"Devoting relentless attention to doing one good thing after another – however small – is the only path I know to becoming and remaining a good boss."
In Good Boss, Bad Boss, Dr. Robert Sutton expands upon his research from The No Asshole Rule to outline the biggest differences between good and bad bosses, providing a list of beliefs and behaviors, as well as self-evaluation tools, tips and tricks guides, to help each of us to become better bosses and to avoid asshole bosses. Sutton’s use of examples and stories bring to life the types of bosses we’ve all encountered and provide clear differentiators for the most successful leaders.
The Big Idea
The Best Bosses Embrace Five Beliefs
"If you are a boss, the beliefs and assumptions you hold about yourself, your work, and your people shape what you do every day and how you (and others) judge if things are going well or badly."
Dr. Sutton identifies five key behaviors the make the difference between being a good boss or a bad boss:
1. Don’t crush the bird. Maintaining the delicate balance between managing too much and too little.
2. Grit gets you there. Working strenuously toward long-term goals, despite failure, adversity, and plateaus.
3. Small wins are the path. Breaking down big challenges into bite-sized victories.
4. Beware the toxic tandem. Resisting the urge to behave selfishly and ignore your followers’ needs.
5. Got their backs. Protecting and caring for your people and fighting on their behalf.
In addition to describing these beliefs, Sutton provides a personal questionnaire to evaluate one’s performance against these signifiers. He also provides a caution regarding the self-assessment since “the most deeply incompetent people suffer the most inflated assessments of their own abilities and performance.” Rather, the most effective and insightful evaluation is the judgment of our Performance (by outsiders) and our Humanity (by insiders.)
The Illusion and Reality of Control
"The truth is that bosses…don’t matter as much as most of us believe."
The surprising truth of leadership is that most of it is an illusion. Describing “the romance of leadership,” Dr. Sutton identifies one of the key challenges to bosses is capturing the perception of control – most of us heap far more credit and blame upon bosses than they actually deserve. The challenge that leaders face, then, is to “magnify the illusion that they are in control.”
As a result, by acting confident and in control, one becomes more confident and one’s followers have more confidence in you and are willing to accept more control. But confidence and control are learned behaviors, requiring practice and skill. Fortunately, Dr. Sutton provides a tip sheet offering “Tricks for Taking Charge” to help us be “just assertive enough.” Specifically:
1. Talk more than others, but not the whole time.
2. Interrupt people occasionally and don’t let them interrupt you much.
3. Cross your arms when you talk.
4. Use positive self-talk.
5. Try a little flash of anger now and then.
6. If you are not sure whether to sit down or stand up, stand up.
7. Ask your people what they need to succeed and then try to give it to them.
8. Tell people about your pet peeves and quirks.
9. Give away some power or status, but make sure everyone knows it was your choice.
Squelch Your Inner Bosshole
"[Y]ou can’t be a great boss if you don’t keep your inner jerk in check."
Citing several Zogby studies, Dr. Sutton shares some shocking statistics: 72% of workplace bullies are superiors. 60% of workplace incivility is top-down. And while 37% of us claim to have been victims of workplace bullying, only 1% admit having been the bully. It is highly likely that we are each in danger of exhibiting the very same destructive behaviors that we would personally prefer to avoid. The question is how do we prevent ourselves becoming a bosshole? Fortunately, Sutton offers a few tips:
1. Assume the motto “Assholes are us” means you too.
2. Post a bosshole bounty – pay a reward when someone tells you you’ve been a jerk.
3. Assign confident and sensible followers to be your bosshole monitors.
4. When you realize you’ve been a jerk, apologize.
5. Get a “toxic handler” – a coach to help you clean up your messes.
6. If your boss is a flaming asshole, escape as fast as you can.
7. If clients treat you like dirt, fire them.
8. Practice indifference and emotional detachment when you get angry or are surrounded by assholes.
9. If asshole behavior is running high, hold meetings in a cool place.
10. Watch the e-mail – it’s far too easy to be angry and insensitive.
11. Imagine your future. Has your behavior earned you the right to feel proud or ashamed?
We’ve all had experience with wonderful and horrible bosses, and I can clearly remember both my best and worst managers. Bosses make or break our participation and success in our jobs. As a long-running Gallup survey observed, “people do not quit organizations, they quit bad bosses.”
For anyone who’s worked for a boss or who is a boss, Good Boss, Bad Boss is an invaluable resource to understanding the leader-follower relationship and to improving the workplace. I wish I had read this book sooner – it would have saved me some heartache.
In the comments below, let us know…
Have you worked for an asshole boss? What did you do to deal with the situation? How has their behavior affected your leadership?
Have you been an asshole boss? How did you change your behavior to become a better boss? What could you do now to become a great boss?