Friday, July 14, 2006

It's hard being the boss, too!

'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 www.workingamerica.org 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 naukri.com 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.






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18 comments:

  1. Rashmi,

    A very good and relevant post for the people of the industry to discuss.Not sure,how many bloggers would prefer to write their candid views, with their bosses also visiting your blogs quite often :-)

    Have to leave,my boss has also opened up your blog on his terminal !!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Rashmi,

    Yet another very nicely thought out post. It brings out many nuances in boss/employee relationship. It is very true that the relationship is two way. Even boss has to win the confindence of the employee in the same way the employee has to win his boss's confidence.
    Even the point about tolerance is quite valid. There is inherent sense of security, with rising economy, ke yaha nahi toh aur kahi job toh mil hi jayega why should I listen.

    Again, nice post.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Many youngsters in the software industry have perennial complaints about their bosses. They expect growth and rewards too fast and like you pointed out dont wait till they have earned enough "chits" and established the required rapport with their bosses. But sometimes, it can also be attributed to the extra long work hours that they are asked to put in.
    Although its sterotypical to say so, I have also noticed that most ladies in this industry are discontented with their supervisors - male or female.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think it’s a delicate balance which is part of the overall inter personal effectiveness.

    I am no where a boss but its tough to be one. Bosses are bound or if I may use the word 'tend' to be disliked as what they finally do is control you and by the very nature of us, we would like to be free. This scenario makes you to find fault in the person who's trying to control you, could have done better in xyz ways.

    About the gossips/fun that goes on about bosses, I think it should be taken in the stride as that’s sometime even without any hatred and done just for fun. No one's perfect and its just because bosses deeds are visible to a team to discuss about :), while your mistakes only your boss will make fun of (If he has a sense of humor)

    I think there is a thin line between micro management and guidance which most managers struggle with. There's always a nurturing period where micro management might be more but after that it should be more of guidance. It should be more of a “what to do” than “how to do”. And while I say all these bifurcations they all overlap somewhere.

    With today's industry trends in India, I think we need managers who can provide a vision and guide and at best assist at times than those who set a target and are after your life to meet it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The issue you have raised is very relevant and the reasons can be traced back to our educational system.No where in our educational system are the students trained in soft skills or team work. We as faculty have hard time teaching the MBA's team work.

    Since our school system emphasises on individual excellence, it is reflected in the behaviour of both the boss and the subordinate. I call this as a " Clerk" syndrome where there is a dislike for the superior and an inherent frustration. Since the boss is too much concerned with the targets and his achievements, little emphasis is on the subordinate's feelings. It is Theory X in practice.

    There is a small article written by Elbert Hubbard titled " Message to Garcia" ( Search google: can be downloaded freely) which talks about an ideal subordinate that every boss wants.we need to change the way the kids are trained in schools, otherwise in future there can be lot is HR issues esp.in India.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I think the point about the thin line between guidance and interference is very relevant.

    Often the boss is found to be telling everything to be done and how it should be done instead of just telling what to be done so that the subordinate can try his own approach. This often creates fristration in subordinate. Which further results in every step taken by the boss in the negative direction.

    Also harish's point of individual success is equally valid, since at the middle managerial level the managers themselves are so much in a haste to prove themselves that they set targets without consulting the actual person who is suppose to execute this target, and this is only in order to show the great results he is able to achieve. But in the process the subordinates are pushed hard for things they feel are not realistically targeted and resulting into collison of thoughts and perspectives.

    ReplyDelete
  7. boss..

    it occured to me recently..

    do not follow the leader cos its just a matter of light..
    even shadows could lead; but in darkness they are out of sight..
    but then the same is with followers, all a function of purpose..
    at the end of the day my friend its only you and me and no "us"..

    ReplyDelete
  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  9. u're right.. there should be some focus on the good bosses as well.. bcs I am enormously grateful to my bosses, both good ones and the bad ones..

    ReplyDelete
  10. As usual a nice read.

    And the best thing is that it presents both side of the story...so fair to all - bosses and subordinates.

    But I feel boss is an animal (well, all humans are animal hehe) where heterogeneity is widespread within the cluster and no two bosses are same.

    Many months back, had written a post on my blog on "Species of Boss". Here is the link for people who might like to explore various species of boss ;-) http://mayankkrishna.blogspot.com/2005/10/species-of-boss.html

    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  11. a disappointing post by your standards

    too many spelling mistakes

    too theoritical

    lacking the usual insight that is always found in your blogs

    ReplyDelete
  12. i guess i ll be d only one who says my Boss Rocks..!! but , he does and i can never complaint abt him.!!
    I just ask myself a simple question wen i crib abt my boss.. wat would i ve done if i were in his posistion.. it aint easy being a boss..!!

    ReplyDelete
  13. thats an interesting one... I am a graduate student in the US.. I think there is a similar perception about the profs under whom we do our Phd's... one should as you say identify the difference between a nad guide and a tough one!!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Rashmi,

    Since blogger is being blocked in India, have you thought about moving to wordpress? Of course there is no guarantee that site will be open for long.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hi

    Just reacting to the comment above...blogger is not going to be blocked - only certain blogsites are being blocked.
    check this article on rediff:

    http://in.rediff.com/news/2006/jul/17blog.htm

    ReplyDelete
  16. Being a boss will become harder and harder in India. Once Meira Kumar pushes through the legislation for reservation for SC/STs in the private sector (and OBCs follow suit with a similar legislation of their own), bosses will spend most of their times in managing SC/ST and OBC counts rather than in productive work.

    The bright side: several new business opportunities will emerge. Specialized firms will provide compliance, hiring and training services. New positions will open up in corporations - you will see some employees just hanging about the water cooler and asking weird personal questions. Tha latter is to detect existence of Dalit/OBC in existing workforce and add it to compliance counts.

    Many corporations will scram from the country and set up shop in East/South-East Asian nations. This will create a very unique set of issues as well as opportunities. People will be scrambling for Mandarin and Tagalog lessons instead of French and German.

    All in all we are in for an exciting new ride.

    ReplyDelete
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