Reflections from Good Boss, Bad Boss

I recently finished Good Boss Bad Boss by Robert Sutton . In short, Sutton survey’s managers of hundreds of companies and seeks to determine what makes a good boss vs. a bad boss. One of the key takeaways for people who manager others is to have the self-awareness of how what you say and what you do effects others. People under you look up to you for guidance, leadership, company direction, safety in their position, protection from others in the company, and more. Too often those who manage people lose sight of this. If you manage people, whether it be as a pastor, manager, or even in a volunteer position this book is worth reading. Throughout, it sparked several areas of reflection for my own position in leading and managing a team. One of the key takeaways was that often managers and leaders have a higher view of themselves than the people under them do. Being able to properly assess yourself is key because we often think that we are leading well and people have a high view of us but in too many scenarios this is not true. Leading well and managing people involves self-reflection and proper assessment of how your actions and words effect others around you. This is amplified when those around you are people you manage.

Note: there is some crude language throughout the book but despite this caveat I highly recommend it if you are in a position over others

Instead of a full review of the book I’ve catalogued several quotes from the book:


  • Small wins: 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 (27).
  • Protecting your people: …a hallmark of effective bosses everywhere is that they doggedly protect their people (36).
    • Do you see your job as caring for and protecting your people, and fighting for them when necessary? Or do you consider it too much trouble to advocate for resources they need or too personally risky to battle idiocy from on high? When your people screw up, do you take the heat or hang them out to dry? When you screw up, do you admit it or point the finger of blame at your innocent underlings (37)?
  • Self-assessment: despite our beliefs to the contrary, most of us suffer the same distorted self-assessments as our colleagues. Worse yet, the most deeply incompetent people suffer from the most inflated assessments of their own abilities and performance (40).
  • Making decisions: Indecision is a hallmark of crummy bosses (54).
  • Taking responsibility: Don’t just accept blame and apologize. Bosses need to take immediate control over whatever they can, show they have learned from failures, announce new plans, and–when changes are implemented–make sure that everyone knows they have wrestled back control over the situation (63).
  • Having an accurate assessment of your product: Wise bosses don’t just encourage followers to reveal bad news. They dig for evidence that clashes with their presumptions (82).
  • Humility: Wise bosses have the confidence to act on what they know and the humility to doubt their knowledge (73).
  • Self-awareness: When people seem to be perfect, it just means you don’t know them very well. A hallmark of wise bosses is that they are not only aware of their ignorance, weak skills, and character flaws–they actually do something about it. They deal with their Achilles’ heels (91).
  • Gratitude: Expressing gratitude is especially important when the stench of failure is in the air. These are times when people most need support from the boss and each other (97).
  • Imitation: Mindless imitation is among the most dangerous and widespread forms of management idiocy (148).
  • On authenticity: I asked Pixar’s two-time Academy Award-winner Brad Bird: What kind of people are especially poisonous to innovation? He answered: People who talk quality but don’t put it in their own work, yeah, it’s those types. You know, I don’t mind somebody who’s green if they’re engaged, because I know they’re on the hunt. But there are people who know the buzzwords of quality people, but don’t actually walk the walk (128).
  • Leading in areas that aren’t your strength: In an ideal world, bosses would always manage work they understood deeply. But it. isn’t always feasible. 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 m 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 reputation (134).
  • Be on time to meetings, especially with those who are under you: Yes, some are necessary, but too many bosses run them in ways that disrespect people’s time and dignity—especially self-absorbed bosses bent on self-glorification. If you want to grab power and don’t care much about your people, make sure you arrive a little late to most meetings. Plus, every now and then, show up very late, or—better yet—send word after everyone has gathered that, alas, you must cancel the meeting because something more pressing has come up. After all, if you are a very important Person, the little people need to accept their inferior social standing (157).
  • More on self-awareness Developing and sustaining self-awareness ought to be at the top of the list for every boss. David Dunning, of Cornell University, shows that a hallmark of poor performers is a lack of self-awareness; they consistently overestimate their skills in just about any task that requires intellectual and social skills, such as debating, having a sense of humor, or interviewing others. In contrast, Dunning finds that self-awareness is a hallmark of the best performers—they are especially cognizant of their strengths and weaknesses, and fret about overcoming pitfalls that can undermine their performance (244).
    • 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. Of course, there is no single magical or simple thing that defines a great boss. (244)
  • Recognition of your limitations of self-awareness: If you wield authority over others, it dulls your ability to be in tune with their needs, feelings, and actions and what it’s like to work for you (256).
  • Management vs. Leadership: There is a difference between management and leadership, but focusing on it is dangerous (263).
  • Don’t just be nice: Bosses who are civilized and caring, but incompetent, can be really horrible (266).

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