Most Bosses Think They’re Great (and How They COULD Be)

A neat little science blog, World of Weird Things, recently ran this post titled “Calling All Boss Haters” examining how bad bosses may get away with being, well, bad bosses:

As it turns out, being a boss often means that you just have to confidently talk like one and managers tend to hold an overinflated opinion of themselves and their performance.

The post contains a link to a 2007 Business Week management study reporting that 90% of the managers and executives surveyed put themselves in the top 10% of performers.

Given the fact that many organizations do not use any form of “bottom up” or “360” feedback on managerial performance, it appears that a lot of bosses are immune from meaningful review by most of their employees.

There’s also a connection between the overinflated view that many bosses have of themselves and the prevalence of workplace bullying.  Rates of narcissism run high in managers and executives, and this is a contributing factor towards bullying behaviors at work.

How they COULD be

It doesn’t necessarily have to be this way.  On this claim I appeal to the late Robert Townsend, perhaps one of the first “celebrity” CEOs of the modern era.  In 1970 his book, Up the Organization (now available in a 2007 commemorative edition), first appeared on the bookshelves, and it’s still considered a classic in management literature.  In the style of many head honcho types, Townsend was a guy who spoke his mind.  For example, in the book, he railed against racism in the workplace, but he also had no use for labor unions.

Anyway, in an appendix, Townsend suggested that employees should rate their bosses on a 1 (worst) to 10  (best) scale, based on the following categories:  Is your boss (1) available; (2) inclusive; (3) humorous; (4) fair; (5) decisive; (6) humble; (7) objective; (8) tough; (9) effective; and (10) patient?

Townsend advised that if your boss scores below 50, “look for another job.”

Okay, so it’s a simplistic, unscientific little exercise.  But I’d bet that most bosses who score in the higher ranges have earned the respect of, and get a fair day’s work from, the bulk of their employees.  Good leadership is hard to quantify in a precise manner, but these factors provide some very useful guideposts.

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