Bob Sutton: Hallmarks of Great Bosses | Summary and Q&A

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November 23, 2010
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Stanford eCorner
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Bob Sutton: Hallmarks of Great Bosses

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Summary

This video discusses the qualities of effective bosses who are in tune with their employees. These bosses are perfectly assertive, knowing when to push and when to back off. They understand the needs of their team and adapt their leadership style accordingly. Additionally, they practice management by getting out of the way, allowing for creativity and minimizing micromanagement. The importance of not constantly evaluating employees and stifling their creativity is emphasized.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is one of the main qualities of effective bosses mentioned in the video?

One of the main qualities of effective bosses mentioned in the video is being perfectly assertive. Research has shown that the best bosses are rated woefully average in terms of assertiveness by their followers. It is not about being medium all the time, but rather having the ability to turn up the volume, be pushy when needed, provide negative feedback, and back off at the right time.

Q: How does the example of Tommy Lasorda illustrate the concept of knowing when to push and when to back off?

The example of Tommy Lasorda, former manager of the Dodgers, perfectly captures the essence of knowing when to push and when to back off. His quote, "I believe managing is like holding a dove in your hand: if you hold it too tightly, you'd kill it; if you hold it too loosely, you lose it," emphasizes the delicate balance between exerting control and giving freedom. Effective bosses understand the importance of finding this balance to bring out the best in their employees.

Q: Why is 'first, do no harm' especially important when leading people who do creative work?

'First, do no harm' is especially important when leading people who do creative work because closely monitoring, constant evaluation, and frequent milestones tend to stifle creativity. Research has shown that when employees are watched more closely and evaluated more often, they tend to stick to tried and true methods to avoid making mistakes in front of their bosses. Creativity thrives in an environment that allows for failure, uncertainty, and freedom from constant scrutiny.

Q: Can you provide an example of 'management by getting out of the way'?

A great example of 'management by getting out of the way' is David Kelley, the founder of IDEO and the d.school. He is known for convening meetings and if things go well, he walks to the back of the room and then walks out. He believes that while he is a leader, his authority can sometimes hinder the team's performance. By physically removing himself from the room, he creates an environment where creativity can flourish without the influence of his presence.

Q: What is one potential problem with the ethos of constant management and evaluation?

One problem with the ethos of constant management and evaluation is that it creates the misconception that being in people's faces all the time leads to better performance. However, research has shown that this approach stifles creativity and innovation. Constantly digging up the seed after planting it, in the words of Bill Coin who led R&D at 3M, prevents growth and progress. Giving employees space and trust can lead to better outcomes.

Q: How can bosses be in tune with the needs of both their employees and the group they are leading?

Bosses can be in tune with the needs of their employees and the group they are leading by developing an understanding of what it feels like to work for them and having empathy for their employees. By being aware of their own leadership style, the impact it has on their team, and the specific needs of each individual, bosses can adjust their approach to create a supportive and effective work environment.

Q: What does research suggest about the impact of charisma on being an effective boss?

Research suggests that although charisma is often associated with effective leadership, it is not the most powerful factor in being a good boss. Surveys have shown that charisma is rated lower in importance compared to assertiveness when it comes to determining the effectiveness of a boss. This highlights the significance of assertiveness and the ability to balance it appropriately, rather than relying solely on charisma.

Q: How does stifling creativity affect the outcomes of creative work?

Stifling creativity by closely monitoring and constantly evaluating employees leads to a decrease in innovative outcomes. When individuals feel under scrutiny, they tend to play it safe and rely on tried and true methods to avoid failure. This prevents them from exploring new ideas and taking risks. In creative work, failure and uncertainty are often integral parts of the process, and continuous evaluation hinders the ability to embrace and learn from these experiences.

Q: Why do bosses who lead creative work need to avoid constantly evaluating their employees?

Bosses who lead creative work need to avoid constantly evaluating their employees because it stifles their creativity. Asking employees more questions, evaluating them frequently, and setting frequent milestones leads to a fear of failure and a desire to stick to safer and proven methods. Creativity requires an environment where experimentation and risk-taking are encouraged, rather than one that focuses solely on evaluation and immediate results.

Q: What is the key concept behind 'management by walking out of the room'?

The key concept behind 'management by walking out of the room' is that effective leadership involves knowing when to step back and create space for the team to thrive. By physically removing oneself from the immediate environment, leaders can minimize their influence and allow team members to take ownership of their work. It promotes a sense of autonomy and encourages the team to think independently, leading to greater creativity and problem-solving capabilities.

Takeaways

Being an effective boss involves being perfectly assertive, knowing when to push and when to back off. Research has found assertiveness to be more important than charisma in determining the effectiveness of a boss. Additionally, bosses need to practice 'first, do no harm' and avoid constantly evaluating employees, especially in creative work, as it stifles creativity. 'Management by getting out of the way' allows for freedom and supports creativity by minimizing micromanagement. Creating an environment where employees feel trusted and empowered leads to better outcomes.

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