The Bottom Line: Why Every Organization Needs a Boss
Updated: Apr 2, 2021
Over the past decade, there has been an inordinate stream of materials created and shared that denigrates and besmirches the 'boss.' Articles, comics, memes, and infographics have warned of the perils of acting like a 'boss' and praised the virtues of the 'leader' as though the two were mutually exclusive. They're not.
What follows is the contrarian view; a defense of the 'boss.'
What is a 'Boss'
There is no denying that there are bad 'bosses' out there. We have all suffered under the management of at least one in the course of our careers. Like all bad apples, however, they've undeservedly given the 'boss' a bad rep.
In 2019, I spent a summer vacation working on a 19th century sailing ship as it sailed up the west coast of Greenland on its way to the Northwest Passage.
Every evening, the captain called the crew together to go over the maps, review the weather forecast and sea currents, and chart the next day's course. Although the captain would invite commentary and discussion from the crew, he ultimately made the decision about where and when we would sail.
A boss, like a ship captain, is simply a well-differentiated leader; inherently differentiated from their peers by their authority to make decisions.
Why Do We Need a Boss?
There are obvious parallels between the captain of a ship, and a boss in an organization. Every ship/organization needs:
A plan to get there; and
A crew to make it happen.
While it's clear from this list that a captain/boss is not essential to arrive at the destination, it is preferable to alternatives.
In my experience, organizations that 'govern by committee' get very little done! They lack a unifying vision or ownership of problems. Too often have I seen these organizations descend to a debating micro-society, and a place where habit quickly becomes 'tradition'. Tradition thusly becomes an excuse for justifying idleness and reactionary thinking.
I have observed similar critical failures in organizations that lead by majority. Whenever a problem arose, team members would convene to discuss the problem and vote on a solution. This presented two (often fatal) errors whenever a 'fire' broke out.
In the time it would take for the team to convene, bring everyone up to speed, debate the issue, and vote on an outcome, the team would return to find the proverbial house already burned down; and
What is popular is usually what is comfortable, and problems often require uncomfortable solutions.
Conversely, a boss that becomes aware of an issue can quickly seek the wisdom of others, make a decision, and execute the solution. A good boss will also stand ready to defend and endure the criticism that comes with executing an unpopular-but-necessary solution.
Additionally, like a ship captain, the boss tends to be the most experienced 'sailor', the owner of the 'ship', or the original visionary.
The Bottom Line
Some err and think it ignoble and arbitrary when one is given the authority to make unilateral decisions. However, performed appropriately, a boss is simply a well-differentiated leader with the capacity to choose a destination, plot a course to get there, and rally the crew to work toward the common goal. It can sometimes be better to let the mutineers abandon ship than to give them a voice that sinks the whole boat.
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