Bosses Gone Wild?


Bad bosses get promoted, not punished?

This story is a few weeks old and isn't strictly Lean related, but it's interesting:

How do people get ahead in the workplace? One way seems to be by making their subordinates miserable, according to a study released Friday.

I had a 2nd-level boss like that at a previous company… and he was moving quickly up the corporate chain, unfortunately. It might catch up to him some day, but you never know.

Is good solid leadership really that rare in the working world? Maybe just as bad as the domineering, bullying boss is the wimpy boss who doesn't hold people accountable, as that creates a different kind of dysfunction.

Lean leadership certainly isn't about bullying, but it's also not wimpy. Lean leadership holds people accountable — that's a better manifestation of having “respect for people” than just being nice to everyone would be.

Here's a somewhat related link on the Lean Printing blog, which has had some outstanding posts this week, check it out.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Mark,

    Jim Womack’s words from your Podcast #24 immediately come to mind:

    “If lean is taken on by managers who are clueless to the real meaning, well then over time, the meaning becomes the meaning that people deduce from the behavior of those managers.”

    Substitute “leadership” for the word “Lean” in Jim’s comment and you have the reason why bad bosses are promoted. They’ve taken on what they feel are the desired behaviors from the very people whom the authors of this study say should be putting a stop to it: the “industry chiefs”.

    “The authors advocated immediate intervention by industry chiefs to stop fledgling office authoritarians from rising up the ranks.

    They faulted senior managers for not recognizing the signs of workplace strife wrought by bad bosses. “The leaders above them who did nothing, who rewarded and promoted bad leaders … represent an additional problem.”

  2. Peter Drucker once suggested that if a person doesn’t have significant management responsibility before they’re about 30, then that person will probably never learn to be a good manager. While there are obviously individual exceptions, I think there’s a lot of truth in this.

    The increased focus on education, and specifically on the MBA, probably does result in an increased number of people who fail to get the early experience that Drucker feels is so important, and then wind up in important management jobs.

  3. In “Leading Change,” John Kotter states, “only leadership can motivate the actions needed to alter behavior in any significant way or can get change to stick by anchoring it in the very culture of the organization.” In addition, David Mann discusses in his book about Lean Leadership being a little bit on the edge to implement accountability, which comes from not accepting the status quo. A bullying boss lacks the ability to truly trust and empower people because his vision is focused upon himself and his success rather than the organization as a whole. We have to ask ourselves what is the definition and value of a good manager in comparison to a good leader.

  4. Hmm. Holding people accountable is not a straightforward topic; from LINK:

    “Hold everybody accountable? Ridiculous!”
    W. Edwards Deming

    People should be held accountable for improving systems and processes, but people shouldn’t be at the mercy of ‘finger pointing’ when things aren’t going well as that doesn’t lead to improvement, just destructive blame-shifting….

  5. “Real” leaders always always have gone through some personal crisis (from my point of view), so they are aware of subtle signs how their subordinates or peers are doing.

    Managers, mostly just manage the numbers, and that is by far not enough to either keep the good people nor making -sustainable- positive numbers.

    That are my thoughts on the posting.



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