A few weeks ago a close acquaintance X told me about a problematic relationship he was having with his new boss. Being a multinational, the reporting was in two directions, to a functional head in New York and an administrative head three desks away in Mumbai.
The new boss apparently told his functional head in New York that he was not sure X was `adding real value to his job’. On being asked to elaborate further, the new boss did not. Nor did he bring this up with X here.
After some thought, X told his functional boss in NY (who had been candid enough to share this conversation) to initiate a three-way conference call with his administrative boss on the matter so as to bring the matter out in the open and sort it out.
There has been no response from X’s boss, at least yet.
This situation or variations of this must have happened to many of you reading this article. It struck me that in situations like this, it might sometimes be useful though not remedial to look at the plight of those in worse situations. And maybe learn from that.
Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan’s ongoing saga on his tenure extension is a case in point. Rajan was appointed for three years on 5 September, 2013. He could get a two-year extension in September 2016 but that decision, not unusually, is yet to be taken.
It is generally assumed that RBI Governors get a 5-year stint but it is in the nature of things that this extension is usually given at the last moment or conveyed sometimes literally with hours to spare.
What’s clearly different this time is that the matter is being debated extensively and opined upon in media and elsewhere, thanks to a series of vicious public attacks on him by now Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Subramanium Swamy who has sought his sacking and dismissal.
The episode raises some interesting questions for any manager in a hyper competitive or bitterly politicized environment and more importantly, highlights the futility of trying to do one’s best in a situation where merit is not necessarily the primary decider of your worth.
Let’s assume you were in Rajan’s place. The starting point is obviously that you are a on a fixed tenure and have three months to go. Most of your predecessors served two terms. But in your case, for no fault of yours, the environment is heated, vitiated and painfully public. Here is a background and some possible situations.
- You were appointed by the previous boss who has now left the company. The new one might appreciate your talent and position on issues but it really does not matter. Anything that the old boss did was mostly wrong, unless it suits the new boss politically to accept. Moreover, every decision made by the previous boss is thrashed daily and publicly, even two years after he left.
- A disgruntled senior member of the company is attacking you publicly and asking for your resignation. You first expect your new boss to defend or at the least, dismiss. But to your shock and horror, the current boss is vague at best and silent at worst. Except to mutter something about common good not being served by such attacks.
- You seek a meeting to find out what is going on and why you should be on the receiving end of such tripe. The meeting does not happen or even if it does, you might have been well discussing the likely early arrival of the monsoons, an important issue no doubt.
- Your colleagues have it luckier. Unlike you, they can hold their jobs until retirement or might be on deputation from other organisations to which they will return at the end of their terms. As far as you are concerned, you have no other option but to go back to your previous job in another country. Now you are starting to wonder whether you should have even accepted this position, despite all the glamour and profile it brings.
- The stress is rising. You can ignore the media but friends and well wishers are now asking what you intend to do. Your previous organisation is happy to have you back, not least because you are a bigger celebrity, but they would like you to commit in some way. From your side, you can’t do that. Because you want to continue for two more years but as we concluded, you might not know better till the last day and hour.
- Finally, a story appears that looks and smells like a leak. It suggests very authoritatively that it is actually the boss’s boss who will decide your future. Better still, the story says , the boss’s boss is very happy with your performance and wanted you around as long as possible and no one else.
Now it is possible you were told this privately as well – before the article appeared – because you confronted your boss, demanded some direction and threatened to quit. Perturbed, your boss began damage control. It is equally possible you were told nothing privately and this media report is part of the murky subterfuge you have been dragged into. So tomorrow people can still deny your extension but not be held on record as having said otherwise.
- You want the job. You have many unfinished tasks to perform. But the manner in which the whole matter has been handled sickens you. Some days, you want to throw in your resignation and walk off, away from the heat and dust and off to cooler climes and quieter work environs, where you came from and where fame first found you.
- On other days you decide to fight the battle to its logical end and not become the victim, surely not because some ageing and frustrated colleague is ranting away or the organization is slow to move on something that should seem part of normal HR process. Your father worked in the Government too and battled similar situations as a hardworking and honest officer. Why shouldn’t you?
- You look towards your family and friends and they advise you to do whatever gives you mental peace. Good point but that does not help the current state of mind. And somewhere, even if the next job is waiting for you, you are tired of this last minute Russian Roulette.
So this is not an easy one. It’s always tough to stick around when everything that is happening vitiates against your basic principles. But on the other hand, this is the new world, one you voluntarily entered. Your giving up at this juncture might be giving in to the very system which you set out to change and conquer.
Eventually, the decision is about pride and peace of mind.
For most people I know, the former usually scores.
Which one will Rajan choose, or what would you do ?