With his previous book, “The No Asshole Rule,” Stanford University Management Professor Bob Sutton struck a powerful chord, resonating strongly with many of us – most of us – struggling mightily to do good, decent work in organizations of all sorts all around the land. In this one, he has picked out an important theme to carry his message effectively and meaningfully forward. It is: bosses matter.
Discussed in the same context of the previous book, “Good Boss, Bad Boss” establishes the case for why bosses are so vital to the establishment of a healthy, personally satisfying, organizationally productive workplace – and why those who are dismissive of this fact for that very reason so often wind up actually being so toxic. In a very strong stage-setting chapter Sutton makes it clear why bosses matter. Quoting a researcher, he points out that “people do not quit organizations, they quit bad bosses.”
The remaining chapters pick up the various elements of this thesis and elaborate them, one by one, explaining why and how each makes for a good or bad boss – and how the consequences of those events unfold throughout an organization. These chapters cover a lot of ground, and survey it from a wide range of perspectives. They offer detailed views of what good bosses do, what constitutes the sort of “wisdom” that they should express, how they should deal with good employees and rotten apples, as well as others explaining how bosses can and should influence the workplace atmosphere, if not the organizational culture.
The diversity of perspectives makes for an engaging and even enthralling read. There is much of value for all of us, whatever our personal inclination, our unique operating philosophy, or even just the issues we find ourselves confronting at any given time.
The diversity, however, isn’t random: you will find two interesting themes unifying the discussion: One is very clearly a sincerely-felt argument that work ought to be a balanced, decent place where people can experience reward and self-affirmation. It is common enough to see this sort of thing. Indeed, in the hands of less serious observers, it is quickly revealed to be little more than insubstantial “give peace a chance” fluff which exhorts but doesn’t persuade.
But not in Sutton’s hands. Every introduction of this theme, every elaboration of its effect on the physical and mental health of workers, or even just the general pleasantness of a workplace environment, is carefully and specifically linked to how and why these directly and inevitably influence organizational effectiveness.
The result is as strong an argument as I’ve seen for the need for bosses to grow up and manage all the assets at their disposal – even the problematic ones which so many bosses seek to avoid: their people. The workplace is looked at as a whole – not just where work is done, but where workers do it. To be effective, then, bosses must manage not just the work flow, but the work environment. Excellent.
You will find yourself agreeing emphatically with much of what you read in “Good Boss, Bad Boss,” but also, perhaps, disagreeing energetically with some other elements of it. That is precisely what you want in a management book: you want to be engaged and challenged in order to be a more effective reader and, ultimately, a more effective – a good – boss. Indeed, in your reading you will learn that this is a fundamental key to being a good boss: engaging with and seeking to be enlightened – challenged – by your staff.
This one is a must read, wherever you are in your career – even if it doesn’t include any aspiration at all to be a boss. Easily one of the most productive and immediately useful books I’ve read in many years, it is going in the Management Reading list on this site.
Please pick up your own copy of Bob Sutton’s “Good Boss, Bad Boss” now.
Today’s tips: Speaking of business books, please see this BNET article by Dave Logan about why business books are bad for you. He notes that most contain little enough of value in their key first and last chapters, and in between are filled with illustrations and fluff serving only to demonstrate the paucity of intellectual value on offer. Please also see Logan’s list in the post of his favorite business books; none of them are business books. You should consider developing your own list of non-business business books – you will be surprised how much better at business you will be for it. (But in the meanwhile, please be sure to read “Good Boss, Bad Boss ” – every chapter from beginning to end – it is a powerful exception proving Logan’s rule – pick yours up today.)
And speaking of good and bad bosses, why do so many of the former tend to turn into the latter? Please see this excellent WSJ piece by Jonah Lehrer about the paradox of power, and why some who get too much of it start to “behave like neurological patients with a damaged orbito-frontal lobe, a brain area that’s crucial for empathy and decision-making . . .” Still sure you’re a fan of theories of singular individual leadership?
Finally, speaking of Management Professor Bob Sutton, he coincidentally read Managing Leadership recently, and published a very generous post about it on his own blog, Work Matters. Perhaps you would be kind enough to click through to view it. And while you’re over there, take a look at his list of 17 things he believes, in the left-side column; you’ll begin by scanning, but you’ll stop to think. Then you’ll subscribe to the blog. See his other books, as well, listed on the right-side column.
Want to read articles from the Encyclopedia Britannica for free? Take a moment to scroll down the sidebar on the main site a bit: right below my current readings you will see a dynamically renewing box pointing to articles on capitalism from the Britannica. These are typically available only by paid subscription, but if you click through to an article from here, you will be able to read it for free. Try it!
And speaking of subscriptions, ours here are always free! Why not subscribe by email or RSS reader now?
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