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Managing your boss

Bosses come in different textures: the Raging Bull, Mr Tyrant, The Insecure Boss, Mr Androgyne. Each of them snarl and make demands, they smile occasionally...

Bitch, bitch, bitch. Why does the boss inspire us so? There are so many pleasant things to talk about. But few guarantee as much deep satisfaction as cribbing about this dark presence. It beats even the 'aah!' of swirling a frosty Coke on a blazing summer afternoon. Much of the employee fascination is born of the fact that he exercises substantial control over their lives, for that alone he must be resented. And then there is the more legitimate complaint of the misuse of power. This needn't necessarily take dramatic form. But power does allow him to get away with a lot of little things others have to answer immediately for.

He might snarl ("must have had a fight with his wife"), he might smile ("he is always nicer to the women"), change his mind frequently ("aargh!"), weave only impossible dreams ("who's going to sit late nights? Not him!") and make demands ("what would he know about being a junior on whom everybody piles on?"). His every mood invites comment - uncharitable no doubt - but as one executive admits, "You are grateful for a good boss. But as a conversation piece, a lousy boss is more interesting."

Just as children find it impossible to imagine that their parents were once children, juniors can't grasp that their boss was once a rookie. Or that his own bosses of that time may have moulded his attitude - to power and the use of it. (it isn't chance that second year students are the most enthusiastic about ragging freshers.) His own character plus his experience over the years as a junior will mould him into one of the following types:

The Raging Bull : He controls by fear and believes in the power of humiliation. He owns the company and presumes, therefore, that he owns the employees as well. He doesn't talk, he screams.

The Insecure Boss: He takes home a very fat pay packet and knows he not earning his keep. You can smell him from a mile. He craves applause and is therefore prone to taking for himself credit that should rightfully be his subordinates'. This is, regrettably, the commonest.

Mr Tyrant: He is a byproduct of globalization. He is demanding - which is all right - but believes this gives him the license to be domineering and make totally unreasonable demands of all who work under him.

The Disorganized Boss: He is extremely stressful to work with, doesn't know his mind but expects his subordinates to know it for him. is absolutely a bully about everything. His unpredictability ran drive you nuts.

The Androgyne: He brings the best of both the worlds, he has an iron fist but is sympathetic and understanding.

The bulk of the above don't appear particularly appetizing. But switching jobs is no solution either. For, when you manage to lose one pain, you might just gain another. Learn to live with them, as others have.

Nikesh Sinha, vice president (corporate), Asia-Pacific Communication Associates, speaks like the sage who has seen them all. With IIT Madras, IIM Ahmedabad, IPS (he quit because he did not "have the heart to salute a Laloo-like neta"), ANZ Grindlays and The Times of India behind him, Nikesh feels that the wicket is always sticky. For, if the boss is intellectually inferior, he needs gentle handling; if his IQ soars high above yours, he is right anyway. Don't mess with him, is Nikesh's advice.

There is no teacher like reality just as there is no single way of handling any situation. All the skills Nikesh acquired at IIM - PIPD (Personal and Inter-personal Dynamics) is part of the syllabi there - still left him a lot to learn. Managing your boss is essentially a
matter of trial and error - just make sure there isn't too much error in the trial.

All the same theory isn't redundant. Ask Prof. Joy Kumar Mitra who teaches organisational behaviour at the well respected Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), New Delhi. He advocates the 'contingency approach' in dealing with bosses. While there are no golden rules, all that B-school teaches does throw up cues which increase the probability of a better relationship. Most of the answers are found intuitively, but clues always help. However, the best way to manage a boss, says Prof. Mitra, is to first manage yourself. Once you understand your predilections and temperament, even your idiosyncrasies, everything is much clearer. You know where you stand and reaching out becomes easier.

While employees expect their boss to make sympathetic noises whenever they have personal problems, it seems to strike few of them that he might have some of his own. Even if you can't help, a display of genuine concern can make a world of a difference. As in real bridges, building them with your boss too can be painfully slow.

Alok Kant, who works for a garment processing unit, was never in perfect sync with his five ex-bosses, neither is he with the sixth one. He clubs them all together as greedy MCPs who batter their employees so much in the first two months that the dictum, the boss is always right, becomes the password to survival. The boss - in this sector - manages everything. Hoping to manage him is likely to be an absurd dream.

Prof. Mitra says that all sectors can be classified into formal and informal. As in everything else, there are no absolute truths here but bureaucracy, the army and corporate life tend to be more watertight; in contrast, fields like entertainment, media and software are more fluid in their structure. Naturally, the former has bosses of the rigid kind while the latter has people who can be both understanding and neurotic, depending on the time pressure.

There are horror tales from the corridors of bureaucracy. A senior Indian Forest Officer still shudders to remember his boss, an avid photographer who quaffed cans of beer for inspiration. On a starry night if he said it was the sun shining bright, it was the sun. But if your boss happens to be a khadi-clad politician just doing your duty can be a nightmare. A senior IAS official often had to prepare tobacco for the chief minister - it was almost part of his official duties.

And then there are those who make their subordinates run errands for their sons and daughters, friends , relatives - just about anyone. Looking after the litter can leave you quite bitter!

But bad bosses have always been around. And here's the highest form of consolation for those of you having a torrid time of it. Even the great Michelangelo's boss, Berloldo, made him feel "like an ass who carried gold and ate thistles." There is no doubt, though, that in recent years, there has been a marked shift in the power balance. For one, since people tend to shift jobs more often, the old fear of being permanently stuck with a human nightmare has been diluted.

Besides, the rapidly changing nature of the world of business demands innovative thinking - and that can't flower in an autocratic environment, Which is why, it is often in a senior's interest in getting work done efficiently that his employees shouldn't yes-boss him all the time. And, in many booming sectors, employers arc chasing good employees, not the other way round. Of course, every company has accepted norms of registering dissent.

Tact is essential. The successful executive is able to suggest a better way of doing things without knocking down the old methods - for in doing that he would be doubling the wisdom of his seniors who would lose face. And therefore resist change.

And then there is the great gender divide whether it is preferable to report to a man or a woman. Female bosses have always been eyed suspiciously, though in many sectors, the gender difference is getting blurred in the higher echelons.

Shruti Anindita, who owns an audiovisual outfit but has "suffered" five bosses says she would rather report to a male boss. Why? Because she finds them more accommodating and far easier to please: There tends to be an element of competition if one woman reports to another, she says.

An almost diametrically opposite view is held by Catherine Slugett, who has a degree in theatre from London's Central School of Speech and Drama Catherine, who has been working in India for four years, finds the boss-subordinate equation far more relaxed here. Prof. Mitra draws an empirical conclusion: Men who have interacted with women while still young find it easier to deal with female bosses; others don't. Women can intuitively handle situations - and men {or bosses) - better.

Even countries can be bracketed in the gender framework: Some countries are _ masculine, others feminine. No, they have nothing to do with the contours of the particular land. They reflect the work ethos.

Geert Hosstede, a Dutch management guru, wrote Cultures' Consequences (1980) after analyzing the work culture in 64 countries and divided countries on gender basis. He rates Japan as the most masculine of all nations. The Japanese bosses come with claws so politeness is essential, Italy again figures high on the masculine list, while the Scandinavian countries are the most feminine of all, with the nicest bosses. India adopts a middle path, but has a definite tilt towards the masculine. Here the bosses come in all hues and nuances. But the work culture evolves over generations and it 'matures' too and eventually you get nicer bosses.

So don't hand in the resignation you've been building up your courage for. True, your existing boss is a malevolent freak. Be patient. Another couple of decades and his hair will turn blond, like any Scandinavian boss - if he hasn't already turned bald.

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