The case of the "Bonsai Manager"

The case of the bonsai manager – sometime later in 2007 I got a chance to read this wonderful book by R. Gopalakrishnan. In this interesting book, Gopalakrishnan derives inspiration from nature to motivate managerial thoughts and growth stories.

I have never been a ‘manager’ myself – except from being a lead on some projects and choreographing some dances – enjoying most of both the challenges. An interesting note for me is a strong correlation between dance troupes and product development teams; or any team for that matter.

There always is a delicate balance between discipline, passion and co-operation. An inspiring choreographer/manager can identify personality-role mappings; resolve conflicts; respects group and individual priorities and discourages negative energies. McKinsey Quarterly (4, 2007) discusses radical change in organisations and mentions the need to remove negative energies. Negative energies often creep into leadership personalities creating a gang of cynics. This is the birth of the bonsai manager – the growth has just been stunted!

The big Q is to know how to NOT be a bonsai and continue with one’s natural growth. The first step to dance the natural way is to feel the music and the rhythm – to be honest and receptive. You need a filter to separate the noise that may have corrupted the fine tracks of the music – to listen to the honest critics and ignore/accept others.

McKinsey’s review on radical change emphasizes the need for an orchestrated story. If the dancer in the last row on stage goofs up, the show ends up in a mess. Every member is important – and he/she will only feel important if the leader shares the story and emphasizes how their presence is making a difference. Managers often forget this in the rush to fulfill their personal committments to their bosses. The story has to trickle down and percolate amongst the group.

I started my career with an outstanding R&D institution where I was away from the brutalities/excitement of product development. I was enjoying another part of the grilling and mind boggling world of ideation and proof-of-concept development. I also have spent a bit of life on the excitement of software engineering. A very inspiring person once explained me the life-cycle of a product starting from an idea to the market place. The challenge of bringing a concept out of the lab, transferring technology into usable products, and witnessing this journey is an amazing experience.

There is nothing that excites me more than the awareness and identification with a good story – a music that makes me tap down the street. On the flip side, there is nothing more than an aimless journey that can unsettle me. The bottomline truth is – there is either a true story or a good story. What you believe in is what you make of yourself.

May the world have less bonsai managers!

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