The year has only begun, Happy 18 days into 2014 everyone, and I came across an article about career switching or jumping...perhaps its for those who resolved to make brave moves in the new year. Reasons cited were ‘helicopter’ management/ micro managing, unappreciated effort/ unfair appraisals, lack of management integrity, lopsided task distribution, lack of extrinsic motivation that eats away at intrinsic motivation; the list went on and on. The bottom line, whether the employee stays or leaves is, more often than not, in the hands of the boss. Hmmm. Question. What happens when you work for multiple bosses under one umbrella?
In Malaysian schools, a teacher with a basic portfolio (member of subject panel, class teacher, extra-curricular club/sports/society advisor) has at least 6 bosses; the Head of Panel, the Head of Department, Senior Vice Principal (Academics), Vice Principal 2 ( Student Affairs), Vice Principal 3 ( Extra Curricular Activities) and last but not least, the Principal. Oh yes, sorry, it should be 7 bosses. The Chief Clerk of the school: for all the clerical work that the teacher will have to do.
Looking at the above, the onlookers would say, oh stop whining. That’s natural order in every organization. Sorry, its not. Walk into any corporate office and get HR to give you a run down. Ideally, a teacher with a basic portfolio is only answerable to the HOP, the Principal and the Public Services Department (PSD), if you are in the Government schools. Ideally, a job description is focused. Whether the individual will surpass the expected targeted results, or not, will depend on the said individuals personal vision and mission statement. Ideally. Reality of the Malaysian school system = The teacher is answerable to, and at the mercy of, all 7 bosses.
Imagine you have 7 to-do lists, which will be merged into a MEGA list, because all 7 bosses have their own agendas; every one of them wanting to be top dog at their level. Cluster Schools, High Performance Schools, New Deal, Excellent Audit Practice, Annual Excellent Service Awards – some of the many carrots being dangled to ‘improve’ the performance of the education sector in Malaysia. Echkart Tolle in his book, A New Earth, emphasizes on being in the moment if you want to see plans realized, productive output or meaningful change. 7 bosses would require serious multitasking. Multitasking = Loss of focus = Diminished productivity. Hmmm.
Multiple agendas would lead to multiple meetings; many of which would be redundantly time consuming, but deemed a necessity for the all so important documentation process – proof that they, the Bosses, have done their part. You end up being saddled with things to do that would fulfill the needs of the Boss of that moment. Sometimes, your Bosses will decide to share a slot, so you will get multiple streams of instructions, which almost always overlap, yet be made to feel exclusive to each Boss.
Your brain’s all saturated, your bladder is screaming for relief, you trek into the staffroom, in a zombie like state, only to find another calling letter for another meeting later the same day, or the next day. Next to that letter, staring you in the face, are stacks of work to be graded. You shake your head and pencil in the meeting into you already overly scribbled planner. The need to pee has miraculously disappeared. You look at your multiple lists, and you sit down to re-priorities, based on the newly acquired list of instructions. You make the decision to do B first, then proceed to A and then D; your list is planned based on your premise of logic. You let out a sigh of relief and then all of a sudden, your bladder kicks up a storm.
OK, now that your bladder’s happy, work your plan, the onlookers say.
Easier said than done. Bosses are made up of 3 types/categories; the totalitarians/micro managers/Little Napoleons, the autonomous ones and the laissez-faire kinds. Despite being aware of who is top dog at any given time, your Bosses will make sure that you understand that they are your first priority. You have to get their work done even though they rank may rank 3rd or 4th in the hierarchy. Depending on the type of boss you are dealing with, if you decide to reason with them, based on your up-to-date reorganized, reprioritized to - do list, two things can happen. One, they will accept your logic; reschedule time of delivery or implementation. Two, they will make you cringe holistically and wonder why you didn’t just forgo your much needed sleep to complete their work. Worst case scenario, your boss is the kind to threaten in private and shame in public. In the blink of an eye, you are made to look incompetent. If you step on the wrong toes by pointing out that Boss X’s needs are more important, you will feel the backlash of so- called insubordination towards Boss Y; if not at that moment, it will come back to haunt you when you least expect it.
You are stretched to the max in 7 different directions. Each putting you in the Catch-22. Damn if you do, damn if you don’t! You think, OMG, why me?
Interestingly enough, it’s also happening to your Bosses, who, incidentally, are teachers themselves. Yup, your bosses have bosses, who in turn, have bosses, who could be from any one of the categories above.
It’s an ugly, vicious cycle. At the end of the cycle, vicious begets vicious.
So why do you stay?, asks the onlooker.
Client satisfaction. I may have many bosses but I only have one client. My students. They are the reason I signed on. Nothing like good old fashion client satisfaction to get me all bright eyed and bushy tailed.
So how do I deal with my 7 bosses? I still have my to-do lists, which get re-organised and re-prioritized at least twice a day. I am blessed with an amazing support system called people who understand teaching's my vocation, not a job and the challenges that go with it~ my family, my friends and my inner circle of colleagues. I initiate, I implement, I deliver, as instructed. I have developed thicker skin, so that I am not easily intimidated by my Bosses. I understand that I may be overlooked during annual appraisals due to my ‘insubordination’ to a certain Napoleon in the hierarchy. I may flinch when singled out, but I use it in self-reflection, to remind myself why I joined in the first place and move on to the next item on the agenda. However, all that time, in the back of my mind, I am planning how my next session with my Clients is going to be. That gets me perky and smiling again. That’s my coping mechanism – that is why I remain, for now.
Many teachers, amazing individuals, who motivated me along the way, have made the career switch/ jump. Now I wonder if its because they got fed up of asking, or being asked, ‘Who’s the boss?’