28 Apr 2016 17:15 IST

It is the little touch that matters

Apart from bonuses and perks, having that special bond with employees will make you a good manager

What does it take to be a good manager? Apart from a B-school education, well-honed systems and processes, strategic thinking and practical action plans, your team will work as one if you take the following four steps.

Listen to your colleagues

As symbolised by Ganesha with large ears, a good manager must listen well at all times to pick up early cues. Even if you are busy — leaving on an international trip, juggling multiple responsibilities — and there is a reporting manager who you know is handling her team well, step in for that 20-minute chat or lend an ear to a colleague you know is hurting or is confused.

Ensure that the reporting manager is present during the chat because your intention is to help her, not undermine her efforts or relationship. In niche, small organisations, people follow people, not ideas. So always ask yourself: Are you someone you would follow? Then listen whole-heartedly to others.

Open your mind, not your mouth

While the quality of one’s speech is judged by the use of words, the quality of one’s listening hinges on the lack of it.

Don’t claim to be listening and then interrupt, explain, draw parallels or try to offer solutions and suggestions. Be empathetic and let the person say what’s on his or her mind; draw them out with encouraging phrases like “feel free to tell me what is bothering you”; “I know you say it is a bunch of small things, nothing big, but I want to hear them”; “I don’t want you to feel burdened by small things; your work is important to me and to our organisation”.

Value add to family

A good boss in India is the one who cares about the welfare of his/her employees’ families and cares enough to ask after them sincerely. A reliable boss is one to whom a team member can turn for assistance or guidance beyond the sphere of work.

This bonding in Indian work relationships is now a Harvard study by Peter Capelli and his team. Strengthening this trait in today’s fast-paced life is well worth it. Helping an employee who has worked with you for 10 years to secure a seat for his child in a convent school; giving an interest-free home loan to another longstanding performer; offering flexi-hours and paperwork support to a key woman employee going through a difficult divorce — such gestures won’t cost you Fringe Benefit Tax, but will yield Forever Bonded Loyalty from key players. Look for ways to help others, and remember: what goes around comes around.

Extend appreciation

Money and bonuses are a given and, when more is made, more can be distributed. But going beyond the monetary aspects works magic. A personal note of appreciation to a colleague; a handpicked gift to suit the personality of a particular employee; or a spa, holiday gift or a luncheon in your personal time will mean much more to them.

Indra Nooyi is an exemplary leader who goes out of her way in this regard. She would write end-of-the-year notes to spouses of her board members for their support through the year that helped her colleagues work long and effective hours.

But, as she says, her Indian upbringing made her reflect on another important aspect. When she was appointed CEO of Pepsi, friends would come to her home in Chennai and offer a quick word of congratulation to her, but spend much longer, telling her mother how well she had raised her daughter and how much she was responsible for Nooyi’s success.

That is when Nooyi wrote personal notes thanking parents of her board members — and the response was overwhelmingly moving and lasting.

Nooyi’s life is her message to us. It is easy and simple to do, and so easy to forget to do too.

L — Listening, O — Openness, V — Value-adding in the personal sphere, and E — Extending appreciation are the four steps. And it spells LOVE. As the age-old saying goes, Love is what makes the world go round.

A manager or top leader’s attention to love is the addition needed for corporate strategy, capability management modules or Six Sigma to truly succeed. It is enduring, because, after all, to borrow from 17th century English poet John Donne, no boss is an island, entire of himself. He needs his people to succeed at work. And love matters to people.