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This week, another installment in a series of posts I call theParadox of the week.”*

These are posts in which I point out the contradictory statements and/or paradoxical assertions made by the authors of management advice books.

The focus of today’s edition is the bestseller Good Boss, Bad Boss (2010) by Robert Sutton – a book that was written—according to its opening page—to address questions inspired by the “thousands of emails, articles, blog posts, and conversations” that his previous bestseller, The No Asshole Rule (2007), provoked.

It seems that Dr. Sutton—currently Professor of Management Science at the Stanford Engineering School—has established something of a reputation as an expert on bad/asshole bosses.[1]

But let’s see what his text has to say.

  • On page 4 of Good Boss, Bad Boss, Sutton perhaps states the obvious in pointing out that what most people are looking for is, in part, a boss who isn’t “a certified asshole.” Furthermore:

…treating people with dignity is something that skilled bosses do…” (p. 5)

Great – except that Sutton can also be found offering the following advice to managers at various points in his text:

Talk more than others…” (p. 68)

Interrupt people occasionally…” (p. 68)

Try a little flash of anger every now and then.” (p. 69)

Now I don’t know about you, but that’s not what necessarily comes to mind when I think of treating people with dignity. (It also sounds a little like what a certified asshole would do.)


  • On page 102 of his text, Sutton also cautions:

…employees who put their needs ahead of their colleagues and the company are dangerous.

Hard to argue with that, except that on page 245 he insists:

…to be a great boss you’ve got to think and act as if it is all about you. Your success depends on being fixated on yourself.

(And again, this sounds like a bad/asshole boss to me.)

But maybe bosses—good, bad, asshole or otherwise—just don’t matter as much as everyone thinks they do? Maybe there are other, more important factors for businesses to consider if they hope to succeed in a competitive marketplace? As Sutton explains on page 49:

The truth is that bosses of everything from small groups to Fortune 500 firms don’t matter as much as most of us believe.

And yet on page 17, he points out that “managers trump companies,” and furthermore quotes a “leadership researcher” who expresses this widely-held opinion:

People do not quit organizations, they quit bad bosses.

Oh yeah – and then there’s the very first sentence of Chapter 1 of his text. It reads:

Bosses matter.



See you next week.


*An instance in which a management advice-giver/author/“expert”/guru offers contradictory of otherwise paradoxical advice, typically without any apparent awareness of having done so. For more examples of this phenomena, click here. For an explanation as to why this happens—and why it happens ALL the time—please see: “Why you can throw out that management advice book (Parts 1,2&3).”


[1] Good Boss, Bad Boss by Robert I. Sutton. 2010. (New York: Grand Central Publishing), p. 1.