Friday, September 26, 2014

Like a Boss

Factually, we spend more number of waking hours in office than at home.  Our comfort and convenience at workplace, is ,therefore, very important. If I ask you what is the biggest factor for making an office good or bad for you- you may say facilities, colleagues  or even the work. But for me the one factor which makes like hell or heaven at workplace is,  compatibility with Boss. If you dislike your spouse, you can stay away from home longer, "unfriend" your social media friends and even stop meeting relatives ...but bosses are unavoidable creatures  . They are there whether you like it or not. They come in many colours and sizes, are found in both genders and can have many varieties and variations. Some love to preach, others are DIY bosses, some are invisible at workplace and others love to hang around in office on weekends and holidays as well.

We all have heard about good bosses (yes they exist!)  , bad bosses, bosses  who made you quit a job, bosses who make you perform  better than your expectations, bosses you have crush on and bosses you won’t mind pushing from the rooftop .  And then, even before you realise it, you too turn into a boss for many. I am always intrigued by the influence and impact of this creature called boss on our life and career.

As I joined government service from the highest induction level of Civil Services, I become a boss of roughly 100 people the day I stepped in my first office. Looking back, I must have been a funny sight for all those people. Ignorant, inexperienced and too keen to change the world, I must have entertained the office veterans immensely.  Slowly some of them opened up, they started smiling at my follies, took time to teach me the tricks of work and helped me become what I am today. Many of my former subordinates with time turn into friends and they still  keep in touch over phone, email , social media etc.  It was only now that I realised that as a boss how I was judged back then.  One of the best farewell gifts I got on my recent transfer from Delhi was when an almost silent subordinate came to my room and gave me a card saying: “You are a terrific boss”. I was stunned.  A thought that whether he misspelt ''terrible'' with ''terrific'' also crossed my mind .I tried remembering hard my interactions with him but found nothing much of note.  Another one, a serious matter-of-fact guy, suddenly opened up to me after I shifted to Mumbai. While working with me, we talked only about work and work related stuff and now that I am no longer his boss, I realised that  he had a human side as well. We can now talk about books, music, food, life, families and even work. It is funny how work relationships bind you and mould your interaction. I must have been a fearsome boss to these guys that only after my presence from the work  scene was removed with certainty  that they started to talk.

Looking from the other side, I was fortunate to have mostly good bosses. Correction: Good yet eccentric bosses. Bosses who talked too fast to understand a word, bosses who talk so softly that you could barely hear and bosses who would not talk at all. To my credit, I picked some or the other trait from each one of them... I mimic all of them. Once my then-current boss asked me if I ever mimic him. I told him that since I mimic all important people in my life, he should take it as an insult if I don’t. Much like my relation with my subordinates, my relations with my bosses also changed color with time. One turned into advisor, someone else a good friend and well, some remain just a good subject to mimic before friends   . 
Since the government service is the only world I have seen, I fail to comprehend the situation at workplace where your boss is perhaps in some other continent and you get to interact with him/ her only over phone/ internet. I also do not realise the situation where you do not work in a hierarchy and have practically “no-boss”. If you ask me, however irritating be the bosses, it’s good to have them around. Even the bosses who think at the speed of light and those who behave like babies. They provide much required entertainment and order in the workplace. And at times, you do learn a lot even from the worst of the lot.

 In Kolkata, back when I had newly joined, I had a boss who used to roll his cigarettes in his chamber and his standard response to any file put up to him was: “Won’t you like to see it again carefully?” And once you assure him that you have already seen the file, he will set out in a task to find fault with what you have seen, or rather find what you have missed. He would then, gleefully point out what you have missed in a footnote on page 713 or how a document is not tagged correctly in file.  I probably selected maximum nicknames (some pretty nasty ones) for him. But his this irritating habit, made me careful for life in scrutinising the files .
Yet another boss was a born teacher. He will write all kind of nonsensical queries of file and when I will , in all sincerity, go to him explaining  the facts , he would patiently listen with a poker face and then say “ I know that ! I was just checking that you do too” and burst into his amusing signature laughter. Never realised it then, but it was because of these two bosses that I learnt the maximum tricks of the trade. This second boss, used to call me “the argumentative Indian”, for my habit of arguing with him on  every brainy idea he had . But the fact that he let me argue and put across my not-so-brainy counter arguments, made him my all time favourite boss.

 So after a boss who would test my knowledge on every issue, I landed up with a boss, who right from the beginning “knew that I know nothing”. A quintessential bureaucrat and therefore an ‘’I”-specialist, this one made me listen to his great feats in life for hours together. He showed me how in every way personal or professional I was a failure, while he at my level was God’s gift to the workplace and well...the world in general. Working with him greatly enhanced my capacity to tolerate nonsense, it also taught me the reason why Peter (who exactly was he!) coined his Peter Principle. Anger and frustration were his two staple emotions. He wanted to be looked as a benevolent monarch but behaved like an angry bird with most of us . Do whatever you like, put in as much effort as you please but all you receive is a little spittle when he was screaming down your face and  yes, a few insults to wipe your face with. Thankfully, in civil service you have a definite date of retirement finally, this know- all , flaming fury boss superannuated .  Then for a short duration, I got a boss who disliked face to face talking. On the very first day he asked me to create intra-office chat Ids and to be online for him to pass on instructions. If only he had stayed for long, my typing speed would have benefited a lot. He also had an annoying habit of crunching data on every damn thing. You make a casual remark about something you read in morning newspaper and voila, next you are collecting data on the subject from all national authorities and research bodies .
After a while, I happen to have a boss who spoke, looked like and behaved like Jesus Christ. Believe me when I say that I have never seen a more charismatic, charming and detached from work person. There were moments when my keen capricornian self disliked his cool behaviour , especially in the moments of acute work crises , but looking back, it was pure bliss to have someone, who had a smile on face even when the worst crisis  hit us in office  and who could be a gracious host to most hostile guests. The best part about this one was his cool demeanour. Nothing, just nothing, could make his attention go away from things that matter viz.  A good cup of coffee, a crisp cookie, clean environment, polite speaking and impeccable manners....Work?   Incidental, may be, but well that was never in the list. No shrieking bosses , no jittery subordinates  and no competing peers could make him lose his peace of mind. He probably was the most self actualised person I have seen.  With his impeccable taste, amazing wit, charm and style, this boss taught me to be human even when all around you are losing cool over mundane work issues.

In a work place, there are always jokes and sayings about bosses. One significant part of such work-wisdom deals with women bosses. They are supposed to be jittery, eccentric, crazy and workaholic.  Till very recently, I had never had a direct woman boss. But I had seen my own bosses fretting about their lady bosses and cursing their luck. I moved to Mumbai and found myself with a woman boss. Contrary to what people say (like to believe) about women bosses, this one is perhaps my most competent boss so far. Dedicated to work, detached to the power hang-ups of being the big boss(unlike male bosses), no insecurities of calling on holidays ... she is  perhaps  the most approachable and  understanding person I know among work colleagues  . The people who say women turn tyrant and idiotic, lose balance and temper when given charge of high posts should see her. A delight to work with, a pleasure to talk to, one feels blessed to find a boss like her. In fact at times I think that what am I missing ...I mean you are suppose to dislike you boss..right? So where is that key trait for me to dislike? So far all I see is admirable and inspiring.  But wait’s just been about  100 days in this office. Give me a year and I shall find one eccentricity, one comic angle or god willing, a vice as well.

While writing this post, I cannot help thinking that many of my present, ex subordinates would also have a caricature of me and my eccentricities. I can only imagine how many jokes and saying would be doing round about me and my work style . But then that is an occupational hazard of being a boss. You have to be half mad and half eccentric to  be a unforgettable boss. The legendary bosses are either the craziest ones or the most inspirational ones. No one likes to remember a boring boss. So if an essential purpose of being a boss is to provide some moments of entertainment and spice in the office lunch room chats, the boss should be suitably mad and eccentric. I know, I qualify with distinction.

NOTE: For all the colleagues reading this post, please ignore this as a work of fiction and pretend you don’t know who I am talking about. Do not recommend this post to any other colleague / ex-boss of mine. Please remember I might have much more to write about....the best ( and spiciest) may be yet to come  .  

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