Good Boss Bad Boss

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”.

boss baby

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…..

best boss

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!!

rear-view-mirror

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. 

know-it-all-shirt-blue1

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

33 Replies to “Good Boss Bad Boss”

  1. KKM
    thanks
    I love Mr Doshi advice….” a bad boss you can out grow”
    we both have suffered and experienced many such bosses…people whom you wondered about
    In that respect, I agree with God’s Grace because it was the only logical explanation for where they had reached, given their capability and competence

    Whenever we came across a Bad Boss we resolved to avoid his behaviour in our lives and we learnt a lot from Good Bosses that is why i loved the first sentence/quote…you carry your boss under your hat

    Hope our subordinates got a more humane person to deal with because of our bad experiences

    Thanks for writing in
    You are a friend on whom I rely a lot for an objective feedback
    Take care
    vikibaba punter

    Like

  2. Hi Vikas

    A super guide to navigating difficult “boss” situations in corporate life.

    In my 16 years at Cibatul followed by 16 at GE & its derivatives, I was blessed with the finest bosses that Corporate life could offer.

    Before this situation could turn sour , I quit corporate life to start a business.

    Perhaps it is at this stage when I became my own boss that challenges came up… ones which I do enjoy facing even today.

    Your blogs are always profound & thought provoking.

    Look forward to the next.

    Nikh

    Like

    1. Nikhil bhai many thanks for your comments which I truly value.
      Your comments raise 2 thoughts
      1) there is no absolute Good OR Bad boss….it is how you react, how you learn, how you transmute under your bosses that is imp. If you see in that perspective….THERE ARE NO BAD BOSSES. …just somebody I could not learn from or could learn from….Worth thinking !!!
      2) the transition to becoming ones own boss is another beautiful changeover you raise…What prompts that transition…..worth thinking of #2

      Like

      1. Vikas,

        You are so right …

        Good and bad are functions of understanding or not understanding a situation.

        Although “becoming ones own boss ” became apparent when I started my business, as one looks back , one realizes that each one remains ones own boss whether in business or otherwise – in all aspects of life.

        Each one remains the captain of ones destiny … either as a playing captain or a non playing one.

        It is when one subordinates doing what is right to expediency, in the interest of getting it “easy” , that the problems start arising.

        Nikhil

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Vikas

    A super guide to navigating difficult “boss” situations in corporate life.

    In my 16 years at Cibatul followed by 16 at GE & its derivatives, I was blessed with the finest bosses that Corporate life could offer.

    Before this situation could turn sour , I quit corporate life to start a business.

    Perhaps it is at this stage when I became my own boss that challenges came up… ones which I do enjoy facing even today.

    Your blogs are always profound & thought provoking.

    Look forward to the next.

    Nikh

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Another attribute of a good boss is how they deal with subordinates who are smarter or better than them without feeling threatened.

    A bad boss trait I commonly encountered involves criticising subordinates in front of the subordinates’ subordinates.

    Like

    1. Rahul
      well observed….yes indeed, A Good Boss takes Pride in the mentee/protegee going ahead of him. He is not at all insecure and encourages the team
      Arun Bhende whom I talked about was asked to become a Personnel Director by MD. He had the courage to say I am too old …rather make Vikas the Per Direc….when I was in my late 20s….That was too radical a thought for a staid organization like Siemens….so of course it did not happen… BUt imagine the supreme confidence and comfort odf Arun Bhende to suggest that he would report to me….20 years his junior!!!!
      That is the stuff Great Bosses are made of

      Like

  5. As always you have a great ability to put across your thoughts in the most subtle way. To develop as a true leader one needs to have both kinds of bosses, while the bad bosses play a key role of churning us to give the best out of us in toughest time or situation, the good bosses further refine these skills to give our best at all times with humility.
    At the end it is always tough to evaluate who played the most pivotal role in make us a better leader.

    Like

    1. Great insight Yesh. Your explanation brought the imagery of crafting a gehena….the bad boss puts the gold in fire, shapes and tempers it, vcrafts the design. The Good Boss comes and polishes it and it is ready.
      Well said sir

      Like

  6. VS:you have a great ability to come out with some very relevant and interesting subjects .almost out of thin air! this new piece is no exception.

    you have covered all the attributes of good and bad bosses pretty well.

    i would like to make one point: Good for whom? for his juniors or for his organisation? sometimes , a boss can be very good to his juniors (populist) but takes decisions which are not consistent with the Company objectives.

    on the other extreme, there are bosses who don’t care about his juniors but want to make sure that the goals set by the management are met..at any cost.

    eventually, the former type may be fired by the management for incompetence and the latter may lose their able juniors by dozens!!

    what is crucial for a good boss is to maintain this balance ! For this ,his role is to bring alignment between L+1 and L-1

    overall, a great piece…enjoyed reading the same ..while also travelling through my own journey and recalling the bosses!

    Like

    1. JLS
      the joy of reading your comments and perspective actually equals the joy of penning down my blog. Thanks for your care.

      Agree that Good and Bad cannot be absolute and it is relative….do read my replies to Yeshwinder and to Nikhil as I wrote exactly that.

      That apart I think we as Bosses must have the ability to have a direct and straight talk with our L+ and L-1

      One thing I always tried to do is ask How do I come across? Am I easy to approach? Do you have the comfort to talk openly and directly with me? Can you give me bad news? What about Good news? This discussion at opportune times helps me to course correct my own approach….and to that extent become more “Good” than I earlier was.

      We both do not believe in the deterministic model of man. We trust and believe that each one of us is an masterpiece in the making. Bad today can be Good tomorrow and unfortunately the Good can also slip backwards.If that is so, the discussion and sharing is imp. And for that a conducive relationship is a sine qua non.

      Siemens changed the name of it’s appraisal form to….Staff Dialogue….I love the openness that proclaims. Finally we are all travellers and need to transcend many intermediate journey points before we arrive at the end destination.

      मंज़िल मिलेगी,
      भटक कर ही सही
      गुमराह तो वो है,
      जो घर से निकले ही नहीं

      Love, vikas

      Like

  7. Spot on !!! On a lighter note , it is the bad bosses who make us value the Good bosses more !!

    Loking back , I had the unique experience of starting my 40 year career with the worst boss in my life. I shudder even today !!

    Like

    1. So true CKV
      without the contrasting black, the white can never shine
      and the negatives make the positive more brighter
      Protecting your sanity when you are down, and escaping that situation with your learnings and humor intact is the best one can hope for in such situations

      Like

  8. A thought provoking article, Vikas. But, I guess in retrospect , we all need to experience both the good ones as well as the bad ones, if we want to make a difference in our careers.

    Like

  9. Very nice and insightful article ..I was very lucky that having experinced bad boss ,I got very good boss ( you) which made my life very easy and comfortable…thx sir ….

    Like

    1. Thanks MAB We all have such people in our life….somebody (Arun Bhende) was a good boss to me and so I could pass that on….I am sure many people in KP will tell me what a great boss you are…..it is a legacy we pass on

      Like

    1. Agashe yes we worked with some great stalwarts…while they had their strong points….they also had their weak areas… That is the beauty of human beings….there is no black and white…..there are always shades of grey in between
      You know ASV, E Prakash, GDS and I used to participate in All India Mgt Assn Competition for Young Managers. Once we went for the Regional round to Ahmedabad. They told us results would be declared next morning. So on way to airport we dropped into AIMA and found we stood first. That was before the time of mobile phones. From there we went straight to AHM airport, landed at BOM, and by Harry Sequiera vehichle came straight to KW. Even we had not told our families that we stood first. When we entered the gate and got down from car the same Great WM was coming from WSGR to Central Bldg. He saw us. We excitedly told him, Sir we came first. You know what he said? I know that!!!!
      we were taken aback. One of us said Sir how, we just got the result from AIMA office, it will be officially declared only tonight. But he was super intelligent…he said…I knew that when you guys have gone you will win, so I said I know that
      Padya to Padya lekin naak upar

      Like

    1. Boss, Too good article, I am really fortunate that u were my Good Boss who gave me full Freedom to express and implement things in a right way.
      By reading this article I remembered all my previous bosses and stated analysing them that they fall in which side of the flip….

      Like

      1. Thanks Amarjeet…we indeed had a good time in Halol and I always admired your straight talk and your network. Hope you are now a great boss to your team….jyot se jyot jalake chalo…..

        Like

    2. Very insightful write up.
      The kind of leadership which binds people, are constantly evolving and finding ways to carry people with them
      Perhaps, with new discontinuity,leaders will adapt different ways of leading,listening, grooming people and constantly evolve.
      Thanks Vikas for this gift of sharing thought provoking and candid write up.

      Like

      1. Very aptly put. It is all a matter of choice. Which type of boss do you want to become? I had a negative boss at the start of my career and all through I would see his actions and say to myself,”That’s the thing that I definitely won’t do ince I am the boss.” I have had brilliant bosses later and endorse your summary that a boss should just point the way. People are intelligent enough to travel down the path, sometimes much better than you, even.

        Like

      2. Sameer well said. Indeed the joy of a good boss or a good parent is when the next gen supersedes him and goes ahead
        All the best to you always
        Pl keep reflecting
        and keep improving your game
        I am sure you and your team all will benefit

        Like

      1. Hi, you are at your best, as usual. We have worked together so I can relate quite a few things you mentioned. One needs “God’s Grace” to have a good boss. You are right in describing good and bad bosses.
        In my career, my first exposure to Corporate was in Mahindra and Mahindra. My first boss was Bharat Doshi, he once said “you are lucky if you get a good boss from whom you can learn something and grow yourself”. This was best for young professional in the beginning of the career. He added, “later on in life you are lucky if you get a very bad boss to whom you can outgrow.”
        During long career many bosses, I learned from some, outgrown few not in a position but intellectually. My experience is it is really hard to get good boss. So, be a good boss yourself.

        Like

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