Introduction Picture this boss. He is a guy who would throw temper tantrums off and on with each of his subordinates. He would not have admirable managerial capabilities but would expect everyone to follow his methods, even if they are outright eccentric. One of these kinds of bosses, for example, would demand that each subordinate make a detailed note of things to do. While one can appreciate the bigger details having strategic implications, the most irritable ones would read like" to call up the inspector of factories". Yes, this is sort of routine for the subordinate and calling up the Government official would happen anyway as there are tasks tied up with such phone calls. Yet, the boss would insist that the young subordinate write it down religiously. This became so irritating to many young subordinates who would virtually not do it at all.
The boss under reference is the "eccentric and insecure boss". This boss is even dangerous than the autocratic boss. The autocratic boss would demand that the subordinate does whatever he would order him to do. Yet, the autocratic boss would not like to poke his nose on the methods of the subordinates. For example, if the PowerPoint presentation had to be ready by 5 pm, the autocratic boss would not bother if it is indeed ready at 5 pm. The subordinate would have sat down to prepare it as late as 3.45pm. The boss would only look for the end result. Not the means. The insecure boss would be an autocrat anyway but would exhibit all the irritable qualities, only one sample of which was pointed out in the first paragraph.
Yet, life is never so easy in organizations. The same bosses could play any type of game to get their agenda done. Since they would have very powerful Godfather's, they always get going and none can touch them. The coping mechanisms, irrespective of bosses would be a) Keeping a record of work done b) Having a sharp focus on the relationship with workmen and other subordinates c) Seeking advice from the good bosses d) Getting the bosses to clearly spell out expectations e) Extensive use of intranet for communication and notes.
Keeping a record of work doneThis is possibly the best that you can do, irrespective of any game of any boss. Another version of the boss is the unethical boss. These bosses are generally very good at technical matters. However, their technical knowledge and excellence are overshadowed by their blatantly unethical behavior. For instance, the concerned boss would have been on an official tour for a full week. He would have just returned the day before the particular day when the unethical behavior would happen.
When asked about three vital papers, the boss would shamelessly say,"Ram, can you please bring the papers about which we discussed yesterday?" The actual reality would be that he would never have met you at all. This game would be repeated again and again. However, this is not the end of the world for shrewd subordinates. In one manufacturing organization manufacturing heavy chemicals, a particular subordinate who could not take it anymore decided to play it very safe. He had noted a vital point in a particular discussion and made notes of the same. As if to ask for some clarification, he brought it to the notice of the big boss. Immediately, the big boss gave him a reply and sent a copy of the entire communication to the unethical boss as well. This made the unethical boss understand that the subordinate would not hesitate to bring anything to the notice of the big boss. A person who had a technical background and also some training with the prestigious IIM Ahmedabad joined the organization. However, this person was intelligent and could easily see through the game of the unethical boss. He would embarrass him by saying "Sir, as discussed informally yesterday, can you please give us your take on the new initiative?" in the monthly review meeting. The unethical boss had to give further details and the big boss would clearly understand the game. Over a period of time, this particular unethical boss had to change his ways. He could understand that the counter games of shrewd subordinates were even more accurate.
Of course, these are just two strategies. If the big boss is one who would maintain confidentiality, you could even pick up the courage to talk to him and without hurting anyone, he could easily open up channels of communication with the big boss. This would act as a reality check. This is exactly what happened after the big boss was exposed to the most advanced mentoring concepts in an International HR conference in another organization. The cunning and unethical bosses were forced to give up their horrible games when the big boss gave them a big dressing down. This rectified the situation far better and at the end of the day, the most important aspects of a good Mentoring scheme were put into place by training a group of 20 Senior Managers with an expert from outside.
Having a sharp focus on the relationship with workmen and other subordinates This is very important too. A very sharp focus on healthy relationships can help you in a big way. It also pays to have a very good relationship with indirect subordinates. For instance, a junior officer in the accounts department is also your subordinate, if you are a senior manager. What really matters is that in the larger scheme of things, through the informal communication networks that are very much available in any organization, you can rest assured that there will be people who would support you when they communicate to the senior bosses. For instance, stores and accounts department people often have huge coordinating responsibilities with senior bosses and they often get to discuss the work that happens in other departments. If the discussion is about you, when your positive qualities get discussed, the sort of undesirable games of the bosses will get nullified to a large extent. The relationships should be built on trust and should enable anyone to approach you for even personal work that has nothing to do with your official role.
Seeking advise from good bosses There are always good bosses too. They may not control you. They could be working in another manufacturing unit or the Corporate office. Yet, they might know the unhealthy side of the troublesome bosses and come up with good advice on how to tackle them. They might have encountered games of such bosses at some time or the other. For instance, the " me-at-any-cost" type of bosses are even worse than the unethical bosses. They would go to any level to get their selfish agenda done. For instance, there are some of these people who would conveniently carry untrue tales about their own subordinates. If their Godfather's trust them for whatever reason, such bosses would not mind adding their own mirch masala, even when the Godfather(s) would know their game. Since these guys are good "yes men" of a tall order, the Godfather's also sometimes listen to such juicy, but untrue stories. However, the good tips from very useful good big bosses will help you in a big way.
Getting the bosses to clearly spell out expectations This is another very important thing to do. There will be meetings with your bosses. You must clearly brief every peer and then start the topic. Asking the bosses to clearly spell out expectations would make them realize that they cannot get away from anything. In fact, some very shrewd HR Managers have a very good method of clearly spelling out minute details of roles of every single person. This helps the Management to measure the results of subordinates in a very unbiased manner. The rather unhealthy games of bosses cannot work in such a situation.
Extensive use of intranet for communication and notes As already mentioned, you should make extensive use of the intranet. Keep a tab on every small detail. Make notes of files having specific information. Clearly communicate to peers the passwords to access such information and make a good practice of keeping everyone informed. In fact, the intranet is these days the best means of communication. Follow it up with personal discussions. More so, if the discussion is about the big improvements made by you. When you just concentrate on your work and also maintain effective records, no unhealthy games can ever affect you. The bosses can be managed.
Conclusion Some dimensions of unhealthy games played by bosses have been discussed above. What is most important in any given situation is to get to the minute details of all such games and make yourself mentally prepared to gear up for any challenge. Remember, a boss is a boss is a boss. There is no ideal organization in India, where you will get to work with only very good bosses.
Good, write up. The basic rule is that the boss is always correct. Even though he is not correct he can prove that he is correct by twisting the issue. All human beings are not similar. Same is the case with the bosses also. You may have to face them successfully so that you will have a bright career.
Sometimes it is better to keep silent even though what the boss says is not correct. He will learn out of his mistake. If you warn him at the beginning itself he will somehow try to prove that he is correct. Sometimes we should not react immediately when the boss says something to us. We can hear silently and after sometime when he is in a good mood we can politely tell him about our thoughts on the issues he discussed with you earlier.
In my long career, I have seen people who got tremendous jumps by simply becoming yes masters. If the boss shows a picture of a dog and says it is a donkey also, the yes masters will nod their heads and they will have only ladders in their lives but not snake bites.
Professionally speaking it is always advisable to make KRAs (Key Result Areas) by sitting with the boss in the year beginning and monitoring those issues throughout the year and ensuring that we will achieve at least 80% of that. This will make us more comfortable. Of course, if the boss is with you, 8% achievement will be converted to 80%.
There is another article by the same author in this web site titled "How to manage different types of bosses at work" which is a subsequent one to this article. That shows how much the subject of dealing or carrying on with one's boss is important and crucial.
Generally one cannot choose his/her boss at work. One has to manage and carry on. Though there will be organisational goals and guidelines, as it is the humans who actually implement these there will be some personal touch to the 'bossing' activities. It will be mixed with the boss's individual characteristics, mannerisms and attitude. It is also just another interpersonal relationship. So one has to acquire the skill and expertise to manage and maintain relations with one's boss like in any other important personal relationship, but with an added professional element.
Many industrial relations issues crop up with some pre-assumed attitudes and approaches on both sides-the bosses as well as subordinates. It happens when one side perceives the other as reason and factor for the deficiencies or lack of achievement of corporate goals. To have a healthy boss-subordinate relation, both should shed the prejudices and maintain an open attitude with only organisational goals in focus. Each side should consider themselves as sharpened tools to achieve these goals.
However one should know certain characteristics of one's boss, which is impossible to change. If there are any negativities those should not be highlighted but the positives should be highlighted. Periodically one should expressly recognise the good guidance given by the boss. The subordinate can then devise ways to deal with the boss smoothly.
As this a two-sided relationship, I guess that there may be articles giving tips on how to deal with one's subordinates also. The same author may try to write one, if not already done.