Being the Boss


In the following excerpt, taken from the article “Being the Boss” in HBS Working Knowledge, senior editor Carmen Nobel incorporates an interview with Harvard Business School Professor Linda A. Hill, who coauthored Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader with Kent Lineback.

Carmen Nobel: Your book discusses three imperatives for becoming a great leader: managing yourself, managing your network, and managing your team. What are some of the issues inherent in each of them?

Linda Hill: It starts with using yourself as an instrument to get things done. And because you’re the instrument, you’ve got to know that instrument very well and use it appropriately, so that your imprint matches your impact. We talk a lot about what it really means to be the boss. For instance, although you do have formal authority, you don’t want to have to rely on that too much to get things done.

Managing your network is in the middle of the book, before the section on managing your team. That kind of throws some people because when you think about being the boss, you mostly think about the people who report to you. But unless you manage the context in which your team resides, there’s no way that your team can be successful. So you have to understand the political dynamics, you have to understand how to build a network with peers and bosses, and you have to set the right expectations for your team and the right resources. We really think that’s at the heart.

The last piece is your team. That’s about all the complexities of what it means to build a team—a team is different from just a group—and how you think about managing the performance of individuals. We also talk about preparing for the future—that managing isn’t all about today, it’s also about managing your team for tomorrow.

Q: You include a chapter called “Don’t Forget Your Boss.” Managers often fail to realize their role in their relationships with their bosses. What do they need to keep in mind?

A: It’s common to let the person up the chain be most responsible for whether you have a healthy relationship, but you’re equally responsible. If you don’t manage that relationship right, your team is not going to be able to do what it needs to do.

Powerlessness corrupts as much as power. You shouldn’t feel powerless with your boss. That’s not the deal. You have to figure out the sources of power you have to influence the boss. You also have to see the boss as human and fallible in all the ways that you’re human and fallible, and figure out how to deal with the reality of who that person is—rather than the ideal of what you’d like that person to be like. There are really bad bosses, and you can’t be naive or cynical about this. It’s hard to be successful with a bad boss, and sometimes success means figuring out how to get out of that situation. But before you decide that’s the deal, you need to take responsibility for the relationship, because it’s definitely two-way.…

To see the entire article, click here.

This excerpt from “Being the Boss” was reprinted with permission from HBS Working Knowledge.