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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

How to Be the Boss: Advice From Cathie Black

Just landed your first management gig? Congrats! It’s exciting—but it’s overwhelming, and there’s a lot to learn, fast.

So we asked our virtual mentor, Cathie Black, to share her most important pieces of advice for new managers. As you kick off this great new phase in your career, keep in mind these five tips for success.

1. Be a Leader

It doesn't matter whether you lead a team of five or 25, you’re now the boss. Some people will be thrilled for your move up, others green with envy—in fact, you’ll probably face some of each. But you can’t let that intimidate you.

Once you’re the leader, your goal should be to earn the respect of your team, and that means taking your new responsibilities seriously. You need to be professional at all times, and that includes your behavior, appearance, punctuality, and temperament. Others will be observing your actions with a fine-tooth comb. Sound daunting? It's not really. It just means you have to think through your actions a little more carefully.

Be extra careful about playing favorites, both in and outside the office. (Mixing up assignments and players on team projects is a great way to quell the rumor mill.) Also remember that simple things, like going out with the group after work, get a little more complicated. Not that you can't do it any longer, it's just that there are nuances, and you have to be aware that your behavior will be judged differently. A good rule of thumb is: Be the first to leave the bar or party, not the last.

2. Be a Coach

When your team understands that you are there to help them be the best they can be, rather than just to “manage” them, they will give you their best work. One of the most effective ways you can do this is to brainstorm ideas and create business plans together as a collaborative process, rather than insisting yours is the only way. Ask the team for ideas, comments, and suggestions. And create a forum for their gripes, too. As a bonus, having group buy-in will enable you to move your initiatives along faster and increase the chances that you will achieve your goals.

And listen. Especially at the beginning, ask questions, and really listen to what people share with you. This is a critical skill that allows you to see all sides of a situation—and that’s a crucial part of being a successful leader. Along similar lines, make sure that everyone around the table has a chance to contribute. Don't let one or two people dominate the discussion. You can interrupt and say, "OK, we hear your point." Then ask someone who has been quiet for his or her point of view.

3. Be Prepared

Something I often tell first-time managers: You don't have to be the smartest person in the room, but you should be the best-prepared. When you know the facts and the stats, you’ll build confidence in your own decision making, not to mention impress your team and show them that you’ve really done your homework.

In addition, find a mentor inside your organization. Such a coach can speed up your learning curve—whether it's about hiring, budgets, revenue, cost control, marketing, technology, innovation, whatever. A mentor will be invested in your success and can be a great source for inspiration and encouragement.

4. Be a Good Presenter

Something you’ll quickly learn as a manager is that you’ll be expected to present in front of a room—often. So be prepared. Practicing your remarks, speech, or presentation until you know it cold is a must. Going through a deck, page by page, is really boring for any audience, so know what you want to say and say it, leaving the presentation deck for later reference. To practice, stand in front of a mirror and watch your body language, from posture to gestures, to observe and improve upon how you’re coming across to others.

Also learn to be mindful of time. Block out in your own mind how to allocate the time you have for a presentation or meeting. You want to make sure you get to the point without rushing at the end—not to mention people are really appreciative if you don't overstay your welcome.

5. Be Direct. Be Fair. Be Strong. Be Optimistic.

As a boss, you must be direct with your team as a whole and as individuals. If their work is terrific, spread the compliments like honey. If they have missed the mark, be clear about where and how they have come up short and quickly lay out a plan to improve. And none of us likes to be criticized in front of others, so if you have critical feedback to give, do it in a private space or take a walk together and work things out.

Also know there will be a time—or many—when you have to be strong. That can mean standing up for what you believe, presenting a major idea, defending a subordinate's actions, or confronting a difficult situation. And in these situations, understanding the difference between being tough and strong is important. Being tough for tough's sake is rarely effective—projecting strength and confidence is a much better goal.

Finally, be optimistic and a positive thinker. People respond well to those who believe the glass is half full.

And lastly, remember my A, B, C theory. A's hire A's and B's hire C's and you can't build a business with B's and C's. So surround yourself with A players. They can and should be different than you in age, experience, style, or personality, but together, you will be a stronger and more diverse team that can achieve amazing results. And whether you’re a new manager or seasoned one, it's the results that count.

Photo of boss and employee courtesy of Shutterstock.