By Anamika Mukherjee
It's not easy being the boss. Your team blames you for everything that's wrong with their professional and personal lives. And so does your boss. They want more money, less work, easier deadlines. He wants higher productivity, lower costs and delivery tomorrow.
How do you please both sides? The bad news is that you can't. The good news is, you can be pretty popular even without it. Here's how.
First, apportion blame sagaciously. To your team, blame the management. To the management, blame the team. Make sure that the two don't get a chance to communicate directly, without your presence and intervention.
Sympathize with your team about how the management doesn't do anything to improve working conditions, how they are all overworked and underpaid and how you understand their problems; you are in the same boat, aren't you? Moan about long working hours, few holidays and no perks and then bring in the pep talk: "You all need to put your best foot and arm and head forward and work as a team to meet your commitments and be professional, never mind the management. If you all do a good job, you will certainly persuade the management to see their point of view."
Sympathize with the management about the laziness, greed, and inefficiency of people nowadays, always asking for more pay and less work.
If these two essential tactics don't work, evasive action is called for. Never be easily available, especially if you know that a tricky issue is going to arise. Spread papers on your desk, type furiously into your computer as a person speaks to you, look at him with a distracted air, nod and hmmm absentmindedly, and after he has spoken for a good 15 minutes, look up apologetically and say, "Sorry, what were you saying? I was a bit busy." If he does start up again repeat steps two to five.
Another evasive tactic to try is to be on the phone when someone comes in (cellphone is even more effective), nod and hmmm impatiently, then say, "Ok, I'll come immediately if it is that urgent. I will handle it at once." Then hang up, look at the person while collecting your things and preparing to leave. If he still broaches some sensitive subject, say, "Yes, yes. Of course I have the perfect solution to that, but this is very important, so just give me an hour, I'll come back and look into it." Then disappear for the rest of the day.
If there is no way to avoid taking up an issue with your boss on behalf of your team, make sure you never get involved. To the boss, you present it objectively, reasonably, as something which "they" are asking. To your team, present the boss' position equally reasonably, as something which "he" is saying. Never divulge your own stand. If pressed, learn and practice the fine art of hedging. This should be along the lines of, "Well, that is also a valid point, you know, but then if you look at it this way…. So you see, you should do this, but to do that would also be effective…. There is much to be said for … but on the other hand…." This can go on for quite a while without repeating phrases or giving commitments one way or another.
Fighting from behind the line
And if a contentious issue is being pressed by the team, remember to delegate responsibility. Say, "Well, I think so-and-so would be the best person to take up this issue. He is very persuasive, and he would be seen as being representative of the team's point of view. I really feel it would be very effective for him to address this matter directly with the Management. I have of course tried my utmost till date, but it would be better coming directly from one or two people of the team, since this affects the team so closely…"
Finally, if nothing else works, it becomes necessary to use the last weapon in your arsenal. Arrive late in office looking haggard and short of sleep (some late night partying would help to achieve this effect). Casually let drop that you have been spending a number of late nights in office. Go late for lunch (a late breakfast at home will tide you through), then shut your door or go out of office in the afternoon and return late in the evening. Find time to tell people about the loads of work you have (avoid particulars) and how your family is being sorely neglected and the number of personal commitments you are ignoring in an effort to meet your office deadlines. In this way, you will be able to avoid all except "absolutely essential" discussions with your team. You may even be able to hand down some of the dirty work to your team, and then take credit with your boss, for delivering on time despite being overloaded. Always reassure them that this period will end shortly, but make sure never to give any indication of it ending. (Avoid these tactics with HR people, as they may decide to hire another person to do your work!)
Follow these handy tips, and you will soon end up walking the fine line between boss and scoundrel with consummate ease.
PS: In case you were wondering, I am not boss, and never have been. These lessons have been learnt the hard way: as a reportee.
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