Article (February-2019)


BOSSOHYMN : Elixir for Working Life

Col Dr. VRK Prasad (Retd)

Designation : -   Chancellor

Organization : -  The ICFAI University, Meghalaya, (Former Vice Chancellor, The ICFAI University, Nagaland)


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Gone are the days when one had to say that bosses are always right even if they were not. It's time to modify the rules of the game as, Rule number 1 'Boss is human' and rule number 2 'even if the boss is not human refer to rule number 1'. Yet another maxim says that bosses are necessary evils. The big question is 'where are the organisations without bosses or the necessary evils for that matter? A poster on the wall of a government office in Harare, Zimbabwe while giving out the differences between a boss and a leader and attributing all good traits to a leader ends with a line "so be a leader and not a boss". Now can there be a boss without being a leader in the first place? Are not these two positions complementary to each other? Why does a boss create a sense of fear in his team? Are all bosses bad, dictatorial and to be hated? Conversely are all subordinates, good, sincere, hard working and honest etc? These are some of the questions that get raised in a normal boss - subordinate relationship and the answers may not be in the affirmative for sure. Boss Management as a course or even as a topic is generally a 'touch me not' item in the curriculum of management programs other than as one odd guest lecture etc. It's time this vital aspect of working life is included in the syllabi of business schools at least in the form of case studies and workshops etc. There is an element of truth in the fact that people leave the bosses and not the organisations as the young executive fresh from the campus with no idea of how to deal with the boss, the dreaded figure for him at least, runs for the nearest shelter generally outside the gate. Deans and Faculty of business schools often come across their once bright students having quit their first jobs within the first year itself and the reason given as the so called 'culture shock' definitely includes the boss. Unfortunately this trend of leaving the organisations still continues unabated even by the experienced lot, but then how many organisations one can afford to leave in one's career purely on account of bosses and where is the guarantee that the next guy would be your right match. Way back in 1993 itself John Gabarro and John Kotter of HBS started dealing with this critical issue with a paper in HBR. Ever since a multitude of literature has come up on the subject leading to even earmarking a day in the month of October every year as Boss' day. A lot of emphasis has been laid on achieving a perfect balance between people and tasks as per the teaching but that is more easily said than done. In a dynamic business scenario everything becomes more situational than mere idealistic and bookish.

First thing for every subordinate to remember is 'boss has a boss too whom you do not know and that super boss may have the same or more expectations from your boss than what your boss has from you'. Further your boss' performance depends upon the combined performance of the entire team under him with little or no scope for ripples. Finally the hard fact is, in most of the cases 'your boss has gone through the same mill as you are going through now'. So it's only natural that you give the guy (or the devil?) his due. Next thing is to understand the person through a little close study and not going by the hearsay, a general practice. Because if he is Hitler (or Harisadu) to someone he need not be so to you too. While understanding him, try to get to know as to what type he belongs to as like everyone else they too come in different hues (remember being different is also being human). He could be 'do not disturb me', 'clueless but autocratic', 'overly obsessive and I am always right,' 'extreme either on task or on people', 'too goody goody', 'highly personal' (beware), 'always claiming credit' (defeat is an orphan) and finally the rare breed 'efficient, charismatic and every man's boss etc'. There could be many more types as every human being is unique in his own way whether good or bad could be a matter of perception. The start point, as taught in military academies is to treat everyone as the best human being on the earth till he proves otherwise or different in this case. If the boss proves to be different then one needs to work out one's own method of dealing with him accordingly. Yet another key is to assume right in the beginning that the boss is going to be different or even difficult and there is a dire need to handle and even manage him properly. Comfort level will increase by mentally preparing yourself to tread the tough path, all in your interest. Handling the boss deals more with his personal attributes as a normal human being with likes and dislikes etc. while managing the boss is interacting with him on working areas, the subtle difference between the two needs to be understood. Any mix up is going to create problems for sure. Bosses could be short on the temper, unrealistic in the expectations, with deadly time lines and targets etc. But then subordinates rarely have an idea of their boss' pressures, problems, goals and objectives which are far more important than theirs and they might even keep changing with the business situation. Though boss - subordinate relationship in mutually dependent but the latter's dependence on the former is more than vice versa. Boss is the bridge who connects the subordinate to the rest of the organisation. Bosses have an insatiable appetite for information and an elephantine memory (No doubt Stanley Bing calls them 'elephants'). There is a   strong need to keep the boss well informed all the time on all official matters and never ever pretend to have forgotten the task assigned because the boss won't.

One needs to be not only politically but legally also to be correct as bosses are known to have fired 9 out of 10 cases merely on legal grounds where the relationship strained. In case of difference of opinion, it is advisable to let the issue pass for the moment and revisit it at a more amenable occasion as every boss would mull over the issue at his own time and agree with your view point if only it was based on sound logic and technicalities. If he goes ahead with his idea the nature of the outcome would enable learning by both. But do not ever refrain from conveying your view points, if you do, it goes against you at a later date. Yet another weakness the millennium crowd suffers from is "impatience and impulsiveness", both of them result in reactive behaviour which is highly detrimental to a working relationship. Promotions and rises will definitely come on their own if one meets the performance requirements and there is no need to carry a placard on the chest for them. Strange but true it is the boss who knows more about the abilities of his subordinate than the subordinate himself which is echoed in the words Charles Erwin Wilson former US Secretary of Defence who said "A good boss makes his men realise they have more ability that they think they have, so that they consistently do better work than they thought they would". An organisational head is known to have asked one of his senior managers, a telecom engineer by qualification and experience and engaged in academic pursuits to head the civil engineering and projects division as an additional responsibility much against the willingness of the individual concerned. No sooner the guy achieves a turn around and earns the kudos of his boss with the compliment "with you as the head of the projects division I am having sound sleep these days". Doesn't a rise or a promotion follow this on their own?  Of course they did.

If not most, but definitely a lot of the bosses have their heads full of egos. So be it, what's the big deal, you shed yours and then serve his first. You never know he might be doing the same to his boss too and he is only being human in expecting it from you. Indra Nooyi, former CEO Pepsico, on getting elevated to the top position comes back home to proudly declare to her mother about her achievement only to be told back "forget about your CEO ship, leave it in the garage, first you better go and get some milk for the children as there is hardly any in the friz" and all this when no ego was involved in this episode at all. It's time to shed this "you know who I am" kind of things by all bosses irrespective of their levels. Our former President Late Abdul Kalam's life is a standing example for everyone.

Finally, decision making is one critical aspect of every boss' functioning, specially in dilemmatic situations. Simple steps propounded in Gita could be taken help of i.e. first listen to your conscience, next, take the side of the truth and truth alone even if it is not in the interest of the organisation and as a final resort take the advice of elders or seniors.  Dishonesty, intellectual or otherwise is the worst attribute a boss can ever possess and subordinates will for sure walk in his footsteps with their fake tour and conveyance bills etc. Reliability is one significant factor that fosters sound boss - subordinate relationship. A boss may be short term result oriented and even may be narcissistic but remember these are human traits only and not animal instincts. Some bosses are also known to be banyan trees, not letting the subordinates under them to grow but a smart subordinate discretely moves out of the shadow and still grows. Every subordinate needs to work out his own strategy to deal with his boss both on official and even on personal fronts not losing the sights of the things at stake. In the process, singing an odd tune or even a hymn should not be out of place, more so when it costs nothing and makes the guy feel nice. Let us not forget that it's not easy to be a boss, and 'uneasy lies the head…..