First Friday Book Synopsis

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Being a Good Boss is Pretty Damn Hard: Reflections on Publication Day


Robert Sutton

Here is a post by Robert Sutton on the day his most recent book, Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst, was published.

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Today, September 7th, is the official publication day of Good Boss, Bad Boss [click here]. I’ve got an hour or so before I need to run to the airport, and find myself looking back on what I’ve learned from writing the book, talking to people since the book was finished some months back, and all the blogging and comments (especially here at Work Matters and over at HBR Online where I have been developing my list of 12 Things Good Bosses Believe). [Ckick here.]

The thing I’ve been fretting over most lately is how hard it is to be a good boss — the job is never done, it is amazingly easy to screw-up, and wielding power over others makes it all even harder because you are being watched so closely (and are prone to tuning-out your followers — the other half of the toxic tandem). [Click here.]  Yet, despite all these hurdles, the best evidence shows that many, if not most, people find their bosses to be competent and compassionate [click here].  And most bosses I know work extremely hard and are dedicated to improving their skills.  Indeed, one of my main motivations for writing Good Boss, Bad Boss was that so many of the managers and executives who I spoke with and who wrote me in response to The No Asshole Rule were so concerned about becoming better at practicing their difficult craft.

When I think of the bosses that I admire and want to be around versus those that I despise and want to avoid if at all possible, the main factor is not their skill at the moment.  Rather, it is whether or not they care and are working on core questions like:

1. What does it feel like to work for me?

2. How can get more “in tune” with my followers, peers, bosses, customers, and other people who I deal with?

3. What are my weaknesses and strengths?  What can I do to attenuate my weaknesses — what do I need to learn and who can I work with to best offset my drawbacks and blind spots?

In contrast, people who are arrogant and suffering power poisoning — and never admit their weaknesses, let alone try to overcome or dampen them — are in my view, the worst of the worst, regardless of past accomplishments.Yes, as I emphasize on this blog and in Chapter 2, the best bosses need to act like they are in charge, to instill confidence in others and themselves.  But the bosses I want to be around  (and that I believe will triumph in the long run) have the attitude of wisdom, or as rocker Tom Petty put it, are confident but not really sure [click here].

That’s what I am thinking about; I would be curious to hear your perspective on the kinds of bosses you want to be and be around.

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Sutton’s research focuses on the links (and gaps) between managerial knowledge and organizational action, organizational creativity and innovation, organizational performance, and evidence-based management. He as published over 100 articles and chapters in scholarly and applied publications. He has also published eight books and edited volumes. In particular, Sutton and Jeffrey Pfeffer co-authored The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Firms Turn Knowledge Into Action (2000) and Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management (2006). His more recent books include Weird Ideas That Work: 11 1/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation (2007), The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t (2007), and Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst (2010). I also urge you check out the wealth of material at his blog. Please click here.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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