Being a great boss is a lot tougher than it looks. As I show in Good Boss, Bad Boss, doing the job well requires self-awareness and wisdom. It also takes a lot of patience and resilence to endure setbacks and long stretches of insecurity, confusion, and cogntive overload required to learn the craft of leading others. These facts of organizational life became especially clear to me last year when one of my former students came back to chat. When he took my introduction to organizational behavior class, he routinely ripped apart his former bosses and many bosses we studied in class, calling them “lazy,” “idiotic,” and “incompetent.” He sure changed his tune after getting his first job as a boss -- heading a small product development team. During our conversation, he admitted that he needed “a little therapy” and confessed “This is really a tough job. I am confused and keep screwing-up.”
This new boss was in the second phase of the journey required to develop true expertise in any craft. As psychologist William Schutz explained, “Understanding evolves through three phases: simplistic, complex, and profoundly simple.” (I have written about Schutz before, see this post). This process means, as my distraught student learned, being a great boss seems deceptively easy at first blush. But no boss can master the craft without traveling through a purgatory of uncertainty and confusion. The best bosses also realize that, although the stretches of confusion become shorter and less frequent over time, this quest for deep understanding never ends. There is no magic cure or shortcut that will instantly transform youy into a skilled boss. But I do believe – following Schutz’s model – that path becomes easier if you devote yourself to the relentless pursuit of simple competence (a theme I expand on in this BusinessWeek essay).