Don’t we all need “a human shield from idiocy”?


Robert Sutton, professor of science and management engineering at Stanford and author of a terrific book on dealing with and surviving difficult people at work, is working on a new project about what it is, exactly, that good bosses believe about their role that makes them so good.

Among the dozen points he identifies is this gem, phrased from the boss’s point of view: “My job is to serve as a human shield, to protect my people from external intrusions, distractions, and idiocy of every stripe — and to avoid imposing my own idiocy on them as well.” Click here to read his whole list.

Sutton’s list is useful and compelling for a couple of reasons. The first is clear in the statement above: he doesn’t pull any punches about the behavior we all observe in our workplaces or about the fact that some of these less-than-productive behaviors come from the boss. He points to the boss’s key role in running interference so that her/his staff are better able to do their work and the frustration that stems from bosses who don’t recognize this role and/or are themselves the source of the interference.

The second reason, and this is huge, is that his list isn’t simply a compiled set of ideas that ring true to him personally. Rather, he notes that each item that makes his list has some grounding in research and has been shown effective. This should make the book he’s working on worth a read.

In your experience, what do good bosses do that sets them apart from bad or even average bosses? Tell us your stories in the comments below.