Down but not out!

Boxing aficionados have over time popularized and brought into the speech of us common folk, the saying ‘down and out’. For the cognoscenti, the reference is to the moment when one boxer lands such a punch on the opponent, that the latter crashes to the canvas and is unable to get to his feet to fight on within the stipulated time, but is counted out by the referee. Knocked out in popular parlance. Bob Muglia can be spoken of in many ways, but for me the tweaked reference from the boxing ring describes him best: Down but not out.

Before reading the rest of what I have written, please first read the article that the link below will lead you to.

Bob Muglia was a senior executive and key employee at Microsoft who at one time was running one of 4 major business units viz Servers and Tools, a $ 15 billion operation that employed around 10,000 people. Earlier, when Steve Ballmer reorganized business units, he was publicly demoted from Executive VP to Sr VP with just 1 person reporting to him. He was offered a role, in his words, of managing a startup group helping to create a new computer storage group. Instead of leaving the company, he called every colleague he had worked with and told them the story and how he was excited to build the new group. Nobody knew how to respond and nobody bought it. 

He did well and was promoted. Ballmer gave him his own group, the afore mentioned Servers and Tools, and made him one of 4 Presidents. Now his colleagues called him and told him they admired him for his attitude and for not tucking his tail between his legs and then leaving quietly.

But he and Ballmer butted heads again and his dismissal was again very public.  Satya Nadella was picked to take over the job he had headed. Because of a non compete clause he could not take a job in software, and landed at Juniper Networks where he stayed for 2 years. He is now CEO of Snowflake.

In his own words ‘That was a learning I had about failure and adversity. We all have situations where we are not successful but its how we handle it.” But here’s his one big takeaway from being a boss: “My goal is to always teach people and help people to grow in their career. That’s the most important thing.”

The full facts are not available yet, but other recent well known examples of CEOs quitting or being sacked, but not having bounced back like this guy are Vishal Sikka and Cyrus Mistry.

Back to Bob Muglia: being publicly humiliated, but not quitting and disappearing into nowhere land with your tail between you legs; staying and bearing the scorn and ridicule of not only your own colleagues but also everyone else; working ‘full steam’ and making a success of the much smaller responsibility. If this is not a display of terrific strength of character, I don’t know what is.

Life plays funny tricks on us, mostly unexpectedly. So I thought that this is something to share and to keep in mind for when something similar may happen to me.

Leadership lessons learnt from very differently abled (funny that both handicapped as well as superbly abled people can be called by the same appellation!) and differently thinking people. A lesson and a prime responsibility for every manager (that’s you and me): teach people and help them grow in their career.

Another lesson for me, and I hope for you as well – Winners don’t quit and quitters don’t win. Which is Robert Schuller quoting Vinice Lombardi ( I remember it from ‘Tough times never last, tough people do’).

Caveat: The views  expressed are solely those of the writer and not those of SIU or SCMHRD or of Director Dr Pratima Sheorey ma’am.

– Dr Philip Coelho

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