Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Is it possible to be a good boss? Some lessons from Bob Sutton, the Boss Expert

Here’s a question for anyone who has ever supervised employees: Are you a good boss or a bad boss? How can you really tell? Stanford professor Bob Sutton doesn’t just ask the question in the follow-up to his 2007 bestseller “The No Asshole Rule,” he shares ways for bosses to inspire their employees and analyze their leadership styles in “Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best…and Learn from the Worst.” So, whether you see yourself as a leader, manager, or supervisor – all are bosses because all oversee subordinates.

If you doubt the importance of a boss in an employee’s life, all you have to do is read the staggering statistics. As Bob Sutton wrote, “Whether a study was done in 1948, 1958, 1968, or 1998; in London, Baltimore, Seattle, or Honolulu; among postal workers, milk truck drivers, or school teachers; the results are pretty much identical: about 75% of the workforce reports that their immediate supervisor is the most stressful part of their job.”

So what causes the friction between employees and bosses? Why can’t bosses communicate with their employees? Why can’t employees communicate with their bosses? Don’t employees do the work that they are assigned? Don’t bosses reward their employees? Bob Sutton explained, “Even though the journey is never easy, great bosses know what goals to strive for and how the ride ought to feel along the way – and lousy bosses never seem to quite get it.”

Here are Bob Sutton’s 11 Commandments for Wise Bosses. If you strive to be a good boss, memorize these and then execute them:

  1. Have strong opinions and weakly held beliefs
  2. Do not treat others as if they are idiots
  3. Listen attentively to your people, don’t just pretend to hear what they say
  4. Ask a lot of good questions
  5. Ask others for help and gratefully accept their assistance
  6. Do not hesitate to say “I don’t know”
  7. Forgive people when they fail, remember the lessons and teach them to everyone
  8. Fight as if you are right, and listen as if you are wrong
  9. Do not hold grudges after losing an argument, but instead, help the victors implement their ideas with all your might
  10. Know your foibles and flaws, and work with people who correct and compensate for your weaknesses
  11. Express gratitude to your people

Two quotes from the book provided great inspiration:

  • “The first job of a leader is to define reality.” – Max DePree, former CEO of furniture maker Herman Miller (this creates open communication lines throughout a company)
  • “Learn how to perform every job function within a company.” Examples of this can be found by Walt Disney (founder of Disneyland) and Ray Kroc (founder of McDonald’s) (this creates an in-depth understanding of the workings of an entire company)
To learn more:

Follow Bob Sutton on Twitter:

Follow Bob Sutton’s Blog:

Watch Stanford’s YouTube Channel for Interview with Bob Sutton:

Read “12 Things Good Bosses Believe” on Harvard Business Review:

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