What is a boss?

“Boss” “Authority” These are taboo words in many companies, where terms like “manager” and “leadership” are preferred. Nonetheless, it is with the former words that General Pierre de Villiers expresses his ideas in his latest book, Qu’est-ce qu’un chef? (What Is a Boss?). A simple question, a vast subject, all leading to an answer that asks us to go back to basics.

To answer the question posed by his title, Pierre de Villiers reviews his 43-year military career, up to the highest-ranking position he achieved: Chief of the Defense Staff.

Throughout his book, he describes the qualities that leaders must possess: exemplary character, an understanding of their time, the ability to facilitate, trust. These are virtues that are often expounded upon in management textbooks, but here, in light of his one-of-a-kind experience, they take on further dimensions.

He attributes to all of them one common denominator: humanity. Putting the human back into the heart of relationships, issues, engagement. For him, a leader represents authority, that is to say, a crucial connection in society, with points of reference, values, and behaviors. To that end, the boss should have, above all, a social role. He also notes that one becomes a boss with the first responsibility one accepts. This means that everyone has the potential to be a boss.

Pierre de Villiers isn’t a businessman or a political leader (as he says himself). And yet, the story of his leadership journey, along with his examples, could be inspiring for those who understand how to adapt what they read to their own professions. I appreciate this return to the basics and it speaks to an immense benevolence. Furthermore, this book enlightens us on subjects as varied as the ills and crises of our societies, both in France and throughout the world, and the place held by artificial intelligence when it comes to humanity. This is a must-read.

Learn more:

Qu’est-ce qu’un chef ? (What is a Boss?), by Army General Pierre de Villiers (Fayard, 2018).