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October 2014

Don’t Turn Around!

800 371 Kamal Karanth

My inspiration this time is the starting line of the famous ‘Ace of Base’ song – “Don’t Turn Around”. Do you know what the line is?

Whenever I go on new assignments within the same organisation, I put a few of my ex reportees in ‘misery’. Yes, I admit that I liked it when they called me and said they missed me. I liked it even more when they said that their new boss is not as amiable as me. Tell me, who doesn’t want to be appreciated and missed? We’re only human and I’m no different!

However, there have been cases when some of my bosses behaved extra-ordinarily different in the light of either having been given an internal promotion or leaving an organization. There was one who “deserted” us as soon as he got promoted. He stopped joining us for our morning huddles; took an office two floors above ours in an attempt to not bump into us; and even went to the extent of altering his working hours as well as his lunch hour! We were startled and felt royally ignored. You see, we were used to seeing him every day; he was the most expressive and energetic boss we’ve ever had. We loved him so much that we hated his replacement from Day 1!

Yes! The previous boss had recruited, mentored and promoted many of us so we owed so much to him. We would constantly say “Joseph” used to do this”; “Joseph agreed to this always”; “Joseph used to have coffee or lunch with one of us every day”; and the list went on. In this situation, the new boss suffered as we never gave him an opportunity to settle (who cares!) and knowingly/unknowingly created misery for the him (the new boss). And finally all these happenings lead to an outburst we were hoping for. We ambushed our ex-boss 6 months into our new situation when he was having his lunch at a nearby hotel. We told him that we felt cheated that he has switched off from us. We asked what we had done to deserve his cold treatment towards us. Till recently he was everything to us – he joined us for movies; , family get together; and drinking sessions. In short, we had been through thick and thin with him. We told him how miserable we were and how non-coherent his successor turned out to be and
blamed him (and the new boss) for the fact that some part of our performance at work had taken a turn for the worse!

In the midst of the chaos, Joseph smiled as though he anticipated everything we said. He responded to our barrage of questions (and accusations) by saying, ”if I continue to socialise with you or keep in touch with you , you will never build your bridges with the new boss as my link will weaken your tilt towards him. If you continued to cling on to me, you won’t learn new things from new people. Every individual has something unique to offer – so when will you start adapting to different styles?”

He went on to add that he also wanted to expand into new horizons and to do that successfully he needed to break away from old work relationships. He said, “the closer I am to you will result in every change the new guy brings being met with resistance”. He went on to add that the " switch off’ or going “out of touch” was difficult for him too as he now had to build a new “circle" in his new role and for this, the further he moved away from us, the closer he was able to get closer to his new stakeholders! Despite all these, we were still not convinced – we bitched more about our new boss and returned unconvinced about our future. As you already know, we can’t change our bosses fast, so we continued feeling helpless about our fate at work. 🙂

Fast forward to a year later, 2 of us from amongst the 4 who had gone to complain about the new boss, received promotions while the other 2 continued working for him (the new boss) for 1 additional year without fuss and I learnt they were seen socializing with him on more than one occasion. One of them even bought a piece of land next to the new boss’s house. Something changed? Yes – times changed but more importantly was the a time they gave each other to allow their relationship to blossom!

We get carried away by our first impressions and instincts that we lose sight of the fact that some of our best relationships happened over a period of time. While relationships in college can be built overnight and some others over a few picnics, there are other relationships like the ones we have at work which needs more time to be developed and nurtured. If we give time and opportunity in a unbiased and unconditional space, any relationship will work. We need to have confidence in our abilities and put efforts in place through our strengths similar to the saying “work so well that it becomes difficult to ignore you”! Which boss wouldn’t want to make relationships and recognise people who are performing and exerting efforts for him?

But I also believe that old bosses too have a larger role to play like my boss did when I was 28. I did not understand his point of view then, but after experiencing many role changes in the past 14 years, I have come to realise the importance of fading away and giving space to successors to make them (my successors) and most importantly my old reportees successful. While at first it was difficult to accept that my successors have changed many things that I thought were set in stone, i.e. my signature programs, it is harder to digest that my ex-reportees were liking him. Grrr! How ungrateful!

Leaders who have moved on should refrain from managing their past. Not only will they (the leaders) cease growing if they continue to linger in the foreground but in the bargain will cause more damage to their loved ex-colleagues.


800 371 Kamal Karanth
Getting calls from past colleagues in quest of new jobs is a normal occurrence these days. I typically do ask the real drivers to such aspirations if it’s just another bad day in office. Some of these calls provide good intel if the calls are from competitor mates. One such call recently turned into an interesting insight. My ex-colleague explained the reason for his turmoil. He has a new CEO and I promptly asked “how’s he?” My ex colleague explained that the new CEO is attempting to change almost everything from people to structure to process to technology … his question was, “till recently we were the most happening company in this industry and it seems like in the last year or so nothing is good! How can things become so bad overnight?”

A few types of fallout do happen with every leadership change. Some resignations have to be expected. After all not everybody is going to like new leaders. In today’s work-world, most people change jobs every 2 years but can’t digest when new people are to lead them every two years in the same company. Our preferences seem to be to accept the way we work differently in a new place than having to adapt in the same place.

The new leader also has to go through the same change which he/she inflicts on others. I will refer to the new leader as “it” to remove the gender bias. It wouldn’t know when to press the button or to keep quiet. The first 90 days book subtly suggests being observant than action. It’s difficult being a leader when you are unwelcome which is quite common during turnaround situations. Once when I landed in a similar situation, I had a resignation that greeted me on day one while some of my reportees were pessimistic if anything can be changed.

In my view, leading in turnarounds is a far easier task than succeeding a biz which has had a successful track record. In turnaround situations, your bosses back you up as they are only interested in bottom-line results than collateral damage. In sustaining success, the organisation expects you to retain the goodness of the past (people, structure, culture, process) while delivering improvement results. The logic is that if the previous guy could produce in the same context, why can’t you repeat/better the same. This gets compounded when the new leader comes from within the organisation.

Starting from “I was your peer”; “you took the lift when I was taking the stairs”; and “don’t you know my track record?”; to “let’s talk about how you will take care of my interests”; – the first few weeks are a bargaining battle. Lots of posturing happens and suddenly the leader feels lonely in a united successful team.