How to Work Like a Boss with Nancy Lyons

On this week’s episode, Jenn DeWall welcomes Nancy Lyons to The Leadership Habit podcast to talk about how to work like a boss! 

Meet Nancy Lyons, CEO and Co-Founder of Clockwork

Nancy understands that humans are the hardest part of work. She’s been building teams and leading clients through culture change and evolution for over 20 years by challenging people to harness the human side of business. 

Nancy’s mission is to help everyone activate their inner change maker by showing up differently and controlling the one thing you can– yourself. She’s the author of the Amazon bestseller Work Like A Boss: A Kick In the Pants Guide to Finding (and Using) Your Power At Work. She has also been recognized with a selection of past award titles, including Most Admired CEO, 100 People to Know, and Business Owner of the Year.

Nancy lives in Minneapolis and is the co-founder and CEO of an experienced design and technology consultancy called Clockwork and a smaller agile studio called Tempo. Tempo serves small to medium-sized businesses and startups that need technology solutions. Clockwork does a lot of technology consulting strategy and customer experience. Her company works with clients like Ameriprise, Mercury Marine, Optum, UnitedHealth, Ecolab and General Motors building “big, complex, gnarly technology systems for their businesses.”

How Did Nancy Learn to Work Like a Boss? 

As the episode opens, Jenn asks Nancy to explain how she started her career in technology. Nancy explains, “It was out of the ordinary. I was actually a theater major in college, and I thought that if I translated any of that to work, I would end up being a producer or director of industrial videos. Or maybe I would pursue filmmaking. 

I started on that path, but what I saw was a lot of men in the driver’s seat, and there were very few women behind the cameras. There were very few women who were leading the charge, and you know, we know that’s true. If you just look at the Oscars and the mainstream film industry, we know that when women win an award for excellence, it isn’t just unusual that they won the award. It’s also unusual that they were up for it to begin with– because there are so few of them. That’s been the case for a really long time…

So, I started to look around to see where else I could put my creative energy. At the time, I was just wrapping up college, and I had just graduated from college when all of it started to come together, and I started to teach myself how to code. I was really curious about the internet, really curious about what was happening there. 

I made it my life’s mission to find a company where I could essentially apprentice because, at the time, there weren’t a lot of formal programs in college. There weren’t a lot of formal grad programs. The internet was just– you know– this is the nineties. The internet was just coming into mainstream existence, and I was looking for a place where I could learn the business, and I did. I found it and built my career from there.”

What Does “Working Like a Boss” Mean?

Later, Jenn asks Nancy to explain what she means by “working like a boss.” Nancy explains that sometimes, when we think of a boss or an entrepreneur, we will romanticize the concept, looking at the big success stories like the Elon Musks and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world. 

However, when Nancy talks about working like a boss, she means having courage, adaptability, and a connection to your purpose. Working like a boss is possible whether you start a company or work for a company. Unfortunately, she is often amazed that anything gets done at larger organizations because people start their careers thinking about the wrong things. 

People start their careers thinking about how to get ahead, how to be better than everyone else, and how to get noticed before anyone else. Nancy explains that “working like a boss requires actually being more mindful of your impact on the broader organization.” 

The Importance of Mindset

Then, Jenn and Nancy discuss the importance of having the right mindset. If you want to work like a boss, you must have some ownership, whether you own the company or not. How are you impacting the culture, your teams, your division, or your deliverables? 

She explains, “With that ownership comes the ability to take initiative, the ability to make decisions, the ability to take risk, the ability to fail and learn from it, the ability to understand other people have emotional intelligence. 

There are all these qualities that get wrapped up in the idea of being a boss in our culture, but you don’t have to be an executive or a founder to actually bring those qualities to the workplace. And when I say that, I don’t mean brick and mortar. I mean, wherever it is that you work, whether it’s at, in a home office, in a restaurant, in a corporation, whatever it is. 

Bringing those qualities with you every day and holding yourself accountable for showing up with them and engaging with other people, with that spirit of innovation and interest and purpose. That is what’s going to prepare all of us for the future of work. And that’s what it means to work like a boss.” 

The Role of Emotional Intelligence

Later in the episode, Jenn and Nancy discuss the role of emotional intelligence at work. Nancy shares that people can feel lost within a large organization and think there is not much just one person can do to make an impact. 

However, thinking like a boss means being aware of the microcultures you are part of. She shares that you have significant influence over your team, your department, and your close colleagues. 

Nancy explains, saying, “I think that’s important, and you can be the champion. You can show up with this desire to shift energy. So I think emotional intelligence is when you recognize you have to have boundaries around what you can control. But this right here, this immediate space that I exist in, and these people that I interact with every day, I can have frank conversations with them about how I experience this team.

So we can share some positivity. We’re gonna check in about challenging things that are happening so we can understand what you’re going through, what I’m going through, and also see how we might be able to help each other and then move into the agenda, having celebrated something, having aligned with each other, but moving into the agenda with an action mindset, you know, an action-oriented mindset. 

Maybe that’s something we agree to, but I think first and foremost, you know, emotional intelligence shows up when you work to cultivate authentic relationships with your teammates, whereby you can have difficult conversations that are solution-oriented and work toward that solution together.”

Learning to Thrive at Work

Next, they discuss how people learn (or don’t learn) to thrive at work. Nancy shares, “I often say, you know, we put so much emphasis on higher education in this country, and yet we don’t teach people how to thrive at work, how to show up with the right energy. 

We teach ’em how to get papers in on time, but mostly we teach ’em how to shut up, sit down, get in line, do what they’re told, do you know, get an a because there’s only one right answer be perfect because there’s only one way to deliver, right? 

And then we throw ’em into the workplace, which is like a giant melting pot of experimentation and failure. And we don’t understand why they immediately clam up. And, you know, only some of them will succeed. And it’s because we raise young people in a certain way of thinking, and then work requires a totally different set of tools.”

Nancy believes that a lack of professional development on the front end creates issues. She explains, “And so people kind of move through the workplace with fear, sort of guiding how they show up. They’re afraid of conflict. So feedback is a tough thing to give and receive. You know, we take things personally, so feedback is really rough to receive. We’re afraid of what others will think of us. We don’t wanna look dumb. We don’t wanna look like we don’t know what we’re doing. You know, those things are why most humans resist change. I don’t wanna try that. I don’t even know what I’m doing. I’m not gonna do that in front of people. Why would I do that? I’m not gonna do it.” 

She goes on to say, “So fear actually prevents us from working like a boss! And we believe that there are people like you or maybe me, oh, you must not be afraid of anything! Knowing you for the 10 minutes that I’ve known you through the 30 minutes cumulatively. I bet you’re not afraid of anything. That would be my assumption. 

The truth is we know better. Of course, you have fear. Of course, I have fear. We’ve just learned how to operate with it, how to move through it, right? Nobody is fearless, but we can all learn how to fear LESS.”

Where to Find More From Nancy Lyons

Nancy shares so many more insights than we could include in this post, so be sure to check out the full episode on your favorite podcast streaming service! If you would like to learn more about Nancy and her work, here is where you can find more: