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Want to be the perfect boss?

Being a boss is not all about barking instructions and getting a secretary to bring you coffee. Being top gun is risky business. Here are some tips on how to get started.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2010 14:02 IST
Mignonne Dsouza

BossIn the spring, a young person’s fancy turns to thoughts of...promotion. No matter how long (or otherwise) we’ve been toiling away at our workstations, this is the time of year when we wait for the rewards to roll in. And if, like many others, this year you think you have drawn the lucky bingo ball, and are getting a 360 degree view of your corner office, congratulations.

And best of luck too. For, as you will speedily discover, being a boss is not all about barking instructions and getting a secretary to bring you coffee. Too often, it means eating a lonely sandwich in your office, barred forever from the sight and sound of your former colleagues, trying to decide how to appeal to your team to do their jobs even as they silently resent you, and hoping you will not fall flat on your face. Being top gun is risky business, and here’s how to get started.

The kick off
First, take a deep breath. According to Dr Anonna Guha, corporate trainer and director at Nrityanjali Management Services, a training and HR consultancy firm in Mumbai, the transition from employee to boss is a very difficult one. She says, “Very often, a person will have been working with a set of colleagues for a long time, gossiping and complaining about the organisation, and when he or she is promoted, there is a fair amount of jealousy from the others. That is because people don’t really objectively look at a person and her or his work.”

The problem is aggravated, explains John Hunter Murray, an executive coach and master practitioner in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), who has worked with corporates in India and the UK for 20 years, because, very often, companies fail to provide employees with the skills they require.

Murray’s advice? “Listen and learn - Wear that ‘L’ board around your neck constantly,” he says. “Learn as much as you can from everyone in all positions. Show respect to people by listening to them, and when confronted with a situation, step back from an immediate reaction and consider your response.”

Guha suggests, “Be tactful and diplomatic in your first few days. Continue to appreciate your team, and make sure you communicate to them that they are your source of strength.”

Vidhya Iyer, a marketing professional with a Bangalore-based multinational manufacturing firm, did just that when promoted a few years ago. “There were some people in my team older than me or who had worked for a longer period in the organisation,” she explains, “But luckily, none of them came with egos. They did have their eye on me, though, so I made them explain to me how they worked, hinted that I would not make any changes to that, and emphasised how we were not going to be boss and employee, but a team moving to achieve certain goals set by the company.”

Clear and present danger
Frequently, new managers face hostility – especially if they are promoted to lead a team they were working with. New managers must walk a tightrope, says Guha. “You can counter this by continuing to be friendly with your colleagues,” she advises. “Give them time to get used to your new role. However, when it comes to getting work done, you must be prepared to also cajole them.”

She also advises new managers in such a situation to isolate themselves to a certain extent. “Or you will face resentment,” says Guha. If there is open hostility, Guha advises giving the situation time. “You will just have to prove yourself through your work,” she explains. “If you wait a couple of months, they will come around – we have seen this happen with people we have counselled.”

Taking over a team
Taking over another person’s team in your old or a new office also throws up a number of issues, says Guha. She says, “If you move to a new team as a boss, be careful not to change your relationship with your old colleagues, but do not discuss your team’s details or criticise your new team to old colleagues.”

Any final words? Murray has this to say to new managers: “Use your power to make decisions, take risks, and help your subordinates to get in touch with their personal power and use it for the good of the company.” Guha agrees. “The most common mistake new bosses make is to start flaunting their power, thinking they need to be tough. This does not really work,” she cautions.”

Being your own boss
How different is it to be a boss when you have your own business? That’s a whole new ball game, says businessman Harshal Phadnis who runs his own consultancy firm. “I’m acutely aware that whatever I say or do to or for my employees will impact their careers,” he explains. Finding a balance between being a taskmaster and a friendly person is a challenge, says Phadnis. “It’s also important to learn how to delegate work and stop yourself from interfering.”

Finally, Phadnis also struggles with the fact that after he’s devoted effort on working with employees, they will leave. “It did hurt me in the beginning,” he explains. “Now, I have a talk with them, but if they want to quit, I let them go.”

How to pull up people
Corporate trainer Dr Anonna Guha recommends the ‘sandwich’ method. “You need to be tactful and also firm. So first, talk about the person’s strengths and contributions. Then mention the screw-up, and top it up again with positive feedback,” she says. “While doing this, do not be fake – or the person will recognise it.”

Marketing professional Vidya Iyer favours a ‘discreet’ approach. “I never criticise people in front of others,” she explains. “I also never scream or shout. I just make clear what the objective is and how I intend to achieve it.”