HBR Guide to Being a Great Boss : A book review by Bob Morris

HBR Guide to Being a Great Boss
Various Contributors in Collaboration with HBR Editors
Harvard Business Review Press (January 2022)

Your title may be impressive but your people will determine whether or not you are a great boss

This is one of the volumes in a series of anthologies of articles that first appeared in Harvard Business Review. Having read all of them when they were published individually, and then most of them in a previously published anthology, I can personally attest to the high quality of their authors’ (or co-authors’) insights as well as the eloquence with which they are expressed.

This collection has two substantial value-added benefits that should also be noted: If all of the 26 articles were purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be at least $230; also, they are now conveniently bound in a single volume for only $21.95 and the material is easily potable.

That’s not a bargain; that’s a steal.

Whatever their size and nature may be, all organizations need effective leadership at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. Anyone can lead by example, demonstrating what needs to be done and how best to do it. The authors of the articles in this book direct their comments to supervisors, those who have direct reports entrusted to their care.

As the editors point out, “Good bosses can handle the day-to-day work of running a team. Great bosses go beyond that, finding ways to help employees become better versions of themselves as people and professionals. But as a manager, how do you reach the next level?” More specifically, how to increase their strengths, create for them an inclusive culture, ensure effective communication between and among those involved, challenge them to exceed their current (usually self-imposed) limits, recognize and reward good (and especially) great work, and meanwhile earn their trust and respect.

The articles in this volume are organized within a framework of six Sections: “What Being a GreatBoss Means” (Chapters 1-3), “Build Trust and Listen” (4-8), “Give Feedback and Motivate” (9-13), “Manage Everyone Effectively” (14-17),  “Help All Employees Thrive”  (18-2), and “Build Resiliency and Support Mental Health” (22-26). 

* * *

These are among the articles of special interest to me, also cited to suggest the scope of coverage.

o Marcus Buckingham on making the most of what makes each employee unique

o Laura Delizonna on how to create psychological safety for peak-performance teams

o Peter Bregman on the best way to help people to hold themselves become personally accountable

o Rebecca Knight on how to manage both “stars” and underperformers

o Andy Molinsky and Ernest Gundling on how to build trust on a cross-cultural team of diverse values, talents, skills, and experience

o Natalia Pearl on how to make work less stressful and more engaging, hopefully more enjoyable

* * *

As I worked my way through the abundance of timely and timeless material in this book, I was reminded of several observations that provide complementary insights. Here are five:

“People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Theodore Roosevelt

“Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” Margaret Mead

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” African proverb

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

“No one can diminish you without your permission.” Eleanor Roosevelt

* * *

Frankly, I avoid using the term “boss” because it generates more heat than light. My preference is for a term generally associated with Robert K. Greenleaf (1904-1990). Here is a brief excerpt from one of his essays, first published in 1970: “The servant-leader is servant first…It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”

I presume to suggest that a few horticultural terms can serve as metaphors. Think of supervisors as “gardeners” who help others to accelerate their personal growth and professional development. Each workplace culture is a “garden” that must be nourished and — when necessary — protected.

HBR Guide to Being a Great Boss is a “must-read” for those now preparing to become a supervisor or now has direct reports for whom they are responsible. Yes, great leaders are indeed great gardeners.


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