How to Be Successfully “Bossy”

According to a recent survey by the Adecco Staffing Group, about 30% of employees want the boss’s job.  After all, it looks so easy.  Bosses have more freedom with their schedules.  They are able to take longer lunches, come in late or leave early without having to punch a time clock.  Bosses get to spend most of their time in meetings rather than having to do actual work, and they get paid more and can tell others what to do.  Who wouldn’t want to move up the ladder and be the boss?

Ask those who were are in a supervisory position.

It turns out most supervisors had no idea how difficult being the boss could be when they were on the other side of the management fence as a worker bee. After becoming the boss, they often find there is almost always someone who is unhappy with them, they generally work long hours, they must have tough conversations with employees even when they don’t want to, and in spite of what they thought before they were promoted, their direct reports don’t necessarily listen to them and sometimes even resent them just because they are in charge.  Some fun.

So, if you were recently promoted to a supervisory position or are still having difficulty accepting your role as boss, here are a few tips for being bossy – in a good way:

1.       Find your center to maintain your integrity.
At its core, this includes making sure your personal values are mostly in alignment with those of your organization.  If personal and business values are off kilter, you will know it. In fact any misalignment will be magnified in a supervisory position because now you must directly represent the company’s interest.  If you can’t do that with a clear conscience, you might want to start planning a move.
2.       Communicate clearly by checking your assumptions.
One of the most important aspects of communication is what happens before something comes out of your mouth or body – check your assumptions.  Some common assumptions that might catch you off guard are assuming employees have automatic respect for you because you’re up the food chain (they don’t – you have to earn it), assuming you can be the same kind of familiarly friendly with former co-workers you now supervise (you can’t, but they want you to), assuming they can avoid confronting problems because they’ll take care of themselves (some don’t, you need to address them), and assuming that your employees know what you mean all the time with little or no explanation.

To be successfully bossy on the communication front, you must set and reset expectations continually. New bosses especially are wise to meet individually with each direct report to get to know them, especially their career goals and current challenges.  From your end, make your expectations clear for employee behavior and performance, including specific performance standards you’re looking for.  Another thing to divulge are your “hot buttons” – those things that drive you crazy that you expect employees NOT to do.  The previous boss probably had different ones, so unless you say something to the contrary, your employees are going on the status quo.

3.       Remember it’s not personal; it’s the limbic system. 

As a boss, your employees’ neurological systems perceive you as threat just by virtue of having an ever-so-slightly-raised status above your direct reports.  This means, even a slightly raised eyebrow from you will set some employees twirling off into a tizzy. Whenever you simply have a conversation about someone’s performance or conduct that needs improving, you’ll be accused of “yelling” at them even if you whispered during the entire conversation.  The same goes for positive interactions you have with employees; telling someone “good job on the Johnson project” can put someone on Cloud 9 for days. Yes, you’re that powerful.

Learn as much about emotions and neuroscience as you can to work effectively with your team.  More important, monitor your own emotional repertoire to avoid exacerbating the emotional response in others.

4.       Patience. Go slow.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day.” “Don’t eat the elephant all at once.” Et cetera.  You may see a thousand issues that need to be addressed, and you might be right.  To be successfully bossy, refrain from jumping in to tackle them quickly on your own (unless something illegal or unsafe is happening).  Instead, start asking questions about why things are done/not done a certain way.  Educate yourself and listen.  Then include your employees in creating or re-designing something different.  It will take longer and may not end up the way you originally envisioned; however, all will have ownership in what is created together.

5.       Be graciously fallible.  

As the boss, you may feel pressure to continually prove you earned the spot – to be seen as competent.  Well, there may be an employee or two who could also do the job, but you’re the one who got it.  So, accept that you’re in charge and be successfully bossy by offloading the pressure to be right or smarter than everyone else.  It’s amazing how powerful you will be if you take a lesson from Louise Penny’s fictional character Chief Inspector Gamache, who mentors junior inspectors with 4 key phrases:

  • “I don’t know.”
  • “I was wrong.”
  • “I’m sorry.”
  • “I need help.”
WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at:
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