How to Be a Good Boss in Bad Times

Jann FreedLeading Leave a Comment

As one of my sages said when interviewed for my book Leading with Wisdom:  Sage Advice from 100 Experts:

“When times are tough is not the time to get tough.”–Jim Autry, author of Love and Profit:  The Art of Caring Leadership

Robert Sutton, professor at Stanford, wrote a book a few years ago that I reference often:  Good Boss, Bad Boss.

What I appreciate about this book is how it is evidenced based and grounded in research.  Sutton summarized some of the key beliefs “that are held by the best bosses–and rejected, or more often simply never even thought about, by the worst bosses.”  The beliefs are listed below.

If you supervise anyone–have anyone reporting to you–I think this list is worth printing and posting as a reminder.  See how well your beliefs match this list.

Jim Collins describes a Level 5 Leader as one who is humble but also has a strong will to take action.  The list to me reflects humility and vulnerability.  But as I have said in previous posts, I view vulnerability as a strength.  If you are in a position to influence the lives of others, they know when you have made a mistake so you might as well own up to it.  They are watching your every move and analyzing it.  So honest reflection is powerful in being an effective leader–one others want to follow and are inspired by authenticity.

In fact, use the list as a quiz.  Do they reflect your thinking?  If not, you should consider shifting your thinking.

Let me know what you think.

  1.  I have a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work for me.
  2. My success–and that of my people–depends largely on being the master of obvious and mundane things, not on magical, obscure, or breakthrough ideas or methods.
  3. 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.
  4. One of the most important, and most difficult, parts of my job is to strike the delicate balance between being too assertive and not assertive enough.
  5. My job is to serve as a human shield, to protect my people from external intrusions, distractions, and idiocy of every stripe–and to avoid imposing my own idiocy on them as well.
  6. 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.
  7. I aim to fight as if I am right and listen as if I am wrong–and to teach my people to do the same thing.
  8. One of the best tests of my leadership–and my organization–is “what happens after people make a mistake?”
  9. Innovation is crucial to every team and organization.  So my job is to encourage my people to generate and test all kinds of new ideas.  But it is also my job to help them kill off all the bad ideas we generate, and most of the good ideas, too.
  10. Bad is stronger than good.  It is more important to eliminate the negative than to accentuate the positive.
  11. How I do things is as important as what I do.
  12. Because I wield power over others, I am at great risk of acting like an insensitive jerk–and not realizing it.

Basically this list reflects what I often advocate in leadership courses and workshops:

“Leaders should clear obstacles–not be the obstacle!”