Reviews, Watercooler

Being A Good Boss (And Not Just On Bosses Day)

If Robert Sutton could revise the characters of Fortune 500 executives and managers, he’d grant them two traits that he thinks are sorely lacking today.

GoodBossThe first one would send millions of workers racing to buy champagne – and not just for National Bosses Day today. Sutton, a Stanford professor and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss (BusinessPlus, 308 pages, $23.99) would make bosses have their workers’ backs and really care about them.

“It’s competence and compassion,” Sutton said. It’s making sure the manager has racked up enough “love points” so when the workload is incredibly stressful and demanding, her team will pull together and press on.

The second trait might score with Wall Street analysts. He’d endow all managers with an ability “to see both the forest and the trees at the same time.”  So one manager could handle both the big picture ideas while concentrating on the tiny details of execution.

“It’s a weird ability great bosses have,” said Sutton, whether they’re directing a movie, leading Apple Computers or serving as front line supervisors.  They see the final results they want to obtain and all the small steps and pieces needed to get there.

One such boss, Apple CEO Steve Jobs, shows up in Sutton’s latest bestseller a few times. In an interview, Sutton describes how Jobs protects the Apple brand at every turn, even reportedly firing a female employee who bought shopping bags for the Apple Store in Palo Alto because Jobs didn’t like the bags. “He has a commitment to quality and design and the human experience” of Apple’s customers, Sutton said.

Great bosses understand the tightrope they walk between humanity and being a demanding taskmaster. They ask a lot of questions and forgive people when they fail – while remembering the lessons learned.

“You get more credit than you deserve and you get more blame than you deserve. Navigating that process is important for bosses to learn,” said Sutton. He suggests bosses shine the credit onto their team and their contributions, since “you get the credit anyway since they work for you.” And when you, the supervisor, share acclaim, you’ll develop a reputation as a generous boss.

Fine bosses take pride in their people’s performances and develop trusting relationships with those who report to them.

Sutton suggests an easy metric to measure whether you’re a good boss. Ask someone to come into a meeting you’re leading and time how much you talk versus others there. Also count the statements you make compared to questions asked. Great bosses may talk for only 11 or 12 minutes in the hour session, he said.

“Being a good boss is really really hard,” said Sutton. “It never ends.”

Not even when the Bosses Day cards disappear.