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However defined, a "boss" by nature is given or somehow obtains at least some degree of control of and - yes - responsibility for others, for better or worse. Its connotations have become so diverse that the term's meaning is almost entirely determined by the person who invokes it. The inmates of a prison, for example, do not have the same meaning in mind when referring to a guard they fear as do fans of Bruce Springsteen when describing someone they revere. In the business world, however, everyone agrees that having a "good boss" is highly preferable to having a "bad boss." Now and for the first time insofar as I know, Robert Sutton has written a book in which all of the attention is devoted to a rigorous examination of these two types.
Having read and then reviewed most of Sutton's previous books, I was not surprised to find so much valuable material (i.e. information and especially counsel) in his latest book. He also includes contributions from a diverse group of people who share their own experiences, opinions and suggestions. They include Michael McCain ("A Recipe for an Effective Apology," Pages 64-65), Margie Mauldin (the "Tape Method" to manage anger, Pages 92-93), Matthew May (a "dirty trick" to demonstrate how an organizational hierarchy can enable bad decisions, Pages 131-132), Bonny Warner-Simi (how to support and protect direct-reports by improving their performance evaluation process, Pages 165-166), and Paul Levy (how to support and protect those whom Jody Heymann characterizes - in Profit at the Bottom of the Ladder: Creating Value by Investing in Your Workforce -- as "the least-advantaged employees," Pages 195-196).
These and other contributions supplement those that Sutton includes as he delivers what the book's subtitle promises: an explanation of how to be the best (or at least a much better) boss by learning from real-world bosses who lack character and/or competence. "I use the word `boss' rather than `leader,' `manager,' or `supervisor' (although all are bosses) because it implies an authority figure that has direct and frequent contact with subordinates - and who is responsible for personally directing and evaluating their work." This book focuses on the differences between the best and worst bosses "when performing essential chores like taking charge, making wise decisions, turning talk into action, and doing their dirty work (i.e. work that is unpleasant but necessary but illegal, immoral, or unethical).
Sutton duly acknowledges that many of the ideas in this book are shaped by two books he co-authored with Jeffrey Pfeffer, The Knowing-Doing Gap and, more recently, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense. (Note: I highly recommend those as well as Pfeffer's latest book, Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don't.) Readers will especially appreciate how Sutton presents his material. He makes skillful use of bold face, italics, brackets, and bullet points as well as sequences of separate but related ideas. For example:
"What the Best Bosses Do": Seven attributes (Pages 47-64)
"Tricks for Taking Charge": He identifies nine (Pages 68-70)
"The Attitude of Wisdom": Smart Bosses and Wise Bosses (Page 73)
"Participation Traps": He identifies and discusses three (Pages 88-91)
"Other Smart People's Tricks": He identifies nine (Pages 113-122)
As is also true in all of his previously published books and articles, Sutton identifies the "what" and explains the "why" of a good or bad business decision or initiative, then focuses most of his attention on how to do what must be done while avoiding (or repairing) the damage of what should not be done. Congratulations to Robert Sutton on a brilliant achievement. Bravo!