A truth about bosses

As much as we would like to believe otherwise, here’s some truth about leaders of organizations from Robert I. Sutton, an organizational theorist at Stanford University:

The truth is that bosses of everything from small groups to Fortune 500 firms don’t matter as much as most of us believe. They typically account for less than 15 percent of the gap between good an bad organizational performance, although they often get over 50 percent of the blame and credit. Bosses of small (and young) workplaces have the biggest impact, especially on human reactions like turnover, satisfaction, and health. Yet even those bosses are over-romanticized, and their impact is magnified in our minds. In fact, even when bosses have no influence at all, we still heap on the credit and blame. When experiments at Stanford and Caltech were rigged so it was impossible for leaders to influence team performance, members still gave the appointed ‘leader’ most of the credit and blame. Members of poorly performing teams were even willing to spend their own money to get rid of their ‘lousy’ (if irrelevant) leaders.

If you are a boss, this is your lot in life. You can’t change it, so you better learn to deal with it. [Good Boss, Bad Boss by Robert Sutton (New York: Business Plus, 2010), p. 49.]

Based on my own experience, all this is true of ministers. As a minister, I have gotten credit for successes that I had little to do with, and I have been blamed for failures that I had little to do with. I’ve seen the same happen to chairs of congregational boards. As Sutton says, that’s life — best to learn to deal with it.


I had to talk with someone in New England, who happened to mention all the snow on the ground there. I told them that here in the Bay area, we’ve been having warm days, with temperatures in the 60s. I did not tell them that as I was driving to work yesterday, I noticed that new green leaves are appearing on some of the deciduous trees; that for the last few days the evening air has been filled with the scent of flowers; that on Sunday I stood and watched a gorgeous male Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) in fresh bright plumage feeding at the hummingbird feeder hanging near my office.