My Nepali friends working overseas, who are contemplating to return home, often ask me: "What does it take to make it professionally as a top manager in Nepal?"
I wish I knew the answer. Luck, as in being the right person at the right time doing the right thing, certainly plays a bigger part in Nepal than elsewhere else. So does persistence. But based on my observations, I advise these friends on the opposite: what it takes to limit and unravel one's supposed managerial success in Nepal.
Not developing a thick skin: Criticising others as a habit comes easily to most people. Indeed, once you start working in Nepal, it seems that this is a country full of experts, who are ready to tell the world how it should be run. And these experts always know your job and what you should be doing better than you do. As such, when you do not do what they want or if you do things differently, they pour criticisms, which can be, for the most part, baseless and viciously personal.
Managers who feel compelled to react to every criticism and provide answers to every critic end up wasting much emotional energy over trivial matters. It's much more prudent to take the high road: smile, thank the critics, and focus on carrying on with one's work.
Not confronting bullies and office politicians: In any organisation, there are the bullies and there are the politicians. Bullies are often easier to identify. They walk with a certain swagger. They believe that the organisation owes them a living. They are long-timers with an ingrained sense of entitlement. Take away their entitlement, and they lead the gang against you.
Office politicians are like hyenas: they thrive on conversational openings that help them drive wedges between groups and people. They drop hints, fill people's ears and take quiet delight in watching the debilitating effects of their gossip on colleagues' working relationships.
Managers who believe that they should not sully themselves by dealing head-on with bullies and politicians are rarely effective. My experience is that behind all their cunning and bluster, bullies and politicians often lose power when there's an open, candid and results-driven work environment.
Contracting a 'big-fish-in-a-small-pond disease': Once people think that you have reached the top of your profession here, interesting things can happen. Journalists call to interview you. Glossy magazines splash your (and your wife's) photographs all over. You are invited to various evening receptions. You fly to conferences in exotic locations to present 'authentic voices from Nepal'. You start referring to political bigwigs by their first names, and they return the favours. Everyone sees you as an expert, and you like even more they call you a baristha expert.
The trouble is, all this can easily go to your head. As such, it's only a matter of time before you start taking yourself too seriously. You start thinking that you really know everything. You then stop learning new things. You love to re-read your press clippings, and bask in your own self-reflected glory. And when you become drunk on arrogance, downfall will not be that far.
Successful managers are good at combining happiness with humility. Happiness- because the competition in Nepal is not that brutal. Humility- because no matter how much one knows, it's always small compared to what one does not know. This state of perpetual ignorance calls for a continuously learning mindset: talking to experts, taking courses, reflecting on mistakes, asking questions, admitting that you don't know everything, and always learning with a sense of an adventure.
Else, the big-fish-in-a-small-pond syndrome can inflict severe career damages.