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Monday, August 13, 2012

Bosses are human, after all

As Liliana sat one evening sipping her glass of fresh juice, she contemplated a possible resignation due to the sustained challenges at the top and wondered whether she had made the right decision to join senior management at the company. She wondered whether it is ever possible to be an effective senior manager and at the same time be friends with the staff you manage.

Listening to people talk about their bosses at work, you would be tempted to imagine the persons they are talking about are machines or systems that have no human blood flowing through their veins. We are fond of saying all manner of things about our bosses in a way that portrays them as inhumane and persons with no feelings. And as you read this article, what words would you use to describe your boss?

When we think about our bosses, there are times when we imagine them as persons out to no good. We think about them as people determined to make our lives more challenging than it already is and hence consider them as part of our problems in life. The thought of the boss elicits feelings of despair and disillusionment as we at times feel like our lives would have been better off were it not for the bosses. There are actually times when we imagine life would have been better without the bosses. However, on situations when we have been our own bosses, we have realized that bossing over people, including ourselves, is never a walk in the park.

Liliana has been a senior manager at a local bank over the last 15 years. Over this period, she indicates that she has had to endure the frustration of boss-branding from staff to an extent that she started almost feeling inhumane. There are instances when the staff through the local associations had sent an incriminating letter to the directors suggesting that she had lost touch with the staff at the branch and had demanded for her removal or risk systematic poor results.

It later came to be realized that the issue had revolved around her refusal to allow some staff to internally agree on making informal switches on their working hours. Liliana had considered sticking to the bank policies and this did not augur well with the staff. A hate campaign had hence started that targeted her, both as a person and as the boss. Along the way, the staff started speaking in low tones whenever she got to the banking hall and this was truly intimidating. She felt isolated from the rest of the staff. This was suicidal.

How would she manage the staff who did not want to talk to her? She had her strong feelings on what needed to be done to remedy the situation yet no one seemed to open their space for her to explain herself. The rest of the staff were convinced she was out to box them and deter their freedom while she considered the best interests of both the staff and the company.

The disconnect seems to arise from the perception among staff that bosses are never concerned about the welfare of the junior staff. There is a general rumor that all that employers are concerned about are the bottom lines and that they do all they can to maximize on the profit and reduce on the cost even if that means stepping on the toes of the workers.

It is important to note that employers are also human. They are people with families, with social lives and are equally maneuvering through life with the rising cost of living. Bosses get affected when interest rates are raised arbitrarily and are hence aware of the impact on the staff motivation and in most cases do all they can to help mitigate the effects on the staff. All they yearn for in most cases is a listening ear and a team of staff who would be interested in being part of the solution to the problems they raise to the senior management.

Kahihu is an Organizational Development Practitioner

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