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The key traits of a good leader don’t come easily to all bosses.

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KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, with Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am delighted to speak to Julian Birkinshaw from the London Business School.

Your latest book coming out very shortly, Becoming A Better Boss, what are a couple of the key points you are making in this new book of yours?

JULIAN BIRKINSHAW – So my new book, Becoming a Better Boss, starts with a premise that we all want to be better bosses, we all want to be good at doing our job and actually we know what we should be doing – it's not difficult.

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I can do this with an executive group in five minutes flat to find out that a good boss is somebody who listens to their people, provides them support and encouragement, gives them space to do their work, gives praise when they work well, and provides challenging work for them to do. That is the easy bit.

The fact is that there are lots of bad bosses out there, so the book really is trying to say: Why do we see this enormous gap, essentially, between what we have known for years that good bosses do and the actual day-to-day behaviours that are exhibited?

The basic premise of the book is that managing well, being a very good boss, is an almost an unnatural act – it is something that does not come naturally to most of us. We have to work very hard to do the things that we know that we should be doing.

KARL MOORE – So why is that Julian?

JULIAN BIRKINSHAW – So for me there are three parts to the story. One is that we do not spend enough time getting inside the minds of our employees. A large part of the book is really about this concept of almost de-centric. That is to say; trying to see the world through the eyes of our employees and trying to understand what their motivations, their fears, their concerns are and try to figure out what makes them tick so that we can, essentially, find better ways of helping them to do their job well.

The book draws a lot from the field of marketing. If you think about it, marketing is about seeing the world through the eyes of our customers; good management is about seeing the world through the eyes of our employees. I actually use a lot of the old tricks of marketing to help people do that. So that is part one.

More briefly, why is it so difficult to be a good boss? Because we are not self-aware enough! That is to say, we all have these inherent flaws or biases in the way that we do things. We like to be in control when, in fact, what we should be doing is giving control to others. We like to take the praise ourselves when we should be patting other people on the back.

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So there are a few tips and tricks in there to help us essentially to try to be more reflective of our own weaknesses and strengths and to try to step back a little from doing the things that we would without thinking.

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