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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Species of Boss

Bosses come in all shapes and sizes, and by shapes and sizes I mean mental shapes and sizes. Some are thick brained, some are sharp, some are confusing, some are boring, some are refreshing, some are thought provoking, some are democratic, some are autocratic, some are genius, some are morons, some are control freaks, some are freedom champions and the list is endless.

Well at the very outset let me make it very clear that fortunately I have been blessed with an amazing boss. It is a reality and not a politically correct statement ;-). Describing my boss is not easy. He is sharp. He is witty as well. Experience is also on his side. He is not a control freak. He is a freedom lover and freedom giver (sadly he doesn’t get too much freedom though he gives me enough). The great thing about him is that he seldom pulls me up but when he does it increases my productivity instantly. That’s what I call a real boss, one who knows when to pull the rug to wake you up from your comfort zone and when to hug you to show he appreciates the good work you are doing. But the best thing I love about him is that he doesn’t throw his opinions on you. He makes you learn, unlearn as well as re-learn and does not believe in dictating the things. But that doesn’t mean he will not slice and dice your opinion from every angle with tough questioning before showing his thumbs up. And he doesn’t get a fit if you go to his cabin every 5 minutes to show the little modification you just did to that plan. He is a boss who commands my respect rather than one who demands it.

But not all are fortunate enough to have such bosses. Here is a sample of some of the species of boss I have come across (thank God they were never my immediate boss):

Do as I say
He is a typical creativity killer. He will dictate you everything that needs to be done. You have to just execute as told. No freedom is there to use your brain or your style even in execution. And his opinion in matters where his skill sets are limited has to be taken at face value even if it is outlandish. His philosophy is “What matters is my gut feel. All analysis not conforming to my gut feel is rubbish”.

He has only two rules for his subordinates:

Rule #1: Boss is always right.
Rule #2: Whenever in doubt, refer Rule #1.

He is a perfect control freak. He wants to be everything to everybody. And if you do some work, unworthy of his attention, without taking him into confidence he will become emotional and start thinking that he has been ignored. Centralization at its pinnacle! Doesn’t it sound stifling? Just imagine how so many people bear such a kind of boss.

You got to do my work too
A lazy bum! He does nothing but takes all the credit. And when it is time for taking brickbats then promptly puts his subordinate on the frontline. His typical style is to paste “Post-it” notes on the documents presented to him with the name of his subordinate scribbled with an instruction to do the needful. So what actually our lazy bum does all day? Simple, he pretends to be busy with bigger things occupying his pathetically small brain.

And all the while Mr. Subordinate is a poor soul with both his hands and legs full with his as well as his boss’ work. But not everything is so bleak for Mr. Subordinate. There is a brighter side to it too. He gets to learn about his boss’ work while doing his work. So a smart chap can always move to his boss’ level in another organization.

I mean business
He is a typical hard nosed, no emotion type of boss. He is one who means business and that is his top priority. He is good at execution but by instilling fear rather than through delegation of authority and accountability. No emotions play at work and his style is purely mechanical. This kind of boss is effective to a large extent but he never wins the heart of his subordinates. People work for him out of fear and hardly there is any trust element. Such bosses get the things done but in the process seriously damage the morale of their subordinates, which in the long term is not going to do any good to the organization.

Respect me because I am the boss
He came, he saw, he demanded respect. This is a creature who demands respect from day one because he happens to be the boss. He wants quick respect from all his subordinates without even bothering to know them well or investing time and effort in winning their trust gradually but permanently. He loves to play with his ego. He makes decision without hearing his subordinates (as if he knows everything and his subordinates are big time morons). He hates suggestions from his subordinates because he feels he does not need anyone’s suggestions. All hell breaks loose if his subordinate dares to tell him that he might be wrong in his judgment. And the poison on the cake is that this kind of boss is generally an expert in Machiavellian practice (yes practice, not theory). Manipulation and scheming is his fort. He barks at his subordinates one moment and the very next moment he starts salivating and wags his tail on seeing his master.

Coterie breeder
He is a type of boss who is intellectually, and to some extent even professionally, handicapped. Typically he finds himself in a position of responsibility either due to some quick turn of fate or due to the presence of a Godfather. He creates a coterie of people around himself who can take care of the various facets of his job but who do not dare to threaten his authority or sense of power. Anybody who challenges his intellect or professional wisdom is an enemy for him and he can go to any extent to demolish this enemy. On the other hand he keeps showering favours on his coterie. Wherever this kind of a boss prowls, it becomes a healthy breeding ground for coterie culture and office politics of the worst kind.

I will eat the cream, you drink the skimmed milk
He is a boss who hates to do routine and mundane work. All routine and uninteresting work, nevertheless important, is delegated down the order. On the other hand, the boss busies himself with more interesting, more visible, and intellectual kind of work. The problem with this setup is that the boss does the entire stimulating job while his subordinate feels like a non-entity in the larger scheme of things. Of course this hurts motivation of the subordinates. Moreover, this type of boss never allows the subordinates to develop professionally and let them move out of his shadow. They are the talent killer of the organization.


CAUTION: Above mentioned six types of bosses is a generalization. It is very much possible that any single boss can have a combination of one or more of these 6 generalized versions. A little mental calculation shows that there can be 63 combinations (2^6 – 1) possible.

Guess the fate of Mr. Subordinate if his boss has a combination of all the 6 generalized versions of bosses.

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