Nathan's Reviews > Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best... and Learn from the Worst

Good Boss, Bad Boss by Robert I. Sutton
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Dec 20, 10

bookshelves: business
Read in November, 2010, read count: 1

I was prepared for this to be awful, but I actually learned a lot. The brief book emphasizes humanity, tells lots of (blessedly short!) stories from real CEOs to illustrate the points, and none of the recommendations fail the sniff test. The observations and recommendations border on the trite, but sometimes it's good to be reminded quickly of all the shit you're supposed to know.

The case for reforming or, failing that, expelling the worst offenders is bolstered by Will Felps’s research on “bad apples.” Felps and his colleagues studied what I call deadbeats (“withholders of effort”), downers (who “express pessimism, anxiety, insecurity, and irritation,” a toxic breed of de-energizer), and assholes (who violate “interpersonal norms of respect”). Felps estimates that teams with just one deadbeat, downer, or asshole suffer a performance disadvantage of 30 to 40 percent compared to teams that have no bad apples.


These rotten apples are so destructive because “bad is stronger than good.” For most people, negative thoughts, feelings, and events produce larger and longer-lasting effects than positive ones. Research on romantic relationships shows that unless positive interactions outnumber negative interactions by five to one, chances the relationship will succeed are slim. When the proportion of negative interactions exceeds this “five-to-one rule,” marital satisfaction goes way down and the divorce rate goes way up. Similarly, a study that tracked employees’ moods found that the impact of negative interactions with bosses and coworkers on employees’ feelings were five times stronger than positive interactions. Negative interactions (and the bad apples who provoke them) pack such a wallop in close relationships because they are so distracting, emotionally draining, and deflating. When a group does interdependent work, rotten apples drag down and infect everyone else. Unfortunately, grumpiness, nastiness, laziness, and stupidity are
remarkably contagious.
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