“Change your language and tone of voice, get rid of expletives . . . use a deeper voice,” suggests Batia Weisenfeld, an associate professor of management at New York University’s Stern School of Business. While that last bit might be more applicable to a 16-year-old manager at Burger King, the point is that chatty, shit-shooting bosses don’t project authority. I once reported to a guy who talked incessantly about his sex life and another who offered me a bump of blow before an important meeting. I quickly began to question the decision-making capabilities of both men.
“It’s a nightmare,” says my friend Olivier, who recently became the CFO of a development firm run by a young non-boss. “One second he’s telling me he has dates for us lined up with a couple of models, and then he’s screaming because our financing is behind schedule.”
Olivier’s personal hell illuminates another point: Don’t be cowed by rumors that Gen Y kids’ Treo-tickling and enthusiasm will allow them to dominate lower-key executives approaching 40. And for God’s sake, don’t emulate them. Companies run by faux bosses will ultimately end up like children reared by lax parents: dysfunctional. So take the decorative beer bong off your desk, put on a suit and tie, and refrain from engaging in discussions about how hot Scarlett Johansson is.
“It’s a little weird,” says Max Schaeffer, cofounder and COO of Flagship Studios and one of the designers of the hit computer games Diablo and Diablo II. “You’re still everyone’s buddy, but you have to remember that people are watching you now. So you have to adjust—like, we instituted a strict ‘No dope-smoking in the office’ rule.”
You might have to go a little further than that. But start by letting go of the delusion that you’re no different from the dudes sitting in cubicles. You’re the boss, so act like it. That role might feel weird at first—as if you’re playing at being a grown-up—but after a few months it will feel as comfortable as the leather seats in the new company car.
The Power Playbook
Adopt this M.O. and earn Steve Jobs–level respect.
1. Get mad as hell
A warranted tirade reminds employees who’s in charge. But don’t unleash Mr. Hyde too oftenit’s a short trip from upper management to anger management.
2. Stay just out of reach
Let the tyros get carpal tunnel from their BlackBerries. The truly powerful are minimally available, and even then to only a select few.
3. Have the final say
Literally. Keep nearly silent until the end of a meeting and watch the paranoia and anticipation build. Then get up and walk out.
4. Freeze out the new kids
Teach entry-levels the hierarchy by studiously ignoring them. You’ll motivate them to prove themselves worthy of your time.