15 Lessons From Kick-Ass Bosses

If the top is where you're aiming, here are the goals to work toward, advice to keep in mind, and faux pas not to make.

Nov 21, 2013 at 2:30pm | Leave a comment

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Whether your dream career lies in fashion, molecular biology, or tort law, the one thing that might bind you with your fellow sister is your desire to be the absolute best person doing that job. Second-in-command isn't really an option — reaching the top of the heap for you is definitely a goal. But, this isn't just about a lucky break or relentless, dogged work (though those two things definitely don't hurt). There's a strategy, a subtlety, and a state of mind you've got to own before you can own that corner office. 

To be clear, the makings of a phenomenal leader certainly aren't specific to gender, but it'd be naive to think there aren't particular challenges that face women. We're kicking off a series of articles that feature inspiring, fair, and fierce female bosses in a variety of jobs, starting with a handful in our very own industry (stay tuned for advice from women in all fields). If the top is where you're aiming, here are the goals to work toward, advice to keep in mind, and faux pas not to make.

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Eva Chen, editor-in-chief of Lucky

"When I worked with Amy Astley at Teen Vogue as a beauty director, one of the best things about my time there was that she was always like, ‘You should try this,’ and I would always be like, ‘Yes!’ Whether it was brand extensions or digital development, I just always wanted to try new things. My New Year’s resolution each year is always to learn something new — I always try to tack on a particular challenge. I think that’s a really important quality to have in life in general. I don’t ever want to feel like I plateaued.“

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Christene Barberich, editor-in-chief of Refinery29

"I know when to be patient and when to be impatient. Sometimes, the best ideas, voices, and stories need some time to really take form, so creating a false sense of urgency can often yield a disappointing product. On the flip side, though, lighting certain fires under people and projects can honestly be the difference between being right on time and being too late. Within digital, an hour can be critical, so knowing where and how to invest time and talent is everything."

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Mindy Kaling, executive producer of The Mindy Project

“There are so many funny people out there that are undone by their dysfunction. It’s unfortunate that most funny people also harbor traits that keep them from being successful; they go hand-in-hand. Being funny is great, and it’s a rare quality. I look for A students not in terms of their GPA (because Lord knows I wasn’t an A student), but rather in terms of their mentality. An A student is someone who works until everything is done and perfect. I have a couple writers who want to see me write, edit, on set, and they want to be a part of it, too. That’s what being an A student is about.”

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Sophia Amoruso, CEO of Nasty Gal, author of the upcoming #GirlBoss

"When it comes to the most attractive quality in a team player, I would say someone who's comfortable with confrontation. We all have different opinions, and that's what helps when exploring different options for the business. I like to say I hire people who disagree with me."

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Isabel Marant, fashion designer

“I’m never too loud. I had to learn my work and have a good foundation for the label. I’ve been in the business for almost 20 years, but it’s been the last 10 or 12 that I’ve been known. I like to think I’m always sure in what I’m doing, but I'm never showy. It’s confidence in myself that keeps me headstrong.”

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Christene Barberich, editor-in-chief of Refinery29

"One big deal breaker is when an interviewee or prospective hire makes the conversation all about them and their own growth. That always makes me think they are putting their own success and promotion before the company, and that can be challenging to deal with over time."

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Eva Chen, editor-in-chief of Lucky

"I personally think there are so many negative connotations with the word 'networking' — like it sounds kind of schmoozy or Gordon Gekko-ish, and you've got to do it with that Hollywood-agent finger-snapping. But, I’m one of those people who loves keeping in touch with people, and I believe that it’s networking boiled down to its most basic situation. It’s keeping in touch with people no matter if they can help you and being a good friend. You see people, especially in the fashion industry, who really curate their friends and who care very much about being friends with the right people. I just care about being friends with good people."

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Mindy Kaling, executive producer of The Mindy Project

"One thing that’s been really helpful for me is that even though I’m an anxious and an emotional person, I don’t let things affect me to a degree that I get depressed. I have a wonderful, amazing job, but I can’t let it get beneath my skin. When my mother passed away, the effect was so profound. It changed me so much and was so traumatizing. If the show got canceled, I’d be sad, yeah, but I’d bounce back. No writer is going to miss their kid’s birthday dinner because they were at work. Those things are more important to me.”

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Christene Barberich, editor-in-chief of Refinery29

"I really trust my gut when it comes to key hires. The right experience is important, but I always want to feel that they're just GAME for anything. That kind of thing goes beyond ambition. It's about wanting to know the job and the company inside and out and they'll do whatever it takes to be successful."

 

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Eva Chen, editor-in-chief of Lucky

“I don’t know if it was growing up as an Asian-American woman that did it; there were a lot of cultural stereotypes that come along with that. I remember once when I was in school, I must’ve been in fifth grade, and I was talking to some boy in the hallway, and I remember my teacher came out and chastised me for being loud. And, I remember thinking, 'Why me and not him?' That has always stuck in my mind. Am I getting blamed for this because I’m the girl and I’m expected to be quiet? When I’m speaking to young women, I tell them it’s better to learn how to speak up now than wait for something to happen.”

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Christene Barberich, editor-in-chief of Refinery29

"When it comes to my own career, the fact that so many people were discouraging along the way just made me work harder and be more creative about how to get to where I wanted to go. Sometimes what seems like discouragement can really work in your favor...you just have to believe in yourself and know that you're getting THERE no matter what."

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Mindy Kaling, executive producer of The Mindy Project

“A lot of people think that the best quality in an employee is being expressive, but being observant is paramount. When you’re just starting out, there’s a stigma that if you’re not talking, you’re not learning, but that’s a misconception. I’m impressed by people who just want to learn instead of people who feel the need to hit the ground running and offer their opinions right off the bat.”

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Eva Chen, editor-in-chief of Lucky

"I try to have an open-minded approach in hiring. For instance, hiring someone who has only had digital experience to work on the print side, and I would happily do vice versa as well for hiring someone from print to do digital. I want someone who has passion, drive, and ambition. I’m not looking for someone who is just here for a 9-to-6 job or someone who just wants a job for the sake of having one. I want someone who is hungry to make an impact."

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Christene Barberich, editor-in-chief of Refinery29

"Oft-overlooked qualities that people don't really talk about are a sense of humor and curiosity. Those two qualities serve both you and the team around you."
 
Reprinted with permission from Refinery29. Want more?