Summary: Becoming the Boss By Lindsey Pollak
Summary: Becoming the Boss By Lindsey Pollak

Summary: Becoming the Boss By Lindsey Pollak

Be: Building Your Brand, Polishing Your Presence, and Dealing with Being Booped

As you begin to think about your personal brand and how you’d like to be perceived as a leader, here are four overarching areas to focus on.

  1. Visibility

Do people in your organization or community know who you are? Is your presence felt by the people you lead or the people you want to lead? Are you findable where your desired networking contacts are looking? Do you appear in the media, at industry events, in the company cafeteria? Leaders need visibility.

  1. Differentiation

What are you known for? What can you offer that other people can’t? If someone walked into a meeting of you and your team, could that person tell that you are the boss? While leaders today need many skills, it can be helpful to have a few areas where you really excel. This is what gets you noticed and what gets you continually promoted.

  1. Consistency

Can people depend on you to behave in a similar way across a variety of circumstances? Do you treat people equally? Is your image consistent across all social media and your in-person persona? This quality is particularly important: consistency regularly ranks as one of the most desired qualities of a strong boss or leader. Nobody likes surprises, especially in their leaders.

The consistency of your style is important for another reason as well: it sets the tone for your team to be consistent. It’s like the physics principle of entrainment: a roomful of pendulums will eventually all begin to swing at the same pace. If you are consistently optimistic and reliable, your team will (under most circumstances) be consistently optimistic and reliable. If you are moody and unpredictable, your team will become moody and unpredictable, too.

  1. Authenticity

Are you genuine in your image and your outreach to people? Are you comfortable in your leadership skin? In no way should you interpret personal branding as the need to put on a persona or be fake in any way. While you certainly want to own your authority and power, you can do so in a way that feels natural and comfortable to you. Maintain your personal integrity always. Ego-googling, Hunting Moose, and Making Time to Tweet

What if your self-googling reveals some un-leaderlike stuff, such as red-plastic-cup-holding college party photos or a curse-filled rant you once wrote about your cable company’s horrible customer service? Make no mistake: negative online content can absolutely hold you back from achieving your leadership goals. According to one study, 70 percent of employers say that they’ve rejected a job candidate because of information they found about that person online. An inappropriate social media posting can damage your professional reputation even if you are not actively job hunting. The average young worker is connected on Facebook to sixteen coworkers.

The good news is that in many (but not all) cases, you can clean up a less-than-professional online reputation. Here’s how:

Untag, Untag, Untag

Your first line of defense in cleaning up your online image is you. Most of the bad stuff I’ve seen about people is posted on their own social media profiles and could easily be removed with one click. Go through all of your profiles and view them with the eye of an employer, an investor, a voter, an employee, or whomever else you want to impress professionally. Some sites, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, even offer the ability to view your profile as if you were a member of the public, so be sure to do that once in a while.

Pay Attention to Privacy Settings

The default setting on most social networks—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, etc.—is that everything you share (and everything that people share about you) is public. So make sure that the privacy settings on all of your social networking accounts are as tight as possible just in case someone hacks into your account or a friend posts a photo you wouldn’t want other people to see. Privacy settings are complex and change constantly, so I recommend scheduling a note in your calendar to check your settings once a quarter or so.

Request Removal

If someone else posted the offending photo or piece of content, you can and should politely ask the source to remove that content. Sometimes, especially if the poster is a friend, classmate, family member, or colleague, it’s as simple as that. However, not all sources will be able or willing to remove what you ask. Most news outlets and government agencies, for instance, will not alter their content.

Build Better Content

If the source of any negative content is unwilling or unable to take down the damaging stuff, your next step is to get search engine competitive. This means building better content with your name attached to it so that search engines will find and rank these pages higher than the unwanted link(s). Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself and Me 2.0, recommends posting positive content on several social networks and building your own Web site with your full name as the domain name (e.g.,—more on this at the end of the chapter). Examples of positive content creation might include writing bylined book reviews on Amazon; or writing articles for an industry association Web site, a young professionals blog, or on your own blog or Web site—as long as you are writing about professionally appropriate topics.


Listen: Choosing Your Method, Knowing Your Audience, and Becoming a Master of Meetings

The words we use (and don’t use) can make or break our reputations, our projects, our relationships, and our organizations. Communication is critical to career success. For leaders, the stakes are even higher: one comment from a leader can cause elation, confusion, or panic among your ranks. This is especially true at the very top. As Liam E. McGee, chairman and president of The Hartford, said, “Nothing prepares you to be a CEO. The buck truly does stop with you. You have to be careful of what you say. People take what the CEO says differently.”

Rule 1: It’s Not About You

A fascinating study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that leaders use the word I less than nonleaders, dispelling the commonly held belief that leaders are self-centered or egotistical. According to the researchers, “There is a misconception that people who are confident, have power, have high status tend to use I more than people who are low status. That is completely wrong. The high-status person is looking out at the world and the low-status person is looking at himself.”

Rule 2: Know Your Audience

Whether you are leading three people or three thousand, you have to remember that they are each individuals with their own individual communication preferences. When deciding how to communicate a message, you should think more about how the other person wants to receive the message than about how you personally want to deliver the message

You also need to know how the members of your audience prefer to consume information. For instance, just because you like to make an argument using a lot of numbers and statistics doesn’t mean everyone else does. People learn in different ways and they hear in different ways, too.

Rule 3: Overcommunication Trumps Undercommunication

According to a recent survey of HR managers by Accountemps, “lack of open, honest communication” topped the list of issues that can erode staff morale—above micromanagement, excessive workloads, and even fear of job loss. The survey also found that “better communication” topped the list of ways a leader could boost morale, beating out recognition programs, team building exercises, and even more time off. Let’s hear that again: people crave good communication from their leaders more than they crave additional vacation time! Give your people what they want and communicate as frequently, honestly, and thoroughly as you possibly can. There is no greater action you can take to improve the motivation of the people you lead.

Rule 4: Actually Listen

Communication is half listening. If you are just thinking about the next thing coming out of your mouth, you are missing a lot of key information—not only what other people are saying, but how they are feeling about it. When I’m more actively listening, I’m able to recognize the holes in the information I’m receiving and ask questions, rather than getting back to my desk and realizing I’m missing something.


Manage: Driving the Truck, Giving Out Trophies, and Closing Your Door Almost All the Way

Lead anyway means mustering up some confidence based on your trust in the people who promoted you to a management role, or in your own instincts that guided you to launch your own venture. Lead anyway means googling “How to interview a CFO” an hour before the prospective candidates come in to meet with you. Lead anyway means doing the very best you can every day and correcting bit by bit from there.

  1. Adaptability to Rapid Change

There is no question that we are living in—and you will be managing in—turbulent times. Economies, companies, countries, technologies, and career paths are morphing and changing faster than ever before. Stéphanie Villemagne, director of the MBA program at INSEAD (dubbed “the business school for the world”), cited “adaptability to rapid change” as one of the most important qualities a twenty-first-century global leader will need, and many other leaders agreed. “It’s about being at ease with uncertainty,” she told.

  1. Cultural Awareness

Adaptability to change also includes changes to the people with whom you’ll be working. For traditionalists and early baby boomers, the majority of large institutions were led and dominated by white men. Then came the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the gay pride movement, the rise of the Hispanic population (which is now the fastest growing minority group in the United States), and other cultural and demographic changes. Millennials, as a result, represent the most diverse generation in American history, which means that millennials will need to cultivate a more inclusive leadership style than previous generations may have needed.

  1. Transparency

When the U.S. Paralympic athlete Jeremy Lade was a kid, his baby boomer dad coached his basketball team. “There wasn’t a lot of communication that went alongside any instruction,” Lade remembers. “ ‘Correct’ or ‘incorrect’ was the feedback. And my dad told me that his own basketball coach was even tougher—‘my way or the highway.’ ” Now that Lade is a coach himself, he is learning that the old “command and control” leadership style no longer works. “I don’t get much out of the players by just saying what they are doing right or wrong. Much more communication is required,” he explains. “The players want to know why we are doing a drill, for example.”

According to the 2014 Deloitte Millennial Survey, “Across all geographies, millennials expect twenty-first-century leaders to be more open, transparent, and collaborative—departing from the baby boomer model of leader as distant and autocratic.” Transparency is the third essential law of management for today’s leaders, and, as Lade’s story illustrated, it’s a huge departure from the way previous generations managed people.


Prioritize: Running the Marathon, Delegating Undictatorially, and Handling Stress Like a Buddhist Nun

When you’re the boss you’re exposed to the stress and busyness of all the people you oversee in addition to your own. Managing your team’s priorities is now part of your job description.

How do you lead in a world where the pace of work is so much faster, the amount of information is so much greater, and everyone’s stress levels are constantly increasing?

Leadership Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

If you’re truly committed to being a leader in any realm, then you know that you’re in this for the long haul. Remember that one bad day will not break you, not finishing your daily to-do list is not the end of the world, and one accidentally missed meeting will not destroy your reputation. You won’t be perfect every day, and when you stop trying to be perfect, you’ll end up better in the long run.

Take Care of the Big Rocks First

Management guru Stephen Covey tells a famous story about a teacher giving a lecture about time. As he begins, he places a wide-mouth gallon jar on the table in front of him. He adds three fist-size rocks to the top of the jar and asks the students if the jar is full. They say yes. He then reaches under the table and pulls out a bucket of gravel. He dumps the gravel into the jar and the gravel fills all the spaces left by the big rocks. Again, he asks if the jar is full and the class says yes. He brings a bucket of sand, which fills in the gaps between the rocks and gravel. Now the class is on to him and says no when he asks if the jar is full. Finally, he brings out a pitcher of water and pours water into the jar as well.

What is the lesson of this exercise? Many of the students think their professor is trying to demonstrate that you can always fit more into your day. He’s not. The real lesson is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you will never get them in. If you want to accomplish big things in your life—building a sustainable company, having a happy family, launching a new product, or writing the Great American Novel, you have to schedule the steps related to those big things before anything else. When you plan the big things, you are so focused and committed to your major goals that the smaller things tend to fall into place.

An Ounce of Planning Is Worth a Pound of Work

This may sound counterintuitive, but on your truly crazy days—when you have back-to-back meetings, a huge deadline, staff members knocking down your door, and five urgent fires to put out—the most important action you can take is to stop in your tracks and make a plan.

The former editor in chief of Cosmopolitan, Kate White, offers advice. On her busiest days, she says, “I triage the way medical personnel do in big emergencies. I figure out what has to be dealt with immediately and what can wait and what can’t be saved anyway so it can be ignored . . . Also, I learned this from a cop who deals with crises: you often have more minutes than you realize to address the situation, so step back and give yourself a bit of time to really think what the best course of action is.”

This means that sometimes you’ll have to leave an important e-mail unanswered for a few hours in order to attend a crucial new business meeting, or leave a stuck employee frustrated overnight while you head to the hospital with your mom, who is having an important medical test. Part of being a leader is making tough choices about where your attention is most needed at any given moment. In the words of Stephen Covey, “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.”


Connect: Finding Your Champions, Networking Up, and Always Taking the Meeting

One vision of the future workplace is that it may end up functioning more like Hollywood: rather than committing to employment at one company (or movie studio), people will be more like free agents, working their networks to form multiyear alliances to work on a specific project or idea. (Think of the long-term affiliation among the producers, crew, and actors who created the three Lord of the Rings movies, for example.) If this proves to be the case, then your relationships will be by far your greatest asset as a future leader

What’s important is that you commit to initiating, building, and maintaining professional relationships throughout your leadership journey. Ultimately it is people who will hire you, promote you, invest in you, buy from you, and introduce you to other great people. Here are top eleven strategies for building relationships that matter

  1. Leave Your Desk
  2. Pick Up The Phone
  3. Build Relationships Before You Need Them
  4. Give First
  5. Ask, Too
  6. Always Take the Meeting
  7. Diversify
  8. Network Up
  9. Take Notes


Grow: Getting Better, Falling with Style, and Truly Changing the World

Leadership is most definitely a marathon and not a sprint. So what is the right training plan to keep you going over the long haul of months, years, and decades? The mix is different for everyone, so here are a variety of expert strategies for evolving over time. Some of these suggestions may not apply to your particular realm or career stage, so focus on the ones that feel most applicable to you and return to this section whenever you need an energy boost.

  1. Trust Your Training
  2. Make Yourself Feel Old
  3. Stay Humble
  4. Decide to Be Great
  5. Commit
  6. Hatch Some Big Ideas
  7. Seek Professional Help
  8. Make Your Own Rules
  9. Change Jobs