Who occupies a larger portion of you mental space (internal hard disk)? Is it your spouse, children, parents, in-laws? No. It is actually your Boss. Are you saying it is absurd? Okay. Just shut your eyes for a moment and think how many times during the day you thought of your spouse, what he or she has done for you on that day and cumulatively till that date and thanked him or her mentally. Did you promise to yourself that you will buy one or more edible items which you will share with your spouse and   children on reaching home or after dinner?

Now open your eyes. You are in Office. Your boss has made a wild demand for some presentation   to be done urgently.  You start cursing him mentally, while giving him a crocodile smile saying “yes sir, I have some matter with which I can rustle up ten slides, give me two hours.” Boss nods his head sagely and walks off.

Another scene. Three of you are lounging during lunch time. Your boss walks past, looks at your colleague (a showy chap capable of saying utmost drivel with seeming sincerity) and remarks “your note on xxxx topic was quite impressive, meet me after lunch, o.k?” and walks off.  Now, you would have submitted an update on a recent development in your area of work, which is lying on his table for a week. You wonder what has happened to it. You can imagine what would go through your mind rest of the day.

Bosses can be put in three buckets (and at times their head dipped in ice chilled water on a winter morning) – Good, Bad or Ugly. There can be sub-categories within these. Intelligent but cruel, average but kind, brilliant (in parts) but hugely aware of his or her brilliance, stupid but lucky and so on.

Who are good bosses?  Do such a breed exist? If so, when would I be blessed with such an individual as my boss?  Should it be at the beginning or middle or end of my career?

One theory that makes sense is we learn more when we are young (and ignorant, inexperienced, unadulterated by biases etc.). To get a good boss at that age and stage would be akin to having a good teacher who would show you the path you should follow when we are older and in a higher position.  Small thoughtful  gestures of kindness and consideration, guidance rather than taunts and firing when you go horribly wrong, giving exposure to matters that is beneficial but not necessary to know are what sets apart  our  early days of working life.

The bad ones would be those who know all of the above but do not care to implement any of these. The less articulate and timid subordinates get the brunt of fury and lose confidence at an early stage. Such individuals give up taking initiative and become obstinate in the long run. Such bosses unfortunately are seen as task masters by his or her superiors who deliver results. The damage they cause to the fabric of the human spirit within the organization gets overlooked and becomes obvious when no leaders are developed in their areas, compelling recruitment of external talent.

I do not need to give examples. Every reader would recall some instance or another and smile or give a frown when recalling such individuals.

The ugly ones are those who are intelligent and hugely aware of it. The intelligence is used in a negative way most of the times. Victims are carefully chosen and made an example of in public either by humiliation or harsh words. It serves two or more purposes. First, the individual is put in a corner from where he or she will not fight ( normally), two – it serves as a deterrent for others and three , create a set of sycophants who would form some sort of spy network or a buffer against the first attack from enemies. It is hard to understand the psychology that makes a person behave in this manner. It could be due to an underlying weakness in mental strength or due to some inherent “manufacturing defect” which cannot be rectified. The intelligence part of the trait propels the individual ahead in the career path. The twisted part of the brain and perhaps natural justice would put a brake on limiting the individual’s achievement which may not be commensurate with his or her natural abilities.

All this is fine. How does one survive in today’s competitive times?

Human nature cannot be stratified strictly into three buckets in a strict manner. A human being may reflect each of the above traits at different junctures or situations. Inability to take responsibility or decision may turn a good human being into a jelly fish or an obstinate but weak individual.  A good boss may be ineffective in the power hierarchy leaving you dangling at times.

The most obvious aspect is what is generally overlooked. The questions we should ask ourselves what is our goal or need –short term and long term? How does the boss and his/her idiosyncrasies affect you? What are the defensive steps we should take to protect ourselves and our interests?

It takes some time to decipher the difference between job and career (or money and wealth).  Job is gainful employment   performed to earn a living. One example (an unfair one perhaps) is droves of engineers- whatever be their specialization like mining, aeronautical engineering, civil etc.) joining an IT company and being stationed in Arizona or  Atlanta at a client’s manufacturing site servicing their hardware or software. With some passage of time, the more intelligent or resourceful individuals would look around for an alternate professions via an international business school.

Career is the road through which you would love to travel to reach your dream destination. To put in simplistic terms, the function your boss or the ultimate boss is lording over looks very attractive. “One day I will sit in that Chair;” Is the feeling resonating in your brain when you walk past that cabin or see that Chair.

Once the difference is understood, we would be able to realize the stake we have in the present employment and how we should approach our bosses so as to “optimize” our career goals.  Some basic points should be etched in our mind. My list would read as below.

  1. Am I getting the right quality and volume of exposure in my area of expertise?
  2. Do I have the required level of visibility within the organization- that is do the right senior executives recall my name when some vital project comes up?
  3. Am I growing as an individual- that is am I having a broader understanding of the function and able to participate in the decision making process in the positive sense?
  4. Am I enjoying what I am doing- that is each Monday morning when I reach my office do I feel the excitement or challenge that could emerge during the day?
  5. Am I getting the dues I believe I am entitled to in monetary and non- monetary terms?

The answers to these questions and the obstacles strewn in these aspects could give some answers.

Is your boss part of the problem or solution? How should I change my strategy to achieve my goals?

More importantly should I invest a significant portion of my life in my present organization? If so, I should have a robust strategy for dealing with or getting along with my present boss.  If not, we should attempt to identify an organization which could meet some of the points in the above list.

Bosses change and new ones would land up abruptly, throwing your well laid down strategy out of gear. A comparatively younger woman (IIM/IIT background) boss may replace a middle aged man of the old school. You would now need to be more careful in basic matters. Giving positive feedback on a new shirt or tie is simple and direct. But such admiration has to be more carefully framed in case of woman boss for obvious reasons.

Every new boss brings in baggage of previous experience, desire to do something new and different. In such cases the adage that “discretion is better part of valor” may be more appropriate.  It takes some time to categorize the new boss in the “bucket” and “sub-bucket” stated above and then regroup for a different and more intuitive strategy.

Another phase would be when you walk into acquire a new boss on change of job. Here everything is different. Prior job experience would help so far as skills are concerned. But the intangible part of dealing with a new set of human beings would be unsettling. We do not know the inter-personal issues or the depth of underlying relationships- friendly or inimical- and the unwritten hierarchy code. We can stumble and say or do something ridiculous in others eyes. In such cases, it would appropriate to have an ally carefully chosen on unorthodox lines – mother tongue, locality, common relative or friend and so on- to understand the battle field drawn up and the players in it and the sides they are in.

There is a honeymoon period on joining a new company which fades away swiftly. The boss would make all the difference to your life in the new organization.  My experience is that most bosses would test whether the new chap can swim or would sink like a stone. So we would have to fight all small and medium sized battle by ourselves. Here the ally would be of great help- provided we have made the right choice as otherwise the ally could sacrifice us as a minor pawn for a larger gain.

The new generation managers seem to be more direct and honest in assessment and criticisms- as per some feedback I received. The hang-ups about hierarchy, power, position in the cadre, desire to exhibit all of the foregoing is considerably less.  It may perhaps be simpler to be honest in your feedback to such bosses and take your battles to the next level if your strength and ability to fight is strong and you have a passionate and reasoned belief in your cause.

The last aspect is that we too are bosses- when he have subordinates. How do we treat them is what we should ask ourselves regularly. Do we give them honest feedback? Do we explain the larger picture which they do not have access to? Read the list above and try to answer it from your subordinate’s view.

Some of the best bosses were those I worked with in the early part of career. They patiently explained the background and reasons for work I was doing in very simple and understandable manner. One boss made me sit in his cabin just to listen to the discussions on certain major issues so as to broaden my understanding of the business and enhance my commitment to it.  One promoter did not react in any manner to my rather abrupt and unthinking reply to his suggestion. Two years later I came to know that he appreciated my bluntness and honesty and forgave my lack of polish and finesse. Another boss consciously conveyed his appreciation of my work not only to me, but also to the senior most executive of the organization- an expatriate- who told me he had heard good things about my work. Obviously such words of appreciation are great motivators- far greater than monetary award- which are remembered for a long time.

Ultimately, getting good bosses are like coming across good human beings in your life. As we know these are by exceptions rather than as a rule.

What is your experience?

One Response to ON BOSSES

  1. Vinu says:

    Well thought out article. Captures most scenarios that I’ve seen so far in my career (albeit not a very long one hitherto). It set me thinking, and that’s the most important thing. 🙂

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