Anita, an executive in the accounts department in an engineering equipment company was chatting with her colleague about her boss. The two of them were settling down for their lunch in the cafeteria. Anita said
” I worked hard for two days to finish the accounts for the month and I submitted the monthly financial reports to the boss in time. I was expecting an appreciation from him. He did say ‘great, thank you’ on receiving the report but asked me to hang on for a while.
“He scanned the reports flipping the pages back and forth. He then asked me ‘Are you sure of the closing inventories levels?” I said yes, I double checked my spreadsheet entries. He then wrote down opening inventories levels, used sales figures and an assumed contribution margin ratio based on the sales mix, and known big ticket purchase figures and arrived at estimated inventory levels. The discrepancy was large. I stood firm knowing that I had ‘double checked’ the figures. He asked me to go over the report again and revert.
” I was upset. How could he just trash my two days of work in just two minutes? But later I went over the spreadsheets once again. After a lot efforts (You know, spreadsheets with lots of formulas can be very difficult to diagnose) I found some errors in the formulas. I corrected them and found that the spreadsheets now threw up inventory figures close to what the boss had estimated”
“What did you do then?” asked Anita’s colleague.
“I went back to him and told him about the error. He said “Good. Now please tell my why there were no errors in the last month’s reports? ” I hadn’t thought about this because I was too excited. So I said “I wish to learn to spot errors like you. You needed just two minutes to detect errors in my work that needed two days to finish”
“He said, “Anita, for me the reports are not just some abstract numbers in the cells of a table. The sales, the inventories, the debtors, and payments to suppliers and the collections are all too real for me because I know the amount efforts all these take to achieve. So every piece new information gets accumulated I get a feel of what is going on and what numbers to expect. It needs a lot of interest in the business. It needs constant thinking, estimation and verification.” I was stunned. I said “No wonder, all of us are on our toes when you are around”. He said “Thanks, but please don’t forget to find out why there was no error in last month’s reports.
Anita’s colleague said,” Oh! I have to submit a report on customer complaints to him by end of this week. I better be careful and make sure that my report has no holes!”
Anita is fortunate to have a boss like her boss because she wants to learn. If she makes her numbers real for herself she will do a lot better and progress well in her career. She has to take charge of her learning. No one else can teach her more. Her boss is an example of a good leader who understands reality and who makes his people think better about their work.
Like many other skills, leadership skills are best learned through practice and trying out. Here are our learning programs on leadership. A program book http://www.learning-leadership.com/blog/lead-to-regenerate/ and web based programs http://www.learning-leadership.com/