Be The Boss

I was struck by the honesty and directness of Tracy Wilkins, founder of TechLab at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, in a conversation before a NewVa Corridor Technology Council, NCTC, meeting.  He confers often and readily with entrepreneurs and candidly uses his own successes, tight spots, and failures as texts for lessons on starting and running a company.

When speaking with entrepreneurs, Wilkins sees a recurring theme when listening to their challenges.  He asks, “What’s your job?”  The entrepreneur will say “CEO” or “President.”  Wilkins answers for them:  “You’re the boss.  Be the boss.”

Why I felt choked up when I heard this, and why I do now as I type this, is that it’s true.

I am the boss.  By founding a company and hiring even one individual for even the smallest task, I made myself a boss.

"Be the boss."

With one year of on-the-job experience, I look back and see I have tried to be a facilitative boss, an enlightened boss, a boss who leads, not just manages.

I haven’t always been a boss who said the imperative two, strong, boss-like sentences that would have been a) honest and b) in accord with my vision for myself and my company.


I have said yes when my heart, mind, spirit, gut, intuition, and integrity screamed to say no.  As a start-up, I was so hungry.  I feared missing a meal more than I trusted finding one.  I compromised in ways I regret.  Not in ways that directly hurt others.  But in ways that hurt me.

“This won’t do.”  I have accepted work and actions that were not acceptable. 


And yet.

  • I take chances on people. I have ultimate faith in them. If my work with them now isn’t a good fit, they’ll find a good fit down the path. No doubt in my mind.
  • I believe people evolve. Good work now can become great work later and heartbreakingly astronomical work down the road. I’m willing to pay wages now for the chance that will happen later.
  • I value honesty and integrity. If my path is out of alignment with my values and principles, I can see it, or be shown it, and move another way. I make mistakes, but I don’t want to, and I will make corrections and amends.

“Be the boss.”

The challenge, of course, is that when “Be the boss” is implemented and boss-like statements are made, the boss risks not finding his or her “myself” particularly valued at the time, to the point of losing the person, the work, the project.

Honesty lets my company be itself.  If I, as my company’s leader and boss, am honest in line with my vision for my company, then, although I will experience losses and challenges and crises along the way, ultimately, I will end up working with people and doing work and creating products and services that are honest, too.


A version of this post originally appeared on my company blog as The Honest Boss.

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