like to run 48 miles and how the mind works immediately after that. As the ban was announced,  she said, “I should not have gone and collected the medal. I should have smiled and said, ‘Guys, this was a practice run. I was in a car for a few miles, but I’m glad you let me run with you guys’”. She accepted the fact that she’s human. She acknowledged her mistake. No excuses, no justifications. Simply brilliant.

I became her fan based on her actions after her mistake. I’m now sitting in Houston, across the pond, as a cheerleader in Joasia’s company. She will never know about me, but I’m rooting for her. And when she comes back, in her next race, I want her to achieve her best personal timing. As her shareholder, I want her to win.

In a connected world, we all have to see the power of our individual brand. We are all individual stocks which are publicly traded with the boards and shareholders. We must understand the impact and consequences we have on our board and our shareholders.  This concept of seeing ourselves as a public company and having clarity of shareholders elevates us in dilemmas, and elevation provides a unique perspective where it becomes a no-brainer to say NO to a big contract even when the bank balance is heading to zero.

We must also understand the power of this connected world where this ultra marathoner in Liverpool now has at least one shareholder in Houston. And, like me, there are other shareholders around the world that she has earned as a consequence of her actions.

Before I wrap up, I want to share a final thought. As we start embracing this concept in our life and think of our shareholders, we cannot stop thinking about our own individuality. In the process of trying to please our shareholders, if we lose who we are, then what the heck are we doing?

We really need to understand the consequences of our actions, as that’s the tight rope we must walk on. Let us take care of our shareholders, but also take care of who we are. Because, at the end, I want to be me. I don’t want to be anybody else. I always remember the goofy smile I had when I told my shareholders that I did not take that contract. Because it also felt right for me to do what I chose that day.

To be the best CEO of your tiny or large, publicly traded company, always keep an eye on the board, the shareholders, and you.

Enjoy the journey!!


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