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A Tale Of Two Managers
Subroto Bagchi, Mentor-Mind Tree Consulting

When Ramchandran Kirtheyil walked into my room, he wanted to leave the organisation. He had come to say good bye. I had known him well over the years he was growing well enough in the system, but I knew he had not yet blossomed to what his true potential was. I asked him to tell me what kind of job he had lined up for himself. To me, leaving in itself is not a bad thing as long as the individual is off to something significantly better, so that the move is justified. From what Ram told me, I was clear that this was not the case. He was getting the predictable 20% raise, but that was it. No significant job enrichment, no indication that the chosen organisation would be a far better platform from which he could achieve greater professional heights. So, what was the push factor? A detailed conversation brought out the true reason he was unhappy with his supervisor. It was yet another case proving the adage that people do not leave organisations, but they leave their managers. But first, a little background about Ram himself.

Ram started life as a software engineer with Tata Infotech and after sometime, moved to Verifone. He joined MindTree in 1999 just as we were starting the company. He was one of a group of seven friends who, along with their manager Babuji Abraham, had walked into our small shack of an office just as we had opened shop. The cheerleader of the group, Babuji Abraham, is one colourful manager who makes work a collegial activity. Having worked with Babuji for many years, Ram continued to have him as his mentor as he shifted assignments within MindTree. Over the years, Babuji remained his confidante for things big and small and it was but natural that he became a role model for Ram.

Last year, things became very different. Ram had grown into a technical lead and was assigned to a difficult project with a new manager. Ramesh Gopalkrishnan. His new manager was the opposite of the colourful, collegial Babuji. A reserved, no-nonsense manager, Ramesh was a process-oriented, ‘very-solidly-routed-to-work’ kind of a person who was also a stickler for details. He disliked people going about implementing a plan that he did not himself know about. Babuji, on the other hand, was okay with such flexibility and was always there when someone needed him in a crisis or for an escalation.

Ram concluded that there was a mismatch of chemistry between the two of them. In essence, it was a mismatch of both style and expectation. Ram respected Ramesh for his professional ability to lead but disliked his detail-orientation; he felt it was an infringement on his freedom. Ramesh, on the other hand, felt that as long as a new technical lead had not proven himself, he had to work within the boundaries and the planning and review pattern that he would set. The two began drifting apart and a time came when a series of small irritants and trivial gaps became increasingly more pronounced. As a result, Ram started looking outside. He was now with me to bid farewell to an organisation with which he had built a bond that was actually larger than his relationship with any single individual. Yet, right this moment, that bond was on the backburner.

I asked Ram a fundamental question. Why was it necessary that he had to like Ramesh the way he had liked Babuji? Is it a good idea to be attached to the same manager and his style just because a zone of comfort had begun to develop? Isn’t it a good idea to be exposed to different managerial styles in different parts of one’s professional life? Don’t we learn more from differences and frictions than from a happy but unchallenging relationship? Wasn’t Ramesh’s style inherent to his functioning and own brand of success and had nothing to do with his likes or dislikes for any one individual, let alone for Ram?

Ram went back to think over the questions. Over the weekend, he found his own answers. When we met again, Ram had been able to do his own sense-making. He decided to stay on. In time, he moved on to yet another manager and continued to do well. He dropped by one day and chatted with me about his work and life. Towards the end, as he was leaving, he turned back from the door and said, “By the way, I just wanted you to know something I have discovered for myself. It is amazing how similar my own leadership style is to that of Ramesh.

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