A Tale Of Three Bosses

Everyone in this world has a boss!! Am I correct? Probably not! They say our wives don’t have bosses! In the armed forces, even the General says that my wife is always one rank higher than me.

The question is how to manage the boss or the bosses? Are there any courses to learn this art? Any Zoom classes? What if you have more than one boss? Things do get complicated!!

HR or Human Resource division always have brilliant ideas!! When you join a new organization, HR will typically do the induction. One of the areas is an Organization Chart and they will explain you who your boss is. Then slowly they will tell you that you have a “dotted line” relationship with few more people and you will report to them as well. Does anyone know what exactly the dotted line relationship is? I don’t think anybody asks but everyone knows. In short, we have more than one boss!!!

Managing boss is not any easy. The simple reason is that we don’t know our bosses and never make an attempt to know him or her. We also don’t accept the fact that bosses definitely know something more than what we know!!!

You will find many books, articles, research papers on the types of bosses- autocratic, disciplinarian, task master, laissez-faire, friendly, etc. I am yet to find a book or article on how to manage a boss. If you have one or read one, please do share with me.
The whole discussion started when I met an old acquaintance after almost 10 years. We started talking and asked her, why she left the old company. She simply said I knew the company and hence she need not explain. When I probed more, she said, “You know I had three bosses and was difficult to manage them!”

Going back basics, it is proven by the HR fraternity that people don’t leave the companies, but they leave bosses!! In other words, they leave companies because they can’t work with their bosses!!! I am not saying that the boss is always right, but the majority of the people leave good companies because of bad bosses or they can’t get along with their bosses.

Hence, is there a success formula? Or whom do we learn it from?

I would love to share my personal experience. I was 25 and I had 3 big bosses. All three of them were experienced in their field and knew their trade thoroughly. All were interested in the well-being of the organization, but their approaches were totally different. On many occasions, I would get marching orders from at least two of them but the results they would expect were totally different. And timeline, the lesser we say, the better it is!!

In those years, I must have worked on an average 14 hours a day and no jokes, at least 325 days in a year!!

Many a times, I failed to produce the desired results. Many a times, it was frustrating!! The words like well done, good job, keep it up, etc. were hard to come. I had to learn every aspect of the business and at a speed that will match with theirs. I could have easily left and gone but I decided to hold on. Since, it was difficult to manage the bosses, I started managing my colleagues with better understanding. I remember, one night I couldn’t sleep and kept of thinking whether I am the same boss to my juniors what my bosses are to me??? I think that night was a Eureka moment!!! I didn’t sleep the whole night did complete analysis of my behavior with my colleagues. I started thinking the way my juniors must be thinking about me. I feel that was the day, I conquered!!!

What was the lesson?

  1. Understand the situation your boss is in. Even boss has got moods. Even he has his biological hour where he is at his best. Understand those moments and plan your work accordingly.
  2. Speak up!! Ask your boss about his expectations from you. If you can’t fulfil those expectation, analyze the reasons for that. Do you need training, new technology, additional manpower, etc.?
  3. Find out what you need to deliver, when you need to deliver and in what form you need to deliver. Show the printed output and get confirmation. Don’t assume or don’t give the reason saying, “I thought”. Many bosses will tell you that I am there to think, and you execute!! When don’t think and just do as it was told, the same boss will ask “can’t you think?” That’s life!!
  4. Most important aspect, ask the deadlines. Keep in mind to give deadlines to your staff as well. Keep margin of safety. Learn to implement concepts read in the books.
  5. Find out where you are failing. Check the areas you need to work on and do work on those!! There will be areas where you haven’t studied at all, so read other books, magazines, articles. One of the best ways to learn is interact with people in the similar fields.
  6. Last but not the least, speak up!! Speak up!!! Your boss can’t get into your head and find out what is in your brain or vice versa!!

So, is there a formula to handle a boss or three at a time? I guess no but you still need to manage. Most of the bosses will go in depth in only one or two disciplines and will have a cursory look at other issues knowing that the other person is looking into it in depth. But he still may want a point or two to add and would love to see that being taken care on a top priority. This is where you need to develop the skill set. You also need to prioritize your work schedule and keep things ready.
I had a very nice boss who would give a job and next day when he comes to the office, I would try to update him. At that time, he wouldn’t even look at it and start talking about something else. He would ask for that thing when I would be least expecting him to ask me. So, he would give me enough time to prepare and would expect me to update him if there is any hindrance in achieving that. Once, the boss develops confidence in you, he will start leaving you alone to get things done.
So, what happens when you receive the contradictory orders from the two bosses? I used the simple formula. Find out who is the senior amongst them, and you should be able to find that out very quickly. Then go to the junior among them and tell him politely that you asked me to do this, but the other boss is asking me to do that way. Explain the pros and cons of both contradictory actions and ask him his advice. Better ask him to speak to the other boss. Keep in one thing in mind- you need to be absolutely on the top of that matter!!
What happens if all three of them fighting with each other? Simple solution – run away!!! Of course, joking!!! In this kind of situation, be loyal to the organization and not to the boss. It’s easier said than done but my experience tells me that you may belong to one camp, but everyone sees you in the other camp.
At times it can also happen that two of them are together and you are reporting to the third boss. What do you do in this situation? Majority? No way. This is the time to impress all and sundry. Speak the truth. Express your opinion freely. Show to all of them that you are thinking rationally and thinking for the company!!
Also don’t expect that your boss will always praise you or shall praise you. Learn to understand their mannerism. The way you know that the boss is upset, learn to read his manners when he is pleased.
There is another story of very honest boss. Whatever I ask him, his answer would be “I don’t know”. The fact is that since I don’t know what to do or how to react, I went to boss. When boss says, I don’t know; what are you supposed to do. I had two option- one goes ahead and do what you want to do, and the second option don’t do anything. Both options didn’t work in the long run. Here comes my theory- when you have a problem to solve, think about three – four possible solutions and take those to your boss. Ask him whether he is in consensus with any of those options or has some other solution. In this way, at least he knows what you intend to do!! Mind you, Rajat Gupta once said that if you have 100 problems, you need to concentrate on one or two critical issues. Most of the problems will get automatically solved with time!!
Another weird boss. Thankfully I didn’t work with for long. In first three months, I must have sent him on an average 10 mails a day. Till date, he hasn’t replied any. If I ask him, “can I talk to you?” he would say no. What shall you do? Run as fast as you can and as early as you can. Needless to say, the company eventually closed as no one paid attention to the business. Who to blame? No one!!! At times, you also need to understand if the owner is serious about the business. If he is looking at his business as a time pass or to burn some excess money, then you clearly know that you are in the wrong company.
Does gender of the boss make a difference? Definitely YES. You need to display more empathy to your female boss. Female bosses at times can be very demanding and handle with care; irrespective of your gender.
Before I close, let me narrate another story. Once a very senior banker came to my office. Remember my age? He was in his mid-40s. He was CA rank holder and IIM A rank holder (All Indians would know the value of these qualifications). I was trying to explain him something and he said, “I don’t know how to do this and please teach me how to do this”. That was another Eureka moment. I thought with his academics and experience, he has no shame in saying “I don’t know”, why should I hesitate to say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand”. So, keep in mind, no one will blame you for now knowing but everybody will fire for not asking!!! (To give you another perspective Bill Gates said, “If you are born poor, it is not your mistake but if I die poor, you are the only one to be blamed). Good bosses are always ready to hold your hand till you start delivering and then they will leave you to do your job on your own. Ultimately choice is yours!!!
If you are thinking of changing your job as you can’t get along with your boss, think twice, in the new job there is also going to be a boss. At the end of the day, known enemy is better than unknown friend!!!! So, if you have more than one boss, be happy, and learn from everyone. Think in a different way- you have been paid to learn different things from different masters!!! No university or institute can give you knowledge even you spend your lifetime income.
Getting a great boss is like getting a great wife!!! I have been very lucky to have great bosses and if anyone talks good about me, the credit goes to them and only them!!!