One of my favorite management experts, Robert Sutton, Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University, is currently working on a book called "Good Boss, Bad Boss" (coming out in September). In a recent blog at Harvard Business Review, Sutton listed 12 key beliefs held by the best bosses. It's a great list and I recommend reading them all , but I'll focus on just a few of my favorites here:
"Having ambitious and well-defined goals is important, but it is useless to think about them much. My job is to focus on the small wins that enable my people to make a little progress every day."
That belief hit a nerve with me since I've been subject in the past to bosses that liked to do a lot of posturing about the company's BHAG (big hairy audacious goal, a term coined by James Collins and Jerry Porras in an article in 1996). Pursuers of this goal can sometimes lose sight of the small, day-to-day things that make big visions achievable, as well as the rank-and-file employees who are often responsible for these small wins (notice I didn't use the phrase "small people" after BP's chairman made that huge blunder). And while a BHAG is supposed to unify employees in a common goal, it can also be so ambitious that is has the opposite effect-turning people off to what they view as unrealistic. In addition, if a company changes its BHAG fairly often, one comes to view it as just another meaningless phrase that no one will pay attention to and will fade from the corporate lexicon quickly.
"I strive to be confident enough to convince people that I am in charge, but humble enough to realize that I am often going to be wrong."
Getting the right balance between confidence and humility is tricky, but good bosses make it look effortless. That's because they know that all people make mistakes and they don't go ballistic when that happens. Their direct reports will make mistakes, people throughout the organization will make mistakes, and most important of all they will make mistakes. It's not the mistake that's the problem; it's how a leader handles that error that will set the tone for the entire organization. Which leads to one last maxim of good bosses:
"One of the best tests of my leadership-and my organization-is ‘what happens after people make a mistake.' "
If you've ever been chewed out by a boss and made to feel like a fool, you probably never felt comfortable around that person again. You may, in fact, have left the organization or been fired. The damage that is done to the person who made the mistake as well as to the people around him who witness the bosses heated reaction is irreversible. Moreover, if the environment is toxic for those who make mistakes, no one will ever want to own up to one. Which can mean that far greater damage occurs as people try to cover up the problem.
What good behavior stands out in your mind from the best bosses you've come across?