In the past, multinational companies (MNCs) based in the US or Europe would open up offices in India and send their own management to begin all the operations. When they came, they needed to learn about how to lead Indians.
But today’s world is different. Huge Indian conglomerates like Tata, Reliance, and Aditya Birla are hiring high-level leaders from around the world to work for them. They are buying up foreign companies that will help them expand their reach. Homegrown Indian technical companies like TCS, Infosys, HCL, and Cognizant are quickly becoming the world leaders in their industries.
In today’s world you are nearly just as likely to have an Indian for a boss as you are to have one working for you. Therefore, it is helpful to know how to behave as a team member if your boss is a Parent Leader.
Note 1: Not all Indians are Parent Leaders, and many who work for more western-based companies have quite a different leadership style. Don’t assume someone’s leadership style until you get to know him/her.
Note 2: Parent Leaders can come from any culture (including Europe and North America), but are most common from areas like the Middle East, Asia, and South America. These tips can apply to anyone who has a boss who leads in this style.
Note 3: Most people’s leadership style is a combination of different styles. You may have a boss who sometimes acts like a Parent Leader and sometimes like more of a Team Captain (player/coach). Not all of these tips will apply for every leader.
Ok, enough qualifying.
Advantages of working for a Parent Leader:
- As long as your relationship with him/her stays healthy, a Parent Leader will feel an obligation to take care of you for your entire career, not just while you work for them.
- You will likely get much more personal, holistic attention than you would with a different leader. This means your Parent Leader will take a genuine interest in the good of your family (parents, spouse, children).
- You will know where you stand in the organization/team. It is usually pretty clear who is in the in-group and out-group, and those on the inside have increased attention and job security.
Now for the really good stuff…
10 tips for working with a Parent Leader
Before we look at specific tips, remember the essential transaction in the Parent Leadership relationship: loyalty for guidance. Loyalty will always be the first and last judgment of how good a team member you are. The Parent Leader is looking for someone who can be a part of the family, look after the good of the family, and protect and extend the family legacy. All of these real-life tips will help you build trust with your leader and avoid getting on their bad side.
1.) Keep the big picture in mind. A Parent Leader doesn’t have patience for someone who can’t see the bigger picture of the legacy of the organization. For example, you may be a specialist in a certain field, but your leader asks you to do something for an urgent project that is outside of your expertise. In your mind, you think you are not the best person for the job and your time is better used somewhere else. Your Parent Leader is likely to interpret this as you not being on-board with the good of the organization.
When you work for this kind of a leader, you will be expected to carry this broader view of the organization into all of your work. When asked about any drawbacks to working in a family firm, Roshini Nadar, daughter of Shiv Nadar, chairman of HCL, said “There are no drawbacks, there are responsibilities, you just live with it.”
2.) Don’t doubt his/her intuition. If you are in a meeting and the leader presents an idea she believes is the absolute solution to a problem, be very sensitive to how you frame a disagreement. A terse “That won’t work” is not going to be received well if the leader really believes she has found the solution. If you need to disagree, empathize first. “I know this strategy worked in the past, but there are a few new factors which demand a new response.” Do not let it seem that you are not fully on-board. The Parent Leader typically works from a “Father/Mother knows best” framework. When they are really serious about something, you should not intervene unless absolutely necessary, and only speak from the good of the company/team/family.
3.) Be economical with your ‘no’s. If you do find yourself in a situation where you must say “no” to a Parent Leader, make it worth it, because you only get a few of these before you are seen as a defiant rebel. Simply saying you don’t think something is a good idea is not enough. Tie a “no” to a greater aim of the company and never from your own personal position. “I don’t think we should go into that market because it will dilute our reputation” is a much better argument than “We don’t have the manpower/time to pull something like this off.”
If you have exhausted all of your “no” capital, find a go-between who has more capital than you. This person might be a colleague of the leader or someone who has a closer relationship with the leader than you do. This way, you can afford to give a general agreement in a public meeting and voice your concerns privately and not directly to the Parent Leader.
On this point, be aware that your leader might be hearing you say “no” much more often than you think you say it. I once had a leader tell me he felt like we were at odds often, and that I was unwilling to do what he needed. I had no idea he had this perception of me. I slowly became more aware of the phrases I used (“I’m not sure that is a good idea”), the tone of voice I had (hesitance in speech), and the body language I displayed (being overly assertive or visibly disappointed) that was giving this impression.
4.) Be available. There is a longer upcoming article on this topic, but it might be the best piece of advice you can get, and the one that covers over all other “sins”. For a Parent Leader, the concept of “overtime” does not make sense. If the leader needs you to work on something, you work on it. Otherwise, he trusts you to do what you need to do. You should never refuse a call or not respond to an email, especially if there is a hint of urgency.
5.) Make a personal connection. Drop by your Parent Leader’s office for a bit of small talk now and again. Be sure to talk about your and her family. Find ways to build obligations to each other outside the office: trade books, discuss personal projects the other might be able to help in, invite and attend each other’s personal functions. Ask the leader for advice in a personal situation you have. If the Leader has a particular interest (like Hindu philosophy) or social cause they support (physically challenged children), ask them about it and try to attend some event with them.
6.) Don’t leave the Leader out. A Parent Leader loses sleep over feeling left out of the loop. Give consistent updates on new projects or clients. Invite him to a meeting, even if you know he can’t attend. Cc him on nearly all of your emails. The thing you are trying to avoid is having to bring the leader “up to date” once a problem comes along. This upsets the Parent Leader because he feels responsible to know everything that is happening all the time. Similarly, if you notice the Parent Leader has sent out an email no one has responded to yet, make sure you are not the last one.
7.) Don’t let the Leader be criticized outside of the family. Certain people “earn” the right to complain about the Parent Leader. These are people who have been a part of the team for many years, have a personal relationship with the leader, and feel a mutual obligation to the leader. Everyone else is expected to not speak badly about the leader. Be very defensive of the Leader’s image especially outside of the company.
8.) No overt acts of disloyalty. Do not take calls from recruiters or seek out new job opportunities unless you are actually serious about leaving. To illustrate an unrelated point, I once said, “What would happen if I went and sold this new product to [a competitor]?” Although the Parent Leader knew I was not serious, a sudden quiet coldness set into the room simply because I had mentioned one of the unforgivable sins. Be very careful if you do not intend on staying with a Parent Leader for a long time. They are looking for a long-term relationship and won’t appreciate it if you turn out to be just a one-year stand.
9.) Get along well with brothers/sisters. What could be better for a Parent Leader than to know that his team members enjoy being around each other and work well together? The Parent Leader wears it heavily when he knows there is internal strife on the team. If you appreciate the work a colleague does, don’t simply send a direct email; stand up and say something in the team meetings so that the Parent Leader hears it.
10.) CAUTION: Do not pander to the Parent Leader. If you implement all of these tips in an inauthentic way, you run the risk of either being seen as manipulative or overindulgent. If you are being manipulative, you will be shown the door because you are not trustworthy. If you are overindulgent, you are setting yourself up for problems down the road. If you always say yes for the first few months, and then start to take on more of an assertive tone later, the Leader will assume you have changed for the worst and can no longer be trusted.
Bonus tip! The Parent Leader has a long and sticky memory. What you reveal about yourself early on will likely set the tone for years to come. Start off on the strongest note possible as it may take years to overcome a bad first impression/intuition. It is not advisable to highlight your own weaknesses too often. Some leaders would acknowledge these things as areas of improvement. The Parent Leader might be more likely to see them as permanent shortcomings that stick to you for a long time.
Working for a Parent Leader can be a great experience and can show you a new side to leadership you haven’t seen before. If you apply some of these tips to your situation, you will be much more likely to enjoy the experience!
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Photo credit: mynameisharsha on Flickr