5 Leaders, 5 Learnings

I have had some really good bosses in my career so far. I also have had my share of individuals who still taught me How NOT to do things — a learning either way! When you join work after graduation, you are like very soft clay. Easily impressionable and moldable. Your leaders and mentors during the initial stages are of particular importance.

I had some pretty great leaders to begin with. Let me list 5 of them for this article:

A people person:

In my first year of work, there was this senior manager who insisted on knowing about the individuals who were part of his larger team. He would know last names, our interests and even where we hailed from. He used to speak a couple of words in our native tongues to get the conversations started! Every week, we used to meet for coffee and used to just converse away for atleast an hour. He used to listen intently, ask probing questions and provide examples from his exhaustive experience. The topics ranged from the initiatives that i was taking to what could be done better. He made me understand the thought processes behind appraisal and one of his statements still rings out loud and clear for me today:

“If you are doing what is expected, then that is what you are getting paid for. Want to get noticed and grow faster? Do the unexpected, go beyond.”

I can swear i saw his eyes getting moist when i became the youngest in my vertical to get a coveted Banking & Financial Services customer award. I actually worked well and did much more than my call of duty because i used to love the fact that he was listening…. and encouraging me to try new things.

I bumped into him last year, after nearly 12 years — his booming voice rang out across the hallway calling me in his typical native slang infused way!

“Know individuals, appreciate their aspirations, and inspire!”

Image source: https://blog.vantagecircle.com/

The Trusting Boss:

The next individual was someone who was more like a fatherly figure. He loved the combination of fun with work.

“You spend more than a third of your day at work, make sure you better enjoy it!”

Vibrant workplaces, fun events and regular outings, talent hunt competitions — you name it, he advocated it.

The team was always upbeat. He used to stop by a random cubicle everyday morning, with his helmet in his hand and a backpack over his shoulder. You could sense where he was from the sound of laughter. No surprises that we won a large number of awards including the coveted ‘Project of the Year’ under his guidance.

He trusted people. Totally. My first onsite assignment was for replacing a 8+ years experienced project manager. I was 1+ years old in IT! He spoke to the customer and vouched for me — and i did well. We ended up getting the complete account and expanded our team well beyond the initial scope.

“Trust individuals, make it a fun place to work and reward accordingly”

The ‘Across-the -hierarchy’ Individual

The Third individual who really influenced me was the head at the client site (UK). A couple of incidents that i vividly remember:

At work, we usually went out with our circles for lunch. It is sort of an hierarchy based thing that happens. Developers group together, Managers group together and so on. The first day i was there, the Client Lead called me for lunch. And joining us at the table were the janitor, the office helps and other VPs. Sandwiches were shared and jokes were exchanged. I was stunned and had never seen anything like that in office before. It was a beautiful demonstration of ‘Dignity of Labor’.

My team from India used to consume milk by the quarts. We are used to have tea and coffee in our milk rather than the other way round followed in UK! ‘A spot of milk’ was actually ‘A cup of milk’! The lady who was responsible for stocking up had to now do it multiple times a day. She complained. Laughing all the way to my seat, the Client Lead came over, poked his ‘red-from-laughing’ face over my cubicle wall and said:

“Bharath, at the rate your folks are consuming milk, i think i will have to get a cow in here!”

The Notes-Taker:

He is a great observer and takes amazing notes. He gave me the tips to conduct meetings and to take the minutes. He used to emphasise:

“The minutes-taker is the most important man in the meeting”

Promptness of minutes, follow-through on actions and driving meetings to objectives — several valuable lessons have stuck with me ever since. The ability to mention the conversations from last time while connecting the dots towards the bigger picture was definitely praiseworthy.

He used to sense if i was getting burdened with notes-taking. He would promptly start taking minutes and give me the details at the end of the meeting, saying — “I noted down some of the major points. I am sure you would have noted them as well, even with the multiple conversations flying across the room — Just in case!”. Sometimes, i used to visit the manufacturing plants along with him, where the bulk of our system users sat. I have never seen anyone connect so effortlessly across the layers — from the scientists to the truck operators. I used to enjoy the attention that rubbed off onto me — and the samples of the latest juices and perfumes as well!

The Committed one:

The next individual taught me the knack of paying attention to details and delivering on commitments - no matter how much you wanted to go home and sink into a comfortable bed! Commitment was committment. No matter how many additional tasks had crept in between, no matter who did not do their job well, the original commitments stayed!

We have worked together through nights to meet deadlines, even with the odds stacked against us! We made it happen. Not to confuse this with perennial ‘busy’ness. It did not matter if it was a simple eMail that had to go out or was a product slated for delivery — the commitment was to be fulfilled. He had quite an amazing way of tracking all his tasks across umpteen customers and time zones. Once, i remember getting a call from him at ~10 PM. In a hoarse voice he asked me to prepare for a meeting later that night. We had worked on a proposal earlier that month together and we had the final call with the customer to seal the deal. He was running a high temperature but still the meeting had to happen. I did the bulk of talking that day but he still sat through the meeting ensuring his presence during the deal closure. You may call it absurd, but for me it was a lesson in commitment.

If we commit, we deliver. There is no Try or an half-A**ed Yes.

Image source: https://blog.vantagecircle.com/

What was common across these individuals that made them so special?

  • An amazing sense of humor
  • The ability to really connect across the layers
  • Great listeners
  • Commitment to a fault
  • Respect for every individual

I would have spent roughly 1.5 years with each individual, in different parts of the world. They have had an indelible impression and left me with learnings, that will last a lifetime.

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Bharath Kumar Balasubramanian

Bharath Kumar Balasubramanian

I transform organisations. I collect life experiences. I share practical wisdom. Happy to Help — Just reach out!