Tricks to succeeding as the ‘chick-in-charge’

Can successful women be nice and still be authoritative business leaders? The image of a tough-minded woman at the top is not uncommon in the workplace. Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio offer advice on being a smart chick-in-charge in their new book, “The Girl's Guide to Being a Boss (Without Being a Bitch).” They were invited to discuss the book on “Today.” Here’s an excerpt:

Don’t Try This At Work: Ten Ways to Alienate Your Staff
Every girlfriend in the universe has a story about the Bitch Boss from Hell. The one who told us we were untalented and would never amount to anything; the one who disappeared for three-hour lunches, but wrote us up if we cut out five minutes early; the one who took credit for our ideas and blamed us for her mistakes.

This unfortunate management style has existed ever since Joan of Arc donned her first suit of armor and led her troops into a losing battle. The most common management missteps are often surprisingly easy to identify and even easier to prevent. By taking a few simple precautions and following (or avoiding) our predecessors’ pitfalls, we can all steer clear of these behaviors, and get the job done.  In other words, you don’t need to be a bitch to wield authority and command respect.  Just the opposite, in fact.

Bad Boss Behavior One: Letting Your Insecurities Run the Office
You have recently been promoted to manage a group of people who were, until this happy news, your professional peers. Looking over your newly acquired staff you sense resentment, hostility and skepticism, rather than the warm friendly smiles you hoped for. You begin to doubt yourself. What do you have that they don’t have? Sheila over there is better at public speaking than you are; how can you possibly tell her what to do? Mark had more sales last quarter than anyone on the team; why would he listen to you?

After your promotion you begin barking orders to overcompensate for the anxiety in the pit of your stomach. You begin to hide in your office. You leave for phantom “very important lunches” to avoid questions from your staff.

Stop! You are letting your insecurities run you, and the office.

The tiniest flicker of self-doubt can quickly balloon into a full-blown crisis of confidence. Helen Stephens, Travel Marketing Coordinator for Bacardi, USA, suggests that “when you start finding fault with everything and everyone, look into yourself. More likely than not, you are projecting your insecurities and fears.”

If you find yourself doubting your aptitude for your new position, ask yourself if the anxiety actually stems from your lack of professional skills, or from a floundering self esteem. If it is the latter, then the best advice (and we know it’s easier to give than to follow) is to fake it until you make it. To do this you project more confidence than you really have. Stand tall, breathe deep, answer and ask questions directly, don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something and don’t second-guess decisions you have made. Again, posturing comes into play when you want to appear more comfortable in your management role than is really the case. To fake it with your boss, don’t let self-doubt creep into your tone when you are presenting ideas, sales figures or campaign ideas. Your comfort level will increase the longer you are in your position and as soon as you sail through a tricky project.

If you determine that you do, in fact, lack certain skills then tackle the deficiencies head-on:  Take a class, read a manual, and/or get some training (there are weekend seminars on almost everything these days from management to marketing) so that you will no longer feel like a dope when you are talking to your staff about their areas of expertise.  Keep all of this training to yourself.  The last thing you want is for your staff to make your remedial training the subject of water-cooler gossip. One woman we interviewed wrote us to say if you are insecure “keep it #$%@ to yourself! You are a leader but that doesn’t come with the title. You have to earn the respect of your staff and if you behave like a child they will not respect you.” 

Your insecurity can also impair the growth of your team. You might start avoiding tough assignments because you don’t feel capable of leading your people through them. Or alienating your staff with unintentional hostility. When we asked Liza, a former editor of a women’s magazine, about this bad boss behavior, she laughed and told us, “OK. I did this. Totally. With the woman who had been hired the same week as me. It was extraordinary how she managed to massage every insecurity of mine, especially considering how underwhelmed I was by her skills and performance. I was always looking for her approval — I don't know why. Even worse, because we were in this weird position where technically she reported to me but we were hired the same week and never got a chance to establish the pecking order, I tried to be her friend to overcompensate for my discomfort. I mean, I probably would've tried to be her friend anyway, but the situation was, like, the perfect storm that brought my managerial foibles to the surface.”

Bad Boss Behavior Two: Not Leading by Example
This is the one where the standards you set for yourself are radically different from the standards you have for your employees. Admitting this behavior takes brutal self-honesty. Do you often leave early, but expect your staff to stay late? Do you take long lunches, personal calls, and spend a chunk of the Monday morning meeting talking about your weekend, but reprimand your employees if they do the same?  We had a boss who unloaded all of her work on her underlings, took off every summer Friday regardless of how busy it was, and worst of all, “asked” her assistants to baby-sit her kids during their personal time.

None of that is cool.  Being the boss doesn’t mean that you’re now entitled to lead a cushy life.  On the contrary, you should be the hardest worker in the office.  If, for example, your staff sees that you are the first to arrive, last to leave, and that you rarely go out for lunch, then it’s tough for them to find excuses not to work hard themselves.  To gain the respect of those that work for you, it’s essential that you lead by example, inspiring your staff to mimic your very own professional behavior. Act as you would like your best employee to act. Jump in to help, don’t talk about others behind their back, be honest, work hard, respect others and most of all … enjoy the job.

Remember that you are the epicenter of the team, so your behavior, attitude, style, manner, sense of self, and ambition influences everyone around you. So elevate the expectations you have for yourself and with your capable and enthusiastic attitude inspire those that report to you.

Excerpted from "The Girl's Guide to Being a Boss (Without Being a Bitch)." Copyright 2006 by Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio. All rights reserved. Re-printed by permission of Morgan Road Books.