Redefining A Superior-Subordinate Relationship

Redefining A Superior-Subordinate Relationship

These were early years for me in my career as a civil servant. We had just taken up our first field postings after completing our training at the Academy. We were listening to various seniors and their tidbits of advice based on how they built their careers. Some of these became quotes of a lifetime.


One tall stalwart of a leader in my early years was Mr Sarnaik. A well-read man, he could talk on any subject and could hold his own against any senior for what he believed was right. This naturally also got him into some trouble now and then. Once, over a cuppa, we were applauding how it inspired us to see a man with a spine in him. He smiled and said he was only airing a view without fear or favour to his bosses, and they then had all the right to overrule him. But his conscience would be clear — this was a virtue I picked up from him and practised all these years, with my share of run-ins.


But the story ends with a question that he asked us that evening. “Do you know who a good superior and a good subordinate is?” he quipped with a smile. And seeing our quizzical faces, he said, “A good subordinate is one who never forgets who the superior is; a good superior is one who never reminds who the subordinate is.” To this day, this remains a powerful line for me.


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