Need a makeover from a pathetic to a kick-ass leader? Top 11 hacks from my career journey

Need a makeover from a pathetic to a kick-ass leader? Top 11 hacks from my career journey

It is not uncommon to hear stories of rock-star employees  getting promoted to becoming bad managers.  Mine is a case of the opposite – a bad engineer becoming  a good manager !

In this series, professionals predict the ideas and trends that will shape 2016. Read the posts here, then write your own (use #BigIdeas2016 in your piece).

In this post i will not get into all the gory details of why i was a bad engineer or how-the-hell i became a manager. Instead, what i want to do here is much more useful – Share some of my valuable learning’s from my experiences over the last 10+ years of leadership – in both corporate world and as an entrepreneur – managing some really smart and capable men and women across the world – US, Europe, Asia, Latin America & India .

Today as we stand in 2016 – the resource that is in most shortage is #talent. Add to it the pressure to have #lean teams – defined as small teams that can accomplish big results. We are basically talking about super high performing employees – led by a super inspiring (role-model) leader.

So in 2016 how do you transform into this role-model leader who can inspire and drive your team to success that exceeds all expectations ? ( #BigIdeas2016 )

First things first – It is a misconception that only 1st time managers falter. In reality we falter as 1st time mangers and after that it becomes a behavior and remains with us. 9/10 managers i know struggle with people management. Even when they have reached very senior roles. Many of us are not aware that we are bad people leaders. I have learn’t my lessons and some of it the hard way.

I am sure many of you relate to many of these below and might have a lot more to add ?

The best part – These are  universal rules. These apply to leaders – irrespective of the region or country or industry or seniority – irrespective if you are a 1st time manager or experienced – if you are managing a small 3 member team or the CEO of a 100,000 people company – these apply to everybody.

(And for the purpose of this post i am using manager, boss and leader interchangeably. We will save the manager vs. leader discussion for another rainy day ! )

So here we go…

11 things you can do to become an inspiring role model leader (or manager/ boss)


1. Don’t steal credit

Something i learn’t very early in my career – If your team does a great job – it directly reflects on your leadership. You don’t have to steal their credit in order to prove your worth. It is very tough to not become greedy and wanting to keep all the limelight to oneself – but remember the king maker’s job is different than that of the king.

There is a high chance that you have people more smarter and more capable than yourself on your team – stop feeling insecure – instead see if you can learn new things from them. see if you can “utilize” them to accomplish bigger challenges as a team. You stealing their credit or discrediting them will never stop them from reaching the higher position they deserve anyways. Instead give them a ladder to grow.


2. Give ownership (Btw – it means freedom to fail)

Ownership is a double edged sword. When you give ownership to someone – you give the freedom to fail. Most managers do not understand this, and as a result give “conditional” ownership –

“you can run with this as long as you can win the race !! ”

This attitude does not really work. And this does not qualify for giving ownership !

Ownership is freedom to do things your own way. And freedom to succeed or fail. If you fail – learn from those mistakes in order to succeed the next time. It is an iterative process like learning to walk or cycle or swim. As a manager you need to sit back and watch. Restrain from interfering unless it is really needed to intervene. Know the difference ? No ? go google …

Learning from one’s own mistakes is very powerful, more effective and retains for a very long term – remember walking/cycling/swimming – we failed many times until one day we learn’t the trick, and after that we never forgot how to do it right.


3. Teach to fish

Always focus on teaching people to do things versus doing it on behalf of them. Easier said than done when there is always pressure for quick results on the delivery side ? correct.

I used to struggle with this the most as an entrepreneur when you need super quick business results, have a lean team and have no patience for teaching or waiting. And it is very common to think that you are the most superior human on this planet and you can do everything better than the people around you. Don’t fall for this mental illusion.

Think of it like this – one of the success mantras of a successful venture is scaling.  You can forget scaling if you are the one-and-only person in the team who can do that mission critical task. It is a must-have to be able to delegate and train others to do your job. Otherwise, you cannot move on to bigger and better challenges. You are kind-of stuck !!


4. Give honest feedback

Most managers shy away from giving a honest feedback, especially when things are not working well. there is a wrong assumption that giving a negative feedback will spoil relationships.

Firstly, feedback should “always” consist of 2 parts – 1. what is working & 2. what needs to be made to work.

Secondly, when talking about things-not-working focus on the task and not on the person. never say “you screwed up the project”. instead say “the project did not go well because of these 3 reasons”. And if things are not working well – do not wait for the cliche “performance appraisal” meeting. It is too late. Performance appraisal should be a summary and not involve any “surprises”, and never the bad kinds. Telling the employee “You did a bad job for the whole of 2015” means you are a bad manager in the 1st place because you waited for 1 whole year !


5. Bad performers are not really bad

There are no “bad” or “useless” people. Each individual on this planet is good at something or the other. Keep that in mind. If someone is not performing well in their job – there could be 2 reasons – 1. Not motivated OR 2. In the wrong job.

Explore if it is case 1 – and see if you can fix it. Most times the reason for lack of motivation is not money – It is because you are not excited about the outcome of a job well done. Show the carrot and it need not be money always.

Many people are stuck in the wrong jobs for different reasons. Talk to them and see if you can help free them. As a manager you will do a big favor if you can have a candid chat about being stuck in the wrong job.

I always believe in this –

“You need to love what you do – if not – find something new that you will love to do”


As a boss it is not your failure if your employee decides to choose a different job. In-fact it is better to not have a demotivated & dis-grunted employee. Most times a bad job is worse than not doing the job.


6. Never criticize in public

Never (ever) criticize someone in public. You are a very bad boss if you shout at your people in public. I would give you a 0/10 rating !!

Remember the golden rule


Think for a moment how you would feel if someone criticized you in public – in front of your colleagues. You would feel horrible, embarrassed, and resent that person. Does not serve the purpose. If you are not happy with something – please do express it. absolutely. but please get a room !! 🙂


7. Keep personal relations outside

As a manager – each one of your team members are supposed to be equal to you. irrespective of the ethnicity, gender, language, skin-color, food choice, hobbies, pet movie star, political inclination, pet dog name, or any other common interest.

Do not do anything that will even give the slightest doubt that you will not give credit to job performance above everything else. If you have personal relationships – leave it locked outside the office space.

8. Don’t make stupid promises

It is easy to get tempted to make false promises to get sh*t done. Bad idea because the long term repercussions will dent your credibility very badly.

for example –

“If you work late hours on this project – I shall promote you.”

Firstly, it is politically incorrect. Secondly – no company has a policy where you can promote your team member without approval from a few others  (i.e It is not 100% in your control). Thirdly, such policies are in place precisely to avoid such mistakes.

Also it is a question of integrity and credibility. You cannot expect your team to keep up their promise if you cannot keep up yours.

Many a times the intention behind such promises might be good, but circumstances or behind-the-screen challenges might not allow you to deliver on your promise. But all of that does not matter to the audience sitting in front of you. You still lose credibility.

Therefore remember – if you make a promise you better be in a solid position to keep it, else don’t make that promise.


9. Practice what you preach

Be a role model. It is like parenting – if you have kids – you will relate to this. Remember how your kid copies you – how he/she picks up the foul language or bad behavior from you WITHOUT you teaching him/her ? 😉 In-fact, we get surprised how they learn things that they are not supposed to in-spite of us telling them that it is bad 🙂

Same applies here. Don’t preach “good behavior” while you do the opposite !! The trick is – don’t preach – just practice and your kids will learn to be “as-good-as you”.

10. Don’t be mean

Be nice – We are all human beings and struggle with inter-personal challenges – at work and at home. give a patient hearing. be objective (versus subjective). Look at the context of things before reacting. Look at the root causes and help resolve them. I can go on and on here – but you know what being a good human being is all about.

But more important – Don’t be mean – I have seen many nice bosses, but also a few mean bosses. People always go an extra mile for the nice boss, and you would do the opposite for the mean boss. This is universal truth. More importantly what goes out – comes back and bites you in the ass. If you are mean to people – it is plain stupidity to expect them to be nice to you. You get it !

11. Stay away from office gossip

Having said everything – the last but the most important rule – do not encourage office politics or snitching behind someone’s back. Stay away from group-ism, inappropriate jokes and gossiping at all costs.

Do not get confused – being a good boss does not mean budding with your team by indulging in office gossip.  Don’t muddle yourself into office politics. You need to be seen as someone who means serious business and does the right things. Indulging in office politics is guaranteed to take you many steps backward.

Doing the 10 things above is a much much better way to earn and keep the respect of your team.

That’s it for now ! Well this is not everything and i am sure there are more effective ones out there that i missed out. Looking forward to hear from you …


In a nut-shell – At at time when talent shortage is common and lean teams are a norm – You need to be a super inspiring, rock solid leader for your high performing employees in order to be able to deliver stellar results !!

If you are not one already – it is very much possible to become one – by giving attention to the 11 golden rules above. I can vouch for it from my very own experience.

Now over to you – Looking forward to hear from you about your experiences…

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Anupam Bonanthaya is a Technologist with passion for Marketing, People & Entrepreneurship.

He is an expert in #growthhacking and #talenthacking

He is an advisory for HireWand  (An early stage startup building artificial intelligence based Recruitment Software that  quickens candidate shortlisting & savings in sourcing costs by building-searching-growing a smart talent pool)

You can connect with Anupam via LinkedIn


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