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27 July 2013

My Best Managers...

In my 25 year career, I have had the good fortune to work with a few good (nay, great) managers and the misfortune to have worked with many bad managers with a few average ones in between. So I guess I am experienced enough to separate the Wheat from the Chaff as it were...

All the good managers whom I have worked with share most of the following characteristics.
  • They are highly intelligent
  • They respect your knowledge and intellect
  • They give you professional freedom
  • They trust you but keep a good oversight
  • They are able to see the big picture
  • They value you as a person
  • They are transparent. If they are unhappy, you know it
  • They are respected in the organization
  • They are good in at least one area, be it technical or people management
The best managers in my list cover spectrum of industries from Manufacturing through Academia to IT. All of them, except one, are men. Some of them are good at business, some good at technology, all good at people management. 

First manager in my list of great managers is Prof.TR Venkatesh, the then Dean at ICFAI Business School, Bangalore. Prof.Venkatesh was a Banker by profession, prior to joining ICFAI. When ICFAI set shop in India in the mid 90's, with their flagship program CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), Prof.Venkatesh was one of the earliest individuals to clear this tough examination. When ICFAI ventured into Management Education, Prof.Venkatesh joined as the Dean of the Institute in Bangalore, where I joined as a faculty in the late 90s. 

What separated Prof.Venkatesh from the rest is his clarity of thought and communication. He was very fair in his dealings - all the great managers in my list are - but tough and demanding. He was quick to correct you if you were wrong. He was also very patient with me. "Ram", he used to tell, " you have a bad habit of not taking a note book for the meeting. Always keep a notepad and pen with you". 

He has since moved on and up.

Rajumohan was my manager in Sonata Software, my first job in IT. Raj was highly intelligent and sharp and could easily grasp the root of my convoluted explanations and complex concepts. He was also very, very fair and balanced (aka Fox News !). Raj had a good sense of humour and was a brilliant conversationalist. He was technically very sound and commanded the respect of all of us in the team. Well grounded, he could make his displeasure known, without raising his voice one bit. He always backed up his statements with facts and examples. His technical expertise, and his readiness to share it with us, was a boon to most of the budding ERP Consultants working with him.

Raj has moved on. Currently he is working as the VP in a Technology Company in Bangalore.

Eileena came as my manager one year into my stint at my next employer, TCS. I had just completed an ERP Implementation for a leading manufacturing company in Tamil Nadu and the customer had given good reviews of my performance. Eileena respected my knowledge and gave me a lot of professional freedom. She also gave me regular, objective feedback. She had a way of getting the best out of me. One wanted to go the extra mile to support Eileena. She was also tough as nails and could easily and bluntly demolish any nonsense thrown at her. She was also well respected in the Organization for her technical and managerial skills. 

One of my personal regrets is that I did not spent more time working with Eileena. 

That leads me to my current boss and his boss. I club them together because together they share some of the best managerial talent that I have seen. I am fortunate be working under a great manager. He has it all. The business knowledge, go getting attitude, problem solving skills, great analytical capability, a rare ability to convey complex concepts in very simple language, ability to win the hearts and minds of people working with him..

One of the best learning that I am having from him is that one should always escalate issues as soon as they arise. That way it is very easy to minimize the damage before it blows up. 

I also have a few interactions with his boss. I have never seen anyone bringing the big picture and taking decisions from that perspective than him. He comes out with perspectives so obvious that you kick yourself as to 'Why I did not think of it, both of us are looking at the same data'. 

Great managers, all

Of course, there are the average managers. They are nice to work with, they tell good jokes, fun to be with, sticks to themselves, narrowly define their professional domain, and tend to follow one another. While you will enjoy working with them, there is not much of a knowledge that you gain out of that interaction, and you don't grow as a person working with them.

Then there is the chaff. Positively bad managers. These are people who play politics, judge too harshly and too quickly, themselves not very competent, do not add value to you, deplete your energy, waste your time...

With these managers, you do not know what is in store. One day they are good and other day very nasty.

Of course this article is not about them. It is about great managers, who are rare.

Lets raise a toast to the great managers.

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