By Frank Ofili
Over the past two decades and a half, I have worked with several bosses, but these five stood out. They are what one would call great bosses. They helped me become everything I am today, career-wise. But they would hardly acknowledge it. Each time one tried to give them the honour they deserve; they docked as if it were a profound embarrassment. The truth, however, is that you cannot take away the credit from them whether they want it or not.
The first of these great bosses is Patrick Oviasuyi, now a Professor at Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State. Patrick Oviasuyi was my supervisor at United Bank for Africa Plc where I worked as a lowly placed clerk in the early 1990s. He was the one that showed me the road to the University of Benin – literally speaking. “You can’t go far in life with an ordinary level certificate,” he told me then. One Friday afternoon, he dragged me into his car, drove me to the University where he was pursuing a degree in public administration, and made me sit out a lecture with him even though I was not a student of the school. After that day something in me stirred and I decided to pursue it.
Then there was Adebayo Adesiyan, my manager then at the same bank and branch. Mr. Adesiyan was the one who carefully steered me away from a potentially fruitless path of labour unionism with the admonition that “what you have in you is incredibly too precious to waste.”
Next was Onest Che Chao, the shrewd Chinese Chairman/CEO of Cway Group. Mr. Che Chao would never want to hear that anything was not possible. As far he was concerned if something could not be done it was because you had not applied your mind and brain to it.
Kishin Murjani is an Indian engineer-turned-human resource guru under whom I worked for just two years. And what a marvelous two years it was! A soft-spoken first class brain with penetrating eyes, Mr. Kishin was Group Head (Human Resources) at Dana Group. As Group HR head, he usually took his time to present his points as would a surgeon and in a manner impossible to contradict or deflect. A 30-minute face-to-face chat with Mr. Kishin was usually like an executive MBA class covering a wide variety of disciplines. His focus was always on the larger picture.
And then there was Mr. Sundarajan Srinivassan, a sauve, highly resourceful consummate HR professional. Mr. Srinivassan was a go-getter and a highly dependable and supportive boss. He would give you an assignment and allow you the free hand to execute it anyhow you deem fit provided you do so within legal limits. But he also brooked no nonsense; he was impatient with lazy, tardy, grumbling and uninspiring employees.
Finally, the boss I never really worked with, Mrs. Helen Ebiere Fumudoh. She was the Managing Director of TFS Securities at a time the stock market was having a ball in Nigeria. I was doing a marketing job then. Somehow, my CV landed on her table, and I found myself having to be interviewed by her. Curiously, in the course of the interview, I found myself having to answer all sort of questions ranging from marketing to stockbroking, accounting, administration and human resource management. I was bemused and somewhat furious for being so embarrassed.
A few days later after the interview, I found myself again facing her at a table, only this time she calmly told me that after reviewing my performance at the review, the panel found that I was better as a compliance person. She advised that though they had no opening for that position, I should consider switching career to HR management. I gave it a hard thought, subconsciously recollecting what Mr. Femi Ojeaghere (then of Guinness Nigeria) had told me. In the end, I made a decision to give it a try.
All I have been trying to say is that I learned a great deal from these fellows. I learned at least one great thing from each of these great bosses that helped shaped my career. After many years of following their examples, I came out with what I call the five best practices great bosses consciously do. Simply put, great bosses among other things
- Inspire their subordinates to seek to grow. They create avenues for their subordinates to learn new approaches, develop new ways of doing things, and gain confidence.
- Value, nourish and honour their relationship with others. They know that relationship based on shared values create mutual trust and respect both in the workplace and outside the workplace. They seek to maintain a safe, inspiring, productive workplace so that their subordinates can feel encouraged to give of their best.
- Encourage excellence but not necessarily perfection. They set clear performance expectations and allow subordinates free hand to express themselves in trying to achieve not only the objective but also exceed them. This means that they expect mistakes from subordinates but also appreciate their effort in applying their knowledge and skills in trying to deliver on set target
- Value accountability and integrity. They appreciate the accomplishment of set goals within acceptable behaviors. They also appreciate subordinates who readily take responsibility for their actions and not give excuses.
- Encourage a culture of teamwork, collaboration, and cooperation. They know that positive interaction among organizational members maintains trust and respect more than competitive interaction does. They know that collaboration is much more productive than the unhealthy competition which is nothing but rivalry. They know that Steven Covey was right when he noted that interdependence is a greater virtue than independence. Great bosses align organizational members to norms that enable sharing of information, skills, and support across the organization. They hold teams and team members to high standards, not just for performance but citizenship, as well.
If one were to have the ability to turn back the hand of time, I would gladly do so, so as to meet and work with these great bosses once again. They are the kind of bosses that excite you and make you enthusiastic about challenges. With these men, work is no work but pleasure.