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Framework for a good boss

Amanda Goodall is a professor in management at Cass Business School. She recently surveyed 28,000 employees across Europe to find out what makes a good boss. The study had some surprising results. It determined that what people value most of all in their boss is someone who is technically competent with a deep understanding of their organisation’s core business. I was expecting people to value emotional factors such as strong on empathy or respect for their subordinates. These things are important but they are not as important as a boss who is respected because they know how to get the job done.

The other strong point from the survey was that bosses are judged on a number of factors and they are not expected to be perfect on all of them. Factors which are worth scoring on bosses are as follows:

  • Your boss provides useful feedback on your work.

  • Your boss respects you as a person.

  • Your boss gives you praise and recognition when you do a good job.

  • Your boss is helpful in getting the job done.

  • Your boss encourages and supports your development.

  • Your boss is successful in getting people to work together.

  • Your boss helps and supports workers.

This got me thinking about another article I read recently on the theory of fixed and growth mindsets and the way these can influence people.

Carol Dweck is a professor of psychology at Stanford University. When she was at school in Brooklyn, New York, the students in her class were seated in order of their IQ with the cleverest close to the blackboard. This experienced caused Dweck to develop a theory of motivation, personality and development. Positioning people as being clever or not so clever produces a “fixed mindset” in everybody – the person themselves and those around them. The theory also assumes that people are born smart and have a fixed level of intelligence. Dweck challenges this and argues that intelligence and ability is something that can change over time. This she called the “growth mindset”.

Just over 20 years ago Dweck published a study of 10 to 12-year-olds which demonstrated that children who are told they are "really smart" do not perform as well in the long run as those who are congratulated for how hard they have worked. In other words, what matters most is praise for effort, not for intelligence. Too much congratulation is sometimes a trigger for decline and a lack of application.

This brings me back to what makes good bosses and good companies. A good boss should tell us we have done well but we should not rest on our laurels. A company that congratulates itself as being the best may not perform as well as one that is aspirational – praising itself for effort not intelligence. This seems to fit the mold that Avis used when it claimed "we try harder", clearly having in its sights Hertz who were market leaders. Arrogance can arise from a belief that a company is the best. It may even lead a company such as VW to deny rules and install clever devices in its cars to fox exhaust testing systems. Maybe that is why we hear of plans to encourage mindset changes in large corporates such as Volkswagen.

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