Are you mimicking your boss

If you are a parent this will resonate with you – yesterday it was just, you and your spouse. The next day, the baby arrives and boom! Everything changed. Despite being prepared and reading up on parenting, nothing prepared you for the visceral onslaught of feelings that hit you when you saw your baby for the first time.

It is somewhat the same when people evolve from being an individual contributor to the role of a manager, having to handle team members for the first time. Prospective promoters do have an inkling of their upward movement in the career. They also probably know that they will have a team to work with. But it is only when the promotion letter has been handed out and it is the first day with the team, that reality sinks in.

The confusion on how and where to begin, how to show up, what traits to display, how to keep the flock together, what works and what does not – all of these can make for a very terrifying transition. Handling teams and understanding every member, their diverse views, different strengths and the overall dynamics is not easy. Inadvertently, people then dip into their memories to reflect on how their boss managed them and the team. They try to separate the wheat from the chaff and zero on to the key characteristics that they had observed in their leader.

Are you mimicking your manager/boss?

In the professional world, it is not uncommon for employees to consciously or subconsciously absorb the traits of their bosses. I once coached a client who was obsessed with punctuality. When I curiously questioned about it, she confessed she had a boss who was always particular about the time-in, time-out. Over a period of time, it became a habit to work as per the clock. While she detested this habit, she had not realised that she had silently let it seep into her own behavior patterns. And it showed up when she became a people manager. Simply put, she was mimicking her previous boss.

Leaders/Bosses play a key role in shaping not just the future of teams under them but in also displaying appropriate/inappropriate traits that define a leader. Employees may subconsciously imbibe the traits of their immediate manager. After all, they are all the time watching the behavior of their manager.

The kind of relationship an employee has with the management plays a pivotal role in determining his/her job satisfaction and overall mental well-being. Interestingly, spatial distance too plays a role. In its research paper ‘Fairness Enactment as Response to Higher Level Unfairness: The Roles of Self-Construal and Spatial Distance’ author Gijs van Houwelingen of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), showed that middle managers who kept their distance from misbehaving bosses, were actually able to prevent unethical behavior from dripping down through the organisation, thereby breaking the top-down chain of unethical guidance. The closer an employee was to his/her boss, the higher was the degree to which the employee subconsciously mirrored the behavior of the boss. This was more prominent when it came to displaying traits of a not so effective leader, such as – micromanagement, time checking, inability to accept diverse views, impatience and lack of empathy and/or compassion.

Shaping the behavior of the team

As a newly promoted manager, the employee has a critical role to play in shaping the behavior of his/her team member(s). Superiors are often viewed as role models. Good bosses can drive good performance. Just as bad behavior can be mimicked, good behavior too can be imbibed by employees. Bosses owe it to their teams to help them develop the skills required to be an effective future leader.

The next time you speak with your team, pause and reflect on how you show up.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Sarita Bahl is an alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Swedish Institute of Management Program. An experienced and versatile leader, she comes with nearly four decades of professional experience. She has over the years successfully overseen the communications and public affairs function and led the corporate social responsibility strategy for Bayer South Asia, Pfizer, and Monsanto, among others. Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, the public sector, trade associations, MNCs, and the not-for-profit sector. Her areas of interest include advocacy, stakeholder engagement, sustainability, and communications.

As an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) from the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and Senior Practitioner (Mentoring) from the European Council of Mentoring and Coaching (EMCC), Sarita specializes in career transition, inner engineering and life issues. Sarita enjoys writing and is passionate about animals, books, and movies.

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