I could not understand the mood of Mr A, my boss. He looked preoccupied and unhappy in the days following his resounding success in the zonal conference. Overcome with curiosity, I finally asked him the reason for his unusual silence.
“Trouble,” he answered in a resigned tone, “I am waiting for it.”
“Why? From where?” I asked.
“I don’t know from where, but why I know. It is that bloody conference,” he said.
“You were praised by all at the conference!” I said. “The CEO, the GM, the visiting expert, even Superboss – all were so appreciative of your project.”
“And therein lies trouble,” he sighed. “What did I do to deserve it? And who started that praise business? Mr X!”
Mr X is boss’ arch rival. Still, I felt he was reading too much into the fact that Mr X had pointed out that the project everyone was talking about was the brainchild of Mr A and was completed in half-time due to his hard work. I said so.
My boss shook his head sadly. “You are such a fool. I feel there is something seriously wrong with the project that I don’t know about. In any case, how can it be my brainchild when Superboss was around?”
Boss actually did not have to do much with the project in question, and it was somewhat a surprise that he got credit. Could it be another diabolical plan of Mr X, I asked.
“Listen child,” he began slowly, “this goes beyond getting credit for this project. You must understand it is fundamentally harmful to attract praise. Avoid it.” And seeing a totally blank expression on my face continued thus:
Mr A: What does praise bring? More work and jealousy. And when praise creates jealousy in the heart of your boss, you are gone, done for.
Me: But with good work it is inevitable. And bosses do like good work, don’t they?
Mr A: Yes, but only they want to know of it. Bosses praise you privately, and that is all right. But in a conference…(he choked)
Me: Recognition and rewards are what we work for. At least I do.
Mr A: Then you won’t work for long, my boy. I work for power and survival. Not praise.
Me: So you feel you will be targeted now?
Mr A: Higher expectations, more work, an irritated boss – inevitably leading to below par results, and an uphill climb back to safety. And if you are saddled with a doomed project, you get buried.
Me: (I could get the hang of the thing, and it got me worried too) So now what?
Mr A: I have been thinking over it. One option is to go out of sight for some time. But X will not let that happen. Somehow anonymity is to be restored.
Me: You bask in anonymity (I said that for no other reason than that I liked the paradox).
Mr A: (Approvingly) David, you are a quick learner.
And with these mysterious words, and a knowing look, he ended the conversation that day.
It was not long thereafter that in one of our review meetings, Mr A got a royal dressing-down from Superboss. It was over wrong financial projections, leading to less than required sanctions for the next quarter. Mr A hung his head in shame throughout the harangue, and Mr X gloated. I felt sad for Mr A as it was announced that Mr X was now to head the prestigious expansion project now, instead of my boss.
But hats off to the man, who takes all the reverses in his stride. Later, in his office, he gave me a brave smile, shrugged his head, and went straight to his computer to forget his woes with a game of solitaire. He even ordered tea for both of us.