Julian Birkinshaw

Becoming a Better Boss

Why Good
is so Difficult

Whereas most books on managing people approach the subject from the perspective of a manager of an idealised organisation, Becoming a Better Boss takes a real-world approach, looking at the topic from the perspective of an employee in a real-world organisation—dysfunctions, warts, and all. Focusing on the choices individual employees make every day in getting work done, this book reinvents the practice of management one employee at a time.

Author Julian Birkinshaw stresses the importance of taking management seriously, reveals where management practice often goes wrong, and dives deeply into the worldview of employees. He then explores the common personal biases and frailties of managers and discusses the vital importance of experimentation to overcome the limitations and idiosyncrasies of a particular organisation. Throughout, he supports his assertions with case studies from a wide and varying range of management experiments and situations at real companies.

  • Written by a leading authority on strategy, management, and innovation who is also the author of eleven books, including Reinventing Management
  • Introduces a new approach to management focused on real employees and actual situations
  • Includes case studies from real organisations

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.


“Nobody else should write about – or pronounce upon – our management crisis without reading this first.”

People Management

“Becoming a Better Boss is a revolutionary approach to management because it starts from the view of the person being managed, not the one doing the managing.”

Gary Hamel, Best-Selling Author and Management Thinker

“We know the secret of long term success is more engaged employees. In this book Julian Birkinshaw shows how managers can do a much better job of fully engaging the people around them, so they can do their best work.”

David Macleod, author of the macleod report to the uk government, “engaging for success”

“In Becoming a Better Boss, Julian Birkinshaw provides a clear roadmap for how we can all become great managers.”

Jayson Dallas, General Manager, Roche UK

“Good leadership and management begins with good people management and it’s never been more important given the increasing diversity of the workforce and the ways in which we work. Julian’s book speaks to these challenges and is full of great case studies, models, and ideas about how to effectively manage and engage the workforce of today...he is able to bring new perspectives and insights and deliver these in a highly readable and engaging way.”

Peter Cheese, CEO, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

“Julian’s new book is perhaps the world’s first discourse that looks at management from the eyes of the employee.”

Vineet Nayar, Vice Chairman, HCL Technologies

“One of the hallmarks of a truly successful company is its ability to harness the talents and skills of its employees across the world. In this book, Julian Birkinshaw shows why so many companies struggle with this, and he offers practical advice to help managers at all levels be more effective at getting the most out of their people.”

Ayman Asfari, CEO Petrofac


Julian Birkinshaw

Julian Birkinshaw is Professor and Chair of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School. He has PhD and MBA degrees in Business from the Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario, and a BSc (Hons) from the University of Durham. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the Stockholm School of Economics, 2009.

Professor Birkinshaw’s main area of expertise is in the strategy and management of large multinational corporations, and on such specific issues as corporate entrepreneurship, innovation, subsidiary-headquarters relationship, knowledge management, network organizations, and global customer management. He is the author of eleven other books, including Reinventing Management: Smarter Choices for Getting Work Done (Revised and Updated Edition 2012), Giant Steps in Management (2007), Inventuring: Why Big Companies Must Think Small (2003), Leadership the Sven-Goran Eriksson Way (2002) and Entrepreneurship in the Global Firm (2001), and over seventy articles in such journals as Harvard Business Review, Sloan Management Review, Strategy Management Journal and Academy of Management Journal. He is active as a consultant and executive educator to many large companies, including Rio Tinto, SAP, GSK, ABB, Ericsson, Kone, Petrofac, WPP, Bombardier, Sara Lee, HSBC, Akzo Nobel, Roche, Thyssen Krupp, UBS, PWC, Coloplast, BBC, Unilever and Novo Nordisk.

In 1998 the leading British Management magazine Management Today profiled Professor Birkinshaw as one of six of the “Next Generation of Management Gurus”. He is regularly quoted in international media outlets, including CNN, BBC, The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, and The Times. He speaks regularly at business conferences in the UK, Europe, North America and Australia.

Professor Birkinshaw is co-founder with best-selling author Gary Hamel of the Management Innovation Lab (MLab), a unique partnership between academia and business that is seeking to accelerate the evolution of management.


Sample chapter

One of the motivations in writing this book was to tackle the following puzzle:

  • Do we know how to generate sustainably high performance in companies? Yes we do.
  • Do companies consistently follow this established formula? No they don’t.

On the face of it, this seems strange. Surely human nature compels us to seek out better ways of doing things? Surely competition between companies creates a survival-of-the-fittest push for constant improvement? Well, yes it does, but there are also many other forces at work that can frustrate our ability to do what we know to be right. Sometimes these forces prevail, leaving everyone stuck with an inferior model. Continue...


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