Good Boss, Bad Boss | Robert I. Sutton

Summary of: Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst
By: Robert I. Sutton


What separates a good boss from a bad boss, and what impact does this have on their workplace? ‘Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst’ by Robert I. Sutton, dives deep into the many crucial aspects of being a great leader and how different behaviors can foster healthy work environments or contribute to dysfunction and toxicity. The book also explores how to navigate tricky situations and strike a balance between people’s well-being and reaching organizational goals. With a plethora of real-life examples of both good and bad bosses, Sutton’s insightful guide will offer readers practical advice on how to develop their leadership skills, avoid pitfalls, and become a boss that others will admire and respect.

Beware of Bad Bosses

Bad bosses, especially bullies, have a profoundly negative impact on their workplaces. They make their employees sick, more likely to make intentional mistakes or call in sick when they are healthy, and put minimal effort into their work. A 2007 survey of almost 8,000 US adults found that 37% had experienced bullying at work, and of those respondents, 72% suffered abuse from their superiors. In England, researchers tracked 6,000 civil service workers for 20 years and found that those with bosses who were hypercritical, poor listeners, or stingy with praise experienced higher rates of angina, heart attacks, and death from heart diseases. Finnish and Swedish studies have also shown that employees working for bad bosses frequently report feeling angry, stressed out, emotionally numb, depressed, or anxious. Organizations with good bosses enjoy healthier employees, more profitability, and greater employee retention. Remember, a boss can be bad in many ways, and just because you fancy yourself as fair and humane does not mean your employees see it that way.

The Qualities of a Good Boss

A good boss strikes the balance between leadership and delegation while possessing grit, caring for employee well-being, and setting achievable goals. Such bosses understand how to balance monetary gains with empathy, treating employees as people and not cogs in an enterprise.

Good bosses understand that to oversee their team effectively, they need to strike a balance between micromanagement and delegation. They recognize that their staff is capable, but also know when to step in and provide leadership. Good bosses possess grit, meaning they have the perseverance and passion required to sustain the effort through adversity. This mentality empowers their team to approach work as a marathon, not a sprint.

Moreover, good bosses value their team’s welfare and prioritize creating a conducive workspace for their employees. They seek to protect their staff from any obstructions that distract or hamper productivity. Good bosses also realize that the path to success is to prioritize both small low hanging goals and the more arduous long-term goals, helping to keep the team motivated. This vision contributes to segmenting projects into smaller, more achievable steps, which also reduces overall stress and improves the odds of success.

A happy workforce is a productive workforce. Good bosses understand the correlation between employee satisfaction, productivity, and profitability and actively work to create a positive work environment. They strive to keep their team members motivated and enthusiastic by delegating tasks that offer opportunities to learn and achieve.”

In contrast, bad bosses tend to prioritize meeting performance goals to the detriment of their workforce. An example of this is partners in a law firm making nearly $1 million a year, whose quest for more billable hours led to burnout and harsh behavior towards others. Bad bosses commonly overestimate their abilities and discount their employee’s welfare. In contrast, good bosses understand the need to balance work with care, striking the balance between monetary gains and employee well-being.

The Truth About Bosses

Bosses often receive more credit or blame than they deserve. They only contribute 15% to the gap between good and bad organizational performance, yet they receive 50% of the credit or blame. Bosses cannot create the romance of leadership, but they can act with confidence and take control. Good bosses balance performance and humanity, being decisive, giving credit to employees, and admitting mistakes. CEO Michael McCain of Maple Leaf Foods set an example in 2008 when he publicly apologized for bacterial poisoning caused by the company’s meat. Good bosses enhance dignity and pride while getting things done. Grumpiness, nastiness, laziness, and stupidity are contagious, so it is important for bosses to act poised and secure to gain followers. Talking more than others, crossing arms, and standing up while speaking can make a boss appear more authoritative, but these techniques should not be overdone.

Becoming a Wise Boss

Becoming a wise boss requires more than just being intelligent. It entails having the humility to change one’s mind, creating an emotionally safe environment that encourages creativity, and knowing how to fight fair. Wise bosses listen carefully, encourage people to express themselves freely, and appreciate their employees. They also accept bad ideas and failures as part of the creative process. In contrast, lousy bosses live in a world of denial, make excuses, and fail to thank their workers. To be a wise boss, one must learn to embrace conflict as a tool for productivity and creativity.

Bad Bosses and Problem Staffers

Bad bosses can create a hostile work culture by mismanaging rewards. Incentivizing only implemented ideas instead of novel ideas can compromise creativity and enthusiasm. Negative interactions have a more profound effect than positive interactions, so good bosses must remove damaging employees as soon as possible. These employees could include “deadbeats” and “downers”, who are neither hard-working nor optimistic. It is essential to retain positive team players who work well together. Also, it is advisable to identify and steer clear of individuals who view their peers as competition, refuse to share credit, are two-faced and betray their co-workers, negotiate only for themselves, and willfully overlook colleagues. Remember, while great big goals energize people, small wins pave the way to success.

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