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Ducks in a Row: Bad Boss Bad Culture

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

So very true. I once worked at a company where one of the Vice Presidents took obviously sadistic pleasure in torturing people below him in the company hierarchy.

He even said to me once in private, with a smirk on his face, “I love scaring the hell out of people. Watch how I can make them shake when I threaten their ability to support their family. It feels good to have this much power.”

Adult bullying—particularly in the workplace, where people are often terrified of losing their source of income—is a serious problem and society has to stop ignoring it. You may be “the boss” but that does not give you the right to brutalize and abuse the people who work for you.Father and Husband, Seattle

2737187867_b162a330d2_mThis comment is from an NYT op-ed piece on about bullying and Lady Gaga’s official unveiling of her Born This Way Foundation at Harvard.

Sadly, the comment isn’t outlandish or even a recent phenomenon.

A memory dating back to the late Seventies is of a VP whose favorite pastime was forcing the managers under him to run layoffs a few days before Christmas; he really got off on that.

Last year Stanford prof Bob Sutton published Good Boss, Bad Boss about how power makes us focus more on our own needs and wants and less on others, also to act like the rules apply to others and not to us.

Based on new research Sutton has added more material on what he terms “power poisoning” to the recently released paperback version.

“Alas, recent developments suggest that staying in tune with the people you oversee is even more difficult than this book suggests. And the other disturbing effects of wielding power over others are even worse than I thought.”

Worse than Sutton thought? That, indeed, is a scary statement and one that should get your attention.

Bad Bosses are the source of bad cultures; there is absolutely no way to separate them.

Bad cultures are the source of bad results; there is absolutely no way to separate them.

This makes it simple for you to know if you have a case of power poisoning, as well as how severe it is.

Look at the results of your organization, whether team, department, division or company.

Just yours, not in combination with the rest of the company or in light of the economy or any other of the dozens of rationalizations available.

If you can actually do that you are at least half way to being able to counter the poison and reading Good Boss, Bad Boss will actually be worth your time.

Image credit: B Garrett


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Are Bosses Needed?

Monday, November 1st, 2010

are-bosses-neededIs the picture true? Do people need bosses?

A study about the value of middle management and what happens when it is significantly improved focused on manufacturing in India, but the bottom line, and what is universal, is that good managers and management practices can raise productivity in any situation.

But do highly educated knowledge workers need bosses as much as unskilled factory workers or could they produce the same results on their own?

Let’s make this very personal.

Think about the differences you found when working for a good boss and for a bad one—even if the relativity was more like good/great, bad/worse, or the most common, OK/so-so.

Think about how you felt when the alarm went off; did you look forward to your destination or shrink from it?

During the day did you feel part of a productive team; one that was making a difference and helping the company accomplish its goals or did it feel dysfunctional, untrustworthy, with everyone faking it?

Did you end the work day with a feeling of accomplishment and good mental attitude that you could share with family and friends or did you go home, slam the door and yell at the humans or animals that greeted you?

Trace those feelings back to the management actions and attitudes that fostered them.

Now you know what to do and not do yourself and which to do more of or eliminate.

No question that people need bosses, but what they really need are good to great bosses—and with a little effort you can be one.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/builtbydave/2149638304/

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Reviews: Good Boss, Bad Boss and The Orange Revolution

Monday, October 25th, 2010

I’m backed up on my reading and reviews, so I thought I’d cover two today, one with my own brief review and the other linked to a review by Jim Stroup.

good-boss-bad-bossFirst off is a new offering from Stanford’s Bob Sutton whose first book, The No Asshole Rule, loudly and publicly said what we all know—the workplace is no place for assholes (AKA jerks). Sutton’s new book, Good Boss, Bad Boss loudly proclaims another truth—boss quality matters or, as Sutton says, “people do not quit organizations, they quit bad bosses.” Jim already said everything in my mind, so read his excellent review and then read the book, you won’t be disappointed.

Second is The Orange Revolution by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton. I reviewed their previous books, The Carrot Principle and The Levity Effect and The Daily Carrot Principle (which makes a great gift).

The Orange Revolution is about the power of teams, but instead of typically anecdotal the-orange-revolutionevidence, it’s based on a 350,000-person study done by the Best Places to Work folks and other global studies, as well as their own experience over 20 years.

They found six traits that all successful teams share, sharing a dream or a vision, believing in your ability to realize that dream, willingness to take prudent risks, appropriate metrics, perseverance, and a narrative or story-line that captures people’s imaginations and drives extraordinary efforts.

You may have heard this before, but solid research and good presentation makes a big difference. The book isn’t geared just to managers and positional leaders, if you work with a group, even a dysfunctional one, reading the book will benefit you.

I think both these books belong in your personal library and they would make great presents to friends—or anonymously to bosses who need them.

Image credit: Simon & Schuster and Work Matters

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Expand Your Mind: About Leadership

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

expand-your-mindToday we’re going to start with the general and move to the specific.

Last year we saw a generational shift during the Presidential election and that generational shift is happening in business, too.

Ethisphere recently spoke with William W. George, a professor of management at Harvard Business School who is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic and currently a director of both ExxonMobil and Goldman Sachs. He talked about how leadership in business is going through a huge and dramatic transformation as the baby boom gives way to younger executives with very different ways of seeing the world, connecting and working. He also talked about what it takes to be a strong leader in a challenging time.

George considers Chip Conley too old at 49 to be one of those transformational leaders, which just goes to show how silly it is to define things by a random circumstance like birth date. It may seem to work as a generality for marketers, but it rarely holds up on a case-by-case basis. In a delightful post, Conley talks about his leadership lessons during junior high.

No, what Danari [13 year old grandson] wanted to know is which classes had the most profound impact on me as a leader today?

I do like Bob Sutton’s stuff, he’s a great writer and he always makes sense. In this post he looks the boss as a shield, not for herself, but for her people.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic lately, since it’s the focus of an article I’m publishing in September’s issue of Harvard Business Review called “The Boss as Human Shield,” and of one chapter in Good Boss, Bad Boss. There are many nuances to how bosses protect their followers, but it’s a useful simplification to say that the protection must be both tangible and emotional.

The recent stories of unbridled greed makes you think that nothing would surprise you, but any time you think that another story comes along and you realize that you ain’t seen nothing yet. The story of David H. Brooks, CEO of DHB, which makes body armor for the military and police, fits that category. It’s not just his greed, although that is stunning,

“What makes it interesting isn’t that there is anything novel legally about it, but just how egregious this guy’s alleged behavior is, how gross the abuses are and how much greed is involved,” said Meredith R. Miller, an associate law professor at Touro College in Central Islip, N.Y.

but it was his defense that blew me away.

His lawyers also defended the hiring of prostitutes for employees and board members, arguing in court papers that it represented a legitimate business expense “if Mr. Brooks thought such services could motivate his employees and make them more productive.”

Unbelievable.

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pedroelcarvalho/2812091311/

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How to Improve Your Management Skill

Monday, June 14th, 2010

What do you do when you want to improve your management skills?

expertsMany people take a class, get another degree, and attend leadership school, all with the hope of finding management Tao. They crave a methodology, a set of actions they can do that assures management success.

But as the old adage says, it ain’t gonna happen.

Or to quote Bob Sutton, “I’ve come to conclude that all the technique and behavior coaching in the world won’t make a boss great if that boss doesn’t also have a certain mindset.”

So when you face new and challenging situations go ahead and

  • access expert information, but don’t stop there.
  • Discuss it with friends/colleagues,
  • think about both what you read and what they said and
  • watch the magic happen when you synthesize the input, tweaking it so it fits your MAP and the situation.

It is this process that makes it an approach you truly own.

Try the process with Sutton’s 12 Things Good Bosses Believe at the link above.

Management skills evolve, both personally and on a wider front, as they are shared with other managers, who also use the process, adding and subtracting based on their situation, experience and MAP.

Stop trying to use the whole cloth from just one source as seems to be happening more often these days.

Yes, the demands on your time are greater than ever, but there  is a crazy idea floating around that most, if not all, solutions are available on the Net if one searches long enough and, worse, that a better-than-50% fit can be used as is.

While this beats the “do first, think later” school of management, it’s not something that will win praise from your bosses or kudos from your team.

The way to become a great manager is to think, mull, accept, reject, evolve and even change your MAP as you digest and apply the information around you.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hikingartist/4192571173/

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Quotable Quotes: Bob Sutton

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

bob-suttonBob Sutton is Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford and a Professor of Organizational Behavior, by courtesy, at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, but he is best known to the majority of people as the author of The No Asshole Rule.

He is also a genuinely nice guy, has a prominent email link on his blog and actually responds when you write him.

The blog is called Work Matters and it’s one of those ‘if you read nothing else…’ things. In the left column Bob has listed “15 things I believe” and my favorites form today’s quotes along with links for context.

Which ones would you choose?

Getting a little power can turn you into an insensitive self-centered jerk.

The best test of a person’s character is how he or she treats those with less power.

The best single question for testing an organization’s character is: What happens when people make mistakes?

Saying smart things and giving smart answers are important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.

Image credit: Stanford Report

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Robert Sutton On How To Be A Good Boss In Bad Times

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Do you subscribe to The McKinsey Quarterly? They have a great selection of topics depending on your interests. I mention this because you may have to register to read the following, but no worry, it’s free.

McKinsey has done a great interview with Stanford prof and management guru Robert Sutton, he of The No Asshole Rule fame.

In his McKinsey interview Sutton talks about how to be a “Good Boss in Bad Times.” Take a moment and see the video interview  or read the transcript (sorry, the video won’t embed).

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Image credit: McKinsey Quarterly

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Contagion, corruption and you

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Another favorite of mine, Robert Sutton, author of The No Asshole Rule added his thoughts to BW’s cover story Business@Work.

In a short, hard-hitting piece, Sutton says that “One of the most compelling, and frightening, academic literatures I know is about something called “emotional contagion,” which has the power to turn almost anybody into a jerk.

The research shows “…that most people, regardless of their personality traits, will automatically and mindlessly start feeling and displaying the emotions expressed by the people around them,” and says it has happened more than once to him.

Next up is research that confirms that power does indeed corrupt, and it doesn’t take much to do the job.

“A growing body of research—notably by professors Dachner Keltner at University of California, Berkeley, Deborah Gruenfeld at Stanford, and their students—documents that three things happen when people are put in positions of power:

  1. They focus more on satisfying their own needs;
  2. They focus less on the needs of their underlings;
  3. They act like “the rules” others are expected to follow don’t apply to them.

Keltner also cites research showing that power leads people to process information in shallower ways and to make decisions that are less carefully reasoned.”

Hilariously, given just a smidgeon of power and people “eat more cookies, chew with their mouths open, and leave more crumbs.”

The way to avoid these traps is by honing a high state of self-awareness, while cultivating a circle who tells you the truth no matter what. This approach is in line Stanford professor Hayagreeva Rao’s recent hypothesis “…that CEOs with teenage children are less likely to suffer from the power poisoning described by Keltner and Gruenfeld. He reasons that no matter how much deference they get at work, at home they face sons and daughters who constantly challenge their power and question their judgment.”

Gee, who knew that teenage angst and rebellion served a higher cause than just making adults miserable.

Image credit: flattop341 CC license

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Meeting by design

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

Image credit: Nammer

Few people put much thought into organizing meetings, whether company-wide, department or team. The best create an agenda, but little beyond that.

If this sounds familiar, you need to think again.

The idea that meetings need to be consciously designed as does any successful, productive business process is addressed by Business Week Innovation.

More new age voodoo?

According to Debra Dunn, a 22-year veteran of Hewlett-Packard, “Meetings have tremendous symbolic power.”

Robert Sutton, an expert in organizational behavior and author of, most recently, The No Asshole Rule, says, “If you destroy the culture, then you destroy the company.” (Both teach at Standford University.)

Read the story and the Playbook and compare your attitude, approach and most importantly results to the case study presented.

How do your meetings measure up?

What changes would make them more productive?

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