Thank you, Tiger Boss

Apr 23, 2015, 19:10 IST



Remember Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada? Her dismissive sighs had the same effect as arctic air. Priestly may be a fictional character but we’ve all had Tiger bosses who come close or who make Priestly seem like a woman on happy pills.

The term Tiger Boss is adapted from the more popular Tiger mom, but signifies the same traits – someone who sets the bar very high and does not allow for anyone, or oneself to take it easy, even for a change. We’ve all been under one such boss or many if we were unlucky. But like a first love, a Tiger Boss leaves enduring memories and lessons that one carries throughout one’s work life and beyond. And sometimes, even though they seem nasty and forceful, they also hide redeemable qualities.

Priya Chetty Rajagopal, Executive Director at RGF Executive Search, recalls her experience at one of her early jobs, when the company work culture demanded rules, paperwork and processes. "You always had to check with the boss, and focus on processes and execution -  not a bad thing , mind you , and I learnt this well,’’ says Priya.

Along came a strong new CEO with extremely high expectations, and although brilliant, collaborative and with a tough almost abrasive attitude, he was strong on delegation. "He took some getting used to.  After I had got used to his way of functioning, he told me one thing – `this is your business center, and you are the Products and Locations head and you are in charge completely. Results, people, paperwork – everything is your responsibility. So don’t run to me, or crowd me with details. I am neither interested nor have the time to micro manage. You succeed or fail; it’s all you, so take ownership. I don’t care whom you hire or fire, or what you buy or throw away. Sink or swim, but just get it done. Let me know if you are up to it, as I think you have one of the best products and locations.’’

Once he even insisted she climbed the scaffolding to examine an architectural glitch when the office building was being constructed. Priya climbed it, despite her fear of heights.
"And I have never regretted it since,’’ says Priya. "After the first faltering in running the business, I flew  - as I no longer had to look over my shoulder, constantly ratify decisions and plans, worry about minutiae that  drink up valuable time. I just had to get high visibility and a profitable enterprise going. And I was fantastic at it! And that climbing the scaffolding -- scary though it seemed -- was one of my best learnings. I learnt to be an entrepreneur, trust myself more, take people with me with vision, and be someone who could stretch and roar to get the results I needed. Although he moved into a different role, I never unlearnt who I became thanks to the independence and trust I got from him. The Tiger Boss helped me get up the ladder in more ways than one.’’

Jessie Paul, Managing director of Paul Writer, initially worked in an advertising company where she had an amazing boss who had a fantastic eye for detail and was a passionate lover of English. In short he was a perfectionist. “One of the ads I had approved had a tiny mistake - the ‘Call Now’ number was wrong by a digit and led to an irate home-maker in Mylapore, Chennai who refused to redirect calls. Since then, I double check numbers and have grown into a spelling and grammar Nazi!”.

Later Jessie worked for a brief duration with a boss, who had previously been with McKinsey.  Suddenly the rather exploratory world of IT marketing was exposed to the rigors of decks crammed with data, complicated charts and the 2x2 matrix.  “Nothing we did seemed to meet the expectations of this deck jockey.  I even bought the book “The McKinsey Mind” to understand the reasoning behind his rejection of our work.  The book certainly helped me become a better communicator and the experience with this boss added greatly to my presentation skills,’’ says Jessie.

Saritha Pai (name changed), newspaper journalist, recalls her first Editor as someone who expected her to deliver right from her first assignment. ``I was new to Bangalore, didn’t know the local language or the city and was given an assignment to do a story on a medico-legal case involving a bureaucrat. Knowing no one, I don’t know how I managed to get an interview with him in a hospital at that, when he was under 24 hour security. I think it was beginner’s luck. Then when we had to do a shoot with the bureaucrat, my editor walked into the room and said, ``These photos don’t match the story. Make him cry. ’’ And she walked out. I don’t know how I managed to make a grown man cry, but I did. She was strict, demanding and showed no sympathy whatsoever. There was just one thing to do: do the story. Nothing else mattered. It was a steep learning curve but there were learnings that have stood by me all through my career.’’