How to Work Like a Boss (Even When You're Not)

Acting like the boss you want to work for is the best advice for working your way up the ladder (or if you want to stay in the same job and make more money). Not only are you setting an example for your own boss, but you’re also giving coworkers an idea of what you’d be like as a manager. Not that the workplace operates like “American Idol,” but the popular vote can give you a hand up when the promotions are being handed out. That said, here are a few tips for working like a boss.


A Good Boss…

  • Doesn’t see a good employee as a threat. They see a good employee as an opportunity to plug any existing holes in their own management style or compensate for weak knowledge areas.
  • Expects everyone they hire to be after their job. Otherwise, how will the company grow? How will your boss move onward and upward if no-one is prepared to fill his or her shoes?
  • Is honest and expects honesty from employees. Everyone, in their heart of hearts, knows that shooting the messenger only ensures you won’t get any more messages. The truth can be messy, painful, or just plain distasteful. But it can also set you free. Some of your best employees will disagree with you on a regular basis, and they’re candid enough to tell you.
  • Delegates. Delegate is just a fancy word for sharing responsibility with others, but it can also be the most difficult thing to do. Almost everyone feels hesitation when giving up certain aspects of his or her job, but you have to be able to do it in order to move up the ladder yourself. Trust other people to make their own mistakes (and fix them) and it won’t be so hard.
  • Sees the big picture. “Good leadership is about the company's success, not your own,” says Anne Mulcahy, former Chairman and CEO of Xerox Corporation. From time to time we need to change things and see what works best, and the easiest way to do this is to view it from the outside. If it helps, try explaining your department’s workflow to a colleague or a savvy friend who doesn’t work for your company. Or create a workflow document. Sometimes just talking or writing it out helps us see things that we cannot on a day-to-day basis.
  • Is in touch with what their team does. If your boss doesn’t already ask for daily or weekly progress reports (via email or another online project management/tracking system), take the initiative to send them yourself. Bonus: It will make writing your quarterly or annual performance reviews that much easier when you have emails full of “wins.”
  • Treats people with respect. If it needs to be said, bullying and hostility are big, giant “no-no's” when you’re the boss.
  • Is sincere and selective. Don’t throw out compliments like dog biscuits—you’re not working with a wolf pack (we hope). Phrases like “Thanks for your hard work” and “You’re a gem” mean a lot more if your employees don’t hear them every day.
  • Leads by example. Don’t expect your team to show up on time every day if you wander in the office mid-morning, or whenever you feel like it. You can’t institute a one-hour lunch policy if you habitually take two- or three-hour lunches. Do this, and your team will eventually lose respect for you.


Initiative, enthusiasm, and knowing how to find answers can make up for significant gaps in experience and knowledge. When your peers support and trust you, they’re also more likely to be willing to help you. Whether you have your eye on the corner office or not, a few small changes in the way you operate at work can have a huge impact on your value to your team and your company.


Last Updated: February 4, 2016
About the author

Kelly Love Johnson

Kelly Love Johnson is Content Strategist for Jobs2Careers. She's also a shower singer, TV watcher, pop culture junkie, and habitual smirker. She's passionate about helping people find their dream jobs and closing the wage gap. Her book, Skirt! Rules for the Workplace: An Irreverent Guide to Advancing Your Career, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2008.