Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Just bossing around

It all started with a missing intern.

Yesterday my intern disappeared without a trace. Poof! No call, no sms, no email. Fearing for the deadlines first and her well-being later, my managing editor and I managed to get her mobile number from the other intern at work, and called her. She told me she wasn't feeling well.

"You should call in sick in the morning so I am kept aware of your whereabouts." I told her.

"Uhh.. yeah. Sorry."

I forgot about the incident soon after. I was ready to let it go. She's a kid after all and she’s too new to the publishing industry. She probably did not realise that if you miss a single deadline here, half the world comes crashing down on you.

Later, my managing editor sent me an email advising me that I should "keep a closer eye on my staff".

Ouch.

Of course he had a valid point. And he meant it in a good way. But, ouch.

I thought I was doing well. I usually don't like to micro-manage my staff. My working style is very typical – if you have a good attitude, are eager to learn the multitude of things I am eager to teach you, give me good-quality work, are willing to use your creativity, show initiative, are not lazy, don't miss deadlines, I won't breathe down your neck.


So far, I have had the good fortune of having a brilliant team of editors. Fast learners, excited about things, and the best part is -- they have a sense of humour (without which, one would die in the pressure cooker environment of this industry.)

Apart from the occasional reminder about punctuality (I am a sucker for punctuality and believe that even ridiculous work hours such as 8:15 to 6:03 pm should be respected), I don't run a very tight ship with my team. In fact, I have often been accused by other colleagues of spoiling my editors.

During the peak season for textbook publishing, things can get crazy, and editors often have to stay back at work after midnight. My team usually leaves work on time. And I encourage that. In spite of the odd looks that other teams give us. I wish I could tell them -- leaving on time does not mean that my team has a very light workload. It just means that my team is efficient.

If we should not let our personal lives affect our work lives, well, it's only fair that we should not let our work lives affect our personal lives too. That is my motto. And our personal lives starts at 6:03 pm. So I say, come in on time and leave on time. Unless of course you have a deadline.

And things seem to be going fine for me and my editors. But yesterday's incident made me go "ouch." For the first time in three years.

A year ago, I was happily skipping along like a little lamb when I bumped into a promotion. And suddenly, my work wasn’t just my own stuff anymore. There were so many other things to think about. Training my staff, motivation, workflow, fighting for my editors’ rights at the update meetings, making sure they are not given subjects they don’t want to work on, arguing with other departments, especially Marketing that threw impossible demands at us with amazing regularity.

I freaked out a bit.

"You mean I will be mutilating other people's work like you mutilate mine?" I asked my senior editor.

"Haha! Yeah. We feel you're ready to do it." She said.

"Gosh! And I'll be rejecting people's work and asking for redrafts? And what about the editors who are older than me? Will they listen to me? Will they respect me? Will they abide by my instructions? Will they really even listen to me?" I had a million and one doubts.

My boss gave me a little talk to ease my fears about leading a team of editors. “It's all about knowledge and experience. Your age does not matter.” She said. “And you have both, so you already have the authority. Don't worry.”

As I stepped into my new position, I realised how difficult a supervisory role is. You have to not only set the right examples, you have to hide your prejudices so the morale of your team does not get affected. You have to be the bridge between upper management and your team so that everybody is happy and productive.

Some time ago, someone remarked that most working bloggers are either planning to eat rat poison or feed it to their bosses. Now here's why I wouldn't do it. We can crib all we want about our bosses, but it’s only when we step into their shoes do we realise that they're also going thru as much shit as we are. Possibly more.

I think I only had the rat poison situation at Company #1. In my present company, I have had the good fortune of having bosses, each of whom has taught me something important. Each of them had a different style and I learnt a bit from each, put it together and got myself a working style.

Today, I am reminded of all the bosses I have worked under and learnt stuff from. They’ve been of all kinds.

Now book publishing presents very unique problems. We have too many ‘freak-out’ incidents. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Here are just a few of the freak-out incidents:

  • WHAT? The Ministry of Education wants the conceptual framework in two weeks?? But we don't even have an author yet!!
  • WHAT?? The colour printer broke down? But the proofs are due for submission this afternoon!!
  • WHAT?? The artwork is delayed? But the first proofs were supposed to be in yesterday!!
  • WHAT?? The website link given in our book has transformed into ahem ahem… something not so suitable for kids anymore??
  • WHAT?? Another designer quit??
  • WHAT?? Three editors quit??
  • WHAT?? Colleague X joined the competitors?? But I had discussed all the plans for next year with him/her!!
  • WHAT?? The cover got rejected by the publisher?? But it was supposed to go to print today!!
  • WHAT????? What do you mean the soft copy of the book got corrupted???
  • WHAT?? The magazine is two weeks late? But it must reach the schools before the holidays start!
  • WHAT?? What do you mean the author used the wrong syllabus?? She's written practically half the book!
  • WHAT?? The freelance illustrator took off on a sudden vacation without completing his work??
  • WHAT?? What do you mean the author got arrested? We're launching his book next week!!
And every time, surprise, surprise, there’s a new problem. And sometimes, it's so unexpected and unprecedented, you just don’t know what to do with it. So you go to your boss with the problem.

Here’s what happened to me when I did that with each of the bosses. I want to document all this so I can revisit and remember why I do what I do.

Boss 1
The first senior editor I worked under was this fierce lady who had an incredible amount of experience, and an incredibly short fuse to match. She knew her stuff all right, but she was absolutely terrifying. Diplomacy was something she probably did not believe in. In fact, one of the male editors told me in my first week itself, "Beware! Every female editor who has worked under Boss 1 has cried at least once." I was determined to not join the group of the crying editors. But boy, was it tough.

I dreaded meetings with her where she would go through pages and pages of my work that she had mutilated with her infamous pencil. Going to her with a problem was like entering a lion's den with raw-meat-cologne sprayed all over yourself. I was so freakin’ scared of her that it actually made me more thorough and diligent with my work just because I did not want her to find any flaw in my work and scream the place down. Also, I wanted to prove to her that it wasn’t true that engineers were no good as editors. And one fine day, when one of my editorials came back from her, not only untouched by that infamous pencil, but with a 'good!' written on it, my joy knew no bounds. I had finally cracked the wall.

Boss 2
Boss 2 was a sweetheart. She adored me to death, and had such immense faith in my creativity and project-management skills that it was almost embarrassing. “Oh Sayesha, I am sure you must have already thought of a solution. I have faith in you.” So there was no choice for this over-rated Sayesha to think up a solution and execute it. “See, I told you, you’d handle it fine!” She’d say. She made me believe in myself.

Boss 3
Boss 3 was funny, funny, funny. It was amazing how she saw the humour in even the scariest of problems. I learnt from her that work should be fun. That a boss does not have to be a hard-nut ass-kicking slave-driver. She taught me that happy editors are productive editors.

Boss 4
Now Boss 4 was strict. Ooooh, very strict. But more diplomatic than Boss 1. But she expected me to be very very independent. She did not want me to go to her with problems, she wanted me to go to her with solutions. “So? What is your plan of action to counter these problems?” My thought bubble, “My plan of action? Errr... I thought you could advise me... you're the boss..” But she would look at me in the eye till I came up with a plan of action on the spot. So the next time I went to her with any problem, I always remembered to take a plan of action along with me. And a back-up. And that attitude is such a big help today.

Whatever I have learnt today, I have done so by watching my bosses, by analysing how they deal with situations. And that kinda puts the pressure on me today when I deal with those situations.

Sometimes I tell myself, "Be a good boss. You have to keep your composure, show little emotion, not freak out, cos your editors are watching you. They are learning from you. Don't make them freak out too!"


But at times I can't help it, and I don't stop myself from freaking out. Right in front of them.

I guess it just makes me a more human boss I suppose?

Now would you please excuse me while I go and sort out another freak-out situation.

WHAT?? What do you mean the pregnant author’s hormones are kicking in and she refuses to complete the book??



49 comments:

Humjoli said...

very strange!! i am first again!!!!

Thank you, thank you! love you all!

Sahil said...

damn it - u beat me to it humjoli. I guess that's what happens when I read Sayesha's blog!

Sayesha, you sound like you've had more experience in your job than the 3 years you mention. One day, one of your underlings will blog about you, and how this boss of theirs was a total whacko. But a smart whacko at that.

Good job.... and u're post was alright too. ;)

ritzkini said...

DAMN ! Just missed it by a minute !
second anyways...
considering its a verrryyyy looooong post,am still awake to put up a comment..
=))
actually,that says quite a lot,atleast in my case..good one..
:)

Sahil said...

Line mein lag my friend... u're 3rd.

Hota hai - I thought I'd be 1st.

ritzkini said...

:)
sahi hai sahilbhai..socha tha "Q" ka zamaana khatam ho gaya tha...guess it hasn't..
:)

Kais said...

Hey! A very fun-to-read post.

Being one of a rag-tag band of graduates who decided to go nuts and do something related to their degrees, I've always wondered what colour the grass is, on the far side.

Very green and purple apparently :)

This could be the story of my life, if you replace 'publishing' with 'chip-design' and 'and-one-fine-day-they-made-me-boss' with
'and-one-fine-day-they-did-not-make-me-boss' :)

Cheers,
Kais

Tinku said...

What??? All your bosses were females!

Where is this company located? :p

Tinku

Aethyr said...

wow...can i have u as my boss..
im very punctual ;). no seriously.

life is a peice of chocolate cake ..aint it??
bitter and sweet..at the same time..

Humjoli said...

hahaha, beat you guys both sahil and kini.

you can call me a cheater, i just got the trophy without finishing the race! read the post after posting a comment! (lagta hai virdi ka virus ghus gaya hai mere andar)

and you sash, don't tell me that I don't read your posts!! gone thru this thoroughly and was really impressed with how you express yourself in length.

We can crib all we want about our bosses, but it’s only when we step into their shoes do we realise that they're also going thru as much shit as we are. Possibly more.

couldn't agree more!

Sayesha said...

#Humjoli,
Phir se?? Hadd kar di aapne! (Wasn't that a Govinda movie, btw?)

#Sahil,
Wow, you're getting back in form man... lagta hai you're back at Sayeshaz for good! :) Yeah, the learning curve is very steep at my job.
ps: Thanks! :)

#Ritzkini,
Hope you had the patience to read the verrryyy loooong post before you posted your comment.

#Sahil,
Bache ho bilkul! :)

#Ritzkini,
Q kahan kaise?

#Kais,
Hahahahaha! That was hilarious! :D

#Tinku,
Yes, book publishing in Singapore is a very female-dominated industry :)

#Aethyr,
Hahaha! Are you sure you want me to be your boss? I can be real khadoos at times! :P

#Humjoli,
Ab aaye ho muh dikhai ki rasm puri karne? Hahaha! :D
Thanks, chalo padha toh! :)

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

"Leaving on time does not mean that my team has a very light workload. It just means that my team is efficient"... ahh, quotable quotes. I liked this post, and had quite a laugh about those WHAT?? situations. And more than that, I liked your attitude in dealing with all kinds of bosses you mentioned. Really nice post. And thanks for dropping by at my place. Will stick around.

Humjoli said...

muh dikhai!!! thats hilarious! kept laughing for a minute.

on serious note, got bit time for myself today. Its taxing to be in boss shoes and run a company. So many things to look after... That too when you are short of staff... at times things look so unmanageable... but then, you have to work it out somehow. Hard life really!

But nothing beats the high you get from your work well done at the end of the day. Then all this 'mashakkat' seems worth it. :)

virdi said...

sayesha aunty... itna laamba post likhegi toh log tere blog pe aana band ho jayenge... hehehehe... ;-)

virdi beta tu is baar nahi bachega...

V..

virdi said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
virdi said...

oh b.t.w, 1706 words and went on for 6 pages, on MS Word...

and my word verification was : screwwu

no seriously... swear on GOD!!

Vikram said...

Itna lamba post?? I'll make some coffee for myself.

Harshi said...

Hey Sayesha, what a delightful post! Loved reading. Laughed aloud now and then. :-) Learned too.

I can see how your Boss thought it was your responsibility, but "the missing intern" wasn't your fault Sayesha. Micro-managing would not be my style as well. I empathize with the intern (maybe she was too sick to call?) but still she could have called somehow :-( It's very unprofessional not to.

Supervising undoubetedly looks challenging. I can see why one has to be 'on guard' but I think letting out your true reactions actually helps the team sometimes - helps them be more at ease around you.

Going to the Boss with "solutions" is such an excellent style.

Your work sounds so very exciting!
Here's to a many-many more exciting days. :-)

With so much pressure going on at work, I wonder how you manage class after that. You are strong, girl!! :-)

Bhole said...

Always expect the unexpected. - I learnt that from a prof in Grad school.

My manager micro-manages all her employees, except your's truly :) Wonder why :-/

Vikram said...

All yours bosses were women. I wish my future bosses are women too. Make that young women :P

Sayesha said...

#Sudipta,
Thanks! :) Yeah, the WHAT?? situations just get more and more weirder! :P

#Humjoli,
Muh dikhai hi hai, aate ho, muh dikhate ho, aur muh dikhai ka medal lekar chalte bante ho! :P

I so agree. In spite of all the madness, when at the end of the day, a book is a success, it just makes everything worth it! :)

#Virdi,
Toh mat padh na! :D
And why on earth do you have to do a word count, you ullu?? And nice touch there, blaming WV for your true feelings! Tu nahin bachega mere haathon se! :D

#Harshi,
Thanks! :) Yeah, I wouldn't take it too heart too much. After all, these interns are mere students who are not familiar with the practices of a workplace. I have had a talk with her, and she's learning too. :)

#Bhole,
Consider yourself lucky, man! I'd hate a boss who breathes down my neck!

#Viks,
Hahaha! Phir tere office mein kaam kaise hoga re? The productivity at your workplace will go into negative! :P

bananapen said...

Hmmm great overview... and ouch! ;P

oxymoron said...

//If we should not let our personal lives affect our work lives, well, it's only fair that we should not let our work lives affect our personal lives too.

never thought of it that way! cool stuff!

lots of management mantras in this post!

Jay said...

Every industry has its own challenges. An interesting insight :-)

Anonymous said...

//WHAT?? What do you mean the pregnant author’s hormones are kicking in and she refuses to complete the book??/

hahahah i loved this so much that I laughed loud in my office.
Another nice post Sayesha.
Prince

virdi said...

Vikram.. make that young hot single women who like Indians having their names starting with V...

V for Vikram... V for Virdi... ;-)

Sayesha said...

#Banana,
Yeah, ouch! :P
Actually, in you, I see a lot of how I used to be, so I guess eventually you'll also be a whacko boss like me! :P

#Oxy,
Long time! Thanks! :)

#Jay,
Thanks! :)

#Prince,
Hey, you have a long life! I was remembering you yesterday when I saw a photo of a polar bear! Sorry again! :P

Yeah, you know, eventually I had to complete the writing for the pregnant author?! And that was when I was under Boss 1. I went quite crazy I think! :O

#Virdi,
Beta, your name doesn't start with V. Kitni baar sikhaya name aur surname mein difference, yeh bacha kuch seekhta hi nahin! Lagta hai is saal bhi fail ho jayega... You're Bhavdeep man, Bhavdeep! :D

virdi said...

Sayesha... Thrrrrrbbrrrrrrtttt!!!

Vikram said...

Hey Virdi,

Don't listen to her man. I'm sure those young hot single women will flip for us. :)

fao said...

my boss is part mallu porn queen. its a recessive personality trait. it emerges only when shez under extreme duress. shez now devpd. 3 other personalities to keep up with all that work pressure!

we love her!

Leon said...

This made nice reading.. :-)

I've been fortunate to have had a couple of great bosses so far... and learnt a lot from them in the same way that you did..

Sushmit said...

had to spend some time flipping thru it, but deff worth a read!
(thumbs up!)

PARASITE HILTON said...

Fao, baybee..long time no see. Muacks!

Sayesha said...

#Virdi ke bache ke baapu,
Thrrrrrbbrrrrrrtttt!!! back to you! :P

#Vikram,
Yeah yeah I'm sure I'm sure... :D
Take my advice -- whatever chance you have with the chicks will be destroyed by the very presence of Virdi next to you! Yeh uncle sabko lift deta hai, magar koi ladki isko lift nahin deti! ;)

#Fao,
Welcome back! :)

#Leon,
Thanks! :)

#Sushmit,
Welcome to Sayeshaz. And thanks! :)

#Parasite Hilton,
Hiiii!! (Oh god! She's back too!)
Long time (Oh god! Why is she back??)
How's everything? (Please don't do that to my blog again!)

:)

abhi said...

Ok , everybody listen everybody listen , I was the guy who remarked the 'rat poison' thing .sayesha ,tujhe 'somebody' word likhna manzoor tha , ek 'abhi' nahi likh saktee thee ? kalyug hai bhaiyya , free publicity karne mein bhee logo ko heart attack aata hain.;)

but really , the creative element in your job makes it look like the 'aishwarya rai' of jobs to me.5 months ruk ja , and a charming witty dashing dude from India is joining your team.( job offer stands na ? ).ask all your pretty interns to be ready with their sunglasses , lest they are dazzled by my charm.:P

Rohit Talwar said...

interesting read! continue writing, madam!

Humjoli said...

where did you learn this 'bachhe ke baap' thing sash? I have a friend who calls me like this at times. He mostly uses '(my name) ke bachhe ke baap' or when i do something stupid 'ullu ke bacche ke baap'.

i think he must be in close touch with you.

Sayesha said...

#Abhi,
*sheepish grin*
I remembered very well that it was you. I rarely forget words that are uniquely yours. Just that I did not wanna trigger another set of Abhi-Sayesha comments after the last post and then get everyone worked up again about the same old MAC topic. So did not cross-reference. But you're right, what the hell, I should have! Will do from now on! :)

And yes, my offer still stands. Pretty interns, watch out! Abhi's comin' to town! ;)

#Rohit,
Thanks! :)

#Humjoli,
I've been saying it all my life, right from school days! But I only use it for people I am very affectionate towards! So Virdi is privileged. ;)

Ashish Gupta said...

wat a long post! I was wondering which paragraphs to skip ;) but then ek baar padhne baitha to post kab khatam ho gayi pata hi nahi chala!
u make a great boss :) really loved knowing the perspective from a boss' side!
can relate to that after getting to boss those guys now, one of whom I was till last year!

PS: try some scott adams ;)
PPS: NOOO! arre bewdi its not scotch - I said Scott!

fao said...

me paris...me babeh! muah! muah! muah! show the lovin'!

sasha...awww, u know you're always welcome to join in all our reindeer games! :-) don't feel shy...c'mon!

the Monk said...

k, that was a great post...kept reminding me of the Peter principle:you know, an employee keeps getting promoted until he reaches the level where he's incompetent....hope u have a long way to go until that, though...

Sayesha said...

#Ashish,
Arre I thought you disappeared! Welcome back! And thanks! :)
ps: I LOVE Scotch Adams! Errr.. I mean Scott Adam!

*hic*

:D

#Fao,
Errr.... no thanks, I am good. Mummy ne kaha hai sirf achhe bachon ke saath khelna. :)

#The Monk,
Thanks! I hope so too! :P

Fao said...

sasha,

i bet momma also told u abt. the tooth fairy n santa claus n the birds n bees.

Ranj said...

if you have a good attitude, are eager to learn the multitude of things I am eager to teach you, give me good-quality work, are willing to use your creativity, show initiative, are not lazy, don't miss deadlines, I won't breathe down your neck.

How do I apply? ;)

bananapen said...

Just to confirm what everyone must be thinking: It's all true. Sayesha's a great boss who leads without 'bossing'.
:)
With you and Cath snr, I think I've been pretty lucky in terms of bosses.

I shudder to think what it'll be like to work with Ixxx. ;P

Canary said...

fancy perfume spray karke apna cv courier kar diya hai ji..

Sayesha said...

#Ranj,
Send me your resume. Enclosing some money may help! :P

#Banana,
Whoa, validation from the understudy herself! Thanks thanks! :)

ps: People, no I did not pay/threaten Banana to say this out in public! :P

pps: Psst... Banana, remind me about your blog-performance bonus next year! ;)

#Aastha,
Hahahahaha! Perfume pasand aa gaya is khadoos boss ko, toh job aapka hua ji! :)

MeAwinner said...

Again a nice post..

It was really interesting to know.. learning experience too.

love,
Maneesha

Sayesha said...

Thanks, Maneesha! :)

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