12 Things Good Bosses Believe

Ever wondered what is going through your bosses head? Surely not swirls of worry about their own humility or mettle as a human shield, right? Head of Actuarial, Insurance at NAB Wealth, Trang Duncanson reflects on what makes a good boss.

Being a ‘boss’ of people is a difficult job. We spend a lot of time and energy trying to develop our people to be the best they can be. We worry about their flaws of employees and even their strengths. We ask ourselves constantly whether it is critical to actually focus on a weakness (is it ‘fatal’ to the team goals?) or should we just leverage people’s strengths? We wonder about nurture versus nature, and how much we can actually change.

With all these ‘boss-like’ considerations, we need to step back and examine ourselves, every now and then. An old favourite guide for me is Robert Sutton, on the nitty-gritty of organisational life, in his book Good Boss, Bad Boss, published in 2010. This was widely discussed at the time, in major CEO and CFO forums.

Robert Sutton saw, from his many years of research, that the best bosses had a certain common purpose or outlook on their role. He neatly summarises this into the “12 Things Good Bosses Believe”:

  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 realise 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 organisation — is “what happens after people make a mistake?”
  9. Innovation is crucial to every team and organisation. 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 realising it.

We’ll all have different takes on the above, and the way be deploy these will wax and wane depending on the situation and where our team is on their development journey. The book itself gives many great examples of the above.

The question to us, in our ‘step back’ moment, is then how would we change our leadership style?

Author email: Trang.Duncanson@nab.com.au

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