Astudy of CEOs, published by the Harvard Business School in February, reveals some shocking truths. These top bosses spend only 4% of their day thinking about long-term strategy, according to the What Do CEOs Do? Harvard working paper.
They work for 48 hours a week, but spend 60% of that time in meetings—and we know what most meetings are like. They get bogged down in day-to-day operations, and they also feel they must dash around the world meeting clients (no doubt all this jet-setting makes them feel very important). To be fair, this Harvard working paper has only researched the CEOs of 94 Italian firms. But the truth may not be very different in many other parts of the world, including India.
Now, this column has no Ivy League scholarly pretensions of any kind, but on the other hand we do have a clear bias for action. Therefore, we have chosen to build on the results of this landmark Harvard study by usefully suggesting what our new-age bosses should really be doing. If you agree with these simple suggestions, you could help this worthy cause by handing over or emailing a copy of this article to your boss.
Sun ‘n’ sand: Send your boss on a holiday. When he returns, he will be bright and friendly.
Enhance their thought process
To begin with, bosses should take a lot of time to think about the future of the business, about the office and about all of us. Bosses give little time to thinking. And when they eventually do get around to thinking briefly, they mostly arrive at the expensive conclusion that this cerebral activity should be delegated to management consultants. But many wise consultants try to figure out what the bosses are thinking, and then faithfully reflect these views in their recommendations. However, since the bosses are thinking very little, the consultants finally present glossy 1,000-page reports containing nothing of substantial value. This leads to a further period of absolutely no thinking, except a general bemoaning of the top dollars spent on the consultants. To break out of this vicious cycle of emptiness, bosses should take time off to think—retire to the mountainsides or beaches while they are thinking, if they wish.
Let employees be
Having applied some thought and given us some (hopefully) useful directions, bosses should then leave us alone. A time-and-motion study of employees in modern offices is likely to show that staffers spend more time responding to bosses and attending endless meetings called by them than actually doing some good work with a free and relaxed mind. Bosses are a significant cause of recurring hypertension, which we all agree does not help creative or productive work. So our considered recommendation is that bosses and CEOs be given the full liberty of working from their far-off homes for at least two days a week, though we take no responsibility for the domestic discord this can potentially cause in their lives. We also recommend that bosses be encouraged to interact intensively and actively with their own bosses, including members of the board of directors and such worthies—this will engage their time productively and keep them off our backs.
Learn to appreciate staffers
Bosses should learn to stop by and promptly express their appreciation whenever they see a good intent, action or result. Indian managers are particularly poor at this sort of thing. Even when they get around to saying some positive things to their team members, they rarely go beyond a fleeting smile, a few mumbled words and a limp handshake. Our first recommendation is that we refresh our bosses’ rather limited lexicon. They should know that words like “brilliant”, “superlative”, “smashing” and “wonderful” were created with a purpose. Our second recommendation is that CEOs or top bosses should hand out 10 exciting gifts every month without fail for initiatives taken by their team members that they consider excellent. Because in any organization worth its top line and bottom line, there will certainly be at least 10 positive things occurring every month. If these are not happening, then of course the head honcho should consider resigning with immediate effect.
Take time off, lots of it
Bosses should take time off from work every now and then—in the interests of their own mental health, but primarily for the well-being of their teams. A boss just back from a holiday is a bright and friendly guy. In sharp contrast, a boss who has not taken a vacation for more than a year is generally a grumpy fellow, for he has not seen either sunshine or the skies, nor has he spent vacant time loitering. And business-related travel does not really count.
Teams can actively encourage such vacationing by sending their bosses alluring picture postcards of Caribbean beaches, Alaskan cruises and the snow-clad Alps. Even better, send a few of these pictures to his or her spouse as well. This last is usually a very effective intervention. Companies can actively help in this endeavour by ensuring that part of the annual variable pay for senior management is handed out as a mandatory one-week holiday package that cannot be exchanged for cash, and also lapses at the end of the year.
Learn to relax and smile
Nothing works better for all of us than bosses who know how to take it cool and relax. A smiling CEO is a rare but significant company asset. Bosses should be firm and focused, but they should also actively learn to take digs at themselves, take teams out to the movies and races, speak about interesting cabbages and assorted kings, be champion guzzlers and greedy eaters. For all this to happen, there is one important prerequisite—bosses need to understand that while growth, profitability, RoIs (returns on investment) and such grave, all-important metrics are necessary, they are not sufficient conditions for a team’s happy success. On the other hand, an infectious laugh, the ability to contemplate the lighter side, to mimic and play along, to be easy-going when necessary, to understand that swimsuit calendars are as important as meeting calendars, to chill out sometimes—these are the small things that matter hugely. Whether the going is very easy or incredibly tough, bosses need to relax and smile.
Harish Bhat is chief operating officer—watches, Titan Industries Ltd. His team members and his family fervently hope that he practises what he preaches.
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