Why You Should Think Like a Boss, No Matter What Your Job Title

Sep 11, 2014 -
Don’t let Lonely Island mislead you; there’s more to acting like a boss than rolling high and taking liberties with your subordinates’ desks. It encompasses everything from refilling the coffee pot like a boss to going after that big-name client like a boss. No task is too big or too small to tackle with the “boss” mentality -- and approaching everything this way can lead you to some pretty awesome places. In fact, whether you're a 9-to-5 employee or an entrepreneur, getting in a “boss” frame of mind can radically transform the trajectory of your career. Here’s why -- and how -- you can get in on the action.

The dangers of the employee mindset

When you think like an employee -- whether you’re entry level, middle management or a freelancer -- you limit your own potential. You box yourself to an “I’m only a fill-in-the-blank” attitude that keeps you from making the big moves and big changes that lead to success. Employees exist to fill a pre-defined role. They wait for instructions (and permission, and affirmation) from on high. They do what they’re told. They leave the innovation to the other guys, because they’re only here to punch a clock and collect a paycheck. When you’re stuck in an employee mindset, you don’t feel in charge of your own work; you feel like a means to someone else’s end. And it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be doing what you're told or fulfilling the role you’ve been given -- that’s Job Performance 101. But you should be doing so much more. If you want to excel in your career, you need to look for opportunities to elevate things to the next level. And for that, you need a boss mentality. Here are five key ways to start thinking like a boss:

1. Take ownership

When you’re the boss, your company’s success and failure rests on your shoulders. People’s paychecks depend on you. Because of this, you feel the weight of your work and take care to do it well. You know if you slack off, everyone down the line will suffer. But when you’re the guy who collates the copies for the quarterly report meeting, it can be hard to see how your work really matters -- or why it’s worth caring about. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, any schmoe off the street could collate the copies. But if you see yourself as replaceable, you will be treated as replaceable. (Click here to tweet this quote.) You’ll only make it to bigger things if you make people realize you deserve them. So find ways to take ownership of your work, no matter how unimportant each task may seem. Exceed expectations. Be the best damn fill-in-the-blank you can be. Collate those copies two days ahead of schedule. Deliver them directly to each board member while asking how their family/hobby/recent college reunion went. Flag a section in the quarterly report that got you thinking, then ask your supervisor if you can have a few minutes next week to learn more about what the numbers mean so you can help brainstorm ways to boost them. Demonstrate that you take your work seriously, and others will take you seriously.

2. Take responsibility

When you’re the boss, the buck stops with you. Tim in accounting may have been the one who screwed up, but you were the one managing him, and you should have caught it. Similarly, even if you’re the lowest possible rung on the ladder, hold yourself accountable for everything that falls within your domain -- even if that domain is ordering supplies for the office. Develop a new system to make supply ordering more efficient and make sure no one runs out of anything. Anticipate the need for extra paper since there’s a big project coming up. Don’t just do your job; think of ways to do your job better. If you’re an entrepreneur, stop wondering why your marketing is falling flat or your sales pages aren’t converting and teach yourself how to make them better (or hire someone who can). Take responsibility, both for the work you do and for your own success going forward. Step up when something needs to be done, make things right if you’ve messed up, and realize that you’re the only one who can take yourself to the next level.

3. Take pride

Whatever your job is, do it with all you’ve got in you. Allow yourself to feel good about that, even if it isn’t particularly glamorous. If you’re a freelance writer just starting out and you’re stuck writing website copy for the local bait and tackle shop because that’s the only thing paying the bills right now, pour your heart into that copy. When your dream client comes along down the line and checks out your portfolio, they’ll think, “Wow. If she can write that well about fishing, imagine how she’ll bring my site to life!” If you’ve been stuck with the most difficult client at your firm, go the extra mile to make his experience as pleasant as possible. When your performance review rolls around, you’ll stand out for a promotion for making the most of a bad situation. The grunt work you’re doing today is a stepping stone on the way to something bigger. Put as much care and pride into the journey as you will into the end result.

4. Value your time

When you’re the boss, you know that time is money. You don’t waste other people’s time, and you don’t allow other people to waste yours. But you don’t have to make six figures to take control of your hours and make sure you’re spending them in the ways that have the highest ROI. Learn to identify the work that makes the most difference for you or your company. Do you really need to attend that meeting on TPS reports (where Cheryl will read the same PowerPoint verbatim that she did six months ago)? Or could you be working on your new idea for a system that will boost workflow? Will spending the afternoon tweaking the layout of your site really do much for you, or would you be better off developing a plan to actually monetize that site? Identify the 20 percent of your daily tasks that create 80 percent of your results, and focus on that 20 percent with the same intensity as a CEO who closes his office door and tells his assistant to hold his calls -- all of his calls -- unless something or someone is on fire.

5. Surround yourself with a strong team

A smart boss knows they’re only as good as their team. Whether or not you’re managing others, you need to surround yourself with people who will lift you up, encourage you and support your efforts -- not people who will detract or derail you. Get yourself a mentor who can guide you and challenge you to reach higher. Join an accountability group or mastermind where you can connect with others at the same level you’re at and help each other get better. Keep away from office drama and naysayers. Learn to ask for help when you don’t know something. Bosses don’t know everything. They just always know who to turn to when they don’t know something. How can you start thinking more like a boss? Kelly Gurnett runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits and is the Editor-in-Chief of All Things Career. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.