Lemon Tarts – A Story Being Re-Told

This article is not going to share any secrets of success or business models etc. While writing this I recapped my discussions, discussions held in the recent past with a number of my colleagues, juniors, peers and seniors. There were some common points which were discussed by many, one of them was boss management and workplace politics, sounds stereotypical? Yes, it indeed does, however, one cannot do away with it as it is part and parcel of professional life in every part of the world.

It was an interesting experience to learn from these discussions and in spite of all the modern management theories and education and technological advancements, human behaviors still remain not only unpredictable, but an enigma – so to say, which can make or break any situation at any point in time.

I have tried to put together my discussions with different professionals in a lighter way so that we might extract something meaningful out of it to be able to identify underlying causes, to an extent, of a variety of behaviors which we see in the workplace.

As we all know, different people respond to situations differently i.e. according to their backgrounds, understanding of the situations, preferences, priorities and choices etc. I could not help myself except for sharing excerpts of my discussions with a few professionals which generated my interest as follows:

One of the professionals shared that he does not manage his work in the workplace, but he manages his boss. Instead of learning to deliver his work with an increased level of excellence, he prefers to learn responses which he must be making according to the mood swings of his boss. I probed, is it working for you? He replied, to an extent but not fully.

I happened to have a discussion with another professional along similar lines and she told me that her philosophy is that in order to be able to make your boss look good in front of his seniors, if she can put in extra effort, why not as it makes everyones lives easier. If your boss is happy, you are happy. I asked, is it working for you? In a mellow tone she replied; yes to an extent, however, it can work more effectively if my juniors too think on similar lines.. so a lot was pinned on juniors!

And then another one shared that they have a fault finder type boss. He would look for certain things in the work delivered and would ignore the rest of the work no matter how important that could be. I had a quizzical smile on my face and out of curiosity asked, then how do you go about it? I received a very simple and one of the most interesting answers as follows: he replied, I deliver my work with full diligence, however, I make a few mistakes on purpose in those areas of work which usually interest my boss the most. My boss pinpoints my mistakes on the spur of the moment after the work has been presented to him. It satisfies his ego that as a boss he has exercised his authority etc. And it makes my life easier as all those mistakes which are pointed out by my boss are always anticipated ones. After all, I make those mistakes on purpose. After hearing all this I instantly thought, oh gosh! Why is it that bosses always think that they are smarter than their subordinates? As usual I asked, is it working for you? And the answer was yes, to an extent.

The above were a few responses shared with me with regard to boss management. On a daily basis we encounter another major factor – politics and these play a big role in making or breaking someone.

Office politics exist in every work environment. When a group of people work together for 40-50 hours a week there is bound to be some friction and a difference of opinions.

You may believe that an embattled employee is innocently seeking your advice, but he is probably persuading you to take his side; a trickster may try to fool you with show-off enthusiasm, intelligent-sounding technical jargon, or seemingly great ideas; an apple of your eye might have a hidden agenda to grow his career at the cost of others’ professional images; someone may hire more only to feed his ego, or try to expand his authority in the name of cross-functional team activities. A few victims have probably been back-stabbed and demoralized and have already bid farewell to your company – you’re just unaware of the damage done.

An example of a professional who killed two birds with the same stone was shared with me i.e. he not only managed his boss in a very effective way, but played politics in a very successful manner. When his behavior was studied as sort of a “Case Study” by many, some interesting facts were found and the story tells as follows:

Initially, the guy in question was not in the good books of his supervisor and so as a strategic move, he discovered a lethal weapon by the name of LEMON TARTS. Before I move on to tell you the rest of the story, let me share the Wikipedia definition of Lemon Tarts with you:

lemon tart is a dessert dish, a variation of a tart. They have a pastry shell with a lemon flavored filling. Usually recipes include blind-baking before adding the custard. Sometimes the tart is dusted with icing sugar prior to serving.

What this gentleman started to do was offer lemon tarts to his colleagues, they were bought from a very good bakery. He chanted the praises of the taste of lemon tarts. Later, it became a regular practice of the gentleman to offer lemon tarts to all colleagues. Gradually, he paved a path for himself and started to offer lemon tarts to his boss whom he had a sour relationship with.

This is how he broke the ice with his boss and availed the room to play politics. Now, the lemon tarts are a regular discussion between the gentleman and the boss. Every second day, the gentleman would offer lemon tarts to the boss and look for opportunities to get closer to the boss by finding out what interests his boss the most. As Wikipedia suggests, a lemon tarts starts with blind baking. In this case blind baking started with a crust i.e. a relationship with the boss had been formed. As a next step it needed filling and in such a scenario who knows what that filling could be… backstabbing, lobbying, credit theft, gossiping, acting as double agent etc. Then the time came to add icing sugar and here the gentleman played his charm in many ways. His favorite prey whom he competed with, who did not feed his ego, or whose faces he did not like were the worst sufferers, even if they were doing their job and doing it well.

He managed to bowl out a number of colleagues one by one with one with his only lethal weapon – Lemon Tarts. They started to do wonders for him. And the gentleman managed get hold of a very important position at the cost of loss of some very professional people.

In the above scenario, I asked myself if the gentleman was successful. My answer to myself was a YES. Why? He bowled out a number of his targets and made them run for their money which was ultimately his objective. Here I am not talking about whether he was right or wrong, but he eventually succeeded.

The next question which may pop into your mind is why did it happen? Was the use of the lemon tart smart enough to bamboozle his manager or was the manager himself not competent enough to realize what was happening?

I shall get back to my topic and wrap up by saying that if managers have their tactics to manage their teams, the team members too have their tactics to manage bosses which can possibly turn tables into their favor in one way or the other.

Food for thought: What kind of culture do we have in our respective organizations? Do we manage our bosses all the time or manage our work/teams?

After reading this article what are YOU thinking of; how to manage your work more effectively or are you thinking of getting Lemon Tarts for your boss before someone else does? After all, lemon tarts still work!

M. Ali Yaqoob is an HR professional having 12 plus years of work experience in the field of HR/OD.. Presently, He is working with a lubricant manufacturing company in UAE with major assignments at hand to build capacity of sales and production team. His specialized areas are Recruitment & Selection, OD, Training & Development and HR Operations.

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Excellently written article! I loved its title and the way it tells the story of lemon tarts. I could not agree more. we still have many nincompoop bosses around us who let it happen and remain unable to sniff politics due to their incompetence.

Unveiling the bitter realities of a working environment. Some of the parts we usually hesitate to discuss about.Sad but its true. You have encompassed almost every approach. A superb article and a lot to learn from….

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