Thursday, November 25, 2010
Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best... and Learn from the Worst
Author: Robert I. Sutton
Publisher: Business Plus
UNFORTUNATELY for many of us, bosses make our lives miserable. Of course there are exceptions, but in general, it seems that their only role in life is to annoy as many of their employees as possible.
Before you accuse me of launching a tirade against my own superiors, consider this sobering statistic from Robert I. Sutton's new book: 20 million Americans have left jobs to flee from workplace bullies, most of whom were bosses.
A 2007 Zogby survey of nearly eight thousand American adults found that of those abused by workplace bullies, 72% were bullied by their superiors.
We can thus conclude that many bosses in our world are just so-so, or worse yet, downright inept. The author's latest book follows the success of his previous work, "The No Asshole Rule."
The book was about the harm done by jerks (or assholes) in the workplace and what others could do to survive working with them.
Sutton explains that while words like bullies, jerks, creeps or tyrants could be used, "the word asshole best captures the fear and loathing I have for these nasty people." Following many months of research, Sutton realised that everything came back to a central figure – the boss.
He thus set about writing a new book with the desire to share how to be a skilled boss or how to work for one. Or, perhaps just to avoid his colleagues calling him "the asshole guy."
Says Sutton: "Bosses matter because most employees have bosses, are bosses or play both roles". This book is about what the good bosses do, not the mediocre or bad ones.
The book stresses numerous ways of thinking that contribute to the mindset of a great boss. It provides advice on how to lead teams, followed by examples of how good bosses go about managing theirs, and occasionally how bad bosses lead theirs to destruction.
Sutton provides proven advice based on extensive research. By talking to and interviewing several successful CEOs and leaders in the United States, he has managed to gain an insight into what goes on in the workplace, why some companies are more successful than others and how some sports teams continually manage to succeed at the expense of others.
Packed with case studies, he shines the spotlight on the best behaviour of bosses, and how best to adopt them.
Sutton also points out that the key to becoming a great boss is to continue learning and improving, never to rest on one's laurels.
There is no magic formula to what makes a good boss, and anyone who promises an instant pathway to success is either "ignorant or dishonest, or maybe both," says Sutton.
Doesn't this sound all too familiar? While I respect many business school graduates and their theories, many books written by them are littered with nothing but ideas that are common knowledge, or worse, management speak.
Sutton is, unfortunately, guilty of both. For instance, he writes that "good bosses have their fingers (and ears) on the pulse of what their employees are thinking, feeling and acting."
A bad boss shuns and belittles his employees, and is probably the last in and first out of work. The main problem, therefore, is identifying how these incompetent people rise to the top in the first place, and why they are not willing to change their behaviour.
If we are only to focus on the cream of the crop, we risk the same problems that teachers face in school – the inability to improve bad students.
The novelty of this book lies in the fact that the author bases his theories on successful bosses, not just on assumptions.
However, there is nothing else in this book that sets it apart from its competitors (and there are millions of management books floating around in the market).
There is also a distinct lack of wit in the book, and though some might say that management books are not renowned for being funny, I would argue that the boss who picks up this book could be forgiven for thinking that the world of management is really as dull as the reputation that precedes it.
If you think that you are a terrible boss, and have no idea how to improve yourself or your relations with employees, then this is probably the right book for you (provided that you want to improve).
However, most bad bosses would probably not recognise their own faults, either because they are stuck in their own comfort zone or because they choose to remain ignorant.
The rest of us may never become a boss in our lifetime – in which case the best you can hope for is that your immediate superior falls into the first category – that is a good boss.