“You’ve got to stop going for drinks,” says Leo Hindery, who has been the head of five different corporations and is the author of the forthcoming Leadership 101 tome It Takes a CEO. “You are the boss. You’re no longer their pal.” Other authorities are less extreme: Scott Lochard—a leadership consultant who works with companies like Nike—says you can still go for drinks, but only if you set boundaries. He recommends that in your first days you have one-on-one chats with each underling. “That way, you can figure out what everyone’s goals and dreams are, which is crucial if you’re going to lead them,” he says. “And it also lets them see you standing alone.”
For sheer Shakespearean drama, there’s nothing quite like helping someone hang himself. Another guy I know—we’ll call him Victor—was working for an international media conglomerate and was put in charge of a large Web site. One of his workers was a woman who refused to obey his authority but was doing a good enough job that he couldn’t justifiably fire her. Instead, he assigned her weeks of brain-dead tasks until she finally went so berserk that she cracked and screwed things up. He canned her—and cemented his reputation as The Man.
“You don’t get to be top dog by your brains,” says Victor. “You have to figure out your approach—who you’re going to assassinate, and who you’re going to give a bad idea to and hope they run with it.”
Of course, bloodshed isn’t always desirable, or possible. In some cases you have to gain loyalty by pulling off a big creative move—and blowing minds with your sheer genetic superiority.
This was the approach of a now-well-known young designer who at age 28 was put in charge of the biggest account at an international design firm. He was leading a team of far older and more experienced workers—who, needless to say, resented his ascension. On his first day at the office, the designer saw he was going to have to out-skill them all. He brazenly scrapped the team’s entire product line, then barricaded himself in his office while he redesigned everything from scratch. “I put it on the table a week later and said, ‘This is how it’s done,’” he says. “They all hated me instantly. But I gained respect.”
You can be even more calculating than that. At one company I worked for, a beloved founding CEO retired. He’d been famous for being an endearing slob and encouraging employees to hang out for late-night bull sessions in his cluttered, junk-strewn office. The new CEO came in, sized up the situation, and made his mark—by behaving in precisely the opposite fashion. He refused to chitchat, would meet you only in an arid conference room, and kept his desk so neat I never saw even a piece of paper on it. A year after I left the company, I met him at a cocktail party and he explained that it was all one big judo move. “The staff wasn’t used to anyone behaving the way I did, so they couldn’t read me. And when they can’t read you, they often think you’re incredibly talented and worry about impressing you.”