Good Boss, Bad Boss
How to Be the Best…and Learn from the Worst
by Robert I. Sutton
Reviewed by Chris Wendel
Kindle Version, $9.99
Four out of Five Stars
Tommy Lasorda the baseball successful manager and executive for the Los Angeles Dodgers once said that managing people is like holding a dove in your hand. “If you hold it too tightly, you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.”
All of us have a good idea of what makes a good or bad boss. When it comes down to it, everyone prefers to work under a good boss, but what exactly are the characteristics of a manager that makes this happen?
This pressing question is more than answered in Good Boss, Bad Boss, a recent book authored by Robert I. Sutton, Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University. Sutton implements psychological research along with interviews and case studies to explain the difference between exemplary managers that employees love and are truly dedicated to and those who’s bad behavior labels them as “bossholes”.
The book fortunately first focuses primarily on the habits and qualities of good bosses. Sutton explains that good bosses are keenly self-aware and avoid what is termed the “toxic tandem” of being too self-centered to realize that their employees are watching closely what their supervisor does.
When Linda Hudson was named the first female president of General Dynamics she dressed with a uniquely tied scarf on her first few days on the job. Soon she noticed several women in the large office wearing their scarves tied exactly the same way. The story serves as a lesson of how peers, superiors, and customers are watching the person higher up on the ladder for cues for patterning their own behavior.
A good boss also demonstrates empathy for employees, protecting them from inappropriate workplace behavior. The idea is to establish and maintain an environment where employees feel protected not just from rude behavior of other employees, but also from threats from further up the corporate ladder. The boss who fights these battles and takes the blame when things go badly (while also spreading around the credit when the team performs well) is rewarded with strong long term employee loyalty.
The good manager pays close attention to employees that are truly valuable and the employees that will do the consistent in the trenches work. Rewarding those who truly deserve it rather than the ones who boast about their accomplishments goes a long way towards building a strong dedicated team.
Another attribute of a good boss is being humble enough to realize that they don’t know everything. This humility goes along way when combined with the boss’ overall demonstration of persistent confidence. Sutton points out that managers realize that running a department or company is more like a marathon then a sprint, with sustained but consistent behavior that creates a safe, productive work place.
The subject of bad bosses is addressed in the book’s Chapter 8: “Squelch Your Inner Bosshole” . Besides missing many of the characteristics of good managers, bad bosses wreak havoc in the workplace leaving many of their followers felling “disrespected, emotionally damaged, and de-energized”. Bad bosses many times are copying the behavior of their own bad boss role model or are reacting poorly to the pressure of missed deadlines, not reaching company goals, or demanding customers.
Many times this poor supervision becomes ingrained into the company culture. It may take adjustments at the very top to ask how change this behavior by instituting strict policies that stress courteous standards for treating fellow employees. Sutton suggests that bosses can keep themselves in line by offering a monetary reward to employees who tell them when they are being a jerk.
Good Boss, Bad Boss is essential to anyone who is managing people for the first time and those who have that nagging feeling that they should improve their managing skills. Sutton’s narrative does an excellent job of weaving together academic data with real life stories of boss behavior from both large and small businesses.
Chris Wendel is a consultant and lender with Northern Initiatives in Traverse City. Northern Initiatives is a community development organization based in Marquette, Michigan that provides entrepreneurs with access to capital, information, and new markets.