Monday, March 31, 2008

i-TFTD #109: The Case of the Bonsai Manager

Short excerpts from the book, "The Case of the Bonsai Manager: Lessons from Nature on Growing" by R Gopalakrishnan

R. Gopalakrishnan has been a professional manager for forty years, with a wealth of practical managerial experience, initially in Unilever and more recently as executive director of Tata Sons based in Mumbai. He has lived and worked in India, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia and has travelled extenseively all over the world.

His book is about nature, management and intuitive leadership. Gopalakrishnan says his book is not a 30-day guide to solve management problems. After the required analysis is done, gut instinct should take over as intuition will be a key differentiator for excellence in the future, he says.

Bonsai manager: How a manager becomes stunted

A stunted manager is one who is operating and working at a level which is well below his potential. He himself is the best judge of this, because he can sense such a condition better than anyone else. He would probably exhibit certain characteristics and attitudes which would indicate to other people that he is working in this manner.

He may, for example, come through as a person who is not very involved or very happy with his work. Worse, he may have given up trying to change this position and may have reconciled to it. This would make him look like a 'tired' manager who does not have the motivation to do something about his situation for many possible reasons.

The disinclination to change the environment around him could be because he is more concerned with security than with satisfaction. It could be that he finds it too much of a bother to seek change. It may be that he is low on self-esteem and is worried about the consequences of trying to alter his situation. Reasons such as these cause him to continue with his unsatisfying predicament to the stage when this very situation becomes normal for him.

At some point of time, his characteristics and attitude become somewhat irreversible. Reviving his managerial learning and motivation becomes very difficult, or not worth the effort on the part of the organization.

This is when he can be considered to have become a permanently stunted manager -- it is the stage beyond which it is difficult to make him 'grow' again in a managerial sense. Such managers can be seen in large as well as small companies, multinationals and the public sector, almost everywhere.

The message is that the 'space' in which a manager grows is extremely important. This space around his job is defined by the manager by four perceptions.

-The nature of his industry and company;
-The type of work he does and his role within his organization;
-The people relationships he is involved with; and
-The threats or obstacles he faces and has to overcome.

If the space in which the manager operates and grows is limited, if his emotional and mental exertion are low, then his developments gets stunted. If he stays in this stultifying situation for long and does nothing to change his circumstance, then he can become a permanently stunted manager!

Just as the growth of the crocodile depends on the diet and the space available, the growth of a manager too is influenced by his 'mental' food (reading, training, and people challenges) as well as the experimental space (new experience and tough assignments that disturb him from his comfort zone). Nobody sets out to become a stunted manager. Yet stunted managers do exist, in large numbers.

Because of inadequate challenge and learning arising from working at the grassroots of company operations, young managers can get stunted in their growth at a very early stage of their career. The truly big and successful managers are set to solve problem after problem, they are constantly challenged to swim upstream against the tide so that they learn and grow fast.

The Case of the Bonsai Manager: Lessons from Nature on Growing

by R. Gopalakrishnan
Foreword by Ratan N. Tata
Publisher: Penguin Books India
Price: Rs 450

Full excerpt at Another excerpt is in Businessworld magazine dated 28-May-2007.

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