How to Be a Leader at Work Without Being Bossy

Benjamin Preston
5 min readApr 21, 2020

Have you been put into a leadership position, and you think that you might be a little bit too bossy? I have five tips to help you be a better leader at work without being bossy.

It’s a pretty common problem among a lot of younger professionals to feel like they’re bossy when they first accept a leadership position. How do you manage or lead a team without being overly bossy? The reason that this goes through our head is that a lot of leaders that we see are oftentimes super bossy.

Tip One: Learn What Leadership Is

Tip number one is learning what leadership is. There are two forms of power in organizations.

There’s formal power that comes from your organizational structure (who you manage and who manages you). And, there’s informal power which is your ability to connect and influence other people.

When we’re talking about leadership we’re really talking more about the informal power. Formal power is important especially when you’re working on big projects. When you’re being a leader at work you really want to focus on your ability to influence and build relationships with your co-workers and with your team.

If you are receiving information or direction from someone a lot of times, you view them as bossy if you don’t really respect them as a person. Similarly, if that person doesn’t really have any informal power, then a lot of times you view them as bossier as opposed to any other leader.

You want to focus on building informal power by building meaningful relationships. By taking that first step in building those meaningful relationships, you take bossy out of the equation especially with the people that are going to be on the receiving end of your direction.

Tip Two: Understand Team Dynamics

Tip number two of How to Be a Leader at Work Without Being Bossy is understanding team dynamics. A big part of understanding informal power or owning your informal power is being able to empathize with where other people are coming from. Especially in team dynamics, there is already a culture set in place that you are coming into that may have mixed behaviors toward authority.

Some people might be innovators and don’t want to follow directions. Some people might just be absolute followers and love to jump on whatever idea that you have.

What you do is attempt to understand the pre-established culture of what you’re walking into. If you can assess how your team members are receiving you, it’ll be a lot easier to figure out how to be less bossy down the road.

Usually, if you’re coming across as “bossy”, you’re experiencing some resistance from your team when you’re trying to give them directions. Bossy in this term means your team is receiving you in a way that’s bringing up discomfort within them.

Tip Three: Value Your Employees

Tip three of How to Be a Leader at Work Without Being Bossy is to value your employees. You’re usually walking into a team dynamic or a culture that has been pre-established and may not be the healthiest culture. So, it’s your job to shift that.

The easiest way to shift a negative culture is to positively recognize your team. You can do this both in an informal capacity.

Formal recognition might include a financial (gift card) recognition or some other physical token of recognition.

Informal recognition typically includes verbal recognition and accolades from fellow team members.

In both instances, you’re recognizing team members publicly as well as addressing the person directly. Typically, what people will do when they’re trying to recognize someone is they might send a quick email and say, “Congrats on the hard work.” But when you’re trying to move an entire team you want to make sure your team is aware of the type of work that gets your attention. By calling it out within your team, you’re reinforcing your team values.

When you start recognizing employees, you need to remain consistent with what you’re praising and be consistent with the type of recognition you’re giving.

Tip Four: Be Transparent

Tip number four of How to Be a Leader at Work Without Being Bossy is be transparent. Oftentimes one of the things that people notice when they are reporting to somebody is inconsistencies. It’s really difficult for employees on your team to thrive if they don’t know what the expectations are.

To mitigate that issue, be very transparent with your approach to the work. Be very transparent with how you will evaluate your team moving forward. This will help set the expectation as a project unfolds and what the incremental goals are.

What happens is if you are not transparent is people feel like priorities have changed or they feel like things are coming out of left field. They lose their footing, and as you shift priorities constantly, they’re going to view your management style as bossy.

Being transparent also is helpful when you’re looking at how to change a project mid-course. Being transparent about your approach allows your team to weigh in on possible solutions. And it allows them to get on board with the new direction.

The best way to be really transparent is by setting up your project timelines and managing your team’s time effectively.

Tip Five: Get Help

Tip five of How to Be a Leader at Work Without Being Bossy is getting help. In earlier tips, I talked about shifting culture and building informal relationships… however, if you’re still struggling, it’s time to get help.

You may need to find a mentor who can help you navigate your new leadership position. Every organization is extremely unique, so having a mentor who understands the dynamics is a major advantage.

To find a mentor, find somebody who knows you, who knows your organization, and who you have a really good working relationship with.

There are so many other things that you can do to interpersonally improve your leadership and management style. When it comes down to how to be a good leader at work without looking bossy, it really comes down to your perspective and how you’re approaching the work

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