This little book (5.5" X 8.5", 113 pages) is a conversation between the character telling the story ("Everymanager") andMax, an eccentric old sage-an experienced manager cum consultant. The storyteller, a bureaucratic manager who senses there's something missing in his life, calls on Max for some much-wanted advice on how to be a better boss.
As Max shares ideas, perspectives, philosophies, and techniques, solid insight rolls out from the pages. The wisdom is focused and valuable, illustrated and punctuated with stories about so-called gifted bosses, well-known and not. Examples come from cameo-like appearances from Peter Schutz (Porsche), Dan Schweiker (China Mist Tea), Dave Thomas (Wendy's), and many others.
The first part of text is peppered with comparisons between ordinary bosses and gifted bosses. For instance: ordinary bosses have answers; gifted bosses have questions (page 36). Interesting comparisons, but they don't last throughout the book. In our opinion, this is a missed opportunity. The message is sometimes subtle or opaque, but the reader gradually comes to understand the defining qualities of a gifted boss.
The message of the book is valuable, built around the six realities of gifted bosses and great employees. The principles are sound, but not tightly linked to the objective of finding, creating, and keeping great employees. The approach is more philosophical, looking at management style. And management style certainly influences workforce stability.
Unfortunately, the vital messages are obscured by the often-stilted conversation. The interactions between the "speaker" and Max seem uncomfortably contrived. The attempt at a conversational tone made the book a bit difficult to work with at times. I found myself hoping I would find a summary of the wisdom at the end of the book-a quick reference guide that would synopsize the gist of the gifted boss concept. No such luck. There is a list of the Realities of Gifted Bosses at the beginning of the book, but the rest of the wisdom is buried and not easy to retrieve.
Author Dale Dauten is a syndicated columnist whose work is read by over ten million people each week. His philosophies and insights are well-grounded, so there is plenty to gain from the book. The idea that being a better boss will serve workforce stability is not new, but the conversational approach does put an interesting twist on the topic. The awkwardness of parts of the book suggest this may not be the most effective way of communicating the message.
The novel sort of style does capture one's attention and draws the reader along in the fictional story, but it's not as well done as Eli Goldratt's The Goal and similar books. If you can treat the dialog with a certain amount of lightheartedness, allowing you to ignore the simplistic aspects of the "conversation," the book provides good value and advice.
Read an Excerpt
My "wisest/oldest" project eventually led me to telephone Max Elmore. I'd saved him for last. He's an eccentric old sage I'd first met at O'Hare Airport, the two of us stranded together by a freak May snowstorm. At the time, I was a disheartened young bureaucrat, feeling stifled and stymied -- feelings intensified that night by being one of thousands of frustrated travelers trying to nap while slumped against the walls, using our carry-on bags as pillows. Unable to relax, I watched glumly as an old guy in plaid pants appointed himself social director for all the restless children in the terminal. Once he exhausted them, he sat beside me, and I responded grouchily to his questions about my life, pouring out my frustrations. Instead of leaving me there to sulk, he cajoled me, then educated me, and ended up changing my life -- literally overnight.
During our hours of conversation Max taught me that you can't get to better without first getting to different. And he showed me how to delight in flukes and coincidences and other offerings of the angels of creativity. I learned a new motto that night: Experiments Never Fail. Within a few weeks I had established a reputation within my company as an innovator, and I'd gotten pulled into a stream of new projects and eventually into a series of promotions. In fact, the success that followed my night with Max had led directly to the conundrum I now faced: I had more career than I wanted.
So it was fitting that I put off calling Max till the end, counting on him to help me pull together what I'd heard. And when I had him on the phone, I told Max that the more I searched, the more lost I hadbecome.
He responded by asking, "So now that you've talked to all these wise old people, what do you think you should do more of?."Truly live. Experience life."
"Good. But what's the main ingredient of those experiences?"
"Yes. The goal isn't just to experience life, but to experience it together. Remember E. M. Forster? 'Only connect.' That's a two-word philosophy of life."
Those two words did indeed strike me as an important truth. But I was knee-deep in important truths. I said to Max, "I've been going in circles, reflecting on life. And since my life is mostly spent working, I've spent a lot of time reflecting on my career. I paused here, knowing I was about to say something that chilled me to contemplate, and I had to make sure my voice would not betray the powerful emotions I was feeling: "I've found myself wondering if I should quit my job, maybe become a consultant. Spend more time with my family."
There was a pause, and I couldn't decide if I would be pleased or disappointed if he agreed. Mine was an enviable job. Solid people, my coworkers. Good salary and benefits. Then again, I found myself not wanting to go to work some mornings, so much so that when the company started a little TGIM campaign, like we should all be thrilled to see Monday morning come around, I had to bite my tongue like it was a piece of Juicy Fruit.
Max finally responded by saying, "I remember hearing John Madden, the football coach, talking about his decision to become a television announcer. It happened not too long after he left coaching. He said something like, 'I quit coaching to spend more time with my family. But after a while, I realized that my family didn't want to spend more time with me. So I went back to work.'"
Max laughed, adding, "I'm picturing you quitting your job, and after a year or so, you discover that your wife and children are sneaking around, hiding from you." He feigned a child's high voice, "Shhh... get down. Here comes Dad again, trying to spend time with us."
We laughed together. Max knew me well enough to know that I already had a close family. Looking back, I suspect he understood that I was simply worn down and looking for an exit. I remarked, "So now I'm more confused than ever."
He said kindly, "I don't think the answer Is 'not working.' The answer is carryiny 'only connect' into your work. Business at its best is all about human involvement. The problem is that we've stripped work of its natural zest. I thought the old command structures were breaking down, but mostly it's been a sham. We talk about teams and coaches, but usually they turn out to be committees and managers working under aliases."
He was right about the company where I worked. I had left corporate life and built a small business of my own, then sold out to a larger company. Now I was a "team leader," which meant I was head of a small division. I had a couple of dozen people who worked for my group.
"So," Max said, "do you truly 'connect' with your bosses?"
"Sort of," I replied, knowing I sounded wishy-washy. They were bright, committed people, but it seemed I spent half my time trying to figure out how to get around their bureaucracy.
"Do you love them?"
"I wouldn't have chosen that word."
"Do you want to be more like them?"
"And how about the people who report to you? Do you 'only connect'?"
"I care about them."
"Not good enough. You undoubtedly 'care' about saving the whales. That's not the same as connecting."
I got a bit defensive here, because I am a good boss who has devoted himself to his division. So I threw out some objections while Max let me talk myself into a corner. Then, having been set up," Max then took me into a brief conversation that changed forever the way I view work relationships.
"Have you ever had a great boss?" Max asked. "Someone you looked forward to seeing, who lifted you up to a higher plane?" I hesitated, debating one possibility in my mind. That's when he added, "Peter Schutz, the former CEO of Porsche, once described for me the type of relationship I'm talking about. He described it as 'I like me best when I'm around you.'
With that I knew my answer -- I'd never had a boss like that. And then he asked about my own management. I unburdened myself, explaining that my relationship with my employees was mostly as a problem solver. I spent my days with them lined up waiting to see me, and they invariably brought in their obstacles and screw-ups. I came through for them, and in doing so, I had stopped doing what I thought of as "actual work" -- which I wasgood at, and enjoyed -- and started being a corporate plumber, my life concerned with leaking projects and clogged pipelines.
Max started laughing as I finished my griping. "What?" I demanded. He responded, still amusing himself, "I just thought of a remark by Emperor Hirohito, commenting on how his life had changed after the war. He said, 'You can't imagine the extra work I had when I was a god.'"
He waited for me to laugh, but I merely forced a chuckle because I didn't find much humor or any applicability. He said, "Don't you see, you're trying to be the god of your department. It's a lousy job, being a god."
And then he asked me about the people who worked for me, and he wondered if I had any "great employees," whom he defined as people who not only needed no management but who also made me do better work, and who raised the entire department to a higher standard. So I had to say no, although I felt myself a bit of a traitor to say it. And then we got to the real goods....
Copyright ) 1999 by Dale Dauten
What People are saying about this
The Gifted Boss is another home run from gifted writer Dale Dauten... No boss in America today will want to be without this compelling book on how to lead employees to greatness.
(Steve Chandler, author of Reinventing Yourself)
This is a terrific book with a message for everyone -- bosses and employees alike. The Gifted Boss is like a great hamburger: fresh, made to order, and very satisfying.
(Dave Thomas, Founder, Wendy's International, Inc.)
Paul G. Stoltz
Wow! Less is more. With this book Dale Dauten has pulled together the most vital wisdom of what it really takes to be a gifted boss. Read it, and your people will thank you.
(Paul G. Stoltz, Ph.D. President & CEO PEAK Learning, Inc., author of Adversity Quotient: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities)
From the Author:
ARE YOU A GIFTED BOSS?
For the past five years I've been searching for the best bosses in America. Having met hundreds of them -- many recommended by their grateful employees -- I was so impressed with their humor, generosity and grace that I began to think of them as "gifted." See how you measure up...
*** Do you (a) fill job openings or (b) do you fill the talent pipeline?
The unemployment rate among star employees is always close to zero, in any
economy. And that's why the typical manager who hires from a stack of resumes is analogous to a college basketball coach with a team of "walk-ons," playing against coaches that have searched out and courted special talent.
Gifted bosses know that great employees are rarely to be found in the traditional job market and have learned the secrets of spotting and courting exceptional employees, the ones who can lift the performance of everyone around them, including their bosses.
*** Do you (a) offer competitive wages and excellent benefits, or (b) offer someone more, a "magnetic environment"?
In this economy, "competitive wages" can't compete and "excellent benefits" don't excel. Trying to "buy" a great staff is not just expensive, but counterproductive -- you're left with a team of mercenaries, ready to jump at the next offer. Employees with Gifted Bosses routinely turn down lucrative offers to work elsewhere, preferring to stay in a "magnetic workplace."
The employment philosophy of the best bosses amounts to this: "THE BEST PLACE FOR THE BEST PEOPLE." They understand that if you want star employees you have to give them the chances to be stars -- the freedom and the tools to work on extraordinary projects.
** Is your employee turnover more among (a) the top one-tenth of performers or (b) the bottom tenth? And, it you have little or no turnover, is it because you have (a) all extraordinary performers, or (b) a balance of mediocrity?
Turnover is a questionable measure of management talent; after all, the lowest levels of turnover are among mediocre employees -- the ones not so bad as to fire, but not so good as to be hired away.
But even with sub-standard employees, Gifted Bosses rarely have to resort to firing. Instead, they have mastered the "secret skill" of "de-hiring." They set high standards and help employees meet them. The one who won't or can't soon figure out they are in the wrong place. Most leave on their own. The ones who don't are shown their futures in a supportive way, because great bosses understand that everyone fits somewhere.
*** Do you believe that loyalty is dead?
The old notion of lifelong employment may be dead, but something finer has arisen in its place: the kinship of talent. A gifted boss and great employee ride together the spiral of talent, creating a lifelong alliance, a new and better kind of loyalty.
** When you walk through your workplace, what do you hear?
When great employees are working at what they do best, surrounded by people with whom they feel a lifelong talent kinship, there is a special energy and joviality. If you walk through a organization and you don't hear laughter, you're not going to meet a Gifted Boss.
Prepare yourself for a journey of discovery! Dale Dauten provides an entertaining, yet thought-provoking look at why some companies are succeeding more than others in our ever-changing marketplace. If you've been wondering how to not just survive, but to thrive in business in the coming years, this book is for you.
(Tom Hopkins, author of How to Master the Art of Selling and Sales Prospecting for Dummies)
Whether you're a manager trying to hire or hold onto your best talent, or an employee who always hoped to have work be more than just another job, this little book can bring you closer to your dream.
(Bob Nelson, author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees and 1001 Ways to Energize Employees)