If you’re a boss, what do your employees really think of you? If they had a choice, would they continue to work for you? What are the hallmarks of a good boss?
And as a good boss, what do you need to accomplish every day?
These are just some of the major questions Stanford professor Robert I. Sutton seeks to address in his new book, Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best...and Learn from the Worst, which is a sequel to his stunning bestseller The No Asshole Rule.
If you’re not familiar with Bob Sutton’s books or blog, Work Matters, now is the time to get acquainted with his thinking, because it’s invaluable to anyone running a team or business. Sutton teaches in a few of Stanford’s schools. What sets him apart is the practicality of his ideas, something that remains elusive for many scholars that teach.
There is so much pragmatic wisdom in Good Boss, Bad Boss it’s hard to decide what to focus on here.
Take “The Mindset of a Great Boss” -- a five-part series of questions such as, “Do you treat the work you lead as a marathon or sprint?” and “Do you see your job as caring for and protecting your people, and fighting for them when necessary?”
There’s “Tricks for Taking Charge,” which comes with the caveat: “WARNING!! Learn to be just assertive enough!" The message: Don’t become an overbearing jerk when you use these strategies.
He offers 10 tips on “How to Lead a Good Fight,” which includes advice like “Encourage everyone to argue. Gently silence people who talk too much and invite those who are silent to jump into the fray.”
There’s “The 11 Commandments for Wise Bosses,” which begins with “Have strong convictions and weakly held beliefs” as well as “The 12 Commandments of Bosses’ Dirty Work: How to Implement Tough Decisions in Effective and Humane Ways.”
There’s “Bosshole Busters: Tips for Squelching Your Inner Jerk,” which delivers rather provocative notions such as “If clients treat you like dirt, fire them if possible. If you can’t, charge [higher] taxes, give employees who work with them combat pay, and limit everyone’s exposure to these creeps.”
There’s the “EGOS Survey (Evaluation Gauge for Obnoxious Superstars),” which helps you answer the question of whether you are hiring and breeding greedy and selfish employees.
But my favorite is “Stepping Stones for Can-Do Bosses: Tips and Tricks for Eradicating Impediments to Action.”
It includes nine such tips and tricks:
1. When your people suggest a promising idea, say (as often as possible): “Great! Do it” This is inspired by a UPS commercial, where two slick consultants propose cost-cutting ideas to a receptive client. The client replies: “Great! Do it." The consultants look bewildered and respond, “Sir, we don’t actually do what we propose. We just propose it.”In contrast, the best bosses and followers do what they propose.
2. Assign your worst smart talkers to shadow your best doers. Reward both parties if the smart talkers become more action oriented.
3. Fire or demote incurable smart talkers -- and let your people know why you did it. Beware of creating a climate of fear, so give people feedback and warnings first. But if you let these rotten apples stick around, they will infect others and produce vile consequences for all.
4. Say the same simple and good things again and again until the message shapes what people do. Use the philosophy espoused by former P&G CEO A. G. Lafley of keeping things “Sesame Street Simple.”
5. Tell juicy stories about destructive things to stop doing. One manager tells about how he used to tune out the conversation and answer emails on conference calls. He kept missing important things, and his direct reports concluded that he didn’t care about them or their work. Now he imagines his people are in the room, and governs his actions accordingly.
6. When in doubt, throw it out or don’t add it in the first place. If you can’t easily explain to each other -- and to customers -- the differences among your products and services, perhaps it’s time to get rid of some.
7. Fight the Otis Redding (Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay) Problem, aka “can’t do what ten people tell me to do, so I guess I’ll remain the same.” List all the performance metrics you use. Pick the three most important. Do you really need the rest?
8. Ask yourself and your people if you have practices that “everyone else” uses, but are a waste of time or downright destructive. Like performance evaluations. Like layers upon layers of approvals.
9. Link hot emotions with cool solutions. Crank up your people’s fears and hopes to get their juices flowing, then direct that energy to effective and concrete behaviors.
Good Boss, Bad Boss isn’t just good for business. It’s just good advice, whether we’re presiding or parenting. If you follow just 10 percent of Bob Sutton’s guidance, you’ll be a 100 percent better boss.