Book News: November 27th, 2013

Julian Birkinshaw explores why good management is so difficult. Between the stress of deadlines and the demands of today’s business environment, it’s easy for managers to lose sight of the importance of people management. Becoming a Better Boss not only shows managers how to lead effectively, but why doing so is vitally important to every organisation’s success.

He argues that cultural change is beyond organisations that can’t reinvent the way their middle managers lead. The problem isn’t a lack of literature: “We can read the words and know what we are supposed to do. But we don’t know where to start, how to prioritise or get out of our old habits.” So he’s decided to cut to the chase and directly address the squeezed middle.

The dichotomy between leadership and management is part of the problem – “The obsession with leadership has led to a dangerous diminution in the perceived importance of… management” – and only getting back to basics can solve it.

What does a good manager look like? By mixing up statements staff made about Fred Goodwin and Steve Jobs (it was the latter who, it was said, treated subordinates with contempt, for instance), the author deftly demonstrates that undesirable traits are often inseparable from good management practice. What bad bosses really have in common is a failure to understand the “self-identity” of their workforce

Birkinshaw writes persuasively and with a disarming lack of pretension, sprinkling practical advice throughout. But the best aspect of this truly excellent book (with a somewhat crass title) is that the author recognises most management studies ignore the reality of workplaces. It’s easy to be immersive and engaging if you’re in a glass-fronted management consultancy, but he addresses what good management means in all manner of settings. Nobody else should write about – or pronounce upon – our management crisis without reading this first.

Published by Jossey-Bass, ISBN: 978-1-118-64546-8. £15.19