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So you think you are better than your boss?

Last updated on: May 18, 2011 11:53 IST

So you think you are better than your boss?

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Sudhir Bisht


The case of the telecom executive: Madhav, a brilliant 26-year-old young man, works for a well-known telecom company. He joined the company three years ago as a trainee engineer and was straight away sent to France for four months to train at the equipment vendor's training facility.

Madhav received field training on radio frequency (RF) planning and design, drive test route planning and data analysis. All these form the basis of his being a successful RF engineer.

Madhav is a hardworking engineer and he has picked up a lot of skills of the trade from his seniors working on the field. Madhav is a picture of confidence and is rated among the best RF engineer in his circle.

He has been sent on trainings abroad as his company readies to launch the 3G services in his circle.

Madhav's boss is Satya Sharma, a 32-year-old engineer who leads a team of many RF engineers in his circle.

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Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
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Satya leads the team with much enthusiasm and is generally seen as a good leader who is able to achieve his circle targets consistently.

On the surface, everything seems okay with the team except that, of late, Madhav's behaviour has been a bit flippant. He has been bypassing Satya and has been talking to the chief technical officer of his circle directly.

In case of having any issues with the equipment, he takes it up directly with the vendor without keeping Satya informed.

In the weekly meeting with the vendor, Satya often finds the vendor coming up with issues that he had no prior knowledge of. He also finds that the CTO has been forwarding him emails, in which Madhav has sought the CTO's guidance.

When Satya met with Madhav to discuss these awkward aspects of his behaviour, he found that Madhav was unnecessarily aggressive. During the interaction Madhav even said emphatically, "What value addition can you do in respect of 3G RF planning. I am the expert here, not you."

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Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
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So you think you are better than your boss?

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Satya had no option but to report Madhav's unprofessional attitude to the HR-head through the CTO.

The star salesman: Rajiv has been working as territory sales in-charge (TSI) for a top-of-the-end personal products company for the past two years.

He is based in Delhi and covers the south and south-west markets of Delhi. He has three years' experience in sales and is one of the successful TSIs of his company.

He is responsible for the secondary sales which mean his sales constitute the sales from company's distributors to the numerous retail stores in his territory.

Rajiv is a methodical TSI. He leads a team of fifteen salesmen who are employed by his distributors and he himself goes to the bazaar every day.

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Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
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So you think you are better than your boss?

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He knows the owners and key staff of all the retail stores personally and he deserves a lot of credit for the success of his company in his territory.

Rajiv's boss, Gautam, area manager, is also based in Delhi and leads a team of 5 TSIs. Gautam is also responsible for the primary sales which means that his targets comprise the sales from his company's warehouse to the distributors' point.

Rajiv has a feeling that since his territory constitutes half of his company's sales in Delhi, he is the lynchpin of the sales team. He feels that only because he is able to achieve the secondary sales, his boss is able to achieve his primary sales objectives.

Rajiv also feels that he and Gautam have the same number of years of experience and Gautam is not able to add any value to his territory and hence Gautam has no business being his boss.

In fact, during a recent internal survey carried out by his company's HR department, Rajiv wrote, "Why shouldn't I report directly to the regional manager? Because I am doing all the secondary sales, I can as well be made responsible for primary sales of my territory. In fact all the TSIs can manage without an area manager."

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Photographs: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
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So you think you are better than your boss?

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So are these guys really better than their bosses?

These two cases are out of real life, only the names have been changed.

  • In the case of Madhav versus Satya, Madhav feels that he is vastly superior to his boss.
  • In the second case, Rajiv, the team member, feels that his company doesn't require the position of an area manager.

There are some common threads in both the cases.

1. Both Madhav and Rajiv feel that their bosses are 'inferior' to them. Madhav feels that technical superiority is the last word when it comes to judging if someone can be his boss or not.

In the case of Rajiv, he feels that his boss is 'not adding any value' to his job. Rajiv has forgotten that one of the greatest virtues of a boss is NOT to be meddling in the affairs of his team-mates, especially when the team mate is performing very well.

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So you think you are better than your boss?

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2. Both Madhav and Rajiv don't know that the jobs of their bosses were not an overlap of their own jobs but were quite distinct. Madhav's boss Satya was responsible for overall network planning and optimization of the entire circle.

Madhav was exposed to numerous technical trainings because of which he became an expert in his field but it did not give him a license to act unprofessionally. On the contrary Madhav should have given credit to his boss who recommended him for these trainings.

In Rajiv's case, he did not understand that while his job was limited to secondary sales, the more complex job of managing the distributor sales was handled by his boss.

3. It is possible that Madhav felt that because of the variety of technical exposure that he received, he was being under-utilised. His frustration at being at the same level with his other colleagues could have been quickly dispelled if his other colleagues too would have been nominated to such training programmes.

In case of Rajiv, a quick change of territories would have revealed to him that often times a TSI's job is half-done because of the excellent territory assigned to him.

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Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
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So you think you are better than your boss?

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How to know if we are really better than our bosses?

By giving the above examples, I don't mean to say that there wouldn't be cases where the team members are better than their bosses. But before one concludes that he is better than his boss, he should do a quick evaluation of the following:

  • Does the team member really know the full scope of his boss's job profile? From the top management perspective the boss may be the only one who is 100 per cent responsible for the team objectives. The boss's neck may be on the chopping block if his team doesn't achieve the targets. Can the 'challenger' take this responsibility?
  • The team member may be good at his job but is he mature enough to command a team? Can he take tough decisions and stick his neck out and take responsibility for his action?
  • The team member should evaluate his own skills, exposure level and temperament and check if he really is ready to deserve his boss's chair.

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Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
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So what happened to Madhav and Rajiv?

  • Madhav was called over by the HR manager in the presence of the CTO and Satya and was counselled appropriately.
  • Rajiv felt frustrated and joined a rival company as an area sales manager. He now realises that the position is not as superfluous as he thought it was. He faces challenges every day in managing a large team of talented TSIs and demanding distributors.

Taking over from the boss: Here's how to do it

Mukund Lal is one of the 9 area managers at a furniture company. He is based in Lucknow and reports to the regional sales manager who operates from Delhi.

Mukund had 8 years of experience in air-conditioner sales before he joined his present company.

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Mukund's boss is an affable man who has been in the business of selling furniture for the past 15 years. The boss is laid back and though he has been on the job for the past five years, he has been floundering a bit in terms of catching up with the regional sales targets.

Mukund realised quite early that he could handle his boss's job better than his boss.

When Mukund attended his first quarterly sales review meetings at the regional head quarters in Delhi, he came to know that his sales area was performing quite badly.

Another thing Mukund felt was that when it came to articulating his point of view, he was far superior to his other colleagues and that many of his colleagues were doing well just because they had a far better team of channel partners to work with.

Mukund quickly diagnosed that the low target achievement of his area was due to poor dealer selection and he found out that even the two odd better performing dealers were not quite motivated due to poor incentive structure.

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Mukund also observed that the vice president - sales from the head office was the top executive who called all the shots as far as the sales strategies were concerned.

In his third quarterly meeting Mukund gave a brilliant presentation to the senior management and suggested strategies to turn around his market. He also made a fervent appeal to his boss, the regional manager, to visit his territory and offered a passing invitation to the vice president - sales.

The long-and-short of it is that Mukund worked hard to take his sales area from being a laggard to becoming the number one sales area. During the quarterly reviews also, Mukund ensured that his achievements were showcased nicely and at the same time he publicly acknowledged the 'support' he always received from his RSM.

So impressed was the vice president - sales with Mukund's innovative strategies and overall behaviour that he transferred him to the Delhi, the biggest market in the country.

The incumbent RSM has now been transferred to the company's coordination function at the Gurgaon factory and Mukund is all set to take over as the new RSM.

Mukund succeeded because he never fought his boss. While he improved his sales area's performance with much gusto, he also ensured that his good work was noticed by the top management.

The most heartening part is that his boss recommended him to be his successor!

If indeed you are better than your boss, you will definitely reach that coveted position.

You just need to focus on your own performance and showcase it succinctly.

The author can be contacted at sudhir_bisht@rediffmail.com


Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
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