Calling All Bosses for a New Freakonomics Radio Segment

(Photo: Victor1558)

We are working on a short Freakonomics Radio piece about “the value of bosses,” derived from a new working paper of that name (abstract; PDF) by Edward Lazear, Kathryn Shaw, and Christopher Stanton. The paper finds a good boss is indeed considerably more valuable than a mediocre or bad boss, at least in terms of productivity.

What do you think? We’d like to include in the radio piece some real bosses (i.e., not just the anonymized kind that show up in economics papers) so if you’re a boss (in retail or service or I.T. or manufacturing or whatever), let us hear from you via How much do you think bosses matter? What makes a good boss good (and a bad one bad)? Who’s the best (or worse) boss you ever had? And, most important, how are good bosses made?


I am not a boss but I have a FANTASTIC boss. He will have my undying loyalty till the day he retires. Why? Because he is the most understanding boss I have ever had and his flexibility and concern for those of us who work under him create a real family/team atmosphere in our office. He also trusts us to do our work and do it well - he does not micromanage - he treats us like adults and we are all very appreciative of that.

My boss is a director in the federal government (in DC) and has always given far more than 40 hours per week to the American taxpayer over his 25+ year career. He could move to the private sector and make 3x the money, but he chooses to stay and serve in his current position - we are lucky to have him. He allows us to telecommute, change schedules on the fly when needed (illness, sick children, etc) and trusts us to act like adults and get the job done. Because he trusts us, we respond by going above and beyond ourselves. Even when we are not on the clock, we are checking our email from home, responding to questions when we are on vacation, etc. If more bosses were like him, we would have a more productive work force - not based on pay - but based on loyalty and appreciation.



Wow. Lucky you. I wish I had a boss like this. And, in the future, I wish I'd be a boss like this.

Impossibly Stupid

Is this really the right sample set to survey? It seems quite likely that most responses would be from self-identified "good" bosses, who are certain that whatever they're doing is the only right way to go about being bossy, and will offer plenty of cherry-picked evidence to support it. About the only thing you can hope for is to get enough responses that you'll get the full spectrum of contradictory strategies ("You have to work hard to keep the employees in line and productive"/"You have to back off and just let people do the best job they can"), and even then get almost no intersection with reality ("I don't care about the company or the wage slaves, I'm just going to bleed everyone for long enough while I'm here so that I can lock up my golden parachute and cash out with a jackpot before everything spirals into the toilet I created").

Eric M. Jones.

(some of this was from a piece I wrote previously)

Worst Boss I Ever Had.

A company I worked for passed over all the really good candidates for the job as chief of the R&D section of a company I worked for, and hired a handsome sociopath with blatant narcissistic personal disorder. It slowly dawned on us victims that in the Army he was given overnight guard duties, and the other companies he worked for (e.g. Los Alamos) also gave him solitary overnight shifts. Nobody could stand working with him! But after a while I got along with him very well because I knew he was insane—but smart and creative. Furthermore he was as honest as a sociopath could be. I came to expect the back-stabbings and beatings I got regularly. The pay was good and the work was interesting. As long as I treated him like a brain-damaged child, I stayed on his good side.

I can’t say I was glad to see him go. Better the Devil you know….

But after a while the company fired him and interviewed 95 (!95-count’em- 95!) more candidates, only to hire (with gleeful fanfare and celebration) a charming, handsome, sociopathic crackhead, cheat and con-man, whose resume was at least 80% blatant fabrication. He made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Nobody thought to check his resume because it would not have been polite….I simply Googled him and found that a series of tech companies had hired him with great fanfare and he lasted six months. I bet my office-mate $100 that he would be gone within six months.

He lasted six months and 20 days. I lost the bet.