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How to Become a Great Boss: The Rules for Getting and Keeping the Best Employees by Jeffrey J. Fox


Rating: (Recommended)


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An Executive Times reader suggested I pick up a copy of Jeffrey Fox’s book, How to Become a Great Boss. Knowing that I usually gag on “how to” books, and noting the small size and large print, I was preparing my “DNR” (do not read) review when I opened the first page. Instead of gagging, I found myself inspired by very plan, straight talk about being a boss. By the time I closed the book, I realized that I both liked and enjoyed what Fox had to say, and appreciated his brevity and clarity. Here are three excerpts:

Chapter III: Companies Do What the Boss Does

pp. 6-8


People take their cues from the boss. The boss sets the tone and the standards. The boss sets the example. Over time, the department, the office, the store, the workshop, the factory, the company begin to do what the boss does.

If the boss is always late, punctuality becomes a minor obligation. If the boss is always in meetings, everybody is always in meetings. If the boss calls on customers, customers become important.  If the boss blows off customer appointments, the salesforce makes fewer sales calls. If the boss is polite, rude people don't last. If the boss accepts mediocrity, mediocrity is what she gets. If the boss is innovative and inventive, the company looks for opportunities. If the boss does everyone's job, the employees will let him. If the boss gives everyone in the organization a World Series ring, then everyone wants to win the World Series. If the boss leads a charge, the good and able employees will be a step behind.

Great bosses understand this phenomenon. Great bosses position the organization to succeed, not with policies, but with posture and presence. If the great boss wants a policy of travelling on Sunday or practice before presentations, he or she travels on Sunday and practices presentations. If the boss doesn't want little snowstorms to make people late to the office, he gets in early the day of the storm and makes the coffee . . . and serves coffee to the stragglers as they arrive.

Some bosses lead purposefully, others innately. Whether intentional or not, the great boss shapes the organization. Because the company does what the boss does, the boss better perform, or the company won't.



Chapter XXXIII Listen to Phonies, Fools, and Frauds


pp. 103-4


If startling truth is possible from the "mouths of babes," then even the nitwit may have an insight. The great boss listens, and the great boss listens democratically. Don't discount advice or input from a phony, fool, or fraud. Don't dismiss the words of a loudmouth, a faker, or a jerk. Any one of them can provide a clue, a fact, an answer, an idea. The great boss cares only about the quality of the idea, not the source of the idea.

Police detectives get tips and information from criminals and snitches. The police don't care that their clues come from nocturnal undesirables. Most governments' intelligence-gathering agencies pay or bribe cutthroats and lowlifes to acquire essential information about the heathens in the world. The good guys don't care if they get good information from bad people.

Don't discount advice given in an obnoxious, rude, or insulting way. Don't discount advice given in an angry, loud, irritating voice, just because the voice is off-putting.

Listen objectively. Listen with self-discipline. Listen with ugly-filters, if necessary. Hold your tongue, while the phony or fool or fraud is wagging his.

Listen. Consider. Decide. Then do what you think is best.


Chapter XXXIV

Don't Check Expense Accounts

pp. 105-108


Expense account policies are like honor codes. People with honor don't need an honor code. People without honor won't heed an honor code. If you have to check an employee's expense account because you know, or suspect, he or she is cheating, then you don't want that person in your organization. If someone falsifies expenses, fire that person.

New employees should be made aware of the company's attitude toward expenses. Some companies allow, even encourage, certain expenses such as client entertainment. Other companies have monthly limits on expenses such as cell phone usage. There are tax and accounting rules that must be followed.  Certain expenses are billed to clients, and these must be scrupulously itemized.

Padding an expense account is theft. Overstating mileage, to get an extra thirty-one cents a mile, is theft. Putting in receipts for phantom meals and other nonexistent expenses is theft. Charging personal-call phone usage to the company is theft. The extra money received over actual expenses is stolen loot. The theft is from the other employees and the shareholders or stakeholders of the company. And if fraudulent expenses are re-billed to clients, the thief puts the enterprise at risk. You must either fire the thief, or cut off one of the thief's hands, or both.

Misusing an expense account is, at best, poor judgment. Misuse occurs when an employee dutifully puts in receipts for inappropriate expenses. Misuse is a lesser crime than theft, but it is still a misappropriation of organization funds. Misuse includes overspending relative to the company's culture, renting an exotic sports car on a business trip, or taking indirect and expensive airline flights to build frequent flyer points. The first misuse is good reason for a discussion with the employee. The employee may learn something about common sense and appropriate behavior.

The first misuse is usually not a reason for termination; after all, the person did not try to hide the expense. There is no excuse for subsequent misuse.

It is prudent to have an occasional audit of everyone's expense accounts to be sure people are not unwittingly erring in reporting, or are up to date on tax regulations, or are properly coding re-billable expenses. But checking expense accounts is a waste of time. Checking expense accounts signals mistrust, or undermines trust. Having to check expense accounts means you have the wrong people.

Every second spent checking an expense account is a second stolen from your time with employees, or your time with customers. Theft is not allowed.

The chapters are short, as you can see, and full of clearly stated rules. In the Acknowledgements section, Fox mentions a host of people, including his own former bosses and mentors. While Fox didn’t pull his rules out of the air, there’s no data to support them, either. Those who are annoyed by this, including me, will have to take what Fox says with a leap of faith. So much of what he presents in How to Become a Great Boss resonated for me, I expect the same will be true for you.

Steve Hopkins, August 22, 2003


ă 2003 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the September 2003 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: to Become a Great Boss.htm


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