Author: Robert I. Sutton  

Publisher: Business Plus, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0446556088, 340 pages


Numerous studies around the world during the past several decades drew similar conclusions, noting that “75% of the workforce reports that their immediate supervisor is the most stressful part of their job.” Professor of management Robert I. Sutton, the best-selling author of The No Asshole Rule , explores how good and bad bosses affect the workplace and what distinguishes one from the other. Sutton’s research is solid and his anecdotes are amusing, though he’s short on practical suggestions about how to handle a bad boss. As you might guess from the title of his last book, Sutton indulges in salty language and profanity, so be warned. With that caveat, getAbstract recommends his book to anyone who has – or is – a boss.

The negative impact of bad bosses

Bad bosses, especially bullies, have a profoundly negative impact on their workplaces. In a 2007 survey of almost 8,000 U.S. adults, 37 percent had experienced bullying at work. Of those respondents, 72 percent said they suffered abuse from their superiors. Employees with obnoxious bosses were more likely to make intentional mistakes (30 percent vs. 6 percent), call in sick when they were healthy (29 percent vs. 4 percent), and put minimal effort into their work (33 percent vs. 9 percent).

A boss can be bad in many ways, but whatever the permutation, ill behaved bosses make people sick. In England, researchers tracked 6,000 civil service workers for 20 years. Those with bosses who were hypercritical, poor listeners or stingy with praise experienced higher rates of angina, heart attacks and death from heart disease than those working for benevolent bosses. Finnish and Swedish studies show similar results. Employees working for bad bosses frequently report feeling angry, stressed out, emotionally numb, depressed or anxious. On the flip side, employees are more satisfied and productive when they feel their bosses care about them. Organizations with good bosses enjoy healthier employees, more profitability and greater employee retention.

Balance, determination and “small wins”

Good bosses are not micromanagers who stifle creativity and interrupt work flow, and they’re not lackadaisical, like bosses who fail to achieve company goals. Good bosses walk the line between stepping in when necessary and letting their employees work without interference. Good managers have determination, or “grit” – that is, “perseverance and passion toward long-term goals.” Bosses with grit regard work as a marathon, not a sprint. They sustain effort through adversity and never stop learning.

Good bosses don’t just plan to meet long-term goals. They also set out to achieve small wins along the way and to motivate staffers to reach for lofty goals. For example, some people “freak out or freeze up” when their tasks become overwhelming or too complex. People are more effective when they conquer smaller tasks and celebrate small victories. Helping staff members stay calm and confident is one reason to break projects into manageable, contained segments.

Bosses must meet certain performance goals without destroying their workforce. Partners at one law firm made, on average, almost $1 million a year, but over time they became mean and rude, and they became exhausted by their quest to achieve enough billable hours to satisfy their boss. Like many other high-pressure leaders, this manager was oblivious to his nasty behavior and bad reputation. Bad bosses tend to have inflated views of their own abilities and performance. By contrast, great bosses strive for balance between performance and humanity…

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