Calling all leaders: People matter

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At the turn of the millennium, I was a young adult, just finished education and starting my very first job at a software company. I was excited, enthusiastic, and felt well-prepared for a life of “Office 9 to 5” and was looking forward to earning my keep. But I was naïve when it came to understanding how people work together in an organization. Here was no distinguished professor to teach lessons, no defined curriculum to structure lessons around, and no predictability about what those lessons might even be. There were unwritten rules, underlying currents, politics, and stratagems aplenty. In an office surrounded by thousands of colleagues, I was still on my own.

Twenty or so years later, I am happy to say that I have kept most of my energy and enthusiasm, while also learning a thing or two about how corporate culture works. I have learned many lessons: Communication is important. Context is key. Expertise earns respect. Boldness, curiosity, and experimentation can be admirable yet intimidating. But my biggest lessons have been that everyone works differently and people’s feelings matter. Nothing highlights this better than the contrast between two different companies I went on to work with. Both were small companies with less than 30 employees. Both were family-owned and run. Both were in the same geographic area and both benefited from the same economic advantages.

Company A treated its employees poorly. We were ordered to follow instructions and discouraged from challenging anything. “Write this document” meant the document had to be written, regardless of whether it was necessary or not, whether anyone would read it or not, or whether there was a better way to do something or not. Senior managers were never present to hear from us: they declined meeting requests, gave brief answers to text messages, and often went off on a tangent when asked for clarification about any topic. We were expected to work far beyond the hours we were paid for, and to be at our desk at 08:30 and still be there until 18:30. There were other things: micromanagement was off the scale, all communication had to take place by email to “maintain records” because there was a culture of finger pointing and blame shifting, customer complaints were ignored, timesheets had to be documented to the minute, and getting appreciated for good work was like drawing blood from stone.

I lasted six months before I got out.

Company B was an employee haven. We were treated with respect. Our views were sought, heard, and frequently followed. We were encouraged to have interests outside of our work area of expertise, to explore, and to self-develop. Senior managers were always available to listen to our problems and help us find our own solutions. We had regular team events, Friday evening drinks, and even a small bonus at Christmas. Company meetings always highlighted team achievements and celebrated our successes. Managers were flexible with work timings, and we willingly volunteered to cover for each other should someone need to leave office during work hours.

I stayed two years and would probably never have left had I not moved to another country.

The first company’s leadership made my colleagues and me feel frustrated, mistrustful, and self-serving. The result was that there was never a spirit of team or community.

The second company’s leadership made us feel valued and respected. The result was that we worked as a team and did our best to meet our customers’ expectations, to delight them and grow the company’s business.

Company A has now gone bust. Company B has grown into a multi-subsidiary group with headquarters in a major European capital city and branches in other locations.

It is people who make the organization. Even history has many examples, from dictators to presidents, some of the unlikeliest folk to have become leaders. Yet, they did.

I believe people follow people, not intangible “ideals.”


About the author

Devyani Borade

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Devyani Borade has several years' experience in QA/Testing, and is currently Integration Test Manager with a global mobile telecommunication services provider. She is also a professional freelance writer and can be contacted via her website Verbolatry

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