Archive for the ‘It’s hard being the boss’ Category

It’s hard being the boss, too!

April 4, 2007

‘How bad is your boss’ asks Shyamal Majumdar, writing in Business Standard

From his piece, I learn there is a ‘bad boss’ contest running on and it seems there is no shortage of horror stories on the subject.

There seem to be a huge number of bosses out there who either take all the credit for themselves, or who think you have no life outside work, or who give out too many tasks with impossible and constantly changing deadlines. There are stories about bosses who are pathological liars, or control freaks, or someone who has the IQ of an eraser. The boss also seems to be having the spine of a jellyfish — someone who would never stand up for you.

Shyamal observes that some of these comments are obviously exaggerated, it’s a fact that there are enough bosses who can make your life into a Dilbert strip.
Which is why I guess the ‘Hari Sadu’ ad by job site brings a smile on most people’s faces.

Though no organised surveys have been done on this issue, an informal study in India a few years ago found that almost 75 per cent of the employees surveyed identified their boss as a lousy manager.

Well, here’s the view from the boss side of the fence. It is neither easy or fun being one. The most difficult lesson I learnt when I set up my own company was how hard it is to go from being an employee to an employer.

But you don’t have to go the entrepreneurship route to go through this painful transition. Two, three, max four years into your job you’ll find yourself having to supervise people working under you.

Suddenly it’s not enough to do your own work well – you have to be responsible for their work as well. Many times, it seems, it would be far quicker to do the job yourself. But that’s not the answer.

Mistakes are made. You can’t yell, yet you have to let the person know something went wrong. Or well, you can yell– but then you’d be a bad boss. It seems perfectly unfair – someone else screws up and you have to broach the subject with patience and understanding instead of venting your own anger and frustration.

Being a boss – a good one – requires a great deal of emotional energy. As you rise higher and higher, you just need more and more of it. Remember the old aying ‘lonely at the top’, even in the flattest of organization structures.

There is an ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ pecking order, Upto a point – even as someone’s boss – you are an ‘Us’. At some point your designation, salary and role put you in the bracket of ‘Them’.

Now people are noticing what you wear, how you conduct yourself, gossiping about something you said or did. This is all natural – you were doing it not long ago. But.. it takes some getting used to! And some people just never do.

Organisational issues
As Shyamal notes, part of the ‘bad boss’ problem lies in faulty executive promotion policies. For example, a company promoted its engineers to managerial positions for the wrong reasons, that is, technical competence rather than managerial proficiency…

He goes on to give the example of Microsoft, which has created a separate status scale for its software engineers. The basic idea being that managers gain promotion as they take on more people and greater responsibility, and software engineers gain in status and pay as they demonstrate brilliance.

Well, this should be emulated in just about every profession (the most brilliant writers often make lousy editors because, saddled with admin and production burdens they cease to write – and lose the very passion that brough them into their jobs!)

But, we also need to develop leadership capabilities in people as they rise up the ladder. It’s tempting to believe leaders are born not made but poor behaviour and attitude can be corrected. Not always, but since bad bosses affect everything from individual performance to overall morale – one has to try!

Toxic subordinates
Shyamal notes that behavioural studies have found that bad bosses believe in the following:

The average person dislikes work and will avoid it he/she can;

Therefore, most people must be forced with the threat of punishment to work towards organisational objectives;

The average person prefers to be directed; to avoid responsibility; is relatively unambitious, and wants security, above all else.

In Hindi there is a saying – taali donon haathon se bajti hai. As a boss I would have to say there are also a number of ‘bad’ employees who believe in the following:

My current job is not good enough for me. (But I’m still working here till I get something better!)

My boss is always out to get me (My performance is never the issue)

I am super talented so I am entitled to ___________

Fill in the blank with anything from ‘disregard the boss’ instructions’ to ‘come 2 hours later to work than everyone else’

Jack Welch write about ‘boss haters’ in his book ‘Winning’. These are the people who are cynical about authority and ‘constantly exude low-level negativity towards “the system”… their bosses feel it and return the favour.”

‘Winning’ is replete with advice for people at all rungs of the corporate ladder. For people just starting their careers, a very important tip from Welch:

“I would describe the wy woek-life balance as an old fashioned chit system. People with great performance accumulate chits, which can be traded with flexibility. The more chits you have, the greater your opportunity to work where and how you want.”

In short, no one is ‘entitled’ to anything – you have to earn the trust and respect of your boss, just as he/ she has to earn yours. Far too many young people joining the workforce today aren’t really recognizing this fundamental principle.

Also, if you keep hopping from job to job – because today the environment allows that – you never really accumulate enough of those chits.

The generation gap
A rare article with some insight in ET noted:

Growing up in post-liberalisation India, amid a buoyant economy, with the India story only getting brighter… India’s Generation …have seen few failures and fewer hardships. Disillusionment sets in fast, and the patience threshold is low.

The article quotes the example of a management trainee who came to meet K Ramkumar, HR head of ICICI Bank.

Sir, my boss spoke to me in a language which even my father would not use. I felt very bad. Nobody has ever spoken to me like that. I have always done well in my life,” he said. He wanted to quit. His boss had told him, “You are no good. You have to work hard.”

Tolerance is in short supply today – and a ‘bad’ boss and a tough one are often mistaken. A bad boss is one who – besides being a taskmaster – is one who diminishes you, does not add value to you.

A tough boss is one who may stretch you to the limit. But there is learning and growth in working with that person as well. And of course if you are really lucky – you find a mentor – a boss who actively works to bring out the best in you.

Subroto Bagchi, CEO Mindtree, once wrote a tribute to all the bosses he’d worked with who made him what he is today. If someone were to do a ‘great boss’ contest – they just might be surprised.