Self / 03.02.2015

How to be a boss (without being bossy)

By Blaire Palmer
You know those people in the office with ‘natural authority’ – even they have to work at it


Loads of successful business leaders once lacked confidence in some way, but have found a method to handle it. In my experience, confident people don’t need their self-worth to be proven all the time, so they’re more generous in their praise of others. They’re willing to make tough decisions as they have the inner resources to live with the results, good or bad, of that choice. They’re natural leaders and exude authority. But can you acquire that natural authority if you don’t have it and learn how to be a great boss?

Mind your body language

There are a variety of behaviors that reduce your natural authority, which you probably don’t even know you’re doing. Fidgeting, gripping your wrist, stroking your arm or covering vulnerable areas like the neck with your hands are signs of nervousness. And many people actually make themselves smaller by hunching or sitting low in their seat.

Sit or stand a little taller, be more expressive with your hands and stay a little more still. Try it. It automatically makes you feel more authoritative.

People often regard good posture as a sign of self-confidence too. Improve yours by taking up yoga or Pilates

Take a deep breath

To have authority, you don’t need to be loud and extroverted. The voice is affected by your breathing, which can be affected by stressful situations. It becomes more difficult to take a proper big breath, so we speak more quickly and sound high-pitched or monotone. When you need to come across with authority, take some proper, deep breaths right into the stomach, first.

Make eye contact

There is a myth about eye contact that if someone isn’t looking at you they aren’t listening. Not so. But a refusal to look someone in the eye and to hold it a few moments can make you look shifty, disinterested or shy. People who seem to have natural authority are happy to make eye contact and hold it, often accompanied by a warm smile. They are willing to connect with people.

Tell your inner critic where to go

You can stop your ‘tells’, control your voice with deep breaths and hold eye contact, but it’ll be uncomfortable unless you shift your mind-set, too.

Few of us get to adulthood without hearing that negative inner voice. But the key to having more authority is to notice that voice and push it aside. Reading about inspirational people who’ve done this themselves often helps. And sometimes it helps to take a dismissive attitude to all that internal chatter. A life coach I know suggested I tell those voices to ‘talk to the hand’ and just before I’m about to speak up in a meeting, or push myself forward or set a really big goal for myself, I do just that.

Whenever you notice the negative self-talk, metaphorically raise your hand and tell it to stop. Debating with the negative voice will get you nowhere!
People who seem to have authority have usually worked on it. They’ve learnt to slow down, breathe, connect with people and hush the voices. In doing so, they’ve been able to recapture their big dreams. And you can, too.

Still struggling with self-criticism? Look at our guide to self-acceptance

How to be a boss (without being bossy)
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How to be a boss (without being bossy)
You know those people at work with ‘natural authority’ – even they have to put work into it. Cheat your way to being a great boss
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