RRGwrites

On life…and learning

Posts Tagged ‘Business is all about People

What I Learnt From My ‘Not-So-Great’ Bosses…

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Lessons Learned RRGwrites

We all love to talk about our Bosses, don’t we? And Lord knows, a minority of of us would regard our bosses as good leaders. When I wrote my earlier blog – ‘What My Great Bosses Taught Me’ – many of the readers asked me, “Hey, what about the bad bosses?”

So here it is…

The matter of fact is, I never had a really bad boss. Truly! That said, I have had my fair share of bad apples – a very insecure boss, another one who was ill-mannered and one who was simply incompetent for his job. However, none of them were awful enough for me to either loather or run away from them. In fact, I performed better under a couple of them, and was more successful under one of the tougher nuts.

There are many things I learnt from my great managers. The earlier blog enlists those. However, I learnt lot many more things from my, should I say, not-so-great bosses. A learning that proved invaluable in my later years; both, as a professional and as a people leader. Some of them were very simple, practical things and few were too profound a learning…

They are:

  1. Don’t reply to an unfavourable email in a hurry; wait till evening at least. That helps my hyper-reaction settle down and choice of words become calmer!
  2. You may be really intelligent and smart and all that, no point over-fighting your peers – functional or cross-functional. Even though they may not be able to score a point over you, they will end up despising you – something that won’t do good to the professional image in later years. From this boss, I learnt the value of building a truly well-knit peer-group, which may not be my besties, but wouldn’t despise me either.
  3. No one comes to work to do a bad job. No one joins office thinking they will give their worst that day. Keeping this in mind made me practice empathy and statesmanship, even when I was right and others were grossly wrong.
  4. Harsh language never helped the cause. If you are younger and more successful than your peers, you need to not oversell it. Success is a lousy teacher and it encourages arrogant behaviour and as rash tongue. Worse, even if you are right in what you say, how you say that will be picked, and surely used against you. Here, I learnt to be firm, yet stay polite. A learning that has held me in good stead since then.
  5. I learnt the craft of managing very senior management employees from one of my most difficult bosses. He was really good at this. I learnt the art of polite persistence, presentation skills to a senior audience group as well as how to handle tough questions from them, specifically those whose answer I didn’t know!
  6. Never work for a powerless boss. This is a great life/career-saving tip I received from one such a boss. I have written in detail about this learning here
  7. One must not feel insecure when your subordinate’s stars are shining brighter than yours. I once had a very insecure manager, who, despite being extremely competent functionally, was extremely inhibited in front of smarter juniors. He would simply feel threatened! My learning was a life-long one; that the key to success for any deputy is to do such good work that his boss gets promoted and recommends him for taking his spot! I have written in detail about this learning here…
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How I Learnt A Crucial Leadership Lesson From My Garden

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Leadership Lessons RRGwrites.jpg

While interacting with my gardener today, I realized an invaluable lesson in people leadership and employee engagement. A lesson, that originates from a mistake I made early this summer…

Those of you who know me well are aware that I am gardener at heart.

Having spent my childhood in the lush and greener surroundings of a cantonment, I developed a green thumb from very early on. Baba, my late father, was the one who taught me the nuances of nurturing a sapling. He and I would spend hours every Sunday, attending to our plants. Lot of heart and effort went into what I know now of gardening.

In the concrete world of the Millennium City – Gurgaon, I am one of the lucky ones to have a sizable garden space in my home. I built this green space from the scratch; every day, I feel a sense a fulfillment when I stand there. On weekends, you’d mostly find me working there in a corner, personally managing the growth and upkeep of each of the plants. Each blooming flower and reaping fruit is a resultant of my love and labour for my garden.

Looks like I am losing track. What was my mistake and what is the leadership lesson learnt?

Let me introduce you to CB, my ex-gardener. He was my key aide in building and nurturing this garden. CB was a trusted, old hand for over 7 years. He was extremely dedicated, hard-working and polite. Though I was aware that he didn’t possess the deeper skills of gardening, his efforts and willingness to work with the family ensured better growing plants, blooming flowers and a neat-&-clean garden area. He was also loyal and smart enough to save me money – he’d bring smaller saplings from the greener sidelines of the colony, painstakingly make cuttings of otherwise expensive plants and make my garden look nicer, without burning a whole in my pocket. He would also sit and listen to my rantings of how knowledgeable I was about gardening and amuse me. High on personal integrity – he was a trusted family aide and we would not think twice before leaving him in charge of the home. In that role, he was also helpful as a Man-Friday in all family events; often running small errands, without much ado.

One fateful day, something happened that made me lose my cool, and how!

Around the onset of last summer, I bought hundreds of periwinkle flower saplings. Baba used to love this flower; every year, I would grow them in large parts of the garden. Continuing the tradition, I decided to cultivate them this summer too, expecting the entire garden to bloom within a month. Just a day after we planted these saplings, the entire family traveled out of station. As always the responsibility of tending to the garden was with CB.

I came back after a week, and to my utter dismay, found most of the saplings dried out – dead… Of course, they weren’t watered for days…

CB was summoned. I gave him a verbal lashing; no holds barred. He, and another maid, who shared this responsibility – both had erroneously assumed that the other would have watered the plants. Result: no one did either water or check. Delhi’s on-setting scorching summer heat dried out nearly all the saplings.

Seeing this damage, my emotions took better of me. As I continued to lose my cool, he stood folded his hands in front of me. CB did try to explain. I didn’t pay any heed; I was furious. And as they say, in such temper, you only say words that you regret later.

As a result, CB, my loyal aide for years, was heart-broken to hear my overtly tough words. He was visibly upset being scolded in front of the entire household. And despite the fact that realized my overstepping on the heat and calming down soon after, CB decided to move on. He moved back to his hometown and didn’t come back. Even if he did return to Gurgaon, I didn’t see him… For many days, I rued this loss. All others were upset too at home. My mother didn’t say much, though I know she wasn’t too happy either with my outburst. My ‘better-half’ didn’t opine much either, but I knew that she wasn’t too happy knowing this incident… Other servants too didn’t like it, I know… I too was feeling apologetic…

I waited for a few months and tried to trace him down; no avail. I engaged another gardener…

Working for last 8 months, my new gardener too is a good man. He knows the craft and has gardening skills that CB didn’t. He too works fine

And only just fine… my new gardener works by the clock. He cribs more often. He demanded and got a higher salary. He expects me not to correct him at all, should I see things not going right. I am still not sure of his personal integrity, albeit I haven’t experienced otherwise as yet. He hasn’t yet become a trusted family man-Friday, let alone my mother and wife entrusting him with the home errands or the family events. Does he think and act in my best interest each time, I am not sure. He works hard and yet, takes a clinical approach – not with interest and passion to make the garden look its best. He doesn’t save me money. He knows a lot, much more than CB, but doesn’t bring the passion and politeness…

I miss CB every time when I interact with my new gardener. The garden still looks nice and clean, but not spotless. Flowers still bloom, but they aren’t planted with the heart… No wonder I don’t see the same view, despite all my own individual efforts…

This morning, when we were planting the winter saplings, I found my new gardener again cribbing about the amount of work it entailed… I didn’t stop myself from giving him a sermon on work-ethics. He didn’t seem impressed; I could see it… And I surely didn’t want him feeling disengaged. Hence, to bring him around, I handed him a 100 rupee note as an added incentive… Then only I found him smiling. Something, that CB never expected…

Leadership lesson learnt for life.

Think of my garden as an organization, myself as a leader or the promoter and CB as a trusted & engaged employee. Most often then not, organizations lose good talent because of bad managers or even when good managers lose it on small mistakes. CB did make a mistake and that did cost me money and agony. It also led to a lost opportunity and a poorly bloomed garden the whole summer. That said, he still was a trusted, long-standing employee, with only good for the organization and the leader in his heart. His record of seven years was much meaningful when compared to the loss of one summer… Losing him due to a heart-burn, purely due to a leader mismanaging a crucial conversation, was a big loss. It could have been completely avoided.

Many times, such employees will go join competition – their organizations will bloom better than yours. How often we see this in organizations? Quite often…

We can always hire a more efficient replacement. But the cost of replacement of a trusted employee & team-mate is way high; much higher than only the monetary cost. It costs the company, the leader, the team many bigger things – passion, dedication, trustworthiness, and above all, it dents the organizational culture for all other employees, new and old.

Well, I made a mistake. I dropped my pennies that day. And I realize it thrice a week now. I am sharing this life and leadership experience, which I learnt the hard way, with you all, so that you can learn from my mistake – in your gardens, and in your organisations…

If you are lucky to have a CB in your home, company and team – value him. Allow him a mistake or two. Even big ones at times. When he does make such a mistake, watch out for how you reprimand; handle the crucial conversation that may go awry and don’t lose it then. Trust me, losing CBs in today world of talent crunch can cost way too much…

Now, its your turn. What do you think? Do share your thoughts…

5 Questions To People Managers Desiring To Be Leaders

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leadership-questionsI keep meeting and interacting with a lot of mid-level sales managers. While many of them call themselves a leader, sometime with more enthusiasm than the very word calls for, I can observe that they were mostly by-default managers, and least of all leadership as a concept is really clear to them. That said, the same is true for us all too. Just like love, leadership holds a different meaning for everyone. For some, it is a default role, for others it is a position of power; for many, it is a work level and designation and corner office or the offices next to the one in the corner and for a rare few, it means to serve.

I asked all my such people managers 5 simple questions:

“Why are you motivated to lead?”

No answer…

I ask the second one – “Why should anyone be led by you?” I explain this one; ”What is that you have that people who are as smart as you, as experiences as you and as successful as you; your very peers… why should they report to you?

No answer… some baffled faces…

I ask the third one – “If you were a product; what are the ingredients and contents of your leadership and what is the brand value you portray to your followers?” I go further on this one, “And how do you intend to strategically further this brand?”

No answer… even more puzzled looks…

“What do you want from your people?” I ask the next one.

To this one, answers come quick – they all want loyalty, integrity, performance, discipline, mannerisms, result-orientation, process-adherence, willingness to take feedback, et al

And then I ask, “What do you want for your people?”

Puzzled faces followed by few, unconvincing mumbles come back as a reply…

Do you find these questions right? Do share your thoughts…

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Image-credit: scoutmastercg.com

Written by RRGwrites

July 9, 2015 at 3:10 PM

How To Lose Your Recently Hired Top Talent?

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Losing You Top Talent

You have hired top talent? Want to build a star team?

But, what if you lose them soon?

One of the toughest challenges organizations face in today’s time is that of losing key talent; it comes at a premium and it hurts even more when your recently hired or promoted top talent leaves you. However, if you are not watchful of certain sure-shot holes in their engagement at work from early days on, you may end up losing them sooner than you could think, that too without even realizing it sometimes. And that may happen irrespective of the career-levels they belong to. Here is how:

  1. You and/or the Company do not treat them with respect. By respect, I don’t mean you are supposed to bow down to them everyday! But surely, if you do not value their talent, capabilities and experience, they will get disoriented after a point in time and become disengaged. Not giving autonomy as desired or assured, quagmiring them in bureaucratic hurdles, not involving them in key decisions or simply not keeping them duly informed about the crucial events, activities and/or plans –  it will send a signal that you or your organization do not know how to utilize such talent. Well, that’s the start, of losing them!
  2. You ask them to prove themselves, without creating necessary support for them. Well, most often than not, we all know that management jobs are all about managing increasing degrees of ambiguity. However, that certainly won’t cover up for the need of support even the top performers would need, whether hired from outside or promoted to higher or moved to newer roles from within. How often you’d hear stories about disengagement with work due to lack of support – whether resources like team or infrastructure or the lack of willingness from those around to get such talent to seamlessly settle down. It builds the frustrations over a period of time. Loss of talent, thereafter, is only a matter of time…
  3. You put them under a weak boss. Now, that’s surely a killer. A weak boss is one who is definite recipe for a sooner-than-later-disengaged and fast-disappearing top talent. No one wants to work with a manager who wants to please everyone, doesn’t take a call, appears either lost or struggling, and doesn’t stand up for his people. Plus, hiring top talent is easy, keeping such a bunch of individuals engaged as a team is a far bigger task. A leader has to work double shift in ensuring he is on top of people dynamics, manage conflicting views and yet, do not allow negativity to seep in. Wherever these things don’t exist – top talent too doesn’t exit for long!
  4. Too much uncertainty around the goals. If you hear – “Let’s do this as a top priority”, and then find definition of priority changing every month – this talent is surely not going to bear it for long. Top talent, as desired, is often referred to as result-oriented and process driven individuals, who bring a lot of method to the madness – to quote the proverbial management sutra. Yet, shifting goals and priorities aren’t a best way of engaging with them. Moreover, it alienates the teams below too, who find themselves working on difference tasks every other day, without the earlier ideas taking any concrete shape.
  5. You and your Company does not listen to them. Another definitive recipe of losing star performers. You hired them for their skills, talent and experience. And yet, you either do not listen to their views, or ignore their ideas. And I am not referring to simply hearing them out. We all would agree that not recognizing the performance and/or efforts is a big derailer for engagement for any employee. However, in my experience, not listening to your top talent is a bigger trouble-maker. When such talent sees little patience in the organization to listen to an outsider’s view or an expert’s opinion or worse, even ridicule their thoughts… be prepared for a replacement hiring soon!

As an HR professional, I meet a lot of people on a daily basis; I listen to them, understand their challenges, and sometimes, I just meet them to give them an opportunity to talk freely. I meet people who have recently joined, people who have spent six months or less and people who have spent decades. I meet them all! Yet, my most important leanings have come from my interactions with employees who leave within 6-12 months of joining the company. A great boss I worked with taught me a wonderful lesson – “an employee’s emotions are purest on two occasions – firstly, when he joins the company and then again, when he is about to leave it.” Such employees teach me a lot, really! Above 5 pointers rank amongst the top reasons when I see star performers, who have recently joined, become disengaged and leave the organization. Same can be said of the top talent that was moved to new or higher roles and do not find it engaging.

That is my experience and I have found it helpful to manage the newly inducted top talent; I just watch out for the above five gaps. Do share yours. Is there something you would want to add to the list?

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Image-credit: onthe-wayout.com

5 Questions You Need to Answer If You’re Being Promoted

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The Leader In Me

Were you promoted recently or are you being promoted? And will you now be a manager to those who were your peers till yesterday?

What are your feelings? Happy? Apprehensive? Both…?

I recently got a chance to interact with a bunch of such promoted senior managers; people who grew from within ranks, sales folks with tons of experience and hard-earned credibility. Upon hearing the news of their elevation, they were initially ecstatic! Then, as the conversation proceeded, I observed myriad emotions emerge – happiness, apprehension, thoughtfulness, even over-conficence – ‘I will deliver to all expectations types’… some also asked about improvement areas…

Having worked with leadership talent all across the spectrum, I wanted them to succeed in their new roles and not fall prey to a leadership nemesis several go down to – THE I know it all!

I asked them these five questions… it left them thinking!

  1. Why are you being promoted? Because of the old good phrase – ‘I am THE best performer’ OR, there is more to it that your boss and company saw in you and which you need to be more self-aware of?

  2. What are the top five expectations your boss and company have from you in your new, enlarged role?

  3. What are the top three or five things that you will start doing from tomorrow; things you weren’t either aware of or focussing upon till now?

  4. More importantly, can you list down top three or five things you will stop doing, as you take charge of your new role?

  5. Why should till-yesterday-your-peers agree to be led by you? What is your leadership quotient with such people? Remember, these are as bright, as seasoned, as performing as you were! Even bigger question… why should anyone be led by you?

A found the group staring at me… some mustered answers to few of these questions; other few went into a deep thought. A couple of rather over-confident ones also put up a brave exterior – that of ‘I have figured it out all!’ Incidentally, almost everyone had said in earlier conversations that they will deliver upon all expectations and yet, when they drew up the list to answer the second question, as mentioned above, I could observe a lot of mismatches!

And the boss of these recent promoted ones? He too went thinking!

Your thoughts? Do you think I asked right questions? Do you want to add any questions?

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Image-credit: sheroes.in

Story Of A Boss Who Cares…

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Caring LeadershipIn the leadership series of my blog, there is a strange trend that I have noted over the period of years. Every time I have written about poor bosses/managers/leaders, the readership of my blog swells. A clear signal that there indeed is a leadership deficit all of us face across levels, industries and geographies!

However, the world also has some brilliant managers; who give us hope that we shall continue to come across good leaders in our careers. Hence, it becomes imperative for me to write and share about good leaders, as and when I come across them. So, this one is to share a simple, yet superb story of one such great manager…

Here is how it was experienced by someone I know…

So, this person worked with a renowned management consulting firm. Got a good offer and wanted to move out after serving an appropriate notice-period. However, it wasn’t as easy. He was an integral part of the senior team involved in a crucial client project, which had just begun. The project was ambitious and relationship with client delicate; and required all attention, commitment and experience that this team could bring to table. So, an early exit was simply out of question – and the conversation with senior leadership wasn’t encouraging at all. “No early release”, he was told clearly…

To make an early exit an even more complicated issue, there was a pressing personal reason too. This person and his wife were expecting a baby, and the doctor had allowed only a small window for safe-travel for a vacation. And those of you who have gone through parenthood would appreciate that if this couple weren’t able to avail this vacation, they would not have found time or energy for at least next couple of years to break away, with a baby and allied changes coming in their lives.

Well – three intertwined issues needed resolution – timely and smooth handover and exit, in time to encash that miniscule window of travel, and be back in time to joining the new role!

It was here when the Boss took over. She heard the issue empathetically, took pains to understand the issues at hand and showed genuine appreciation of the same. Fully aware that the outgoing person was a key member of the crucial project they were in and that replacement wasn’t easy, she assured the best possible cooperation to her subordinate. Well, don’t all bosses promise the same, you’d ask, and yet end up delivering only lip-service? No, not this one. She meant it for real. In order to help, she mobilized her network, organized support, looked for possible replacements, spoke with the client & made them understand, and above all, also convinced her own boss! She took a bold risk, indeed. All so that her subordinate and his wife do not end up missing out on that crucial break!

When I came across this story, I was overwhelmed! And I was also pleased to note that while we all keep cribbing about bosses from hell and what not, with such managers existing, there is hope for leadership, indeed there is. In my view, she could do it because she cared, authentically. Authenticity and Genuine Care for One’s Team – twin bedrocks of true leadership. And it did remind me of what Henry Gruland said,

“Being the leader is more than just wanting to lead. Leaders have empathy for others and a keen ability to find the best in the people… not the worse… by truly caring for others.”

I am sure this story would inspire some of us, and will help us be better leaders… I know for sure that this subordinate was truly inspired!

Now it is your turn. Do you have a story, an experience of a great boss? Do share…

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Image-credit: alameleadership.com

How Will You Fare As A Boss, As Compared to Your Own Boss?

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Time for LeadershipHow often you’d observe someone cribbing about his or her boss? Quite ubiquitously, you’d say. And how often YOU would do so yourself – crib and find follies in your own boss?

Every day, I meet a LOT of people complaining and finding errors in their bosses. However, in my experience, only a rare few also try and look inside inwards, check their own leadership styles and introspect, asking self, “What kind of a supervisor am I?” and “How do I better myself so that at least my juniors do not crib and complain against me, especially for the same very things that I find objectionable in my boss…”

Now, isn’t that’s one hell of a difficult question to ask self?

This one is to all the supervisors, bosses, managers and leadership aspirants – let’s spend some time introspecting on this moot question, at the very outset of this brilliant, promising new year 2014, and become better people leaders.

To help you begin this journey of introspection, I am leaving you with what F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of the finest American authors of the 20th century, wrote in his novel, ‘The Love Of The Last Tycoon’:

“Credit is something that should be given to others. If you are in a position to give credit to yourself, then you do not need it.”

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Image-credit: practiceprinciples.net

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