Good Boss, Bad Boss by Robert I. Sutton (2010)

Nosy bosses… undermine performance by asking annoying and useless questions that interrupt people’s work. And followers who are too closely monitored become less creative because… they stick to tried-and-true methods (p 23).

good-boss-bad-bossOne of my favorite bosses was curious enough to investigate and observe with little interference and without nosing in until needed. She was the calm and steady foundation of a high performing department.

In the opening chapter of Good Boss, Bad Boss and after explaining why bosses are important, Sutton, author of the best-selling The No Asshole Rule, explains the correct boss mindset. Among other things, good bosses need grit.

Great bosses instill grit in followers. They are dogged and patient, pressing themselves and others to move ever forward. Gritty bosses create a sense of urgency without treating life as one long emergency (p 24).

Some folks in the library world meltdown first thing in the morning if even one minuscule opening procedure is skipped or done improperly, as if the library could not open if the till was still locked in the safe. Not the sense of emergency Sutton is talking about.

Regarding grit, I agree strongly with Daniel Pink’s ideology in Drive: the Surprising Truth Behind What Motivates Us. I’ve found most Librarians are highly motivated… until a boss or bosses interfere. Nurturing bosses that instill grit, set a series of managable goals to achieve grand visions, and support their staff’s actions are highly successful (meaning their staffers are well informed, provide excellent service and programs, and work harder than necessary) and everyone is happy. I know this because I am currently one such staffer, high performing and happy.

Sutton is right when he points out that great bosses work relentlessly toward two general goals: performance excellence (while remembering that excellence may mean failure) and dignified humanity (excellence is nothing if you sell your soul).

Being a great boss is a delicate balancing of (a lot of – at least perceived) confidence and (just enough) humility (so you aren’t perceived as an asshole), talking and listening (really listening!), firm decision making (after hearing pros and cons), and an ability to shoulder praise (without forgetting the team that earned it for you) and blame (with sincerity… after all, if you fake an apology – I’m looking at you BP exec on your yacht – it will just be a lot worse).

The best bosses spark collective imagination by creating a safety zone where people can talk about twisted and half-baked ideas, test them, and fail without ridicule, punishment, or ostracism – and to fail cheaply and without doing harm to others (p 78).

There’s not a whole lot of money riding on decisions made at my level. Yet, there’s a lot of fear and finger pointing among many of my colleagues and support staff. Why? There appears to be little tolerance for mistakes (whether real or imaginary is irrelevant). Sigh. Who is responsible for this environment?

On the flip side, when poor, costly decisions are made at the highest levels, where is the accountability? This is the most frustrating thing about unionized public service. Were similar mistakes made in the private sector, heads would roll – justifiably. After all, many are made through neglect, apathy or because… well, because the decision maker was an asshole. Yet when a costly mistake is made in the library setting, it is glossed over, sometimes even denied (ha ha, as if a group of information specialists won’t figure it out).


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