Friday, July 27, 2007

Incompetent Leaders

I have recently had the chance to move from one company to another. Being under two different bosses really showed me what a difference in leadership can do to my career.

I was too blind or too loyal to my ex-boss to see his flaws. He's non-confrontational, rarely points out your mistakes and is quite un-emotional. He only points out your mistakes during the year-end appraisal when its time to deny you your salary increment or justify why he's giving you the lowest increment in the company.

My new boss is dynamic. But to be fair, my new boss is basically a project manager (my ex-boss was the country manager). He's tough but respectful. He'll pull you up privately to tell you of your mistakes, will never berate you in public. He gels the team of engineers together to reach the common goal.

My ex-boss never had that gel. He allowed his star salesman to dominate all company meetings. He's favoritism of his star salesman was so great that it blinded him from reality - that his star sales bad mouths him in public and to customers. We, or I, tried telling that to him but in the end, it looked bad on us when he conveyed what we said to his star sales person.

Six years ago when my ex-boss just came in, there was team harmony. After that, it all slowly disintegrated over time. We learned the hard way not to object to him too often as he'll penalize you with the lowest salary increment. After seeing a colleague get a low increment for voicing out her ideas and objections at meeting, the whole team was silent and submissive the next 5 years.

I believe leaders have to be tough. Weak leaders betray their own team. Weak leaders are not able to stand up to other leaders or even their bosses for them team members. This demoralizes the team when you know that you will have to fight your own battle and your boss is not capable of helping you.

Good leaders are people who can leave the company for a vacation and come back to see sales and technical support running smoothly. Managers will often return from vacation to find all activity has slowed down to minimal. My ex-boss was a manager.

I was so blindly loyal to him that I had to get out to see how bad the situation was in my ex-company. It's not only enough to have the best marquee in the world for finite element analysis, to run a business. People don't buy from just because your product is world class and well known. People buy because they have a need and the product must satisfy the need within the allocated budget.

Allocated budget - how do you fit in an expensive product into a small budget? This is where, in my ex-company, we often got lost. We didn't have the skills or the know-how or the people who had this skills to help us get through. We had a product that was twice as expensive as our competitors which we couldn't sell as much because the industry didn't have as many big players. And all the big players are already our customers. So, what do we do?

This is where my ex-boss really lacked ideas. And worst still, he starting putting pressure on the marketing person to come up with marketing events to bring in good sales leads. This is ridiculous as a marketing event is a collaboration between sales and marketing. It's not something to be used and blamed upon for not generating sales. So, the blame game now gets pushed to the marketing person for now coming out with targeted events. Silly, but true. And we're talking about a world class company here, run by someone who lacks ideas on how to grow the business. And with no help from his bosses, how on earth is he ever going to succeed?

I always believed that we're at a place where we're competent. Rise up too fast without the proper skills and we end up being in-competent in the job and will eventually fall back to our place. But there are incompetent people who manage to stay onto a post where their totally overwhelmed for a very long time.

I am glad I moved on. But I am also glad I was under the guidance of my ex-boss. Because now I know how bad one can be and I really hope I am not going down that road un-consciously. I hope to grow under my new boss and in turn, help others grow too.

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