Article

LS International 26 August 2019

What I Learned from Great (and some not so great) Bosses About People Management by Bilge Ciftci

I decided to take a personal break after 23 years in business (and 2 in academia) to reflect, recharge and reenergize before I embark on a new adventure. Whilst one of my very first realizations was that one shouldn’t wait for 25 years for a break; another very big one was about how much impact some of my bosses had over me – some in profoundly good and some in really bad ways. I realized my energy, sense of belonging and loyalty was very high whilst working with good bosses and I always gave my very best and even strived for more. On the contrary I felt little enthusiasm whilst working for a bad boss; fear and resentment being the prevalent feelings holding me back from sharing ideas, trying new things and doing more than what I was told to do.

 

I think that we owe it to ourselves to strive to be good bosses because we are human beings and nurturing the young is inherently in us. Also, the way we manage people ultimately becomes the organizations’ gain (or loss). I’ll try to capture my learnings here with the hope that it provides a quick&easy guide for the young (and perhaps some not so young) people managers out there.

 

  1. Have the courage to have your people’s back: Very early in my career I dared challenge a rather senior manager (whom I was not reporting into) during a meeting. There was a bit of a personal attack in the debate and I stood polite but firm and presented my case with strong evidence. I thought our discussion happened and ended within the meeting but apparently, they later complained to my boss about me. My boss (rather than being angry with me or just passing me the negative feedback) first asked what happened, heard my side of the story, thought I did the right thing and then stood up for me against this (also their senior) manager. I never forgot this; that they were fair to me, heard me out and then had my back. I was forever indebted and could never fail them after this.

 

  1. Be big enough to let others learn and/or shine: I once worked for someone who would play me back my ideas as theirs. Another time I had to pay for a failing project that I was originally very passionate about. I was ridiculed and humiliated in meetings for a long time. Needless to say, my enthusiasm fell, I inadvertently started holding back ideas and my sense of belonging got irreparably damaged. I had another boss who wouldn’t allow their team members to have conversations with ExCo members without them being present. I felt restrained, disrespected, way below my true potential, in short, miserable working for these individuals.

 

  1. Be a human being, despite your glittery titles and positions: This means both showing your own vulnerabilities when needed and genuinely caring for your people when they need it… simply because we are all human beings and life happens (surprise surprise!) despite our titles. A little human connection in the workplace doesn’t hurt your stature or professionalism. On the contrary, this increases respect and trust. One of my ex bosses was kind and honest enough to explain to his team members why a certain family matter made him take the decision to leave. Still today I think very highly of him for not only putting his priorities right but also being very candid about them. Conversely, I have seen people not even acknowledging the situation as people in their teams were going through major life events such as divorce or loss of family members. Having experienced both instances through such times in my life, I can say without any hesitation that I’ll work for free for some ex-bosses of the first kind if they ever need me.

 

  1. Earn the right to be the boss – through your  leadership not your title: The “do as I say because I am the boss” style was a problem for even many GenXers but in the age of internet billionaires younger than 30 you have to really earn the right to be their boss. Your ability to put a clever order into chaos (I think this is one important trait that distinguishes a leader from a manager or a boss); to show them a/the way and then to enable them, your willingness to teach and also to learn, and your behaviors as discussed above will make it easier to earn their respect and to accept you as their boss.

 

This list is far from being complete but my personal experiences about the above points were the most profound ones. When I first became a people manager and didn’t really have a handbook of how to manage people, I asked myself what were my best and worst experiences of being a subordinate. The above helped me navigate and enjoy managing teams.

 

This article was written as a guest article for LS International by Bilge Ciftci. 

Bilge is an international marketing executive with more than 20 years of experience across consumer goods, technology and telecommunications.  She started her career with Procter&Gamble in 1998. During her 13 years tenure there she gained experience in turning consumer insights into products, strategic brand planning, brand positioning, and brand-centric category & portfolio management. She successfully led multiple business turnarounds across both developing and developed markets and through times of major economic distress or social change.

In 2011 she joined Vodafone. There she gained experience in making technology simpler and more relatable for the consumer and as well creating brand differentiation in highly saturated markets; both in Turkey and the UK.

Bilge proudly acclaims several prestigious industry awards and recognitions: Women to Watch-Marketing Leader 2014; Cannes Grand Prix-Media 2015; and Power 100 UK 2018 recognizing top marketers in the UK for making a difference through effective, innovative and brave work.

Bilge holds an Industrial Engineering degree from Middle East Technical University, Turkey; and a Masters’ Degree in Business from the University of Florida. She currently lives in Istanbul, Turkey.