Book Review: Good Boss Bad Boss

I want to be a GREAT boss.  More than anything, I hope that anyone that works with me or for me feels encouraged and supported.  At the beginning of each school year, I have a letter that I read to our team in an effort to clarify both my hopes and my expectations for those on our team.  After doing that for several years, I wondered if the heart behind it was still getting across.  In our exit interviews, I always ask a variety of questions.  One of them is “Is there something that I currently do that you’d like me to continue doing?”  This year, I had multiple people say…”Please keep reading the letter.”  They said that it was a great way to make sure that we all knew the expectations before the race of the school year got underway.  I agree with Andy Stanley’s quote, “Leadership is stewardship.  It’s temporary and we’re accountable.”  My hope is that my leadership…or the people that I am the boss for at some point…will love Jesus more in some way because of the way that I have served them.

Good Boss, Bad Boss by Dr. Robert Sutton was a great resource for two reasons.  1.  It caused me to really assess what my legacy might be as a boss and drew me to some clear areas that I need to improve.  2.  It caused me to really think about the stewardship component of how I invest in my team.

  • As former U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with saying, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” Location: 106
  • The top dog sets the tone for how his or her direct reports behave—which reverberates through the system. Location: 186
  • Even in the largest organization or institution, how the boss at the top of the pecking order treats direct reports spawns ripple effects that can influence the system’s ultimate success or failure. Location: 205
  • Tommy Lasorda has served the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team as a player, a coach, or an executive since 1949, including a twenty-year stint as manager. 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.” I call this Lasorda’s Law, as it captures the delicate balance that every good boss seeks between managing too much and too little. Location: 220
  • The best bosses think and act like they are running a marathon, not a sprint.  Location: 251
  • Researchers use the word grit to describe this mindset, which Professor Angela Duckworth and her colleagues define as “perseverance and passion toward long-term goals.” They add, “Grit entails working strenuously toward 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.”  Location: 253
  • Great bosses 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. Location: 257
  • Having long-term goals, and doggedly working toward them day after day, is a hallmark of bosses with grit. Great big goals set direction and energize people, but if goals are all you’ve got, you are doomed. 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. Location: 287
  • The best bosses 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. Location: 309
  • 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. I call this the toxic tandem.  Location: 353
  • The advice that David Packard of HP fame gave to managers in 1958 applies just as well today: “Watch your smile, your tone of voice, the way you look at people, the way you greet them, the use of nicknames, a memory for faces, names and dates. These small things will refine your ability to get on with others.” As Packard realized, your charges scrutinize even your most trivial and innocent actions, and their reactions shape how much of themselves they will dedicate to you and to their work. Location: 365
  • A hallmark of effective bosses everywhere is that they doggedly protect their people. Location: 384
  • Bosses ought to be judged by what they and their people get done and by how their followers feel along the way. Location: 410
  • The best bosses balance performance and humanity, getting things done in ways that enhance rather than destroy dignity and pride. Location: 411
  • Does the boss do everything possible to help people do great work?  Location: 438
  • Does the boss do everything possible to help people experience dignity and pride? Location: 442
  • Coach John Wooden’s advice: “Listen to those under your supervision. Really listen. Don’t act as if you’re listening and let it go in one ear and out the other. Faking it is worse than not doing it at all.” Location: 762
  • Psychological safety is the key to creating a workplace where people can be confident enough to act without undue fear of being ridiculed, punished, or fired—and be humble enough to openly doubt what is believed and done. Location: 791
  • Wise bosses like a good fight. A pile of studies show that when people fight over ideas, and do so with mutual respect, they are more productive and creative. The worst teams degenerate into nasty personal conflict, mercilessly insulting, teasing, and tearing each other down. Karl Weick captures the essence of a good argument: “Fight as if you are right, listen as if you are wrong.” By pushing your ideas, pounding on others’ ideas, and inviting others to pound on yours, too, the best ideas are formed and selected. Location: 890
  • Sham participation is a surefire way to undermine people’s productivity and wipe out their trust. Location: 977
  • The best bosses do more than charge up people, and recruit and breed energizers. They eliminate the negative, because even a few bad apples and destructive acts can undermine many good people and constructive acts. Location: 1,200
  • Joel is the only academic dean I’ve ever met who wandered the halls several times a week, talking to faculty about what they were doing and the challenges they faced. Joel had thousands of things to do, but he always took time to listen to and show appreciation to the faculty he served. Location: 1,229
  • Good bosses don’t just get more out of their people and do it in more civilized ways; they attract and keep better people. Location: 1,330
  • Every boss can’t have deep knowledge of every follower’s expertise. When that happens, a boss’s job is to ask good questions, listen, defer to those with greater expertise, and, above all, to accept his or her own ignorance. Those who fail to do so risk making bad decisions and ruining their reputations. Location: 1,447
  • Experts’ actions become so automatic to them that they forget the simple steps they had to learn and other struggles they faced as novices. Some experts also resist dumbing things down because they are so impressed with their own brilliance—and so disdainful of those who lack it—that they view people who can’t understand them as dolts. Location: 1,530
  • The best bosses let the workers do their work. They protect their people from red tape, meddlesome executives, nosy visitors, unnecessary meetings, and a host of other insults, intrusions and time wasters. Location: 1,660
  • A skilled boss shields his or her people by intercepting and dealing with many messages, problems, people, and assignments, so his or her people can focus on their work. Location: 1,769
  • Some interruptions are unavoidable and are part of the work—but as a boss, the more trivial and unnecessary intrusions you can absorb, the more work your people will do and the less their mental health will suffer. Location: 1,775
  • The best bosses don’t delay or duck difficult deeds. Location: 1,948
  • Research by behavioral scientists shows that dirty work does less harm when bosses add four antidotes into the mix: Prediction, Understanding, Control, and Compassion. Location: 1,973
  • If you are a boss, ask yourself: When you look back at how you’ve treated followers, peers, and superiors, in their eyes, will you have earned the right to be proud of yourself? Or will they believe that you ought to be ashamed of yourself and embarrassed by how you have trampled on others’ dignity day after day? Location: 2,552
  • If you are a boss, your success depends on staying in tune with how others think, feel, and react to you. Bosses who persistently promote performance and humanity devote considerable energy to reading and responding to followers’ feelings and actions, and those of other key players like superiors, peers, and customers. Location: 2,597
1. Assume you are clueless, insensitive, and selfish—especially if you wield a lot of power or your people are performing especially well.
2. The definition of a great boss (or leader or manager) does not need to be reinvented.
3. There is a difference between management and leadership, but focusing on it is dangerous.
4. Bosses who are civilized and caring, but incompetent, can be really horrible.
6. Keep groups and teams as small as possible.
7. What you “learn” from Steve Jobs tells more about yourself than about him!
8. Embrace the mess. Location: 2,930
  • Indeed, when I think about the best bosses I’ve studied and talked with over the years, they pass what might be called the Jimmy Buffett test: When it is clear what must be done, they make sure that the right people do the right things as fast as possible. But when it is unclear what to do, they design the work and create a mind-set well suited to muddling forward through the mess until—if they and their followers are good enough and lucky enough—the answers eventually become clear. Location 2,954



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.