I’m troubled. The problem, in a nutshell, is that saying jerks and idiots are bad bosses is a bit too easy. It implies that not being a jerk or worse makes you a good boss. And that’s not always true. Nice people can be bad bosses.
I like Bob Sutton’s work a lot. He blogs at Bob Sutton Work Matters, he teaches at Stanford, and his books are good and good for you. I’ve quoted him often on this blog. His latest book, Good Boss Bad Boss, is brilliant. Every boss should read it.
Still, there’s this problem: By focusing so much attention on what not to do, and who not to be, we tend to undervalue the hard side of being in charge. Being a good boss also means following up on unmet expectations and disappointing performance with leadership, advice, teaching, and demanding better.
I think I did this wrong myself. I think I let being a supposed nice guy interfere with my managing a company. You can’t be liked by all and also optimize performance. Sure, some people work best when left alone and encouraged, but – hard, ugly truth – others lose interest and grow entitled. Good bosses deliver both positive and negative feedback. Good bosses make the company better. Whether they’re liked or not.
This is not Bob Sutton’s fault, not the fault of his work. But he tells great stories of jerks and idiots, and stories are powerful, so stories gather. So we unconsciously think being a boss is about being nice. We forget the hard part.