You are a boss who wants to do great work, what can you do about it? Good Boss, Bad Boss is devoted to answering that question.
5 Beliefs That Great Bosses Embrace
The best bosses embrace five beliefs that are stepping stones to effective action.
Belief #1 Don’t Crush the Bird
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. it captures the delicate balance that every good boss seeks between managing too much and too little.
Effective bosses know it is sometimes best to leave their people alone. They realize that keeping a close eye on people often either has no effect on performance or undermines it—in contrast to micromanagers, who believe their relentless attention and advice bolsters performance.
William Coyne, who led 3M’s Research and Development efforts for over a decade, believed a big part of his job was to leave his people alone and protect them from other curious executives. As he put it: “After you plant a seed in the ground, you don’t dig it up every week to see how it is doing.”
Belief #2 Grit Gets You There
The best bosses think and act like they are running a marathon, not a sprint.
They instill grit in followers. They are dogged and patient, pressing themselves and others to move ever forward. Gritty bosses create urgency without treating life as one long emergency.
Belief #3 Small Wins Are the Path
The best bosses realize that when they focus on the little things, the big things take care of themselves.
They break down problems into bite-sized pieces and talk and act like each little task is something that people can complete without great difficulty. Doing so instills calmness and confidence, and spurs constructive action.
Belief #4 Beware the Toxic Tandem
If you get up from your desk, people watch to see where you’re going. Someone always knows when you’re in the bathroom. They watch to see if you smile more at Sally than you do at Tom, and make guesses about what that means too. They talk about your behavior when you’re not around, and they assign meaning to everything.
You are constantly on your team’s radar. They hear and see everything you do.
Belief #5 Got Their Backs
The steps most bosses take to protect their people are less dramatic and risky. Yet a hallmark of effective bosses everywhere is that they doggedly protect their people. Great bosses battle on their people’s behalf—even when they suffer personally as a result.
2 Goals That Drive Great Bosses
Great bosses work relentlessly toward two general kinds of goals—but whether or not they persistently achieve them is best judged by others:
- Performance. Does the boss do everything possible to help people do great work? The ultimate judgment about the quality and quantity of the work is best made by outsiders rather than insiders. To borrow a theme from J. Richard Hackman’s lifetime of research on team performance, great bosses and their followers produce work that consistently meets or exceeds the expectations of those who use and evaluate it. Regardless of local jargon and metrics, as Robert Townsend insisted in Up the Organization, a boss’s job is “to eliminate people’s excuses for failure.”
- Humanity. Does the boss do everything possible to help people experience dignity and pride? A boss’s humanity is usually best judged by insiders, especially followers. After scouring through over one hundred ethnographies of employees’ work lives, Randy Hodson concluded that working with dignity means “taking actions that are worthy of respect by oneself and others.” Dignity enables people to travel through their days feeling upbeat and respected.
Great Bosses Take Control
- Talk more than others—but not the whole time. But don’t talk the whole time, as people will see you as a bully, boring, or both.
- Interrupt people occasionally—and don’t let them interrupt you much. People gain power by winning “interruption wars”.
- Cross your arms when you talk. When people cross their arms, they persist longer and generate more solutions when working on difficult tasks.
- Use positive self-talk. Ued in small doses and with proper precautions, flashes of anger can help you seize control. But spewing out constant venom undermines your authority.
- If you are not sure whether to sit down or stand up, stand up. This is especially crucial if you are a new boss. Standing up signals you are in charge and encourages others to accept your authority.
- 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.
- Tell people about your pet peeves and quirks. It isn’t just the big things that can make or break perceptions that you are a good boss. If you are a new boss, where you can describe your preferences, your style, what makes you apoplectic, and what people may not understand about you.
- Give away some power or status, but make sure everyone knows it was your choice. One of the most effective ways to show that you are powerful and benevolent is to accept—even bargain for—some status symbol for yourself and then to give it to others.
Great Bosses Strive to Be Wise
- Have strong opinions and weakly held beliefs.
- Do not treat others as if they are idiots.
- Listen attentively to your people; don’t just pretend to hear what they say.
- Ask a lot of good questions.
- Ask others for help and gratefully accept their assistance.
- Do not hesitate to say, “I don’t know.”
- Forgive people when they fail, remember the lessons, and teach them to everyone.
- Fight as if you are right, and listen as if you are wrong.
- Do not hold grudges after losing an argument. Instead, help the victors implement their ideas with all your might.
- Know your foibles and flaws, and work with people who correct and compensate for your weaknesses.
- Express gratitude to your people.
Great Bosses Link Talk and Action
- When your people suggest a promising idea, say (as often as possible): “Great! Do it!”
- Assign your worst smart talkers to shadow your best doers. Reward both parties if the smart talkers become more action oriented.
- 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.
- Say the same simple and good things again and again until the message shapes what people do. You might start by borrowing the “Sesame Street Simple” philosophy from A. G. Lafley.
- Tell juicy stories about destructive things to stop doing—and simple things to start. One manager often tells a story about his past bad behavior on conference calls. When he wasn’t talking, he tuned out the conversation and answered e-mails. He kept missing important things (like the time a key employee quit), and his direct reports concluded such detachment meant he didn’t care about them or their work. Now he turns off his monitor during calls and imagines his people are in the room.
- When in doubt, throw it out or don’t add it in the first place. Follow Steve Jobs and try to explain to one another—and customers—the differences among your products and services. If you can’t do so easily, perhaps it is time to get rid of a bunch.
- Fight the Otis Redding Problem. List all the performance metrics you use. No matter how long it is, pick the three most important. Do you really need the rest?
- Ask yourself—and your people—if you have practices that “everyone else” uses, but are a waste of time or downright destructive. What about your performance evaluations? People who give and receive them usually hate the process. They are usually done so badly that they do more harm than good. Would you be better off not doing them at all—or at least cutting 75 percent of the questions on your form?
- Link hot emotions to cool actions. Crank up your people’s fears and hopes to get their juices flowing, then direct that energy to effective and concrete behaviors. Like the financial services executives who kept talking about the need to get more young customers. They got really worked up about it when they recruited twenty-something customers to try their services, which resulted in horror stories about insensitive employees and incomprehensible marketing materials. The executives were then properly inspired to develop practices to chip away at the problem.
Great Bosses Don’t Shirk the Dirty Work
- Do not delay painful decisions and actions; hoping the problem will go away or that someone else will do your dirty work rarely is an effective path.
- Assume that you are clueless, or at least have only a dim understanding, of how people judge you and the dirty work that you do.
- Implement tough decisions as well as you can—even if they strike you as wrong or misguided. Or get out of the way and let someone else do it.
- Do everything possible to communicate to all who will be affected how distressing events will unfold, so they can predict when bad things will (and will not) happen to them.
- Explain early and often why the dirty work is necessary.
- Look for ways to give employees influence over how painful changes happen to them, even when it is impossible to change what will happen to them.
- Never humiliate, belittle, or bad-mouth people who are the targets of your dirty work.
- Ask yourself and fellow bosses to seriously consider if the dirty work is really necessary before implementing it. Just because all your competitors do it, or you have always done it in the past, does not mean it is wise right now.
- Do not bullshit or lie to employees, as doing so can destroy their loyalty and confidence, along with your reputation.
- Keep your big mouth shut. Divulging sensitive or confidential information can harm employees, your organization, and you, too.
- Refrain from doing mean-spirited things to exact personal revenge against employees who resist or object to your dirty work.
- Do not attempt dirty work if you lack the power to do it right, no matter how necessary it may seem.
Great Bosses Keep Their Inner Bosshole In Control
- If you are a boss, assume the motto “Assholes are us” means you, too, not just the other schmucks.
- Post a bosshole bounty: pay twenty dollars to anyone who tells you when you have been a jerk.
- Assign confident and sensible followers to be your bosshole monitors. Link their performance evaluation and pay to telling you when you’ve blown it and helping you contain your inner jerk.
- When you realize you’ve treated people like dirt, apologize to them and acknowledge to witnesses that such nastiness is unacceptable.
- If you are a certified asshole, or a recovering one, team up with a “toxic handler,” someone more patient and better liked to coach you and clean up your messes.
- If your boss is a flaming asshole, you will probably catch the disease. Escape as fast as you can or, failing that, spend as little time around the creep as possible.
- If clients treat you like dirt, fire them if possible. If you can’t, charge asshole taxes, give employees who work with them combat pay, and limit everyone’s exposure to these creeps.
- Squelch your inner jerk by practicing indifference and emotional detachment when you get angry, focus on performance too much and humanity too little, or are knee-deep in a pack of assholes.
- If you or your charges have been acting like assholes lately, make sure to hold meetings in a nice cool place.
- Watch the e-mail. Remember how easy it is to spew out angry and insensitive words, or unwittingly hurt others’ feelings when using this emotionally thin medium.
- Imagine it is ten years from now and you are looking back at how you’ve treated others. Do you think—in your followers’ eyes—that you will have earned the right to be proud of yourself? Or do your people believe that when you look back, you will deserve to be ashamed of yourself?