2017 update: We still stand by this advice on how to be a boss (and links have been updated) but you may also want to check out our latest discussions on being a boss.
How do you be a boss — if you’ve never been a boss before? What changes do you have to make to your working style, attitude, and more? Reader Y has a great question.
I received a promotion last year at my job and I have had some trouble adjusting. I am generally a lighthearted jokester in the office and I find it hard to delegate work or to have my coworkers recognize/ respect my new position. Even though it has been a year, I was wondering if there is any way to turn this around?
Congrats on your promotion, Y! We’ve talked about how to step up your wardrobe to be seen as more managerial, how to delegate to your assistant, and whether you should be friends with subordinates — but we’ve never really talked about the changes you have to make when you become a boss. (Update: and I just found this post on how to become a leader — knew I had one in the archives somewhere.)
When I started managing people, I remember this being kind of difficult as well — particularly because I was basically a middle man between my boss and my subordinates. My “big sister” instincts kicked in and I basically tried to protect the subordinates. I tried to make sure that they didn’t turn in work that made them look bad. I tried to give them super advance warning of projects and deadlines, since I had always hated when people dumped projects on me at the end of the day. If my boss had harsh criticism for the subordinate I tried to filter that and spin it so my subordinate got the constructive criticism minus the stabby feeling.
All of this sounds, well, Nice in retrospect. The truth is I spent a lot of time that couldn’t necessarily be billed, and maybe coddled my subordinates a bit too much. With some distance, I’d have given myself these tips on how to be a manger — I can’t wait to hear advice the readers share.
– Be friendly, but be professional. Put another way: “be ok if you’re not liked.” After all, how many bosses have you really and truly liked? You can be liked by your friends. You don’t want to be hated — I think that usually speaks to you being a lousy manager — but it’s hard to be your subordinate’s best friend one minute and dumping hours of legitimate-but-not-fun work on them the next.
– Dress for respect — particularly if some of your subordinates are older than you. Think blazers, structured pieces, classic shoes. Whatever your hair and makeup routine is, strive to look put together above everything else.
– Protect your earned respect by being mindful of what you do near the office. For example: in my dating days I never brought my suitors near the office. Don’t go drinking with friends near the office and talk loudly about your job. You may even want to consider salons near the office to be off limits — the last thing you want is to give someone a huge project and then be seen getting a mani/pedi near work.
– Be very clear on what work product you want before you assign it. This may take a bit more time before you assign it, but it’ll help you come across as certain, it’ll help you be clear in assignment and feedback, and ultimately it will aid your reputation as a good manager.
– Give good feedback — for both you and your subordinate. Tell him or her what was good about the work — but also what could have done better. What would have made it more helpful for you in the long run? What were the additional steps that you had to do to make it helpful to your boss — and could the subordinate do those steps the next time?
I think those are my main tips. Readers, what’s your advice for Reader Y — how did you learn to be a boss? What did you change when you started managing others?
(Pictured above: Greatest Boss mug, available at Cafe Press for $13.49.)