Oct 1, 2016
When the Boss is Wrong: Making and Unmaking of the Leader Within You (Sibichen K. Mathew, Rupa Publications, 2015). There are not many books exclusively on the flaws and eccentricities of bosses; rarer are the instances where the author of such books turn out to be your real life bosses. I am one of the very few persons in the world that work under bosses who have published books on peculiarities and terrible working styles of bosses world over. It is interesting. Also, possibly I may be the first one to embark on the adventure of reviewing a book on bosses written by his own boss.
As mentioned somewhere in the book, a more harmonious title of the book is 'Fifty Shades of Bosses'. Presented in fifty crisp chapters of 4-5 pages each, in a breezy style, the painstakingly created book is a treasure trove of anecdotes (my favourite: the legend of perumthachan), organisational studies, psychological theories and loads of real life examples. But the best part is its - packaging and delivery. The treatment is so deceptively light and fresh that you really don't realise you are being exposed to hardcore OD/HR stuff. The book makes you wise - even without your knowledge. To give you an idea, there are 143 numbered references/notes spread over online resources, management journals and gold standard books. It roughly translates to 2-3 citations per chapter. The author has presented a few exercises of self-evaluation too. But at the same time, the book is laced with a good dose of everyday office humour and engaging slices of work life. There is also a healthy sprinkling of enjoyable cartoons. Some of them are really funny. Well done cartoon team!
Each of the fifty chapters talks about one specific (generally negative or not so pleasant) trait of a boss. The boss could be a manger, a college principal, a government officer, a shop floor supervisor, and the like. Very easily, this book could have been one more, mundane, on-your-face-OB book. But drawing from eclectic fields of study and his experience as a serving bureaucrat of 20+ years, the author, also an accomplished orator and writer, makes sure you turn the pages with a great deal of interest. There is never a moment of dullness. And the chapter titles are also amusing: Chapter 18: Why doesn't the boss smile? Chapter 41: The puppet has a long tenure. Chapter 45: Boss is from Mars; You are from Venus.
You also gain a lot of jargon in terms of world-class studies, book titles, etc. as you flip the pages; you will find them handy during any discussion where it is about izzat ka sawal. (Though the author has tried to avoid anything that resembles a management jargon, a canny reader will be able to extract quite a few.) The book also includes interviews of business leaders like Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, S.D.Shibulal, and others. But it would have been more insightful and complete with personal interviews of civil servants or army officers too. It will add to the richness of the book. In pipeline for the second edition?
The high point of the book is the concluding paras of each of the fifty chapters. All the chapters close with specific takeaways grouped under three themes: Prescription for you, the boss; Precaution for you; Precept for the organisation. These are gems. Very practical. They serve as compasses of self-reflection. They also help us advance through the organisational maze smoothly, and without losing dignity.
When the Boss is Wrong is a cleverly crafted book that anyone, even remotely connected with any organisation, can enjoy reading. The book will also make us wiser when dealing with complex men (and women) we encounter in our workplaces. Organisations too have a lot to benefit from the book. Happy reading!
Other recent books: The Long Catch: War, Captivity and Return in Sri Lanka (Commodore Ajith Boyagoda - Sunila Galappatti, Harper Collins, 2016) and Hangman's Journal (Sashi Warrier, Penguin Books, 2009).