June 2, 2010

Key beliefs that are held by the best bosses (according to Bob Sutton)

Bob Sutton will soon publish an new book called Good Boss, Bad Boss. In this book he presents a list key beliefs that he thinks, based on his experience and his reading of the research literature, are held by the best bosses:
  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.
I am interested to hear what you think of this list (and I'm particularly interested what your thoughts are on point nr. 10). 


  1. Coert,

    Wow. This is exactly how I'd like to be treated when working for someone else. I think the hardest to get oneself to believe would be number 1. In fact, number 1 applies to everything. We all have a flawed and incomplete understanding of so many things including how we impact others because of "my side bias." It's good to see that the best bosses recognize this.

    I agree with number 10 because I've read Barbara Fredrickson's book Positiivity. Although I'm not sure I would have agreed with that before hand.


  2. My favorites are 2, 3 and 8. Although I am not a business expert, I would say number 10 is an absolute must. The bad is an energy drain.

  3. Really enjoyed reading this. Agreed with them all, but no 10, hmmm. Not sure. Verdict still out for me. Sometimes accenting the positive - even when people's actions may deserve accenting the negative - is actually what leadership is about. So much about leadership, just like education, is building others' confidence, but also helping them to understand what they don't know

  4. I have thought a bit about these beliefs and i think my favorites are 3,9 & 2. What struck me though, was that with most of the beliefs i did agree with the general idea (as I thought it was meant) but the wording did not fully appeal to me.For instance 1, 8 & 11 are a bit too open for my tast (my response to them is: "so...?"). Some of the wordings I don't particularly like ('insensitive jerk', 'human shield', 'idiocy', etc). Maybe just a matter of personal taste.

    I'll write a separate response to nr 10

  5. Regarding 8, I remember reading somewhere about an attitude of punishing for lack of mistakes or failures. The idea was that if people in that business were not failing it meant that they haven't tried interesting enough things, they didn't took enough risks.

    Regarding 10 I have mixed feelings. On one side I do agree that bad things are more powerful, they can take a business down faster but they should not be the focus. On the other side, I don't agree with the "more important". Maybe a better wording would have been "more urgent" but not even that is quite right.

    The most important might be "positive and non-urgent"

  6. Hi Peter, yes i remember such a thing too. wasn't it at google?
    btw I have written a separate post on nr 10


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