Boss used to be a peer - and still is

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 June, 2007, 12:00am

Where I work, my immediate boss is the head of the talent consulting business in Hong Kong. But less than a year ago he was not my boss, he was just my peer. Sure, he is older and more experienced than me, but in the organisational structure we used to be on the same reporting level. So, it comes as no surprise that when he became my boss, it was something that my colleagues and I all took adjusting to.

However, I would say that the adjustment has been less difficult than I had imagined. Most of the time, our relationship is the same as it was before. We are still exchanging ideas, working on reports and proposals together, and presenting together at meetings. We are now even more brutally honest about not only how things could have been done better at work, but also recognising what went well. I would say that our relationship works because of two fundamental factors.

The first is trust. My manager neither sees me as a threat nor competes with me. I know that despite our different points of view, he will be for me and not against me. I am grateful that my current immediate manager is also another individual who is secure and trusts in me, because it gives me the freedom to do my job.

The second factor is that my manager does not wear his 'boss' hat very often. Perhaps it is because, at our firm, we have a culture of not being title obsessed. Most of the time, managers must play different roles; they can range from that of a fellow team member or coach, to someone you eat lunch with, or even a gym buddy.

While being a manager is often seen as being more prestigious or 'higher up', executives should not take the leap into managerial roles purely for the sake of it. Being a manager is probably one of the most difficult roles anyone will encounter in their careers because it requires trying to create optimum conditions for groups of independently minded individuals and not predictable, inanimate objects. Managing people means dealing with their personalities and their past experiences which have shaped their points of views and their emotions.

I have observed that effective managers see their roles as a humbling experience because their effectiveness comes from serving their subordinates well. By serving, I'm not talking about doing their subordinates' jobs for them. A manager must look at the big picture and think about the whole team's results and reputation. When a team does well, it reflects positively on the manager. When they do not do so well, this is also reflected on the manager.

So, to be a successful manager requires thinking about how to raise the capability of team members. This comes from the manager spending time with team members so they can grow. Spending time with others when everyone is so busy trying to keep up with Hong Kong's fast-paced environment takes a 'serving heart' - someone who thinks about what they can do to help a subordinate better contribute to the organisation.

Ji-ye Hwang is a senior consultant with Hewitt Associates, a global HR consulting and outsourcing company. She is Hewitt Hong Kong's lead consultant for employee engagement. Her views are not necessarily endorsed by Hewitt Associates