“Good Boss, Bad Boss” by Robert Sutton: Part One

  1. Being a boss or having a boss is about dealing with the confidence, comfort, warmth, resentment, confusion, and flashes of anger and despair that pervade any relationship where one person wields power in an up-close and personal way over another.
  2. The nuances and impact of doing the right thing become crystal clear when placed alongside the wrong thing.
  3. Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with saying, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make all of them yourself.”
  4. Devoting relentless attention to doing one good thing after another—however small—is the only path I know to becoming and remaining a great boss.
  5. “People don’t quit organizations, they quit bad bosses.”
  6. The best bosses embrace five beliefs that are stepping stones to effective action.
    1. Don’t crush the bird: Tommy Lasorda once said, “I believe that managing 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.” Managers who are too assertive will damage relationships with superiors, peers, and followers; but managers who are not assertive enough won’t press followers to achieve sufficiently tough goals.
    2. Grit gets you there: “Grit entails working strenuously towards challenges, maintaining effort and interest despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon, his or her advantage is stamina.” Albert Einstein saw himself as gritty rather than brilliant and allegedly said, “It’s not that I am so smart, it is just that I stay with my problems longer.”
    3. Small wins are the path: The path to success is paved with small wins. Even the grandest and most glorious victories rest on a string of modest but constructive steps forward. The best bosses break down problems into bite-sized pieces and talk and act each little task is something that people can complete without great difficulty.
    4. Beware the toxic tandem: “People pay attention to those who control their outcomes. In an effort to predict and possibly influence what is going to happen to them, people gather information about those with power. People in power tend to become self-centered and oblivious to what their followers need, do, and say. That alone is bad enough. But the problem is compounded because a boss’s self-absorbed words and deeds are usually scrutinized so closely by subordinates. When people (regardless of their personality) wield power, their ability to lord it over others causes them to (1) become more focused on their own needs and wants; (2) become less focused on others’ needs, wants, and actions; and (3) act as if written and unwritten rules others are expected to follow don’t apply to them.
    5. Got Their Backs: A hallmark of effective bosses everywhere is that they doggedly protect their people.
  7. Bosses ought to be judged by what they and their people get done and by how their followers feel along the way.
  8. The most deeply incompetent people suffer from the most inflated assessments of their own abilities and performance.
  9. The boss’s job is “to eliminate people’s excuses for failure.”
  10. “Investment decisions or personal decisions and prioritization don’t wait for that picture to be clarified. You have to make them when you have to make them. So you take your shots and clean up the bad ones later.”
  11. “Belief Follows Behavior”: Acting confident will help you become confident. Confidence is also important because, like all emotions, it is contagious and will spread to followers.
  12. A Recipe for an Effective Apology: No sugar coating. Take the blame fully. Apologize fully.
  13. Don’t become an overbearing asshole when you use these strategies:
    1. Talk more than others—but not the whole time.
    2. Interrupt people occasionally—and don’t let them interrupt you too much.
    3. Cross your arms when you talk.
    4. Use positive self-talk.
    5. Try a little flash of anger now and then.
    6. If you are not sure whether to sit down or stand up, stand up.
    7. Ask your people what they need to succeed and then try to give it to them. Obvious, isn’t it? It is also remarkably rare.
    8. Tell people about your pet peeves and quirks.
    9. Give away some power or status, but make sure everyone knows it was your choice.
  14. Wise bosses are devoted to knowing what they don’t know.
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