Living a Life of Significance: A Talk by James Abraham

By Varshika JK,
Junior Coordinator,
Student Media Cell,
PGP 2017-19

“The purpose of life is to have a purpose in life.”

It’s not often when you find that you have a chance to listen to a talk by the ex-senior partner and ex-managing director of Boston Consulting Group. But when you do, you can be sure that it will be enriching. Such was the seminar taken by James Abraham, a man now on a mission to save planet Earth through his brainchild venture, ” SolarArise”.

It has been 11 years since he has been coming to IIM, Bangalore to impart his knowledge onto the future leaders that pass through the annals of the institutions. The ones who have worked with him talk of his inspirational aura and the ones who look up to him are awaiting to interact with him. We were a bunch of the fortunate few who got to do the latter part. During the seminar, he took us on a journey of lessons that he had learnt through his life, teachings that have molded him as a person and stories that he now wanted to tell the world to make a generation of better leaders. So there we were, taking notes of one of the most illustrious classes as he discoursed.

LESSON 1: Put Your Heart Into It

Mr. Abraham told us how Alexander the great had defined greatness of a person corresponding as “the painful discrepancy between the goals we set for ourselves and the strength nature granted us when we came into this world.” This exactly corroborates to how we get shaped as the future managers or CEOs but somewhere down the lane we write off our passions and continue on the path of drudgery.  It is important to keep the spirit alive and keep going, no matter what. Like how Royal Enfield started off as a disastrous investment but is now beating even Harley-Davidson in sales, all because the owner had an undying passion for motorcycles. In the words of the man himself, “Sell things that make money and instead put money where your heart belongs.”

LESSON 2: Live into Possibility, Not Up to Expectations

Many a times we get knocked down by others’ expectations of ourselves which stops us from reaching our best potential. Caging up our abilities just because we are trying to fit into the needs of the people around us is not how we should live, commented Mr. Abraham. Talking of his growing years, he said that he wasn’t able to measure up to the expectations his father. But it was because he had “set his own yardstick for success.” His father had lived through a different world and he wasn’t living in that anymore. Similarly, our parents or well-wishers might want us to excel in a particular manner but after all, it is not whether you are fulfilling their expectations but whether you are fulfilling yours.

LESSON 3: Screw The Terms

In a world where people didn’t even know about climate change, Mr. Abraham and his company broke through the barriers to make the world realize the bigger problem. Although, more often than not, such problems are the topics of discussion over dinner tables, his vision was beyond the regular. He wanted to do something about it. He understood that there will always be certain terms laid out by our surroundings, not letting us do what we want to do. But nevertheless, “you should never be pegged down by the absolute terms of people.”

LESSON 4: Be Less Insecure and More Humble

It’s true that the competitive world that we work in everyday can make us blind to the basic moral values that we should carry through. Especially for the students of leadership schools, this is not an unnatural environment owing to them being used to be first in everything. The goal, hence always, becomes to be the first, not caring about who we are leaving behind – and sometimes we leave behind a lot. We forget to perceive that there could be others who are better than us, others who know more than we do. This doesn’t take away anything from our talent but how we handle it adds a lot to our character, as told by Mr. Abraham when he shared his enlightening experience with the CEO of Vodafone who made an effort to understand the new market he was entering irrespective of how much he had succeeded in life. “We could be better than the best but we need to be humble.”

LESSON 5: Put Your Mask on First

According to Mr. Abraham, any leadership position demands as much dedication and energy as that of an athlete. Hence it is imperative that we take care of ourselves so that we are better able to make those choices on which a lot is riding. He told us about how he had an encounter with his daughter about him choosing to put his mask on first in an aeroplane because he wanted to ensure he was in a fit condition to protect his daughter. Businesses are almost the same. “You are doing a disservice to yourself” if you lose out on opportunities because of health.

LESSON 6: Learn To Sell

Selling is one of the most important qualities that a leader can possess. As Mr. Abraham put it, “the idea of selling is to understand what others need, see the world through their eyes.” This is true for within and without. We need to position ourselves in a way such that people perceive us in the right sense, in a way that they are able to relate to us. On the flip side, we also need to ensure that when we are trying to bring people on board with our idea, we understand their viewpoint. It mustn’t be a game of a keyhole view but of changing perspective to recognize the need of the people.

LESSON 7: There is Evil Around the World

Imagine visiting a village and seeing that an entire generation has been wiped out. Thousands of people perished just because of a causality that wasn’t necessary. That was one of the things that stayed with Mr. Abraham the most. As he talked us through it, he made us realize that “people who want to do good are often disorganized, hesitant and under confident. But those who want to do bad are much more confident, organized and focused.” Why is this so? This is not a statement of spirituality but that of reality. Leaders can’t live in a cocoon of comfort anymore. It is the bare truth of our world which needs to be changed.

LESSON 8: Be The Change

In is imbibed in our biological nature to mirror. If exposed long enough, we start to mimic the actions of people around us. The problem is that it could go either ways. But a true leader will know how to give out goodness in turn making those ripples of positivity across organization. Such persons are in a position of role model to others and it is extremely important how they conduct themselves. Like in the case of Mr. Abraham, he told us how he, along with other senior level executives, always ensured that “behaved in the right way so that people could follow.”

LESSON 9: Study Hard, Change the World

Sometimes perhaps God does speak out at unexpected turns in our life. For Mr. Abraham it was when he heard a beggar say these lines as he was hurrying away from him, scared of the bleak figure. “Got any change? No? Then study hard, change the world.” How often do we get caught up in the peripheries of the problem and forget to look at the core of our goals? How often do we get distracted from our path only to end up somewhere lost and lonely? Too often one might say. Not all of us are blessed, but the ones who are, it’s their responsibility to bring about a revolution for the helpless others.

As the lessons came to an end, as with every class there were questions. Students flocked to drink up from the pool of his wisdom. Here are some snippets from the illuminating interaction.

What to do in self-doubt?

Love what you do. Have a north star. But most importantly, life is a team sport so make sure you don’t do it alone. Marry well.

How to overcome the fear of failure?

Practice failing. The feeling of fear might never completely leave your body but what makes it better is if you never let go of your humanity as well.

How can we change the way bosses are perceived in today’s world?

A boss is someone who says ‘This is what I want. I will tell you what to do.’ A leader on the other hand is someone who says ‘This is what we have to achieve. You tell me how we can do it.’ That difference in the communication has to come if you want to be a great leader. Not a boss, but a leader.

Talking about these aesthetics from a larger perspective, Mr. Abraham summarized saying that we must Live Big, Take Care of Ourselves and Study hard to Change The World. Of course, some of these might be easier said than done but that it why it is so great to be on the brink of something beautiful. You know that you have plethora of options in front where you can fall and get up to learn, where you can make mistakes but have moments of epiphany. And why does it matter so much? Because for some of us, the choices we make not only affect us, but affect others around us too. We, have the power to make it or break it. But do we have the stable mind and steady heart to make it without breaking it? That is the question to be asked.

Varshika, from SMC with Mr. James Abraham

Media Cell IIMB is the student run outreach and communication committee of IIM Bangalore dedicated to form the bridge within the student community and the outside world.

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