A Conversation with Agile Coach Ashish Chandra: Meditation and Emotional Intelligence for Agile Transformation Agents (with a bonus on cutting your own hair)

This episode, I talked with my awesome colleague, Ashish Chandra, who is an agile coach with Enterprise Quality Services at Infosys. He brings a really interesting background in both technology and marketing.

One thing I love about agile is it involves real human beings and bringing the whole self to work, so we started off by getting to know each other a little better. Right off the bat, I learned to my surprise that he actually cuts his own hair and used to be a lead singer in a band! I leaned into the camera right away to look at his haircut, and it looked really professional. And he’s a cool looking guy so I could totally see him singing in a band. It turns out he used to live in Chicago where I’m based and he was nice enough not to badmouth the weather here.

He immediately grabbed my attention by describing himself as both a teacher and a learner at the time. He said those naturally go together, and learning is never really over. You never get to a place where you know everything and then you sort of annoyingly tell everybody else about it. Instead, it’s a constant growth process, like relentless improvement in lean and agile.

That led us to the interesting topic of dogmatism. We both have seen some people being dogmatic in agile. It sounds like this:

“My version of agile is better and more right in your version, so we should do it my way.”

And if I’m honest, I have been guilty of that in the days when I used to think that being in this transformation game was about what I know.

But what I know now, is that this game is actually not about what I know; instead, it’s about who I’m being with people. Huge difference. Of course the basic common denominator is knowing, that’s really only kindergarten or first grade. The rest of it is people stuff and transformation stuff and that’s where I get my energy. I got the impressions that that’s also where Ashish gets his energy. He combines what he knows in a non-dogmatic way with a very compelling ability to be present with people and to truly understand what they need, then craft and customize agile to that kind of like a master sculptor.

Then he beautifully articulated one approach to moving beyond dogmatism by making the distinction between what’s our job and what’s not our job as both agile coaches and transformation agents. He said, and I agree with him, that it’s not our job to sell clients frameworks, agile or otherwise. But what actually IS our job to truly understand what our clients are looking for and what they need.

And we know from the discipline of lean startup and one of my heroes, Steve Blank, that often the customer thinks they know what they want but that’s just a starting place to a conversation around helping them refine what will actually meet their needs, whether that’s an exploration of empathy mapping, value proposition design, or customer development.

Ashish also said something that surprised me, which is that he used to be kind of hot tempered. He seems like such a laid-back friendly guy, I found that hard to believe, but I of course also have had my moments. We are all humans after all. He said that what he started to do was to cultivate his own ability to step back, “go to the balcony,” in the words of William Ury, and take a mental break.

That led us into a really fascinating conversation about emotional intelligence and its value in transformation. I would also add that one point I have found very valuable in this work is to constantly cultivate my own ability to understand where I and where others begin, so I am not unconsciously pushing my agenda on other people, and where I’m truly serving them.

We discovered that a natural follow-up to the topic of emotional intelligence was meditation, both as a way to cultivate emotional intelligence but just its value on its own. It turns out that Ashish practices a form of meditation called Vipassana, which comes originally from Theravada Buddhism and involves concentration on body sensations, like the breath, and the insights that this brings.

I was totally impressed! I know that in meditation they say there’s no “bad” meditation, but I’m a terrible meditator. After three breaths I get squirmy, and want to move onto the next thing, which of course is precisely the reason why I should keep meditating. So my form of meditation is mostly ashtanga yoga but I was glad that he brought it up. It’s so essential for cultivating emotional intelligence and also for the ability of us change agents to hold the space for people that’s both safe and courageous in which to explore what’s possible.

So a warm thank you to Ashish for this really interesting interview. These show notes do not do justice to our talk so please take a listen, and enjoy.

Kelly

P.S. to say thank you to each of my guests, I make a donation through my own Rotary club, to the Rotary international project of their choice. The options range from these related projects, like helping refugees or educating people in nonviolence, to world women’s health to educating girls. If you want to learn more, please look at my website here: https://agilitytransformation.com/giving-back/

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