Friday, 25 September 2015

Incompetent Boss Decoded

After a gap of almost 5 years, I recently got in touch with a former colleague, thanks to social media. We recalled our time working together and chatted about how our respective careers and families had kept us busy. After a tĂȘte-a-tĂȘte about life in general, we ended up talking about our work life. It’s inevitable not to; we spend half our lives at work. A mere hint at a boss and employee's volatile relationship probably hit a raw nerve; she exploded with antagonism. I let her vent her feelings out, then asked her what exactly frustrated her so much. She replied, 'He is so incompetent; just can’t do his job right….' The next interrogative uttered thoughtlessly in an attempt to hold the conversation, which I regretted almost immediately, set her off again.
She was overworked, sandwiched between deadlines; and above all, micromanaged. ‘Is your company expanding? Maybe everyone’s overworked,’ I tried to appease her. 'No', she retorted, ‘he simply doesn't know how to do stuff.’
Most of us would identify with her. Every once in a while we come across supervisors who seem incompetent. Although ‘incompetence’ is a very harsh word, we hurl it at anyone who seems to fail at their job. I would rather say unskilled. Incompetence is relative; Skills are integral. Where technical and transferable skills can be honed further, personal skills are mostly inherent.
Having an unskilled boss isn't exactly a bad thing unless of course they suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect. Let’s examine the three categories of unskilled bosses, and what can be done about it.
Technical Skills
Take the IT sector as an example. The information age has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last two decades. Most employees who began as individual contributors some fifteen years ago are now in middle and high ranking positions. The technology they last worked on is either dead or has undergone an unrecognisable facelift. Besides, once the roles change from technical to managerial, it is hard to keep abreast with the ongoing market currencies.
What you can do: Take charge! Such supervisors are more common than you’d think. When a technically less skilled but receptive supervisor is paired with a technically skilled team, it’s a win-win situation for all.  The work environment is progressive and there is something for everyone to learn.
Transferable Skills
These skills range from hard skills like simply being able to operate MS Office to soft skills like being a good communicator. Most of the supervisors who lack transferable skills have most likely not stayed very long in a single organisation or have been there for far too long.
What you can do: Buckle up to produce 16-hrs. of work in half the time. You will most likely not be given credit for the copious amount of work that you accomplish on a daily basis, but it’s a great opportunity to learn as much as possible. It’s an opportunity to pro-actively take responsibility for tasks that are not listed in your job description, empower your profile and make a move to a better opportunity, internally or externally.
Personal Skills
These are indispensable in any work scenario.  Even the most expendable individual contributor is expected to have at least some personal skills in order to coexist and work effectively in an organisation. People with exceptional personal skills coupled with the right technical skills and relevant experience are mostly well liked and climb the corporate ladder much faster than others. Look up some prominent leaders. They all have one thing in common; they are charismatic and adept orators. Skills like teamwork, ability to trust and motivate others, patience, empathy, and good communication skills are only to name a few. However, these skills are mostly inherent or honed over a long period of time. The more you rub shoulder with the right influencers, the more you will cultivate your personal skills.
What you can do: Take the initiative to communicate from your end. Request regular catch-ups with your supervisor. Being detailed and prepared before any meeting would be an ideal thing to do. Ask for one-on-one feedback sessions intermittently. If you are confronted with an issue, the exigency of which doesn't seem to sink in with your boss, be patient and present your explanation in a discussion. Work on your emotional quotient; it’s imperative when dealing with unreceptive and unresponsive supervisors.
The image of a perfect boss is an illusion. Imperfection provides a lot of room for people to learn new skills and progress in their careers. It’s important to understand that most of these shortcomings aren't deliberate. They are a part of their personalities or projections of their deepest insecurities.
I kept thinking about my friend’s incompetent boss long after our conversation. It’s evidence enough of our narrow outlook and how often we term the poor fish incompetent based on its ability to climb a tree. 

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Procrastination: My Friend, Philosopher, and Guide

Working as a desk editor for a quarterly academic journal is a tough task to begin with. Days would fly by while I'd be buried in a deluge of potential papers, meticulously reviewing those that would grace our peer reviewed journal. This and apart from liaising with internal and external contributors, overseeing the release of journal issues, and handling print and distribution; one of my less weighted KPIs was to author and publish two research papers.

It was quite an 'achievable' goal according to my employer despite posing a slight risk of me churning out two indiscriminate research papers, coupled with the imminent delay of one of the four issues by two weeks or more. Instead, I chose to release four timely issues and produced only one yet an exemplary paper.

The verdict: found guilty of procrastination. I could have and I should have.
As for me, it meant examining where I went wrong, or did I.

A procrastinator is a problem child of today's mass producing organisations. Ask a typical 'boss', and they'll present a zillion arguments in favour of 'un-procrastinising' employees' outlook towards work. The bottom line, Get as many things as possible doneNo Questions Asked!

We all procrastinate once in a while for all sorts of reasons. There are two types of procrastinators, active and passive. If you've just put off a task to read this post instead, then the good news is that you're an active procrastinator. A passive procrastinator would be comfortably settled somewhere, doing what they do best: nothing.

Time is a luxury that most managers cannot afford given the pace at which today's organisations function. Needless to say that the constant flow of copious amount of information impedes the decision making process. Frank Partnoy’s book, Wait, mentions how the top executives of Lehman Brothers attended a seminar on ‘quick decision-making’ just before taking the most crucial financial decisions in 2005. The rest is history.

So, here’s why practising procrastination, may very well prove to be a virtue than what’s always otherwise been said about it.

1. Sets priorities
It allows time to the decision maker to understand which tasks are important.

2. Obliterate redundancies
If a process is followed, ask how important each step is? Will a certain task contribute towards the final goal or can the process be sped up by skipping it.
3. Begets quality; not quantity
Quality takes time. Ideas take time to develop. You may not be done and dusted with a 100% of the tasks on your to-do list, but the end result is sure to pass quality control without a glitch. Procrastination is quality assurance.

4. Leads to Creativity
Sleep on it. Sometimes the most obvious yet creative ideas dawn when least expected. That's the beauty of the subconscious mind. Delaying a crucial decision to its deadline is an ideal thing to do as it gives managers a 360 degree view or even come up with creative solutions to problems.

5. Gets things done
When you don't feel like doing something, the smaller, more mechanical and less cognitive tasks should take priority. They are reprieve juxtaposed with contemplation. As a result, more things get done.

6. Helps in taking better and well-informed decisions
Having a panoramic view of a problem is important when challenged with crucial decisions. It gives decision makers an insight into the influencers and their effects. Procrastination definitely helps in clearing the clutter, retaining what's relevant and taking calculated decisions.

7. To consider options
There is no one solution to any problem. The key is to have enough time to identify those options.

8. People who know they perform better under pressure
Then there are some of us who need the adrenaline rush in order to perform to our highest capabilities.

9. Reduces stress levels significantly
When situations are perceived to be daunting, more preparation time is a dream come true. It allows comprehension of the nature of the problem and its consequences. It is a coping mechanism and clears the haze caused by anxiety most of the times.

10. Procrastinating helps with the identity that you may want to create
And last, often true; rarely acknowledged. In professions where being on time is a vice, and may raise questions on character, procrastination is a mandatory practice. For example, academics. It was founded and operates on the psyche of assuming that you may have had less work if you were on time and vice versa. The notion of efficiency never occurs to anyone as a first instinct.  

The write-up may sound implicitly confessional but is in the least bit so. Procrastination has its own downsides and I'll come up with those in time.