Unto each life some rain must fall is age old wisdom. Similarly, all who have tasted corporate life will agree that they have had their share of good bosses and bad bosses. In my 34 years working for Family Owned, Professionally owned, MNCs – all large and small- I claim that I have had the fortune to meet good bosses & bad bosses in abundant measure. I soon learnt the truth of Mary Angelou’s words,“I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it”.
I was fortunate to have bad bosses in my life, as they too taught me a lot. Throughout growing up years, we evaluate our parents &….if you are truthful….find them gossly, or marginally, lacking at different times. And then we resolve…when I become a parent….I will be different….I will avoid the faux pas I see my parents committing, and I will be a much better father/mother.
Same with bosses! Being on the receiving end of bad bosses, with a bloody nose and a bruised ego, one resolves….When I am the Boss, I will… Hence I say both types of Bosses teach us! This blog is an attempt to look back at my bosses and put down the “secret sauce”…what behaviours worked & what I try to repeat and what I disliked & resolved to avoid. Hopefully this will sound familiar, become your litmus test to see if you are on the right side of the continuum & your team rates you amongst the good bosses they worked for.
So let us define the secret sauce ingredients…..
Napoleon Hill put it so well: ” Your real boss is the one who walks around under your hat”. I was fortunate to work for bosses who had got under my skin & occupied my thinking. I was never far from their influence. As I thought though issues and probable solutions, something kept telling me Arun Bhende or George Koreth would do thus, in these circumstances. The green lighting of alternatives, made it simple to follow the right path & do the correct thing. The Holy Church gives similar advice to come out of a moral quandary: WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do) Answer that & the path is clear.
Today’s complex world requires innovative thinking and new solutions. Often in my career I experienced complete support & a priori backing of my bosses. In Atul when I became a Head of HR for the first time, reporting to the MD, there were no clear defined paths. Both of us were new to our roles. But Sunil Lalbhai allowed me to experiment & try new things. In J&J similar freedom & reassurance enabled us to win recognition. We won Regional ASPac Leadership Awards for 5 years in a row, leading to other 14 countries asking J&J India be asked not to nominate their HR initiatives, so that other countries could win the Award!! The management team led by Narendra Ambwani was solidly reinforcing HR initiatives. That also resulted in National recognition for Innovative HR Practices that Drive Business Results. This was the result of Boss Support.
My best bosses were always Humble. Never afraid to show their Human Face, taking utmost and genuine interest in my family on the personal front, & my team in office. Literally, issues that affected me were their issues & they always stood by me in times of need & difficulty. This was all the more when I had made a mistake or a wrong call. The Good Boss was with me in the trenches, in the dirt, facing the flak with me…. never allowing me to feel alone or isolated.
In the positive characteristics, finally I would add a strong Team Orientation. With the Good Bosses it is always about WE and rarely about ME. The best bosses are not bosses, they are leaders. They do not say” Go” rather their terminology is , ” Let us go!”. Leading from the front, shoulder to shoulder every step of the way, the Good Boss is forever Rethinking, Reimagining & Realigning. There will be times when the team is stuck & searching for the true North. The good Boss has Superior Vision to look beyond immediate obstacles & chart a new course, maintaining the directional alignment to the goal. The good boss is a Talent Magnet with his reputation spreading way beyond his immediate team. Good people are trying to get on his team as they know the ride will add value to them, while reaching the stars.
Let us cast a look at the other side of continuum now…what are Bad Bosses like?
William Pollard puts it well,” The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow”. But today is time of discontinuity and change. As the famous title of Marshall Goldsmith’s book puts it,” What got you here, won’t get you there”. The Bad Bosses have been successful individuals in the past. And therein lies the rub!! Having achieved a modicum of success in a particular way, the person does not grow out of those habits, does not question the efficacy of the past methods & means. The Bad Boss does not realise that success can be limiting…it binds you to a particular approach/path which brought you success. In reality, nothing remains the same. Situations have changed, circumstances have changed, even the people have changed. The same approach of the past may not be appropriate now. If you get stuck in the way you were successful in the past, the world can pull many surprises. In the corporate world the classic examples are Kodak and Nokia, whose past success became a millstone around their neck.
Just like organizations do, People also change. Changed business scenarios require different competencies and capabilities. A poor leader does not understand this dynamicity. He is driving his car while looking into his rear view mirror, rather than looking at the road & obstacles ahead, clearly visible through the front windshield. How long can this be tolerated or allowed? Such a boss is bad for his team, and also for the organization, in the long run. The team gets wrangled & mangled for little fault of theirs, as they continue to follow the instructions of the Bad Boss. A sure recipe for disaster for all involved!!
Sometimes the Bad Boss is stuck in his judgement of people or assessment of the situation & ignores data to the contrary. This can be dangerous. I have seen careers of good professionals get ruined by bosses who refuse to admit new evidence/data. Punitive actions are taken, where corrective actions could have sufficed. But the Bad Boss stuck in the past is hell bent on throwing the baby with the bath water, to everyone’s dismay.
We all make mistakes. But the Bad Boss has no expiry date on the examples of wrongdoing & mistakes. Things done at beginning of career, continue to be dragged out & referred to run down individuals. This happens with so much regularity that the targeted individuals have no choice but to leave the company. I saw live examples of this in General Motors as well as in VVF, and good people had to cut their losses & leave rather than be at the receiving end of vituperative bosses who refused to change. While this is extreme, unfortunately the incidence is not uncommon.
Somerset Maugham talked of the Mr Know All in one of his short stories. Unfortunately we have all seen many such Know Alls in our organizations. The sheer intellectual arrogance of one HR Head I worked with in Siemens, isolated HR function so badly that none of our proposals & initiatives got the nod of the Management Committee, as the HR Head had burned too many bridges. One of our Works Managers in Siemens typified this approach even in his spoken language. Mischievously once someone counted that in a two hour meeting, he said, “I know that” nearly 53 times…averaging “I know that” once every 2 minutes!!! Such bosses love the sound of their own voice & have never heard of shared air time!!! Difficult folks to work with, as they consider themselves as God’s Gift to Mankind!!!!!
“Leadership is action , not position.“, said Donald McGannon. A bad boss considers this a call to take all actions himself! His team receives no encouragement or support. And his indecisive approach means the same thing gets debated and discussed again & again. One of my MDs in General Motors was a Media/magazine editor in his previous avatar. Saddled with GM India MD role, he withdrew into indecisiveness & prevarication. Subjects debated and concluded, were opened up again next day due to his insecurity. The Management Team played Here we go round the Mulberry Bush, over and over. Such Bad bosses sap your energy & enthusiasm, and are detrimental to the team and to the organization.
Do write in and let me know if you agree with my taxonomy of Good Bosses & Bad Bosses.
To end, a Good Boss has no need to be a boss – he is content to just point the way: vikas