Interview: Shiv Khera

Winning as a way of life
Shiv Khera, motivational expert, speaker, consultant and author of three best-selling books, does not necessarily speak about new things. His subject is human life – the individual vis-à-vis society, and how the two can win. But it is the use of the right word at the right time in the right context in simple, evocative terms that sets him apart. Rajeev Nair met him in Dubai

Charged – that is one word to describe the infectious persona of Shiv Khera, the motivational expert, hot in demand in the US professional circles to turn around company fortunes and develop the man power base. The Indian has been a US-resident for nearly three decades but hasn’t relinquished his Indian citizenship; he even contested the general elections from Delhi.
The author of ‘You Can Win,’ which has sold over one million copies in eight languages, and is still a hot cake at the book shelves, didn’t win the seat but won a brownie point. He underscored his message: The young Indian democracy need not necessarily depend on politicians; it can draw strength from committed individuals – be they entrepreneurs or motivational speakers.
Khera, who moved to the US following the nationalization of his family-owned coal mines and started off washing cars and selling life insurance, demands that you have a philosophy in life. His own is simple: “Winners don’t do different things, they do things differently.”
The difference in a winner’s outlook does not mean loud gestures to attract attention. “It means that you do anything and everything in life with a sense of pride. When doing any job comes down to self-gratification and you feel you have done a great job, your self-esteem goes up; it motivates you to further better yourself – that is internal motivation.”
Khera was in Dubai at an event organised by Barista Espresso and Right Selection Event Management to host a talk show, “Bring Vitality into Your Organisational Culture Based on Ethics and Values.” It was a sneak preview to his day-long workshop to be held on May 30 in Dubai.
He was in the city five years back; his session was attended by many of modern Dubai’s entrepreneurial leaders. He sees in the city, now evolved as a “hub in the Middle East for many business activities,” as one with a vision. “The leaders have not squandered the oil dollars; they have used it build an infrastructure which will stay on for the coming generations.”
Here, Khera speaks about his life, his philosophy. Excerpts:

For one who believes ‘You Can Win,’ how do you see losing at the Indian election?
I would say it was a winning experience for the simple reason that I did not go for a seat but to make a point. That is why I contested as an independent. If I were serious, I might have taken a party ticket and even won. That doesn’t mean I had no intention to win. It was unplanned, the decision was emotional – my family did not speak to me for a week. But there are things I saw and came to know that you only see in movies. I learnt that after 50 years of Independence, in India, just 50 yards away from the “poshest” localities, there are slums where people breathe and exist but are not living. I had not experienced it first hand earlier, and unless you experience it you will never feel the same conviction. I have no regrets (about contesting) but yes, if I roll the clock back, I would do things differently. I would plan a lot better.

You had said that by contesting the election you wanted to prove India needed committed individuals not just politicians. Does your failure mean India is not ready for it?

That is totally an escapist attitude; that is the attitude of one who does not accept responsibility. That is the attitude of a person who types it wrong and says the typewriter cannot spell. I wouldn’t say India is not ready for good people. India is desperate; they all look for a ray of hope, a third alternative… When citizens lose, the country loses, and when a country loses, all is lost. Do you know the reason for the Japanese success? It is their patriotic feeling?

Don’t Indians have it?
Not to that extent; absolutely not. If you look at Japan, quality product and responsible behaviour is what is regarded as patriotic. Anything that is made in Japan carries the respect and dignity of every citizen. It makes them take pride of their nation. There are some people who argue that taking pride in your country leads to egos and more problems. It is not true. Being proud of your country does not mean your country is better than mine. In a world that has evolved as a “global village,” yes, territorial boundaries do have sanctity – otherwise, why do you need title deeds to your house. And you need the defence force as long as you Hitlers in the world, who don’t let you live in dignity.

Does this strong take on patriotism explain why you haven’t opted to be a US citizen?
I have a Green Card; I can take a US citizenship. But when it comes to the first generation emigrants from any country, they have a certain loyalty to their country of origin. Hence I maintain my Indian citizenship. It has crossed my mind many times to take US or Canadian citizenship but I haven’t. That doesn’t mean a person who takes it is any less patriotic. There are many reasons why they do so; maybe some time later in life, I might do it.

Will you also contest the Indian elections next time?

I may or may not but that does not mean the message of social responsibility is going to stop. We didn’t start it to stop. But sometimes you need to step back and reconsolidate yourself to go forward much faster. We have a group of motivated people; we have filed two public interest litigations in the Supreme Court to ensure that the right to elect must also be accompanied by the right to deject. If people don’t go to vote, they are regarded as not good citizens but if they go to vote, who will they vote for? If the candidates have a criminal record and they are not qualified, are you expected to make the less of the evils win. Do you want him to win? Does he represent you truly? By gaining power, the person who has the weakest evil becomes the strongest evil. That is what you see in India.

Perhaps as a corollary to the election failure, you were in news when a person accused you of plagiarizing his content in your book. Comment.
It was a bunch of misunderstanding and the moment he understood the truth, he withdrew. The book is still there and it is sad that you get negative publicity. If it was still important for them, why didn’t they pursue it? Sometimes you find people feel threatened; even the greatest people have been criticised publicly. That is alright. Unjust criticism has to be taken as a compliment, sometimes. People can’t be where they want to be and they start throwing stones at you.

Your first book, ‘You can Win,’ addressed individuals; by the third, ‘Freedom is not Free,’ you address societal concerns. Is it a natural extension of your own thought-processes?
Before you become any professional, you are a member of the society. I am a citizen and I have certain obligations. We have to play our parts at different places. What is a country but a bigger corporation? If a CEO can handle 50,000 people, why can’t he handle 5 million, 50 million…? That is why this one question to the entrepreneurs I meet: ‘You have done a good job but if you feel you are a citizen, I think you are grossly under-utilised. If you can run an organisation of several thousand employees, why not think of running the country?’ Look at the US, the politicians come from different backgrounds, some are great at business, and no wonder, the country in 250 years, despite the Great Depression and two World Wars, just keep growing….

But then, the Indian democracy is hardly 60 years old…
I disagree. That is nothing but an excuse. People say, we are a young democracy, these are growing pains. No, these are pains of not growing up. If you catch cancer in your childhood, you will never see adulthood.

Back to you, what makes Shiv Khera a good motivator?

There is no such thing as anyone is not motivated. Even the lazy one who doesn’t want to do anything is motivated to do nothing. Motivation is an effect of inspiration. I can’t act for you; you have to act for yourself but if I inspire you to be motivated, your motivational level changes. That is what a person can do: Inspire to motivate. The biggest motivator in life is belief in your self. Henry Ford had said: ‘If you think you can or you can’t, either ways, you are right.’ It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think you can’t you will tilt your behaviour in such a fashion to prove yourself right that you can’t.

People hear a motivational speaker, get charged for one hour, and they return to their routine. There are hardy a few who are truly inspired to change. Why is it so?
If you look around the world, you will find that positive thinkers have always been a minority.

There is something called a pain and pleasure principle to everything we do in life. When pain becomes more than the pleasure you stop doing a thing. Why do people do wrong even when they know what they do is wrong? Take the example of smokers: They continue to smoke even when they know it is bad; they say they get pleasure from it. But the moment they get a shooting pain and the doctors advice them to stop smoking or it will kill them – when the pain gets the better of pleasure – they stop smoking.

Your bio says you started working in the US washing cars, selling life insurance and your life changed the moment you attended a lecture by Norman Vincent Peale. But can one moment in time truly transform anyone?
Oh yes, that is all it takes to transform. People ask me how I can change attitudes in three days. I say, I can’t change the attitude in 30 years but attitudes change in three seconds if you appeal to the head and heart. If you appeal to the head alone, you will never elicit change. If after a workshop, people walk away feeling good, the session has been a waste. I would want people to leave the session thinking…

One of your workshop exercises is to ask people to identify their philosophy. What is yours?

It has always been: “Winners don’t do different things, they do things differently.”

Can you be different at everything you do?
Being different does not mean you dance on your head; that is looking to gain attention. Some people become rebellious to gain attention; that is not the essence of being different. Being different means, anything and everything you do in life, you do it with a sense of pride. When doing any job comes down to self-gratification and you feel you have done a great job, your self-esteem goes up; it motivates you to further better yourself – that is internal motivation

What is the difficult part about being a motivator?
The challenge is to keep yourself motivated. People say I must be lucky not to get the lows in life. I do get my lows. Being motivated does not mean not having problems. It means you overcome those hurdles. Being positive does not mean you do not have negative thoughts; it means overcoming negative thoughts. Courage does not mean absence of fear; it means overcoming fear. Good health does not mean absence of illness; it means overcoming illness. Honesty does not mean absence of temptation; it means overcoming temptation.

Why are motivational speakers good communicators too? You tend to speak the right thing at the right time…
It is not what you know; it is what you believe and it is your ability to come up with the appropriate thought at the right time. To say, you should have, could have, would have, when you didn’t is neurotic. In future, it should be ‘I will, I can and I ought to…” You must learn from your own evaluation of every transaction right after the event, not later. It is not how much you eat that matters; it is how much you digest. The whole process of evaluation takes commitment and self-discipline, and you will have the two only if you have a burning desire to change. Most people fail not because they lack talent; they lack the fire their belly.

Why do Indians make such successful motivators in the US?
For that matter, most overseas Indians do well though they are a failure as a community. They do well because in a good environment, a marginal performer does well and a good performer excels. In a bad environment, a good performer’s output comes down.

Why do you say overseas Indians failed as a community?
Indians look at themselves as Gujarathis, Marathis, Tamils, Malayalis… That must change. There is no problem in taking pride of your own roots but it must not be at the cost of the integration of your country.

What did life teach you washing cars and selling life insurance, way back in the US?
It taught me one thing: Many times in life, we are our own biggest problem. Just as the cream rises to the top, a person who is willing to put in the extra effort will have no competition. And it doesn’t matter what you do today. If you take pride in it, have your eyes fixed on a goal, remain focused and goal-oriented, any hurdle that comes your way will only be your stepping stone to climb to the next level. For negative people, the hurdle is a stumbling block. For positive people, it is a stepping stone. If you are focused nobody can stop you. That is nature’s law. Have you wondered why some individuals, organisations and countries are more successful than the others? They think and act more effectively.

So what makes a person effective?
You need to imbibe a set of core values that don’t change. You can be flexible on policies and procedures but not on values. Be focused on goals: Short-term, mid-term, long-term, immediate, 90 days, one-year… Most people have no goals in life. They only have dreams. Less than three per cent of the people in the world have goals. How will you reach a destination that you don’t have? Finally, always give more than what you get. Give more than what you get to your family, your organisation, your country, your customer – if you live with that philosophy – imagine what wouldn’t happen to the productivity!

But is it easy? Isn’t it human to resent when you work more than what you are paid for…?
It is a misnomer for the simple reason that it is very hard to find good employees. I find the right level of commitment lacking in employees.

Low self-esteem. They are not ambitious, they do not want to rise, they don’t take pride in their performance, their level of sincerity is missing… Why? Again, because of low self-esteem. We see the world not the way it is but the way we are…

What are your personal goals?
I am in the process of reconsolidating myself. I am stepping back and strategizing myself for a 90-days goal, one-year, short-term, three-years, mid-term, five years and long-term goals. Until I have a strategy for the next five years, I am pretty much refusing to take up new clients. I am building my back-up team; if that is not strong you are spinning your wheel without moving it forward. You press the accelerator with the brakes on and you burn out. That is what happens with most people. Working hard is good, burning out is not.

Between hard work and smart work, what do you endorse?
Smart, hard work. There is no substitute for hard work. At the pace that the world is changing, unless you strategise and go ahead, you won’t get much far. Gone are the days when technology gave anybody any advantage…, the speed of change is the key. IT has increased the speed of communication but if you don’t know what and how to do, you will only mis-communicate faster and the cost of mis-communication is heavy.


  1. Thoughts are more inspirational and encouraging.After reading You Can Win ,i was actually inspired a lot and tried to maintain the self-esteem but failed to mantain for a longer time.This interview reveals the causes for the failure.


  2. really these thoughts have unlimited potential. these can flow a blood circulation in a dead human being body. and he will stand up for fighting against the injustice.
    thank you sir.


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