Good Boss: Bad Boss by Robert Sutton


Good Boss: Bad Boss by Robert Sutton

  • By Ian Bradley
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At a recent California psychology conference, I found myself in a long line of post-talk attendees hoping to speak to the renowned speaker, and former professor of mine, Dr Don Meichenbaum.


Some forty years ago, I was lucky enough to be in a small group of doctoral students in Clinical Psychology at the University of Waterloo that managed to hire leading psychologists of the day. Forty years later, I remember the excitement and passion that Don generated in his seminars with his paradigm breaking work on the importance of self-talk in his new of 1974 treatment approach, cognitive behavior therapy.


In my own teaching at McGill, I quote Dr. Meichenbaum frequently. Therefore, it was somewhat of a shock when I got to the front of the line to see Don’s eyes first scan my face, then quickly my nametag and then back to my face without showing any sign of obvious recognition. After several awkward phrases, break-through recognition was achieved, or at least satisfactorily feigned. As I left the hall in a somewhat sober mood, two young people approached me with enthusiastic “Hello Dr Bradley, good to see you here” comments. I drew a blank. After giving countless undergraduate and graduate courses, I had no idea whom I was talking to.


All this came together when I read Professor Sutton’s latest book: “Good Boss, Bad Boss” that in my opinion is a must-read for any of the twenty-one million North Americans who call themself a boss. The book is chuck-full of helpful hints about managing people, work and time. It’s a crucial read since bad bosses, the topic of Sutton’s first book, are abundant. In fact, apparently 27% of workers would fire their current one if they had the power. But instead of hammering away at the damage caused by lousy bosses, Sutton stresses the benefits of balancing compassion with results, of creating a psychologically safe working space where creativity flourishes and when required, apologies are given.


And, to tie in to my convention story, here’s what Sutton says about just one of many helpful tips to be a good a boss, leader or teacher:


“ If you get up form your desk people watch to see where you are going, someone always knows when you are in the bathroom. They watch your face when the VP of production leaves your office and make a guess about the meaning of your expression. They watch to see if you smile more at Sally than you do at Tom, and make guesses about what that means too. They learn to read your “tells’ –the way you drum your fingers when you are impatient or the eyebrow you raise just before you cut off someone’s explanation You are constantly on your team’s radar. They see and hear everything that you do.”


But here’s the rub: Some bosses or people at the top become oblivious to this public regard. Due to excessive hubris or self-centeredness, they carelessly talk in front of secretaries, talk about patients or employees in corridors where others can hear, etc. Most importantly, they fail at being great models. If you’re a boss, know that you’re always on-stage even to an audience of people you might not know or remember.