Leadership

5 Unspoken Rules for First-Time Bosses

It's a lot to get used to, even though it's what you wanted.
5 Unspoken Rules for First-Time Bosses
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We enjoy an embarrassment of riches when it comes to leadership and entrepreneurship resources. From blogs to white papers to scholarly articles published online, there’s an answer to almost any question you might have about any aspect of owning and operating your business.

And yet, there are still some things that you won't ever truly learn until you actually take over. In this article, let’s pull back the curtain and look at five of those unspoken rules about becoming the boss.

Related: 6 Effective Tactics for Handling a Toxic Boss

1. It’s lonely at the top.

I mean, it can be really lonely.

Once you’re in the top spot of leadership in your company, whether you built it yourself or climbed the ladder from more entry-level positions, you’ll find your on-the-clock socialization changes radically. The number of casual conversations over coffee with coworkers can diminish significantly. Moreover, you’ll probably notice those same coworkers behaving differently around you.

It’s not so much that they no longer like you, but they recognize -- even if only on a subconscious level — that the relationship between you has irrevocably changed with your promotion or assumption of the CEO role.

From an ethical and practical perspective, it’s generally not appropriate to hang out in a purely social context with people who work for you. There’s really only one person at your level (you), so you need to look elsewhere for socialization.

To deal with this, exercise caution at the office holiday party and other social functions. Also, keep in mind that everyone in your company looks up to you to set the example on how to behave. Model the behavior you’d like to see in your workforce and embrace your leadership role.

Related: The 6 Most Important Roles of a Startup CEO

2. Being the leader of your company is not the same thing as being a manager in your company.

When you jump from middle management to the C-suite, you may collide with an unpleasant realization: management isn’t company leadership. That’s not an insult to management, by the way. It’s just an observable, objective fact. Management and leadership rely on two separate sets of skills, and they’re fueled by separate objectives and purposes.

For this reason, it’s hard for many newly designated leaders to delegate those management tasks to the actual managers, and reserve the CEO role for themselves. Company leaders must keep their eyes on the bigger picture and focus on creating the vision and long-term strategy for the company.

To help yourself make this leap, it’s important to trust the people you hire and train for middle management roles. Then carve out “CEO” time for yourself. Make an appointment with yourself to think about that big-picture plan for your business.

Related: Are You a Manager or a Leader? Here's How to Tell the Difference.

3. Your communication skills have never been more important.

Being the boss or manager at any level requires strong sense of self and composure. You’ll frequently find yourself in heated, tense situations that need to be defused in order to bring the team back together and set them on the correct course going forward.

Moreover, there will be one-on-one situations with colleagues, vendors and other business leaders in which your powers of communication will be put to stringent tests. Finally, your entire workforce will expect to hear from you during key moments for your business, such as expansion, challenge or upheaval.

You have to figure out a way to communicate clearly and honestly but without showing overly emotional states that may lessen trust and faith your workers have in you. Develop strong listening and rapport-building skills, if you feel you haven’t already, in order to make future challenging conversations go more smoothly.

Related: 5 Reasons Your Employees Shouldn't Fear Making Mistakes

4. The buck really does stop with you.

It’s a common adage, but we somehow never really come to grips with what it means in practice until the situation drops with a thud directly into our laps. When somebody in your company screws up and the consequences may be severe, there’s no use in deflecting, denying or ignoring the issue. You’ll have to address it head on.

It can be demoralizing to take responsibility for your team’s failures, but distancing yourself from a failure takes away your power to change the situation. Remember that you have the skills to transform failure into growth. Take the time to figure out the best path through the quagmire, then get everyone on board to make your solutions a reality.

5. Whatever you think it’ll be like, you’re probably wrong.

Being the boss means a whole new reality for you in every way. It’s a wholly different way to work.

You need to figure out a way to roll with the punches, so to speak, and maintain flexibility while still adhering to your values and vision for the business.

Not everyone feels like they look good under a microscope, but that's exactly what you'll have to get used to if you take on the leadership of your company. The spotlight can be bright, but if you have confidence in your vision and a healthy attitude towards mistakes and failure, you can thrive as the boss no matter who is watching.

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