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How to Become a Great Boss: The Rules for Getting and Keeping the Best Employees

by Jeffrey J. Fox
Hyperion
176 pages, $11.87

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Anyone responsible for hiring or managing people will find invaluable and highly actionable advice within Jeffrey J. Fox's excellent book, How to Become a Great Boss. It addresses a wide variety of the challenges managers face each day and includes specific steps to take to become a more effective and motivating manager.

How to Become a Great Boss takes a no-nonsense approach to the conflicts that come with the territory of managing people. When Fox writes, "Tell people what needs to be done and why," the key is in the why. It stresses his fundamental approach to supervising as teaching and motivating, as opposed to policing and criticizing. The book advocates dedicating ten minutes every day to teaching or training employees and grooming them for new challenges. Fox believes that "great bosses position the organization to succeed, not with policies, but with posture and presence."

The book is most effective when it focuses its high-powered lens on the subject of mediocrity. "Mediocrity starts when weak managers hire even weaker employees…don't let mediocrity in the door." Fox points out that 7s (on a competence scale of 1-10) hire 5s. They instinctively fear competence and won't hire 9s and 10s. He cautions against hiring a C or D player because you can never turn a C player into a B or an A. "The great boss is never a know-it-all. They will not do a job they hired someone to do (he refers to this as 'hiring a dog and barking yourself') and they will not constantly second guess their employees."

How to Become a Great Boss addresses dealing with underperformers fairly and realistically. Fox doesn't make excuses for consistent underperformers. He advocates weeding out the wrong people before mediocrity spreads throughout the organization, and he's quick to point out that "bosses don't get what they expect. They get what they inspect." When A level employees begin underperforming, Fox urges bosses to consult the 10 Ds. Among these are debt, divorce, depression, and disease. A great boss has the ability to bring out the best people and motivate them publicly and privately. According to Fox, "Your people are your helium. Good people make the boss look good, and although lifted by his employees, he never looks down on them."

Fox articulates his ideas well and uses stories with concrete imagery to illustrate key points. One example is a boss who took over a customer service department that was troubled with employees previously deemed marginal. He discovered performance reviews written by the old supervisor that were filled with pages of trivial negative criticisms. He shredded these reviews and told the employees he was only retaining their basic information (to their delight). The HR Department told him he'd destroyed company property and he responded, "Better to destroy destructive documents than to destroy good people." Within months, the customer service department was outperforming all others and it became the jewel of the company.

Bosses striving for excellence and not content to settle for mediocrity will benefit most from this book. As a reminder of good management habits to constantly practice and build on, How to Become a Great Boss is invaluable. For time-challenged managers looking to sharpen their leadership skills, this is a solid investment.

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