And the most important way your Parent Leader will evaluate your loyalty is…
You get no awards in India for having great time management. You get no praise for submitting weekly reports on all your tasks. No one will mention you at a celebration if you manage to save an hour a day by not checking email until noon. Time is not something that can be spreadsheeted.
The only truly important question about time in India is:
Were you there in the Moment of Need?
What is the Moment of Need? It’s the moment when your boss or your team members are freaking out because something has gone terribly wrong and the world might end.
The assessment of your loyalty is most dependent on how completely you are available in the Moment of Need.
This preference for the urgent feeds into the perception that Indians at the office are doing one of two things:
- Working feverishly hard and staying late to slog and meet a deadline, OR
- Goofing off, watching movies, playing badminton, or taking a long tea break
If your boss needs you, you are there. If she doesn’t need you, you don’t have to worry about it. And some Indian workers are perpetually responding to their manger’s Moment of Need.
An example of learning it the hard way:
(a true, but adapted story)
Jane is a smart young professional who took up a job in India as a specialist on user-interface designs. The head of her department is a classic Parent Leader. He was going to present in front of some very high level clients in the US about a new program with some of Jane’s new designs.
The meeting happened to fall on a day (Tuesday) when Jane’s immediate manager was displaying a second project and Jane herself was asked to come to a client meeting for a third project.
There was a lot of preparation and customization for the Leader’s presentation. Jane retooled her usual design and added a lot of additional elements. She took care to walk the Leader through the entire interface to make sure everything was perfect and flawless. The Leader left for the US about a week before the meeting, slightly nervous, but excited about the new design.
Whew, Jane thought. Now I can focus on the other two projects.
The days leading up to Super Tuesday were incredibly hectic, and Jane was working until midnight several days in a row. All this time, the Leader in the US kept asking for some small tweaks and additional documentation to give to the clients. Jane started to get nervous about the other two projects, especially her own since she had not had time to work on it yet.
On the Friday night before all three sessions, Jane was on cc for an email from the Leader who, in a very subtle yet urgent way, asked for a few more documents and additional research on a tangential topic “just in case they ask”.
Jane knew the documents the Leader requested were already in the pack she had sent. She also felt the additional research was unnecessary. It was Friday night, and she was tired. So, she shut down her laptop, called up the main recipient of the email, and asked him to do the research.
On Saturday, she was again on cc for an email from the Leader asking for more documents to be sent. She again called up the main recipient and asked him to communicate to the Leader what had already been done.
On Sunday, Jane got a call from the Leader in the US. The Leader was now obviously anxious, and asked to confirm that everything had been done. Additionally, he asked for the password for his email because his phone wasn’t working and had to buy a new one. Jane had no idea what his password was, but told the Leader she would get the IT guy to do it. He wasn’t in the office, so she sent him an email instructing him to send the required information.
Before we go on, let’s take a break to peak into Jane’s thoughts…
1.) This leader nearly always gets nervous before a big meeting, so it’s nothing new
2.) I have my own issues to worry about, and I’ve been slogging away at this work 14 hours a day for the last two weeks
3.) Getting passwords for people is not my job
4.) We’ve done more than enough to make this meeting a success, and he is overreacting
On Super Tuesday, #ChaosBeatsLogic as usual. The US clients loved the design, the second program resulted in a huge order, and Jane’s presentation (that she put together on the plane ride up) got fantastic reviews.
When the Leader returned to the office, it was obvious that something had changed in his relationship with Jane. It was very cool and way too “professional”. What happened?
Let’s look at what was going on in his mind right before the presentation…
1.) She was not there in my Moment of Need
2.) She was not there in my Moment of Need
3.) She was not there in my Moment of Need
4.) She was not there in my Moment of Need
Jane had irrevocably broken loyalty and trust in just a few snap decisions. The Leader was nervous to the point of desperation, and felt like she had turned her back on him. The wound might heal over time, but a scar would always remain.
What should she have done?
If she really wanted to please the Leader, Jane should have applied these lessons:
The most important thing is your availability at the Moment of Need. Jane got caught thinking how hard she had been working for the company all week when she shut off her laptop. She felt justified in not jumping up at the last minute to fix all the problems. To the Leader, it seemed that Jane was choosing not to help him when he needed it. The many hours she had spent preparing him and customizing the program meant nothing at that moment. The only thing that will be remembered is that when the Moment of Need came, she wasn’t there.
Being on cc does not let you off the hook. Jane assumed that since she was not the direct recipient of the email, she could communicate and hide through that person. Even though she was on cc, she was obviously the person that the Leader actually wanted to respond.
If your boss overreacts, you should overreact. Nothing would have made the Leader happier than if Jane had really fired the IT guy and sat on his head until he gave the password. He wanted to see Jane in a fuss because he was in a fuss. He wanted to see her throw some weight around and bust some heads because he needed something. Responding to his anxiousness with her cool, slightly smug, “no problem”, pragmatic attitude was pretty much the worst thing she could have done.
How does it work if you are the boss?
It works the same way. If you are leading a team that prefers Parent Leadership, you also need to be there when the Moment of Need strikes. Here are some principles:
When a real crisis comes, make sure you are present. Unfortunately for you, “real” is subject to their definition, not yours. If you are on a holiday and get repeated calls from the office, you had better pick up. A recent survey from TripAdvisor said that 82% of Indians check email while on holiday and 94% would take or make a work call on holiday “depending on who is calling them”.
When a team member needs to speak with you, make time for it as soon as possible. If you ask any junior or even senior Indian employee to talk about their favorite boss, I guarantee that they will quickly say, “He/she was always there for me.”
Do not think you are doing them a favor by “letting them figure it out on their own.” There is a time and place for that. That time is in the future when you are nowhere near their place. If you are nearby and they sense that you are intentionally not getting involved in a Moment of Need, the only thing you are building is resentment.
Respond to urgent sounding emails urgently, even if it is just to touch base. Different cultures do this differently. Get used to picking up the nuances in your team members’ language to know the difference between when they are a little nervous and when they are about to explode. It may sound the same to you until you train yourself.
If you refuse to do these things, you must accept the risk that your team might detach themselves from you, labeling you as a “Deadbeat Dad/Mom who doesn’t come to my important events” and building up resentment against a leader who never does “the hard work”.
Your loyalty is most dependent on how completely you are available in the Moment of Need.
PS – The importance of the Moment of Need goes beyond the office if you haven’t guessed. The best mark of a true friend is the one who will drop everything they are doing and come and help you when you need it.
Image Credit: Prabhu B Doss on Flickr