On life…and learning

What My Best Bosses Taught Me…

with 14 comments

Leader TeacherIn my eight years of working life, I worked with some superb leaders. However, my first Manager will always be very close to my heart; he was the one who picked me right after the MBA-school and taught me the grind of the corporate world. A really demanding guy he was; his toughness ensured I learn everything the right way. There were no short-cuts allowed. He motivated and pushed me hard. In short, he shaped my career and my thought-process for the formative years.

After four years, I met another superb leader, who hired me to be the part of his dream-team, and took me to an altogether next level of learning and performance. Unlike my first boss, he was far younger, albeit an equally strong leader. He taught me another set of valuable lessons, and refined me into a better professional and a leader.

From a young, raw, inexperienced management trainee to now a people-leader myself, these two bosses left an indelible impression on my professional and personal lives. Here, I am sharing some of the key things they taught me; some very simple things they said and did proved to be the most effective learning later.

As a young management trainee, here is what I learnt from my first boss…

  • Whatever is worth doing, it’s worth doing in a process-oriented manner – create processes for everything you do.
  • Be a subject matter expert – there is nothing better than knowing your job the best.
  • Be in office at least one hour before an important presentation. Visit the room where the meeting is scheduled; check the projector, see if it works fine with your laptop. That’s being ready and being on-time…
  • Either you work hard for the first 20 years of your life and enjoy the rest of it, or you enjoy the first 20 years and you would find yourself working very hard to live your rest of the life.
  • If you don’t really know the business by the back of your hand, you aren’t the HR guy business would want to have on their team.
  • Never accept mediocrity – it is infectious like a disease.
  • A good leader never worries about his goal-sheet; he just helps members of his team achieve their goals; his get automatically done!
  • Never mess with the happy situation, specially, while deciding compensation and benefits.
  • If you are signing a document, writing an email, making a ppt – anything that carries your name, watch out for all the silly mistakes – spellings, fonts, formatting, grammar – they all make a dent. Positive or negative – you need to decide.

And the next Boss taught me these…

  • We do strategy only two days every year – rest 363 days we need to ensure impeccable execution.
  • People don’t have any control over who would become their boss; they learn to put up with whomsoever the organization puts over them. But they surely will not accept all bosses as their ‘leader’. Being the boss is easy, be the leader…that’s really difficult. But then, why would you want to do an easy job anyway?
  • Age really doesn’t determine maturity and years of experience are no measure of talent and capability.
  • Never hire people in your team who are any lesser competent that you. Hire people better than you, and make it a habit.
  • When in retail, spend maximum time travelling to stores; talking to people, spending time working on the floor – that’s where real action is, that’s where real ideas and results will come from.
  • Don’t start any major activity or a plan if you do not envision it running for at least five years. Dream big, plan right, look ahead…
  • Guard your team’s reputation like your own. If your team is right, no one should be able to touch them. If they aren’t right, you should be the only one reprimanding them, not others…
  • A leader not only needs to be fair, he must also appear fair.
  • It’s OK to fail at times; just don’t miss capturing the learning.
  • If all the sub-teams are not connecting in a ‘boundary-less’ manner, they aren’t forming one team for sure. Invest time and energy in making all sub-teams work together cohesively, and you’d build the most competent team ever…

While both these men belonged to different age-groups, background and experiences, they had many things in common – they were both voracious readers, always willing to learn new things and better themselves. They were quite punctual and orderly, and valued others’ time like their own. They were big men with small egos, and carried no chip on their shoulder about the designations, cabins, et al. Both were true to their words, and always came back when they said they would. Both spent more time in building careers of their team-mates than their own. And above all, they both never shied away from accepting responsibility, living up to what Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “A chief is a man who assumes responsibility. He says “I was beaten,” he does not say “My men were beaten.”

Many of these things I learnt by observing them. And when these two leaders spoke, I heard them loud and clear. Sometimes, it took me a while, even a long time in few cases, to realize the importance, for the impact of there words to sink in. It took me while to imbibe some of these learning and change my behaviour…but I now can see why some of these learning are real pearls of wisdom. I now enjoy practicing them, and reap the benefits.

I learnt several other things from my other managers too, and while I am still learning, something I’d never stop; I’ll be forever grateful to these two gentlemen, who taught me some really valuable work & life lessons.

Those are my learning from my best bosses. Now it’s your turn. Which of these learning speak most to you? I am sure you too worked with some great bosses; what are your experiences? Let me know in the comments below- and here’s to all of us becoming better leaders!

14 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Dear Sir
    A brilliant and an extremely well-timed article, especially since i would be entering the corporate world soon enough.
    Thank you is all i can say right now.

    Prashant Tomar

    March 19, 2013 at 3:58 AM

    • Prashant, I am glad you found what I learnt useful. I am sure you will benefit from them like I.


      March 19, 2013 at 8:39 AM

  2. This is one of your finest professional write-ups Rishi. I have heard and seen you practicing these lessons many times over in the past years, and probably picked up one or two and they have paid huge dividends in my career. I think this is golden advice and I’d actually pay to get this advice if I had to – it is worth its words in gold.


    March 19, 2013 at 3:31 PM

    • Thanks, Neha. I just reproduced what I learnt from these ‘authentic’ leaders. Many of these I learnt merely by observing their actions or conversations with others. And as you said, some of them are worth their weight in gold.


      March 19, 2013 at 6:47 PM

  3. Rightly said sir. At every stage Bosses are best mentors.
    We just need to observe and analyze them.

    Amit Kumar Tiwari

    March 19, 2013 at 11:10 PM

    • Very well said, Amit. I too learnt a lot of these things by merely observing.


      March 19, 2013 at 11:13 PM

  4. Amazing write-up and a great learning experience…

    As soon as I finished reading this blog, I started thinking of few but important things that I have learned from my bosses:

    #.”In God we trust, for everything else I need an email.” I failed a couple of times to document the things on right time and as a result faced the repercussion later on. When I was told this phrase, I wrote it on top of my diary and it still helps me a lot.

    # Communication is a ghost that everyone talks about but no one knows it. Earlier I used to rush into conversations and used to talk without even thinking. Over a period of time, I have developed this habit of expressing only when I have given a thought over the subject being discussed.

    # My boss once said – “There is nothing that you will do wrong and I can’t correct it.” That gave me a lot of courage for intelligent risk taking and being more decisive in last 12-15 months; it helped me in my partnership with stakeholders as well.

    # ‘Write as much as you can, it will help you to accomplish your job better, you can anytime go back and refer to your notes to understand the actionable.’ Take notes and take good notes.

    # ‘Let someone challenge your limits, only then you will be able to know your limits in real.’ Accept the challenge and give your best.

    # “Koshish wo seedhi hai jis par paanv tike to kaamyabi aur paanv fisle to bhi ummeed barkaraar rehti hai.” ­ Never stop giving your best efforts, it will surely take you to some good results.

    # NO – People often mistake this word as a negative one. I believe there is another meaning to it i.e. Next Opportunity = NO.

    # END – Again, this is considered as an expression of loss/defeat but we must look this from another angle as well, Effort Never Dies = END.

    # ‘Always do your homework impeccably well’ – It helps you a lot when you present your work to someone. Your homework leaves a lasting impression about your efforts.

    This is something I picked up in my small journey so far, something I always recommend.Hope it would help someone…


    March 20, 2013 at 1:42 AM

    • Brilliant, Amit! Thank you for sharing your learning in such detail, you have added lot of value to the context and I am sure he readers would benefit from your experiences.


      March 20, 2013 at 9:56 AM

  5. Well, someone dear recommended to read your blog,travelogue…& then it was mild fixation,so couldn’t help but quote few lines from my poem to define what your piece said about-Great leader.

    “Men of simple story,
    Don’t rush for small hour’s glory.
    Deep in action each word they carry,
    Undisputed thought of seldom hurry.”


    April 2, 2013 at 12:21 AM

    • Well said, Shivangi – I really liked what you wrote – “Men of simple story….”

      Also, thanks for your kind words.


      April 2, 2013 at 12:28 AM

  6. I am currently experiencing these things mentioned in the article during my internship. Apart from my mentor, the CEO, personally is so serious about the development of mine that he always keeps guiding me and provides diversified exposure. He never thinks about his designation, cabin, authority and is very concerned about making his people happy. According to his words,” one who can manage his employees can manage and succeed his business”. That’s why, being high employee turnover in his sector, he is maintaining 100% employee retention from last 4 yrs.

    saurabh raj

    July 10, 2013 at 11:13 PM

    • Saurabh, many thanks for sharing this invaluable experience. It is leaders like him who make the real difference. Hats off…


      July 11, 2013 at 12:51 AM

  7. Have a presentation tomorrow, so will make your point of “being ready” as a part of my behavior from now. Thanks Sir for sharing these invaluable experiences and learning.

    Sahil Chopra

    July 11, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    • Sahil, I am happy you found this blog useful. All the best for your presentation.


      July 11, 2013 at 1:37 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: