Customer Reviews: Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best... and Learn from the Worst
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on August 24, 2010
Bob Sutton's latest book is a great read, and is filled with vivid examples of leaders who do things right, or wrong. Sutton is a talented story teller, and brings bosses to life in his descriptions of real life executives and managers, and also draws on his deep knowledge of psychology to explain, in clear terms, why the actions of bosses are so impactful, for better or for worse, on the people who work for them. This book does what so few management and leadership books are able to- it balances "showing" through real world stories with "telling" through established theories of social psychology. Anyone who has a boss, or is a boss, will benefit from reading this book.
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on August 29, 2010
Good Boss Bad Boss is a great book on leadership.

I have read almost all of Professor Sutton's books and I find his ability to find real world examples of just about any leadership style or challenge amazing. This book is no exception. Sutton talks about the leadership theory, but balances it with his shrewd and pragmatic lens on the real world. Sutton calls it like he sees it-no apologies. I enjoy the mixture of theory and reality. Sutton sees leadership as a craft; something personal.

This book is filled with great real world examples of leadership in many styles. I found it thought provoking, as I was able to think about how any one of these styles might suit me or my organization.

A great book and author.

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However defined, a "boss" by nature is given or somehow obtains at least some degree of control of and - yes - responsibility for others, for better or worse. Its connotations have become so diverse that the term's meaning is almost entirely determined by the person who invokes it. The inmates of a prison, for example, do not have the same meaning in mind when referring to a guard they fear as do fans of Bruce Springsteen when describing someone they revere. In the business world, however, everyone agrees that having a "good boss" is highly preferable to having a "bad boss." Now and for the first time insofar as I know, Robert Sutton has written a book in which all of the attention is devoted to a rigorous examination of these two types.

Having read and then reviewed most of Sutton's previous books, I was not surprised to find so much valuable material (i.e. information and especially counsel) in his latest book. He also includes contributions from a diverse group of people who share their own experiences, opinions and suggestions. They include Michael McCain ("A Recipe for an Effective Apology," Pages 64-65), Margie Mauldin (the "Tape Method" to manage anger, Pages 92-93), Matthew May (a "dirty trick" to demonstrate how an organizational hierarchy can enable bad decisions, Pages 131-132), Bonny Warner-Simi (how to support and protect direct-reports by improving their performance evaluation process, Pages 165-166), and Paul Levy (how to support and protect those whom Jody Heymann characterizes - in Profit at the Bottom of the Ladder: Creating Value by Investing in Your Workforce -- as "the least-advantaged employees," Pages 195-196).

These and other contributions supplement those that Sutton includes as he delivers what the book's subtitle promises: an explanation of how to be the best (or at least a much better) boss by learning from real-world bosses who lack character and/or competence. "I use the word `boss' rather than `leader,' `manager,' or `supervisor' (although all are bosses) because it implies an authority figure that has direct and frequent contact with subordinates - and who is responsible for personally directing and evaluating their work." This book focuses on the differences between the best and worst bosses "when performing essential chores like taking charge, making wise decisions, turning talk into action, and doing their dirty work (i.e. work that is unpleasant but necessary but illegal, immoral, or unethical).

Sutton duly acknowledges that many of the ideas in this book are shaped by two books he co-authored with Jeffrey Pfeffer, The Knowing-Doing Gap and, more recently, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense. (Note: I highly recommend those as well as Pfeffer's latest book, Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don't.) Readers will especially appreciate how Sutton presents his material. He makes skillful use of bold face, italics, brackets, and bullet points as well as sequences of separate but related ideas. For example:

"What the Best Bosses Do": Seven attributes (Pages 47-64)
"Tricks for Taking Charge": He identifies nine (Pages 68-70)
"The Attitude of Wisdom": Smart Bosses and Wise Bosses (Page 73)
"Participation Traps": He identifies and discusses three (Pages 88-91)
"Other Smart People's Tricks": He identifies nine (Pages 113-122)

As is also true in all of his previously published books and articles, Sutton identifies the "what" and explains the "why" of a good or bad business decision or initiative, then focuses most of his attention on how to do what must be done while avoiding (or repairing) the damage of what should not be done. Congratulations to Robert Sutton on a brilliant achievement. Bravo!
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on August 24, 2010
I've had the pleasure of teaching with Bob at Stanford for nearly five years now. Reading this book will give you a small taste of the fun and brain-stimulating zip of being around Bob in real life!

Bob Sutton's writing is fun-to-read, extremely useful for practitioners, and based on real research. This is a rare combination in life generally, but particularly in business writing. Bob distills observational research and data into an actionable and memorable framework for leadership and management that -- if more people heeded it -- can make the world a better place. Sometimes the bad boss case studies make you cringe, but that's more than half the fun. By contrast, the good boss case studies are downright inspiring.

This is an entertaining *and* useful book because it puts a light on one of the most important relationships in our lives -- that between the manager and the managed. Note that Bob emphasizes the practices of the best bosses. This is a fundamentally optimistic point of view: it is saying that we can all improve, that we are all working prototypes capable of learning and getting better. As a highly imperfect (occasionally bad) boss, I appreciate that!

Whether you are a good boss, a bad boss, or living with either at work, this is a book that you should read. I guarantee that many folks above, below, and around you at work will be reading it and you don't want to wonder what they are talking about.

My only critique is that he should have used the word "boss-hole" in the title someplace. :)
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on September 3, 2010
When was the last time you read an engaging, spot-on, crisp, in-your-face, business book . . . whose resonance not only made you laugh but also made you wonder what you were thinking by getting into organizational life in the first place? Right, probably Bob's LAST book!

As a recovering corporate type who now consults on organizational and leaderhship issues I encounter the grim realities that Bob captures powerfully on a daily basis. Bob nails the rise in incredibly bad behavior on the part of (usually) well-intended but flat-out over-worked senior leaders. We are pounding ourselves and our people so hard for short term results of any kind that we have forgotten how to get the best out of them. We have never needed peak levels of creativity, engagement, and risk-taking by our very best people. But what do we do? We unwittingly create toxic cultures of fear and risk aversion and when it doesn't work out or our best people bail we look everywhere but into the mirror to find culpability.

Most of my clients are getting this as a gift (though they claim they don't have time to read). This smart, wry, and witty indictment is MOST required for those who profess they don't have time to read anything. And it's not just another guy talking about the problems. It's all about solutions. If you pick one book to read as you think about your business and talent challenges in 2011, THIS is one you will be glad to own.
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on July 6, 2013
I have heard interviews with the author regarding this book which are interesting, but the book just seems like a compilation of random blogs, research, stories and interviews over the years. There are some good tidbits here and there, but no overarching concepts or a consistent development of ideas for true learning and understanding. He seems to hit the overall subject at cursory, disjointed and shallow way.
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on September 5, 2013
I really enjoyed this book as an avid reader of leadership/management books. I shared the following overview with my leadership team after finishing the book. Hope others find this helpful.

* Grit Gets You There - I loved this section! It is something that I believe when it comes to pushing through trying times. Couple excerpts:
o The best bosses think and act like they are running a marathon, not a sprint.
o Grit - Defined as perseverance and passion toward long term goals.
o Grit entails working strenuously towards challenges, maintaining effort and interest despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.
o The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon, his or her advantage is stamina.
o Great bosses instill grit in followers. They are dogged and patient, pressing themselves and others to move ever forward.
* Beware of the Toxic Tandem - This section is about self-awareness as a leader. That you must remember that you are always being watched. Couple excerpts:
o People pay attention to those who control their outcomes.
o In an effort to predict and possibly influence what is going to happen to them, people gather information about those with power.
o You are constantly on your team's radar.
o Questions to ask yourself: Do you remind yourself that your people are watching you very closely? And do you act accordingly to avoid doing little things that undermine their performance and dignity? Or are you oblivious to this intense scrutiny and rarely think about how the little things you do and say will be magnified in your followers minds?
* Got Their Backs - Are you taking care of your people - questions to ask yourself:
o Do you see your job as caring for and protecting your people, and fighting for them when necessary?
o Or do you consider it too much trouble to advocate for resources they need or too personally risky to battle idiocy from on high?
o When your people screw up, do you take the heat or hang them out to dry?
o When you screw up, do you admit it or point the finger of blame at your innocent underlings?
* Creating Safety and Accountability - I really enjoyed this section because it is all about creating a safe environment for people to fail, learn from their mistakes and feel like that is accepted in the team and culture. Couple excerpts:
o Forgive and remember - What a great saying! Instead of Forgive and Forget. It's important to create accountability for failure, but also to forgive. We need to learn from our mistakes and be forgiven as well, so we feel trusted to continue to improve and know that we may fail again.
o 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.
* Creating Predictability - The worst bosses condemn their people to live in fear as they wait for the next wave of bad news. The best bosses do everything possible to communicate when and how distressing events will unfold. When the timing of a stressful event can be predicted, so can its absence.
o Predictability helps people know when to relax versus when dread and vigilance are warranted - which protects them from the emotional and physical exhaustion that results when people never feel safe from harm for even a moment.
* Good Boss, Bad Boss Acid Test
o The first acid test is whether people want to work for the boss and would enthusiastically choose to do so again.
o The second acid test stems from the boss that is hypersensitive to how others feel about them and the work their people do. "Are you in tune with what it feels like to work for you?"

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on April 23, 2011
This book is much shorter than the page count implies because of the small size of the physical pages. This is both good and bad. It is a fast, entertaining, motivational read and covers an amazing amount of ground without becoming repetitive. The problem is that it rarely dips below the identification and classification of good/bad bosses to give _usable_ explanations of what they were doing right, or what were the traps that caused well-intentioned bosses to do the wrong things.

My experience mentoring people on these issues is that they immediately grasp the principles espoused in this book, but they have a hard time spotting the details in the workplace. A mark of being a good boss is that people don't notice what you are doing, but are merely aware of that things are going well (a point acknowledged in this book). And for bad boss, people tend to notice only where they are spectacularly bad and miss most of the components and contributing factors.

Consequently, although the solo reader will likely find enough to justify time spent, this book seems intended to be a starting point for group discussions--whether it be a formal class, a gripe session, or... It would likely serve well to get the juices flowing and to provide topic outlines to focus the discussions.

-- Additional thoughts --
Especially noteworthy: Most management books focus on top management and mythologize their contributions. This book forcefully points the limits of management, and even ventures into the role of lower and middle management in protecting employees from the managers above them. However, the book provides only faint images of what actually occurs. For example, at an all-hands meeting for the division I worked in, the VP and Senior VP were openly derisive of the CEO's recent initiative because they needed to maintain credibility with "the troops".

Although the author works in Silicon Valley (at Stanford U), the issues related to smaller technology companies are barely touched upon. For example, in the literature on "managing geeks", a common observation--that I can personally attest to--is that a meeting that has sales and marketing pumped up will often have the engineers snickering, or at least rolling their eyes.
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on July 26, 2016
Bought a couple of these. Gave to my last boss on my last day. It does describe his management style to a "T". I have an old saying I try to live by: Everybody has a lesson to give you. Some are lessons to learn from, some are lessons "to avoid". LEARN THEM BOTH, least you get to "repeat the lesson". I see this book as a good approach that exemplifies my saying.
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on September 21, 2010
As a writer of management books I read other writers with competitive questions that probably are not on most readers minds: "Does this writer know something valuable that I don't know?" and "Is what he writes so valuable that employees are better off spending limited resources on his books rather than mine? Amazing as it may sound, I've yet to find the management book author for whom "I've" failed this test.

Notwithstanding my ego, I find "Good Boss, Bad Boss" an extraordinary, insight packed management book that I am recommending to clients and students and plan to purchase as holiday gifts for close friends. What makes it so extraordinary? Sutton "gets" people. Moreover, he gets human nature and knows what you should do, shouldn't do and not be foolish enough to do just because, for a moment in time Mr Boss, you have got the power to get away with a temporary cover up.

I find this book everywhere nuanced in the authors understanding of people. With staccato cadence, Bob Sutton presents one smart piece of advice after another as if he were drawing from a bottomless well. It made me want to get to know him better (we have yet to meet) so I could ask him questions bearing on what life experiences and situations caused him to become so spot on smart about people. Clearly he is and, to write it the way he does, to me signifies that he must also be terribly smart about himself. If you deal with people, and a lot of us do, I'm betting you're going to find this book an extremely valuable and enjoyable read.

Samuel Culbert
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