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I love your writing and your thinking, but this time I think you are being cynical. People, for the most part, are doing what they are doing to the best of their (current) abilities. We can't expect more, nor should we expect less. We are a product of our historicity. Breaking with that is improbable. The boss'es journey is more of a meandering than a deliberative process. As bosses we cope with what we encounter and learn what we can. Some do better than others. It's not a progression. Rather, it's more like stumbling.

I am more interested in the circumstances that produce good bosses. What aid did they get? What fortune prepared them for their challenges? How did education matter?

You proposed four stages. In my experience, bosses, you and me included, are just making our way along a fuzzy continuum of effectiveness. Maybe...just maybe...we'll break free of Henri Fayol's inheritance.


I am not sure that everyone even gets to stage three. I think some remain as first level managers and in stage 2 forever. I think some go beyond stage two into a state of status quo and never reach the realization of stage three. They accept things as they are and they are doing okay.

Mike Thomas


I've found that the more I meet and speak with my boss, the more I understand her position. Every boss needs a sounding board - and a good listener - to get through stages two & three.

As a boss myself, I appreciate those willing to speak "truth to power" and those willing to listen to my concerns.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment.


Wally Bock

Your progression rings true, Bob. Let me add something to the "after first promotion" transition. I've found three phases possible. Each is 4 to 6 months long. The first two are "Boss" where the new manager relies on authority and gives orders and "Buddy" where the new manager tries to be everyone's friend. The order seems to depend on the personality of the new manager. Some people get stuck in one or the other and remain a crappy boss forever. But some move to "Balance" where they work out their unique style which they maintain, pretty much forever. I don't mean that they quit developing, only that the basic style jells.

Mentors, conscious reflection, coaching, and good role models help increase the odds that a new manager will become a good manager. I like a process that's similar to the Field Training programs in police work, where new managers connect with "training managers" for a year and a half.

Aside: most companies expect the transition to be over in a couple of weeks. It's a role transition, though, and takes time.

Bret Simmons

Bob, do you think people can accurately perceive what stage they are at? It's like if you asked a group of folks if they thought they had an internal or an external locus of control, most would answer internal although the truth is most would probably have a well developed external locus that they don't see in themselves.

Most managers would want to see themselves in your stage four, but I bet if you asked their followers many would say their own boss is stuck in stage one with an inflated perception of themself that everyone but the boss herself can see.

Vivek Patwardhan


I have always felt a striking similarity between my feelings towards my father and boss at various stages. Perhaps it must be happening because both are figures of authority.

The first stage is, as you say, Awe. Perhaps because at this stage both add value or we learn unquestioningly.
The second stage is assertion of individuality with hesitation, like an adolescent, when we find it convenient to blame them for not allowing us enough freedom and that is our explanantion to our dissatifaction.
At the third stage we feel the boos/ father is getting stuck in old ideas of his times. Yet we have now developed respect for him because we understand how difficult it was to achieve what he has done during his times.
The fourth stage is when we realise what 'wisdom' is and we develop genuine respect for him, quote what he used tosay with admiration, yet understand his greatness with acceptance of some shortcomings too.
I think we tend to think that the boss/ father are infallible men in initial period. It is not as if we do not understand that they are not infallible, it is just that all our reactions tend to come form a different image.

This post brought back some old memories, I enjoyed reading it.




The toughest part for me is reconciling two often conflicting factors: Giving people what they need, and being true to who you are.

What do you do when what people need is something different than who you are?


It's interesting you cast the journey in terms of the emotions of the boss, rather than how well they actually do.

I'd agree with the general outline, but wonder whether it might not be something like:

1. Awe / obedience: Unquestioning acceptance of however someone with authority chooses to manage.

2. Having an opinion: Distinguishing between good and bad bosses. Forming a view as to what makes a good or bad boss. (This replaces your fear and loathing stage, because I know I had both bad and good responses to people I worked for; I don't think it need be all bad.)

3. Blissful ignorance: On becoming a boss for the first time, it's easy not to appreciate what's required to be the type of boss one wants to be (see 2). So one has a very good chance of not making it. Many people never get beyond this stage.

4. Dawning realisation: The more self critical bosses will realise at some point how hard it is to be the boss they want to be. They begin to realise all the elements and facets they have to get right. Many (all?) will feel overwhelmed and inadequate. Some will compensate by working crazy hours. Again, many will not get beyond this stage.

5. Balance: Enough maturity and experience to prioritise what's important, accept failures without being crushed by them and still be effective enough to be the boss one wants to be. Not a final state, but a sense of confidence to keep moving on and learning.

This fits my personal and observed experience. Really liked the CEO post though; very thoughtful.


The first couple of stages in the journey and not necessarily in that order of awe & disgust are almost universal. However, it is my belief that "good" or "reflective" bosses go through variation of stages 3 and 4. They even repeatedly move between those stages depending on the issue or domain as the CEO articulates eloquently. However, many bosses (usually the bad ones) experience a dramatically different variation of your stage 3. They NEVER go through the "How can I be so LAME?" stage 3 you describe and regardless of the feedback from the environment, their team or their boss they do not change or learn. Their journey is thus stunted and damaged but the irony is that in many cases their progress through the organizational or success hierarchy continues regardless.
Need a new stage definition for these Bosses!



Your rough outline seems apt: Naivete; Disillusionment; Experience/Education; Maturity/Enlightenment. It matches my journey so far, though the details of the stages are a bit different. Here is how my experiences differ from your descriptions of the stages:

Stage one: Being an engineer, I was in awe of my first project leader and a few of the other senior engineers. It was their technical prowess that impressed me, not their titles or formal authority. I had some good bosses whom I truly appreciated, but I can't say I was in awe of their positions or titles.

Stage two: Disgust and contempt is a good description of how I have felt about many of my bosses over the years. Those feelings started setting in my second and third years of professional experience. It was disgust with asshole bosses and mismanagement that eventually inspired me to move into management. I simply felt I could do their jobs better than them and not be an asshole while doing it.

Stage three: I did not have "how can I be so lame?" feelings as either a first-line and second-line manager. I did have passing insecurities about my performance, but I was able to work through those by learning and adapting. Perhaps it was the greater problems I experienced because of the incompetence of higher-level managers and CEOs that prevented me from realizing my own short comings to a greater extent.

It wasn't until I reached the CEO office and had responsibility for everyone and everything that I started feeling my limitations in both acute and chronic ways. It is one thing to performance problems in an area outside of your responsibility and expertise. It is quite another when you have responsibility for the area that is outside your expertise. Making rookie marketing mistakes as a CEO or mishandling interactions with the BOD does not make you feel good about your abilities, no matter how well developed your ego. It is even worse when you enter into an M&A activity and realize you don't know what you are doing.

Stage four: Reflection upon my experiences "in the corner office" made me realize that I needed business education, which I got. I am more comfortable with uncertainty. I have learned ways to understand and manage things at a higher level.

I've had a couple of different CEO positions now. Am I in stage four yet? I'm not sure. I feel like I move back and forth between stages three and four.

I've not had the same experience as your Master's student. I've not softened my assessment of the performance of previous bosses. I am more personally sympathetic towards the ones who were not assholes. I wish there were more of those.


I think we all go through a combination of those emotions. Some days we're in awe of our bosses, other days we wonder if they're even human beings. Other days, we want to store up little tidbits to help us when we get into the same situation.

I have seen some really good bosses, and I've seen some bad ones. So I think it's all a matter of perspective.

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