Carry your benefits with grace
Courtesy and grace are not only seen in what is said and written, but also in the way the manager behaves, exercises his position and resists the temptation to display his advantages, especially in the company of those who weren’t so lucky to get such privileges.
Executive perquisites are one of the main attractions of executive life. Most of the time, it’s the perquisites that managers work so hard to qualify for, rather than the direct salary package.
In old, well-established British societies, it was mainly perquisites that distinguished the leader from the hoi poloi; and among the managers, it was the covenant ranks who were the anointed ones.
They were the ones who had the furnished accommodation, the car with driver, the representation allowance, the use of the seaside villa…. While other managers watched with envy and waited their turn to become eligible!
It’s natural. People from all walks of life continue to work to improve their lot and improve their standard of living. Many of them want to have what their parents never had and could not afford.
Managers in government and industry are no different. However, it takes a special type of manager to carry these benefits lightly on their shoulders and enjoy them naturally. Intentional, or sometimes unintentional, bragging can only project the individual as obnoxious and create problems in interpersonal relationships.
My friend Shyam phoned me after a very long time. I hadn’t spoken to him for maybe six months. He called to say his dad died a month ago when I was out of town, and maybe I didn’t know. I do not have. I offered him my condolences and told him that I had very fond memories of his father, whom I had met many times over the years.
Then Shyam, who was the managing director (CEO) of a major transnational corporation, launched into a twenty-minute monologue about how his father was admitted to the expensive Jaslok hospital for three months, how he was fired twice , but had to be readmitted; how he had secured the best treatment by the best physicians; and how he had obtained some of the prescribed drugs by air from the UK; and how he had private nurses to look after his father day and night.
In this detailed narration, which also included indicative costs, the sadness of losing his father somehow seemed to have been forgotten. Shyam had been so engrossed in broadcasting the CEO’s medical benefits—for himself and his family—that he had forgotten the essence of the occasion.
I had known Raj for many years, in India. He was now in a senior executive position at a large e-commerce company in the United Arab Emirates and was obviously well paid. We were meeting for a drink in Dubai. After the second drink, I hinted at leaving for my next appointment.
Raj however, would not let me go. He was so expansive and insistent. “Have one for the road, just a small one. After all, this is all “about the house”. It comes with my generous entertainment allowance.
At this remark, the third glass lost all its taste for me. It seemed that Raj’s hospitality and warmth towards me was based solely on the company paying the bill. If he had to pay for it himself, he might not have been so hospitable – or so it seemed.
Again, Raj, like Shyam, wore his advantages on his sleeve.
Ravi had prematurely retired from the army as a brigadier and joined a large, diverse organization in Delhi. He started as Deputy General Manager of one of its divisions, and over a period of 15 years had risen to the position of General Manager (CEO) of the company.
The brigadier had not changed his “military discipline” management style, even after 15 years in the industry. But when he became MD and therefore number 1 in the company, he gave full play to his prerogative as MD.
He installed a telephone system in his office where he could phone any of his senior staff, but none of them could phone him. It was a one-way communication between the DM and his subordinates.
This ultimately ruined the business. Ravi had overemphasized what he considered a necessary advantage for the DM!
The chairman of a company in Bangalore took the benefits even further. When we were in the middle of a discussion, he said he would clarify a point immediately. That he could check with the vice president of manufacturing.
As his call was connected, the VP appeared on the TV screen. However, the Vice President could not see the President and was therefore at a disadvantage.
It was as if George Orwell’s Big Brother was watching over the corporate sector – it seemed to hint at times to come.
I spoke to the president about it. He ridiculed this comment and added that it was the president’s prerogative and advantage.
George Koch Jr. in his book, Executive Successrightly asks managers to time themselves on excessive use of status symbols, and answer the following questions.
Am I blatantly guilty of branding myself as a status symbol user?
Am I relying on my use of status symbols as a crutch to boost my confidence?
Am I unwittingly adopting someone else’s status symbols in an effort to imitate or enhance them?
Asking these questions at regular intervals can help prevent many of us from going overboard with the benefits of the role and position!