How to Be a Boss

How to Be a Boss

I’m currently sick as a dog in bed — cold sweats, dry cough, throbbing headache, the whole shebang. I forgot what it’s like to be so knocked out. Back in the day, I would have had to take a couple days off blogging, and then answer any pressing emails in my dark bedroom until my eyes fell out, so thank goodness for our small team of smart women at times like this.

Speaking of work, our post last month about the label “girl boss” got us thinking: What makes a great boss (or leader)? Here are 18 quotes from women we admire about leadership, hiring and working really, really hard…

On staying positive and grateful:

“Don’t complain. There’s a great chapter in Ben Horowitz’s book called The Hard Thing About Hard Things called ‘Nobody Cares’ and he talks about how he was running Netscape and one of his investors looks at him one day and tells him, ‘Ben, nobody cares — just do your job.’ You can make a million excuses for why something didn’t go well, but ultimately, just fix it and get on with it. Be a solutions person.” — Emily Weiss

“If you are successful, it is because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a life or an idea that started you in the right direction. Remember also that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person, just as you were helped.” ― Melinda Gates

On being a woman:

“As a director, I definitely feel the boys’ club. There’s still that, She can’t possibly know what she’s talking about. It’s always been meant as a compliment, but [crew members] go: ‘You know what you’re doing. Wow. You know lenses. Oh, my God, you know shots?’ Yes, I know where to put the camera. You just go, ‘Do you say to the dude directors, ‘I’m pleasantly surprised you knew what you were doing?”” — Eva Longoria

“My personality is to want to please. It can sometimes feel alien to just say, ‘I need this to happen, because it’s my show,’ and not feel afterward that you’ve been unprofessional simply by stating the thing that you want. I struggle with it all the time. When you are a minority, and it’s the first time you’ve done something, you’re like, this could all be taken away from me. I think the presumption with women is that they will be team players, and that is not the presumption of men. Especially show runners. When women push back, they [are perceived as] bitches or divas. I just made a slight demand that wasn’t even that bad. And at the end of it, I’ll send bagels [to the staff]. Please forgive me for asserting myself in a small way.” — Mindy Kaling

On finding (some) balance:

“You can’t possibly give a damn about other people if you don’t give a damn about yourself. At one point, when I was having a very stressful period in my career, I realized that the most important thing I could do for my team was not hire great people. It was not to raise a lot of money. It was actually to take a run every morning.” — Kim Scott

“Everybody does a better job when they’re able to balance. It might mean on a certain day I’ve got to leave a little early because I want to see my daughter play volleyball. That doesn’t mean that after we go home, and after we’ve eaten dinner and the kids go to bed, I’m not going to take out the computer and catch up on what I missed. We need to provide that environment. In a world now with our BlackBerrys and our smartphones, we’re always on. We need to find the opportunity not to do everything, but to do the important things.” — Mary Barra

On managing a team:

“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt

“Never say, ‘She works for me.’ Always remember that nobody works for you. They work for the job and for themselves and for a million reasons, maaaaybe if you are super awesome you are a tiny reason. But it’s always more accurate to say ‘we work together.’ This sounds dumb but I really believe it matters, not just language-wise but as a thing to keep in mind.” — Ann Friedman

“It sounds so simple to say that bosses need to tell employees when they’re screwing up. But it very rarely happens… I would argue that criticizing your employees when they screw up is not just your job, it’s actually your moral obligation.” — Kim Scott

On taking risks:

“Because what else are we going to do? Say no? Say no to an opportunity that may be slightly out of our comfort zone? Quiet our voice because we are worried it is not perfect? I believe great people do things before they are ready.” ― Amy Poehler

“I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.” — Marissa Mayer

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the water slide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.” — Tina Fey

On working hard, above all:

“Work harder than your report does. I know this is a duh thing to tell you, because you work hard and are amazing, but people get resentful pretty quickly if they think they’re pulling more weight than the people who manage them. Earn your higher salary. Also model the behavior you want.” — Ann Friedman

“Do every job you’re in like you’re going to do it for the rest of your life, and demonstrate that ownership of it.” — Mary Barra

“We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.” — Arianna Huffington

“Just because you are CEO, don’t think you have landed. You must continually increase your learning, the way you think, and the way you approach the organization.” — Indra Nooyi

“When young people eager to start their own lives and careers ask me for advice I smile and always say: ‘Passion and persistence are what matter. Dreams are achievable and you can make your fantasy come true, but there are no shortcuts. Nothing happens without hard work.’” – Diane Von Furstenberg

“I worked so hard during my childhood to meet this goal: By the time I was 30 years old, I could do what I want. I’ve reached that. I feel very fortunate to be in that position. But I’ve sacrificed a lot of things, and I’ve worked harder than probably anyone I know, at least in the music industry. So I just have to remind myself that I deserve it.” — Beyoncé

P.S. The best business books and career advice from 15 smart women.

  1. This has to be one of my absolutely favorite posts ever. I relate so much to what these women are saying. It’s about time we speak up and own our own success for once. (In the words of Mindy Kaling, please forgive me for asserting myself in a small way.)

  2. LOVE this article! I manger a group of upcoming managers at my company and may share some of these quotes as motivation. Love your blog!

  3. Sometimes I think I’m cut out to be a Boss and then I’m like nah. But I do need help if I’m really going to take off in my business. Hmmm…things to think about!

  4. This is something I needed to read! Always doing a great job hun!

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  6. Mia says...

    I love this article!!

  7. I love articles like this where you talk about running a business, but it would be about one thousand times better to hear from YOU LADIES about what your first-hand experience is like. How do you decide who to hire? How do you handle personality differences? How do you set rules for your team? We love Cup of Jo for design, art, motherhood, etc., but I think a lot of us are women passionate about entrepreneurship and female-run businesses as well.

  8. Danielle says...

    I so needed this. I have just under 3 years management experience so far and am about to start another management job at another place soon, so I am still learning. Marissa’s and Tina’s statements relate most to me at the moment. Despite all my experience, managerial and otherwise, I still hesitate to make that jump even though it usually works out at the end (and that’s when I finally gain confidence).

  9. Sherry says...

    Please make it able to post to LinkedIn. Have some women’s leadership groups that would really enjoy this.

  10. Great to learn from such inspiring women on this Monday morning!

    We loved reading this post because intelligent, powerful women like these were such a huge motivation when launching our app, Hello Sitter. We wanted to help hard-working women with their childcare needs… The app allows you to instant book the best babysitters in New York!

    Hope you’re on the mend now Joanna.

  11. Freida says...

    That reversible liberty print… too cute!!

    • Freida says...

      Oops! Responded to the wrong thread, but loved reading this article too!

  12. Its so important to remind ourselves that we deserve to be as ahead of the pack as we are. We are worth it all.


  13. Jennifer says...

    I’m SO glad I read this today!!

  14. Irene says...

    Such a timely post! I’m just now considering applying for a senior leadership position in my current office, which is being reorganized and where I’m also (eek) the youngest employee.

    Still not sure if I’ll go for it, but the risk-taking quotes resonated with me!

  15. This was such a great post; thank you! I learned so much from the Kim Scott talk (I was taking notes the whole way through!), but I am so relieved that I’ve already instinctively integrated much of her suggestions both in my personal life and business arenas (though I do have to be more willing to piss people off…ha! Ugh.)

  16. Susana Silva says...

    Hi Joanna.

    Thank you very much for the post and for being such a hard-working super woman. I will definitely keep your strength in mind when I dive into my business.

    Wish you a very quick recovery, my advice is a lot of rest and keep your body hydrated.

    xo, xo.

  17. Sara says...

    I was hoping at the beginning that this post would be about your advice and experience being a boss. This site has changed a lot over time and it would be great to hear how you’ve navigated that change. Cup of Jo has kept a down-to-earth, relatable tone despite bringing in new voices. I’ve got to attribute that feat to some pretty awesome management skills on your part.

    • Elizabeth says...


  18. Every quote I’ve ever read from Mindy Kaling and Eleanor Roosevelt I’ve loved. It’s always so inspiring to read great thoughts from great women. Thanks for this!

  19. Such a relatable post. I love it! We’re all in this together ladies!

  20. Laura says...

    Lovely, inspiring, useful.
    It definitly made my day. And in the last period my days are made of 48 hours each and long, stressfull, heavy interpersonal experiences…
    Thank You from Italy

  21. Mel says...

    Thank you for this post! Especially the portion about taking risks. I have to remember to always push myself to be better.


    • Mel says...

      Get better soon :)

  22. Lauren says...

    This post came at a really great time for me! I’m 21 and just graduated from college in December and am now the owner of my own food truck that I run with my partner. It’s so great to have some inspiration and advice from women who have gone through the experience of being the boss and dealing with he weight of that responsibility. What a great reminder to manage your expectations of yourself and others and appreciate those who have helped you get to where you are! Thank you for this post. I’m sure I’ll be referring back to it many times as I grow as a boss.

  23. Lauren Hoivik says...

    Just what I needed to hear as I have taken on a new “boss” role. Thank you for great guidance bundled up on one page.

  24. Oh, to know all that Beyonce did to become Beyonce! What does working hard for her mean (I can only quantify it by imagining her practicing dance moves)? What did she sacrifice (I’m sure she doesn’t get to see ALL her loved ones all the time, but I always imagine Blue Ivy with her!) ?

    • I can understand what you’re saying, but I think you may be belittling what she has accomplished. She’s been in the music industry since her preteen years, and successful since early on, which means she gave up a lot of childhood to get to where she is. Sure, her career may now be a well-oiled machine, but it didn’t get that way by chance. She’s clearly an extremely intelligent businesswoman… and I more than just a little jealous of her dance moves ;) Just because she does something that we lay people can’t relate to doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

    • Anita says...

      I’m not quite sure what you’re trying to imply, do you not think she deserves her success or hasn’t sacrificed very much? Beyonce is notoriously hard working and has been working since she was a young child. She used to run miles while singing as a child to build up her endurance for performing. To prepare for her halftime super bowl show, she studied every single past halftime performance and rehearsed hundred of hours (and before you say every performer does that—they definitely don’t and its evident when you compare her performance to others). Writing music, producing, filming, “practising her dance moves” as you say (although what it really is, is hundreds of hours of rehearsals)—these are all just a small part of what she does. Sure, she can afford a lot of help with childcare (but still not the same thing as getting to spend quality time with your child) and I’m sure she gets many amazing opportunities but its taken a lot for her career to get to this point. Especially as a woman of color in the music industry, its nothing short of inspiring what she’s achieved. Sure, I wish I had her money and childcare support and many luxuries, but I also know she works much harder than I have, is at the top of her field, and has been working single-mindly towards this goal since she was young.

  25. ceciel says...

    Get better! And I empathize!! I have been sick for 10 days and started to wonder if I would ever feel better–your mind starts to go to Crazytown doesn’t it? I truly feel for people with long term illnesses. Drink lots of fluids and I’ll be thinking of ya.

  26. Cynthia says...

    Joanna, I hope you feel better soon. Meanwhile, this post is full of advice. Sometimes, when I’m sick, I feel it’s a signal to slow down, and it is hard to do when you have a family, a career, and other responsibilities. I have learned you have to take care of yourself first, or you can’t take care of any one else.

  27. jeannie says...

    This has to be one of my absolutely favorite posts ever. I relate so much to what these women are saying. It’s about time we speak up and own our own success for once. (In the words of Mindy Kaling, please forgive me for asserting myself in a small way.)

  28. Absolutely love this post! Some much needed mid week inspiration.

    xColby | Fossypants – The Blog of All Things Fun

  29. Abi says...

    I love Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, and also Amy Poehler’s… <3

    hope you feel better soon, jo!

  30. I’ve been a boss for a long time, and have managed big teams of people, and now teach classes on how to be an effective leader and create a culture of positive appreciation and clear communication. The two biggest things that I urge people to remember as they step into leadership roles are:

    1) Hold everyone to the same standards. People notice if you let your “favorite” employee arrive 3 minutes late but come down hard on the newbie, or the person who is struggling.

    2) Communicate “early and often.” Problems don’t just go away, and it’s much easier to address them when they’re little things instead of waiting until they blow out of proportion. If you create a culture where feedback is not only expected, but encouraged and craved, your whole team will consistently strive to improve and grow.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      these are great, thank you so much!!

  31. G says...

    Hope you get better soon Joanna! Sending you lots of well wishes from across the world. xoxo

    I love this post. Just want to share that as a middle manager it is hard esp when the bigger bosses do not quite share the same ideas of what constitutes good leadership. I have been told things like:
    – ‘leading with your heart makes you a bad leader’ bcoz when you are seen with a heart it supposedly means people will be quick to think you are soft aka not able to drive results
    – ‘work is not where the heart should be’ bcoz apparently one cannot use one’s heart & head at the same time
    – ‘leading with a heart means you are not able to be professional’ bcoz apparently professionalism simply means looking at your team through cold hard data-driven eyes

    I can go on but I think many of you have similar experiences to me when leading with a heart is seen to be wrong.

    So anyway… loved this.

  32. Love this, and especially love the Taking Risks section! Amy’s quote….amazing!

    Feel better fast! xo

  33. Alice Quin says...

    Fantastic quotes. I appreciate so much that this blog is about motherhood, but also talks about career and work. It is refreshing and inspiring!

    • Alice Quin says...

      And feel better soon!!

  34. Mtn Momma says...

    Hi Joanna,
    I hope you feel better soon. I’ve heard this flu is a doozie. One of the links in your wrap up last Friday was for a new workout app, I hopped over and checked it out. Looks pretty fantastic.
    I’m about a quarter of the way through a similar approached program with this gal – and I. am. loving. it.
    It’s super reasonable priced, and only 20 minutes a day. She doesn’t discuss food limitations or diets…. but that works out for me, because sometimes I just want a burger. I’m 4 weeks in and have started to notice a difference with how my pants zip up…. but most of all I feel better with these short every day workouts. I’m more patient, feel more clarity and I am sleeping better at night.
    Anyways… I thought it might be something you would be keen to check out while your sick in bed….
    I always feel better quicker when I have something to look forward to!!

  35. Kate says...

    A phrase that I personally find to be very disrespectful is saying “I’ll have so and so do it,” especially if it’s in front of said person. You don’t HAVE someone do something, you ASK them to do it. Also, always be sincere when you say thank you; when it’s said flippantly, it’s worse than not saying it at all.

    • Emily R says...

      I don’t know – it’s work, my boss has me do things. It’s a part of my job, I don’t expect him to ask.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i see what you mean, kate. you want to feel respected, not just ordered around. semantics are a big deal!

    • Sara says...

      I absolutely agree. It’s a simple wording change that conveys so much more respect.

  36. Molly Brooks says...

    I love that quote from Ann Friedman. I feel so lucky to have a boss that really respects and cares about me. I’m trying to take note of all the little things she does that make a difference. We were at lunch the other day and someone she knew came up to say hi. After I introduced myself, he asked what our connection was. I was about to say “I work for Susie” and she quickly stepped in and said “we work together.” It was so small and probably not something she’ll remember, but I’ll remember it. It made it feel like any hierarchy disappeared and we were really a team.

  37. Annie says...

    Hope you can get the rest you need. Take care of yourself!

  38. Lottie says...

    Get well

  39. I earned the loyalty of my team unwittingly by just making decisions and taking responsibility for them. When the big boss would rant, “who decided that?” I would answer “I did” and give a few reasons why. He would shut up. Some members of my team said it was the first time a boss didn’t try to point fingers. I didn’t understand. I was right, so of course I could defend myself.

  40. Lisa says...

    Sounds as if you may have the flu (which is still circulating even in May). Go and get tested so you can have Tamiflu (and hopefully keep the rest of your house from getting sick) if you need it!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you!!! i got some last night and it seems to be helping a little! really hoping to be back on track tomorrow, fingers tightly crossed:)

  41. The comment about working harder than your subordinates really resonates with me. If I see my manager working their hardest, I’m inspired to work harder for them. And if they’re stuck doing a lot of behind the scenes stuff, I think it’s important for them to share what they’re working on so their employees have a better understand of their role.

    • Dee says...

      I 100% agree with this but how do you balance it with creating good work-life balance in the office? I find my team tend to mirror the hours I set- I don’t want them to feel they have to or expect it? Ideas welcome wonderful CofJ readers!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      agreed, it’s tricky! (also, you sound like you have wonderful, dedicated employees! good job at hiring!) anyway, you could be direct and tell them exactly what you said above? or you could work from home sometimes when you’re working “over” hours? (i often work from home in the evenings or on weekends, but try to keep more regular hours in the office.) not sure if that helps! i’d be curious to hear other people’s thoughts, too.

    • I agree with Joanna – I tend to ‘hide’ my overtime hours through working at home or out of sight. I can subtly encourage my team to not feel like they need to work late if I am by asking “Are you doing anything fun after work?” or genuinely wishing them a good night when they pack up so there are no guilty feelings.

      Another good trick is to delay your emails! I may be responding to emails at 9pm, but I’ll set a delay for delivery until 8am so someone doesn’t feel obligated to answer that *ping* during their off hours.

  42. E says...

    Love all of these, especially Tina Fey.

    Here is an unpopular opinion though — I think the last quote from Beyonce comes off a little self-centered. She is incredibly successful, but comments like that one make it seem like she doesn’t acknowledge the others who have helped her along the way. Maybe I’m alone in that thought?

    • Finn says...

      Yeah, I don’t agree with this at all. She’s saying she worked hard to get to where she is. This is the truth. Yes, there were probably lots of people who helped her get there, but she’s allowed to speak on her own hard work, too. Saying you worked hard is not saying ‘and nobody ever helped me.’

    • nah, it rubbed me the wrong way too.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh how interesting! i hadn’t thought of her quote like that, but i see what you’re saying. i really liked her quote because i think it’s easy to feel a sort of guilt around success and be a little shy or self-conscious about it, like it won’t be likable or is too much. so i liked that she reminds herself that she deserves it after all her hard work (and, i’m sure, many sacrifices and crazy long hours, etc.)

  43. I loved Melina Gates’ outlook on life. Her and her husband have always been so devoted to philanthropy, and it really shows why in her quote. I also loved the reminder to take risks – it can be so hard, at any age. But so essential to growth! Feel better Joanna!


    • Elaine says...

      I like her quotes too, but Bill Gates wasnt always so generous, I remember Warren Buffet having to tell him to donate some money to charity once in a while. Now he is really into it.

  44. Thank you for this today:)
    Hope you feel better soon!

  45. Caroline says...

    Ahh love Ann Friedman so much!!! Such great advice, especially for women my age (mid 20s). Doing a little dance because the joining of two corners of the internet I love is the best.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahaha thank you! i love her too. always so wise and right-on!

  46. Roxana says...

    I’m so sorry you’re sick :(. I hope you feel better soon!

    This is a fantastic list! Truly. A lot of wisdom here. I was a boss once (i.e. not just the “boss” of a husband and two little kids at home :), and wish I would’ve paid more attention to how I lead my team. I was young and aggressive and probably very rude, and frankly, not that great at leading and consequently getting the job done. Maybe I’ll have another opportunity some day. Either way, I think Eleanor Roosevelt’s advise is my favorite. I LOVE that thought.

    Great follow-up to the “girl boss” discussion :).

  47. The Mary Barra and Ariana Huffington quotes really resonated with me, I’ve been thinking about these very things and even wrote on my blog about it- work-life balance and the whole “me-ternity” scandal. There’s a saying in Spanish, “Primero Dios y despues sus santos” as in, first God and then his saints- we must take care of #1 (ourselves) first if we want to be around to enjoy, care, live life and be there for others. That said, get well soon Joanna! A coconut water, red bell pepper and guava smoothie does wonders for the immune system if you’d like to try it-the guava makes it sweet so it’s not a bad drink!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      love that quote. and thank you so much for the smoothie tip!!