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10 leadership lessons from Jeffrey Fox

Mike Lyles | July 11, 2014
Do you remember when you were first assigned a leadership role? It's an exciting adventure, filled with anticipation, anxiousness, fear of the unknown and an overwhelming need to ensure you're ready to take on one of the greatest responsibilities of a career.

Remember that most people overestimate their contributions to the organization. They think the company cannot run without them. To be great, we must have humility. Focus on the outcomes. Lots of people don't do this. Stop talking in jargon and bafflegab. Stop using terms such as "think outside the box." Don't be swayed by the buzzwords. Focus on your contributions, how you can help the organization.

Lyles: I've quoted many times your suggestion, "Make your boss look good and your boss' boss look better." One question I receive is, "What if my boss doesn't like or support me?" This is a struggle for many who believe that, if they try to make a poor boss look good, then the boss won't acknowledge or give credit for the work that was done. Do you have advice on the best way to handle this type of situation?

Fox: This strategy is designed for people wanting to move up the ladder. The focus should be on the boss' boss. If your boss doesn't like you, then this is always a challenge. But remember that, in most situations, your boss can't get promoted unless you're promotable. You have to convince the boss that he or she won't get promoted until there's a replacement: You.

If you have a bad boss (not just one who doesn't like you) ... everyone knows it. In Zero Dark Thirty, the boss didn't support the leading character but as soon as her boss' boss heard her speak, he knew she had the goods.

Lyles: You've written a lot on studying the great boss, understanding how they lead, manage, appreciate their people and learn their way. Many of us have been fortunate to have that "greatest boss ever" in our careers. Mine recently passed away, and I still remember what I learned from him.

I've also found that, throughout my career, I've examined the good, and also the bad, from many bosses. Everyone has great and no-so-great attributes. Even though you talk about emulating the great boss, do you have suggestions on how to assess, understand and compile those traits of a no-so-great one and how we, as leaders, don't emulate the bad traits as well?

Fox: Sometimes you get a bad boss, sometimes you get a good boss. Remember that both are great teachers. Having a bad boss is a rich opportunity to note all the things you wouldn't want to do to your team or colleagues.

When I think of my worst boss ever, I remember that he took all the credit for other people's work [but] he didn't realize that everyone knew this about him. Back in my marketing days, my bad boss left me a note on my desk that said, "Tell me that I didn't just see a billboard for your new product on the highway?"


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