If you are the boss, are you a good one? How can you keep honing your skills as a boss — and stir your people to give their all and be proud to work for you? Are you in tune with how your words and deeds (and those little looks on your face) affect your followers? What do they really think of you — are you aware of how they see you, or do you live in a fool’s paradise? Would your employees — if given the choice — ever want to work for you again?
In Good Boss, Bad Boss, professor of management science and author Dr. Robert I. Sutton weaves together real-life case studies and pertinent behavioral science research to deliver a precise and sometimes startling account of what the best bosses do.
Good Boss, Bad Boss delivers a definitive manifesto for anyone who has ever been elevated to a position of authority — and a blueprint of salvation for those who suffer because their bosses just don’t seem to get it.In Good Boss, Bad Boss, Dr. Sutton applies his common sense approach to show how the great bosses in our world differ from those who are just so-so or, worse yet, downright inept.
Here are some highlights from the book:
The prevalence of bad bosses is confirmed by careful studies. A Zogby survey of nearly 8,000 American adults found that of those abused by workplace bullies (37 percent of respondents), 72 percent were bullied by superiors.Stories about the damage done by bully bosses are bolstered by systematic research. University of Florida researchers found that employees with abusive bosses were more likely than others to slow down or make errors on purpose (30 percent vs. 6 percent), hide from their bosses (27 percent vs. 4 percent), not put in maximum effort (33 percent vs. 9 percent) and take sick time when they weren’t sick (29 percent vs. 4 percent).
Abused employees were three times less likely to make suggestions or go out of their way to fix workplace problems. Abusive superiors also drive out employees: More than 20 million Americans have left jobs to flee from workplace bullies, most of whom were bosses.
Yet when people look for (or dream of) a great boss, they want a civilized boss who does many things well. Take the young professor who described her escape from a nasty and sexist department chairman. She landed a job with a new chair who was not just a delightful human being; he was renowned for getting resources for faculty and protecting them from petty and time consuming political battles.
Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company,a head chef or a basketball coach; manage a Starbucks; or lead a product development team, your success depends on the nitty-gritty of dealing with the people you work with most closely; who see you in action up close; and you are expected to personally guide, inspire and discipline.
Being a boss or having a boss is about dealing with the confidence, comfort, warmth, resentment, confusion, and flashes of anger and despair that pervade any relationship where one person wields power in an up-close and personal way over another.Greatness comes only through dogged effort, doing many small things well, getting up after each hard knock and helping your people press forward at every turn.The best bosses don’t ride into town, save the day with a bold move or two, declare victory, and then rest on their laurels.
There are no magic bullets, instant cures or easy shortcuts to becoming a great boss. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar. The best bosses succeed because they keep chipping away at a huge pile of dull, interesting, rewarding, trivial, frustrating and often ridiculous chores.
Devoting relentless attention to doing one good thing after another — however small — is the only path to becoming and remaining a great boss.
Bosses shape how people spend their days and whether they experience joy or despair, perform well or badly, or are healthy or sick.Great bosses work relentlessly toward two general kinds of goals — but whether or not they persistently achieve them is best judged by others:
- Performance. Does the boss do everything possible to help people do great work?
- Humanity. Does the boss do everything possible to help people experience dignity and pride?
Bosses do small things to create confidence that they are in charge and then spread it to others.Here are nine tricks for taking charge:
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. Crossing your arms sends yourself a message to crank up the grit and confidence — but beware that doing it too much and too intensely can make you look like an uptight jerk.
4. Use positive self-talk. People who make encouraging statements to themselves enjoy higher self-esteem and performance.
5. Try a little flash of anger now and then. Used in small doses and with proper precautions, flashes of anger can help you seize control. But spewing out constant venom undermines your authority.
6. If you are not sure whether to sit down or stand up, stand up. Standing up signals you are in charge and encourages others to accept your authority.
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
The best bosses dance on the edge of overconfidence, but a healthy dose of self-doubt and humility saves them from turning arrogant and pigheaded. Bosses who fail to strike this balance are incompetent, dangerous to follow and downright demeaning.Wise bosses are devoted to knowing what they don’t know. They act boldly on facts they have right now but search for signs they are wrong — seeking a healthy balance between courage and humility.Here are four smart people tricks:
1. Show Them the Love. Organizational life is filled with time-consuming and distracting routines that burden every boss. In the crush of satisfying deadlines, going to meetings and plowing through red tape, more important things can fall through the cracks. Many bosses spend endless hours preparing evaluations
but don’t take even a few moments to make people feel appreciated.
2. Assume the Best. Too many bosses forget the power of the human touch, which also entails conveying confidence to followers. The power of believing that good things will happen to your people, and communicating that to them — the self-fulfilling prophecy — is supported by much research.
3. Cut Loose the Real Losers. The self-fulfilling prophecy doesn’t always work. You can bring in people who seem like talented stars, devote massive attention to them and give them every chance to succeed. Yet their performance may still suck. The challenge for bosses — as for all human beings — is that they see what they believe. Psychologists call this confirmation bias: selective thinking where “one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs.”
Confirmation bias can cause bosses to make excessively glowing judgments about people they have invested a lot of time and money in or whom they simply find to be likable or admirable. Even if your judgment is generally sound, confirmation bias can blind you to mediocre or even downright rotten performance displayed by your favorites.
4. Keep Teams Together. Bringing in people with connective talents and celebrating stars that help others succeed are powerful means for accomplishing interdependent work. But even if you get the best people and put them in the best systems, learning to work together takes time.
As a boss, you need to establish a pecking order where people who know the most about a problem wield the greatest influence over what is done. You especially need to watch who talks the most (and least). Don’t let your people fall prey to the blabbermouth theory
of leadership.Here are tips and tricks for eradicating impediments to action:
- When your people suggest a promising idea,say (as often as possible): “Great! Do it!”
- Assign your worst smart talkers to shadow your best doers. Reward both parties if the smart talkers become more action-oriented
- Fire or demote incurable smart talkers — and let your people know why you did it. Beware of creating a climate of fear, so give people feedback and warnings first. But if you let these rotten apples stick around, they will infect others and produce vile consequences for all.
- Say the same simple and good things again and again until the message shapes what people do.
- Tell juicy stories about destructive things to stop doing — and simple things to start.
- When in doubt, throw it out or don’t add it in the first place. Follow Steve Jobs and try to explain to one another — and customers — the differences among your products and services. If you can’t do so easily, perhaps it is time to get rid of a bunch.
- Fight the Otis Redding problem. List all the performance metrics you use. No matter how long it is, pick the three most important. Do you really need the rest?
- Ask yourself — and your people — if you have practices that “everyone else” uses but are a waste of time or downright destructive.What about your performance evaluations? Would you be better off not doing them at all — or at least cutting 75 percent of the questions on your form?
- Link hot emotions to cool actions. Crank up your people’s fears and hopes to get their juices flowing, then direct that energy to effective and concrete behaviors.
The best bosses let the workers do their work. They protect their people from red tape; meddlesome executives; nosy visitors; unnecessary meetings; and a host of other insults, intrusions and time wasters. The notion that management “buffers” the core work of the organization from uncertainty and external perturbations is an old theme in organization theory.A good boss takes pride in serving as a human shield, absorbing and deflecting heat from superiors and customers, doing all manner of boring and silly tasks and battling back against every idiot and slight that makes life unfair or harder than necessary on his or her charges
Every boss must do things that upset and hurt people.If you are the boss, it is your job to issue reprimands;fire people; deny budget requests; transfer employees to jobs they don’t want; and implement mergers, layoffs and shutdowns. If you can’t or won’t perform such unpleasant chores, perhaps you shouldn’t be the boss. Or if you still want the job, you better recruit someone else to do your dirty work.
Research by behavioral scientists shows that dirty work does less harm when bosses add four antidotes into the mix:
- Predictability. Predictability is all about creating realistic expectations. When bosses take harsher actions than in the past, they need good answers to this question: “Why are you doing this to us now?”
- Understanding. When people are freaked out, skilled bosses make their explanations as simple as possible and repeat them over and over — and do so through multiple communication channels.
- Control. Great bosses help followers feel powerful rather than powerless — especially during rough times.
- Compassion. The best bosses convey empathy as they make and implement tough decisions — which bolsters performance and humanity.
Squelch Your Inner Boss-hole
What drives so many bosses to be seen as so cruel by so many followers? Many bosses are buffeted by forces that bring out insensitivity and nastiness. These include:
- Toxic Tandem and Power Poisoning.Professor Dacher Keltner has studied power dynamics for more than 15 years. He reports, “When researchers give people power in scientific experiments, they are more likely to touch others in potentially inappropriate ways, to flirt in a more direct fashion,” to “interrupt others, to speak out of turn, to fail to look at others when they are speaking,” and to “tease friends and colleagues in hostile and humiliating fashion.” Another of his studies shows that when people get a little power, it dampens how much compassion they convey and how much distress they feel when listening to others talk about painful things such as a dying friend or personal failure.Bosses who successfully enlist others to help them avoid and reverse power poisoning usually have a history of treating people with respect and listening to and learning from criticism rather than getting defensive and shooting the messengers.
- Extreme Performance Pressure. Although all bosses risk focusing on performance too much and humanity too little, this balance gets especially out of whack when performance pressure becomes intense — a feature of countless bosses’ jobs.After a round of performance evaluations where his direct reports seemed overwrought by even minor criticisms, one imaginative boss put things in perspective by taking his charges to a hospice, where they met dying patients and their families. He reminded them that their performance evaluations really don’t mean much in the larger scheme of things and then did their next evaluations right there in the hospice.
- Sleep Deprivation, Heat and Other Bodily Sources of Bad Moods. Research on sleep deprivation shows that a lack of sleep causes people to make lousy decisions and turns them into impatient jerks and when deprivation is severe, people turn irrational and fly into wild rages. Naps dampen such negative effects and also help people who are not sleep-deprived to be more effective and civilized. A 15- to 60-minute nap bolsters creativity, alertness, error detection and mood — for people who don’t usually nap. When people are physically hot, they turn mean. Folk sayings like hot under the collar and steamed are bolstered by research on temperature and aggression: Countries with hot climates suffer higher murder rates and more political violence than do countries with cool climates. More violent crimes occur in hot years than in cool years.
- Nasty Role Models. It is difficult for any person to avoid imitating teachers and authority figures. When everyone around you acts like a jerk and admires the creeps in charge, there is no good behavior to copy and refraining from nastiness is often treated as a weakness.Yet when aspiring bosses band together to create countervailing social pressure against imitating demeaning mentors, they can avoid following in their vile footsteps
Smart bosses have the confidence to act on what they know, but feel and express little doubt about what they believe or do. They make definitive statements; answer questions; talk well; and give help, but don’t ask for help and refuse it when offered.Wise bosses have the confidence to act on what they know and the humility to doubt their knowledge. They make statements (often “backstage”) that reveal uncertainty and confusion, ask questions, listen well, give help, ask for help and accept it when offered.
If you are a boss, your success depends on staying in tune with how others think, feel and react to you. Bosses who persistently promote performance and humanity devote considerable energy to reading and responding to followers’ feelings and actions and those of other key players like superiors, peers and customers. Of course, there is no single magical or simple thing that defines a great boss. Anyone who promises you an easy or instant pathway to success is either ignorant or dishonest — or both. The moves that great bosses make
are too complex, varied, messy and unpredictable to be captured by any single theme, slogan or set of steps.