Complaining about our bosses never goes out of style. We do it at parties, in hushed conversations at work and, in my case, even in this column.
The reality is that those of us who have tasted any measure of success in our careers have likely had a good boss or two who made our climbs possible. I remember an editor who took me out to lunch just after I’d had my baby and offered me a part-time job, mostly working from home. She guaranteed my stories never got part-time treatment though, regularly guiding them onto the front page and approving special projects. Another editor early in my career used to inspire the wacky, insane parts of my brain to generate ideas outside the proverbial box; those always ended up being the most memorable pieces I wrote.
The managers who allow us to taste success make us want to keep going, and thus good partnerships become a beneficial cycle of motivation and outperformance. That matters in a labour market defined by high churn rates, where so many young workers say they are leaving, not just for higher salaries, but to escape bad bosses.
According to the book, The 7 Hidden Reasons People Leave, more than 85% of managers surveyed believed employees left for more pay or better opportunity. Meanwhile, more than 80% of employees say they really leave because of poor, even “toxic”, managers.
So it’s not surprising that the good bosses get drowned out in this economy of career checkers. Yet, when I asked a handful of Indians to describe the best boss they have ever had, each had an answer, even a few. The same word to describe the person even came up a few times: mentor.
“When I was working for the Indian Space Research Organization, my boss really was my mentor and my guide and used to tell me what I should do, how I should do it,” J.A. Chowdary, managing director of graphic chip designer Nvidia India, said in an interview from Hyderabad. “It was not only technical aspects, but also managerial aspects.”
Another boss, Chowdary recalls, was a good one because he offered lots of freedom, interpreted by the worker as a vote of confidence. As a result, Chowdary never wanted to let him down. And even if he did, that was okay.
“When you make a mistake and the actual boss, he comes to your help and says, ‘Look Jay, you probably need this kind of help. I can give you the support mechanisms. If you fail, I am with you.’ Words like that encourage you, boost up your morale all the time,” he said.
Now the big boss, Chowdary says he relies on those early lessons to motivate his staff, spread across the world.
“Particularly in the IT industry now, where attrition levels are so high, when you have this kind of relationship, they come to you,” he said. “They think I can help them.”
Workers also said that good bosses give regular evaluations and informal feedback all the time. They said knowing where they stood was never a question. They say their favourite bosses blend the right combination of caring about short- and long-term career goals.
“He was very candid and forthcoming about his expectations and his appraisals,” Suchismita Bhattacharya, an engineer in Mumbai, said about her favourite boss. “He inspired confidence, I could approach him with new ideas without fear of censure.”
As I experienced first hand, a generation that expects work-family balance to be partly the responsibility of employers seems to prefer bosses who know—and care—about spouses’ schedules, children’s sporting events, elderly parents’ illnesses.
Rather than escaping his boss, Vishal Rai left his last job to follow his—to Bharti Airtel. Rai, who has worked three jobs in his 29 years, said his boss has integrity and he likes him both personally and professionally. That’s important, he said, adding it makes direct communication a lot easier.
“He has changed his leadership style from directing to participating to delegating. If I am not really comfortable with any aspect, he realizes I am not and he jumps in and helps,” Rai said. “He also knows the areas I need to improve on, so he pushes me.”
According to a survey by executive recruiter Korn/Ferry International, four in 10 executives say they accept new positions based on the management team alone.
That applies to Rai and his colleagues, who couldn’t bear to lose their boss a year and a half ago; 70% of the entire team fled to Bharti so they could report to the same man.
It reminded me of a T-shirt I saw in 2001 while visiting software services giant Tata Consultancy Services in Mumbai: “Boss is what I call my best buddy.”
I wouldn’t go that far, but it might not hurt to occasionally let the effective ones know. After all, our success is often riding on theirs—and vice-versa.
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