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Have Hard-Nosed Bosses Become Obsolete?

May 23, 2014

Last week’s ouster of Jill Abramson as executive editor of The New York Times over accusations that she mistreated colleagues shows that being a hard-edged leader is riskier than it used to be, The Wall Street Journal reports.

In today’s world the role of boss has become increasingly public, with social media and constant electronic communications exposing matters that once stayed private. “Now, everything you write, everything that you say, you should think about it being on the front page of The Wall Street Journal,” says Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of the London-based advertising firm WPP PLC.

Robert Sutton, a Stanford University professor, says there are two types of demanding bosses in business: those who demean and de-motivate colleagues, and those who put their own needs ahead of their organization’s needs.

When bosses have to get things done, yelling or glaring at subordinates can be OK, he says. But genuine jerks have mostly been culled from corporations in recent years, in part because it’s become harder to get away with bad behavior.

For women leaders like Abramson, a tough style carries additional risks. Victoria Brescoll, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, says her research shows that angry women in the workplace are perceived more negatively than angry men are.

Carly Fiorina, who was chief executive of Hewlett-Packard for six years, says that what’s perceived as “appropriately demanding” by a male leader is often seen as “abrasive in a woman.” — Greg Beaubien


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