Act Like You're In Control, Even When You Aren't


Photo: Hilton Quebec via flickr

Almost 75 per cent of us think that our immediate supervisors are the most stressful part of our jobs, says Bob Sutton in his book “Good Boss, Bad Boss.”On the other hand, a good boss can lower your chances of having a heart attack by 39 per cent, according to a Swedish study.

After publishing “The No arsehole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t” in 2007, Sutton received a number of emails and articles complaining about bosses, all with one consistent yearning: to be and work for a great boss.

This outpouring inspired Sutton to write his next book. Here’s what he learned:

Act Like You’re In Control, Even When You Aren’t: Confidence is important, because like all emotions, it is contagious and will spread to followers, Sutton says. He uses past Intel CEO, Andy Grove, who was interviewed at a Silicon Valley conference in 2002.

“You have to keep your own spirits up even though you don’t know what you’re doing,” Grove said. “But after a while, if you act confident, you become more confident. So the deception becomes less of a deception.”

Blame Yourself: In addition to being viewed as disingenuous, leaders who blame others for their trouble create the impression of powerlessness, Sutton says. Maple Leaf Foods CEO, Michael McCain, spoke to to the press in 2008 after 20 deaths and hundreds of illnesses were traced to a bacteria in their meats:

“McCain refused to blame government inspectors for the deaths and stated that he and his people simply had not done their jobs well enough,” he says.

Fight Right: The best bosses ignite constructive battles over ideas. But good fights, those handled with respect, don’t happen without hard-won trust, Sutton says.

Pixar director Brad Bird said his team clashed constantly and constructively while making The Incredibles. “I want you guys to speak up and drop your drawers,” Bird told them. “We’re going to look at your scenes in front of everybody. Everyone will get humiliated and encouraged together.”

What can you learn from a bad boss?
– Don’t flaunt your wealth publicly: avoid elevator conversations about your brand new Porsche.
– Be discreet about your dirty work: discussions on implement mergers, poor performers, etc.
– Be compassionate about layoffs: make it personal, avoid emails or texting.
– Make things “Sesame Street Simple” for employees: you’ll avoid fear by communicating issues openly.

Leadership researcher Robert Hogan puts it well: “People do not quit bad organisations, they quit bad bosses.”

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