3 Traits of Being Boss 

Today, I wanted to do something a little different. Last year, I had the great pleasure of getting to speak at the Thrive Creative Conference. And although I would definitely describe myself as an introvert, I love the challenge of getting up to speak at events like this every now and again. I also LOVE getting to meet online friends and blog readers IRL. So I was absolutely delighted to deliver the keynote at Thrive last year. As I started work on a new speech (for a different event that recently got canceled, sadly), I thought it might be fun to turn my Thrive speech into a blog post for you all. Why not?! And although the experience of reading a post is pretty different from attending a conference, I still thought it might be fun and beneficial to share what I talked about with all of you.

I choose to talk about three important traits that I think you must have in order to be boss. Not to be the boss. But in order to be excellent or first-rate (which is one of the definitions of “boss,” according to Merriam-Webster), you need certain traits or habits in your life.

Starting a talk off by essentially saying, “I’m gonna tell you how to be awesome” is a bit of a gamble, right? Ha! Of course we all want to be awesome, but figuring out a sustainable path to said awesomeness is a daunting task. And I, for one, am not an expert. I do not claim to be awesome, BUT I do claim to have learned some really valuable lessons while on my own journey so far.

(Here’s me speaking at Thrive. Was all black a good choice? Hmm.)

I shared the story of how I became a blogger and small business owner. It’s a story that starts off with a pretty epic fail. You can read a longer version of the story in my post On Changing Dreams, but essentially my dream was to become an actress. After a few years of trying in Los Angeles, I not only was not an actress, I didn’t want to be one anymore. So then I was broke AND I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life (I also went through a big breakup that year—it was a pretty tough year, to say the least). From this failure I have learned SO much. In fact, I would say at this point in my life I wouldn’t change that part of my story for the world because although it was a really hard time to go through, I learned so much about myself, what I want, and how to keep going through hard times. I don’t really even view it as a failure anymore, but more on that in a minute. The point of sharing my story of failure was to showcase how I learned some valuable lessons that once I started putting those in place, life totally changed. My life is not perfect, and I am NOT perfect (oh my, not by a long shot). But I am so, so happy in life right now and I think it’s in large part to learning how to be boss. 😉

Trait #1: Set Measurable Goals Often.

I really believe that this is the key to achieving most of things you may want to do in life. It spans pretty much any area that you can think of (fitness/health, career, personal finances, hobbies, etc.). So let’s unpack this trait a little. First, the goals we set must be measurable. This is SO important. You have to have some kind of measurement for if you have succeeded or not. Let’s say my goal is to “get healthy.” That’s going to be a lot harder to measure than a goal like “lose five pounds” or “run a mile everyday for a month” or “find and meet with a primary care physician I feel good about.” The goal really can be anything, but it MUST be measurable. Otherwise you’ll never know if you’ve achieved it and you’ll forever be in a nebulous state of trying.

Second, you should set these measurable goals OFTEN. I’m talking monthly or even weekly, depending on the goal. There are two main reasons for this. You want the goals to be somewhat bite-sized. I am ALL for big goals and dreams. But it’s important to take those big dreams of yours and break them down into smaller, measurable goals you can work toward. And you also want to be setting goals often because it will help you get good at it. I believe goal-setting is like a muscle. You have to exercise it! If you want to be a world-crusher who achieves big things, set goals often so you’re goal-setting muscles can grow strong! An easy way to get into this is to make to-do lists everyday. Set daily goals. Set larger weekly goals. When you’re ready, think big picture and work on mapping out some five-year goals. It’s all good, but even with the big goals you have, look to break them down into small, measurable bites. Start with a to-do list everyday (even on the weekend, people, but it can be shorter or you can include “chill out for an hour” on the list) because it is the habit of making small, meaningful changes over the course of a long period of time that can change your life. It’s real. It’s almost like magic. Really slow magic.

Trait #2: Embrace Learning and Failure.

Here’s the thing that I wish someone would have told me a long time ago: Failure is part of it. It’s not a thing to avoid or be embarrassed of. I’m not saying we should aim for failure. And I would never wish failure on anyone, because it stings for sure. But it’s part of the path to success. So don’t think you can avoid it. When it comes your way, learn from it and keep going. Don’t label yourself a failure and throw a pity party. I’ve wasted valuable time doing that and it’s not helpful and doesn’t even feel good. If you’re going through a hurtful time, I’m not asking you to ignore it or stuff those feelings away as if they aren’t there. No, I’m telling you to embrace it. Embrace failure for what it truly is, a part of almost every successful person’s journey.

I also believe that if you really want to be boss, you’ve got embrace lifelong learning. We try to encourage and model this on A Beautiful Mess (hopefully it shows!). Sometimes it’s hard to admit that you don’t know everything—but I actually think there’s a lot of power in that too. Now if you happen to be very knowledgeable in a certain area or a bunch of areas, I’m not suggesting that you claim ignorance or hide the fact that you may be an expert. That’s awesome and I hope you find ways to share your expertise with the world. But no one knows it all. That’s simply impossible. So if you really want to be boss in life, you’ve got to accept that you have a long journey ahead that should be full of learning and asking for help. (Me too!) This goes hand in hand with being able to embrace failure. I think it’s true humility, a very boss trait.

Trait #3: Power Through or Shrug Off Negativity.

I think most often we all think of online trolls (haters) when someone says the word “negativity” on the internet. And I’ll get to that. But I actually think there are two more prevalent and more powerful potential sources of negativity in our lives.

First, it’s you. I am (and you are) probably our own worst hater. There really isn’t anyone else that points out my flaws and shortcomings as often as I do. And while I do think being honest with yourself is important, constantly putting yourself down is self defeating and can be really difficult to move past. It can become a habit we fall into that keeps us from living that happy, fulfilling life we all want. There’s no easy way out of this. Like most bad habits we have to break, it’s going to be a daily struggle full of small (but important) choices that eventually gets easier. Instead of putting yourself down all the time, be intentional about building yourself up. Write lists of things you love about yourself. Treat yourself when you achieve a goal. When you do mess up or something doesn’t turn out how you wanted, don’t turn it into a personal attack, but rather think through how things could be improved for next time. Give yourself the same grace you would give your best friend.

And on that note, the second biggest potential source of negativity in our lives is from close relationships. If you have people in your life that you spend a lot of time with that constantly put you down, I really want to urge you to evaluate that. It is really hard when this is a relationship you didn’t necessarily choose (a parent, sibling, or close family member). In those cases, you will just have to navigate it as best you can, but please think of yourself and your own well being as part of the equation, as I know many of us tend to just think of others and always put others first. There has to be a balance there. But for relationships we choose (friends, spouses, etc.), I urge you to choose people who fill you up with love and encouragement. You should work to be this friend for others, and therefore you should expect the same in return. You deserve love, we all do.

But what about the peanut gallery? This is a term I’m totally stealing from Brene´ Brown (from her book, Rising Strong, which is awesome and you should read!). Let’s talk about a third and final source of negativity which pretty much includes everyone who doesn’t fall into the first two groups. This could be people who follow you on IG, or your blog, or just people you casually know but you mostly see on Facebook or something like that. So what about negativity from this area, from haters? This is going to sound incredibly simple, but here’s what I honestly think as someone who has had to deal with this type of negativity. If there is something useful and truthful about what they are saying, try to learn from it. If there isn’t, ignore it. If you can learn and grow from the negativity, then think of it as a small failure (aka the path to success) and let it change you for the better (even though, yes, it will hurt a little). But if you read something that there really isn’t any way for you to grow from it, then put on your blinders and ignore it because we’ve got to-do lists to conquer and boss lives to live. Ignore, ignore, ignore. I promise, it gets easier as you go.

(What face am I making here? Ha!)

BONUS Boss Trait: Be Guided by Love.

I said this during my speech last year but it feels even more relevant today. If you really want to be boss in life, you should aim to be guided by love. Yes, have big goals in life that you go after. But the big picture goal of your life should not be about profits, or achievements, or fame; it should be about love. It’s what truly matters.

You should love yourself. It’s easy to overlook. Try to seek some balance, self-care, and let go of guilt in your life in order to truly love yourself. You should love others: coworkers, team members, family, followers, friends, and yes, even those haters. Use your goal-setting muscles to make some plans around ways you can love yourself, your family, your friends, your work family, and your community. A true boss leaves the world a better place as she moves through it.

Of course if you have questions, let me know in the comments. And thanks for letting me share the main points of this past speech with you all! xo. Emma

Credits // Author: Emma Chapman. Photography: Sarah Rhodes and images from the conference are from Kati Hewitt.
  • Love this, Emma. Thank you so much sharing! I especially enjoy the bonus trait…”A true boss leaves the world a better place as she moves through it.” You’re an inspiration. These type of blog posts are some of my favorites to read.

  • Hi Emma!
    I am a long time follower of your blog. Simply wanted to say thanks a lot for this post (also for the one On Changing Dreams – my favorite post of all on the blog)! Really great speech!!
    And yes I think all black was a good choice! 😉
    All the best from Austria,
    Vanessa

  • Great post. I appreciate how you elaborate these points, especially on the peanut gallery and constantly learning. Thanks for sharing this!

  • I don’t know why but I have always thought of myself as a follower. I think it’s because of my lack of confidence and my irrational fear of the unknown. Admittedly, this has held me bck from so many opportunities. Ugh. LOL Great post, got me thinking about where and what I really want to achieve.

  • Excellent! I’m starting a new career and this is exactly what I needed to read. Thank you!

  • These are great tips! I am all about goal setting. In fact, I make a list of monthly goals at the beginning of every month. Even if I don’t achieve all of them, it’s a useful exercise because it forces me to think about the big picture. Definitely need to work on admitting that I don’t know everything, however…

    COLLEENWELSCH.COM

  • I really appreciate this post, Emma. It’s all great advice, but especially about regularly setting measurable goals, even bite-sized ones.

    In the past, I’ve gotten sucked into overwhelm because I’m so focused on the big dream, but weekly (and even daily!) goal setting has helped me so much.

    I’m in the middle of reading Stick With It by Sean Young and that’s one of his big tips. He says make them even smaller than you think you should and that these baby steps will end up helping you reach your end dream way faster. And also find community support!

    Thanks again for this post. I love hearing about the business side of things and how you all get so much accomplished!

    • Love that. I’ll have to check out his book. I’m always looking for something good to read or listen to (love audio books for long drives!)

  • I unexpectedly started to tear up at the last one! I’ve been having a tough time at work lately – it’s hard to love your coworkers sometimes! But you gave me the inspiration I needed to try to leave my workplace better than I found it. Thank you, Emma!

  • Both you and Elsie are such an inspiration. I admire you ladies so much. Posts like this inspire women around the world to do hard things and challenge themselves and be determined and thrive. Thank you for that. I’ll be meditating on the points you made above today so that I can apply them fully in my life.

    “Empowered women empower women.”

    <3

  • Really loving these posts related to business and growth. As someone who reads primarily out of habit, but also interest, I have only tried one or two DIYs in the past few years (I just don’t really DIY, so it’s nothing to do with the content). This post, as well as the nutritional ones and the interview last week have been a refreshing new addition 🙂

  • I love this! Thanks for deciding to make your talk into a post so we could all read it! And yes the all black looks awesome! 🙂

  • These are great insights. Can I make a possibly annoying suggestion (for the leadership book you should definitely write one day)? Feel free to ignore! Have you thought about an alternative to calling them “traits” of being a boss? Maybe I’m overly sensitive to the language, but traits are generally considered things we are born with that are fixed throughout life. The beauty of your ideas is that these are things you can absolutely learn, develop, and practice over time. So, behaviors (or characteristics? qualities? skills?) might capture your message better. Shifting our language and mindset about leadership can also be a powerful tool for gender equity at work. I’m a management professor and talk about research/teach about this stuff so I just couldn’t help myself.

    • Alyssa,

      I love your suggestion. Great point, as I would certainly not want anyone to think that you are either born with boss traits or you’re out of luck—not the case at all. Thanks for adding your perspective, also what a cool job!

  • This is great advice which I will be using. I always beat myself up at the smallest thing saying I’m not good enough and comparing myself to others.

  • Embracing failure is something I’ve been trying to do lately! I thought I had it nailed, since I shrug off a lot of smaller failures every day, but then I realized that I was completely avoiding doing the things I care about most, because I was afraid of that particular failure. (Just thinking about it now, my brain is freaking out again.)

    But if I do fail, so what? So then I know that particular idea wasn’t going to work out, and I can try something different.

  • I really enjoyed reading this post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I always appreciate the positive atmosphere on ABM.

  • Great post, Emma. I loved that you made being Boss about the personal challenge rather than the Role. I enjoyed reading it immensely. I particularly like the concept of setting “measurable” goals. I think I tend to think to large scale.
    Thank you,
    Gwen

  • Thank you so much for sharing! These are important points I needed reminding of. Your personal touch and anecdotes make this article relevant. Especially the bonus: do it for love!

  • This IS beneficial! & I so appreciate you posting it here. I am an aspiring small business owner (among many other things) and it is really refreshing to read such honesty. Thank you with LOVE! 💝

  • I’m a little late to the party here but thanks so much for sharing this, Emma, it’s really well-written and inspiring. I experienced a year of life-altering failure akin to your own story my first year of college, which may have simultaneously been the best and worst year of my life in terms of learning tons of life lessons the hard way! I think all your advice here is spot on, especially the bonus… <3