In the end, Robert Sutton’s 2010 management text Good Boss, Bad Boss struck me as uncertain as its title.
Good boss? Bad boss? This Stanford professor of management (and author of seven books on the subject, including The No A**hole Rule) just can’t seem to decide….or explain the difference.
On the one hand, for example, he states the obvious: No one wants to work for ‘a certified a**hole’ (p. 4). Nor is this how good bosses even behave, in Prof. Sutton’s opinion. As he explains:
…treating people with dignity is something that skilled bosses do… (p. 5)
But later on, he has these odd bits of advice for managers:
Talk more than others… (p. 68)
Interrupt people occasionally… (p. 68)
Try a little flash of anger every now and then… (p. 69)
Seems like bad boss behavior to me.
Sutton also insists that ’employees who put their needs ahead of their colleagues and the company are dangerous’ (p. 102). That’s right, dangerous. But if you really believe that, why would you later say:
…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. (p. 245)
Maybe I’m making this more complicated than it needs to be. After all, as Sutton explains on page 49 of his text:
The truth is that bosses of everything from small groups to Fortune 500 firms don’t matter as much as most of us believe.
Okay…except guess who disagrees with that statement? Robert Sutton. On page one of chapter one, he insists:
So good boss? Or bad boss? Does any of it even matter??
Hopefully in his next book, Professor Sutton will have some answers.