Shonda Rhimes dominates our Thursday nights and has introduced us to some of television’s most powerful female characters (we’re looking at you, Meredith Grey, Annalise Keating, and Olivia Pope). But Rhimes, an introvert at heart, says that learning to be the boss hasn’t always been easy.
“I went from being a movie writer who worked from home in my pajamas to a TV writer who had 300 people asking me what to do,” she says. “I had to learn how to be in charge, and it did not go so well at the beginning. It took me a while to really understand that power is not power if you don’t embrace it. If there’s nobody truly steering the ship, it’s a recipe for chaos.” We asked Rhimes to explain how she navigated that boat straight into ShondaLand.
Have the Hard Conversations
"The biggest mistake I see people make is failing to address uncomfortable topics. Too often we avoid saying the things that really need to be said, and the problem with that is twofold: It wastes a ton of time in a work environment, and it puts unnecessary stress and strain on everybody involved. If you were to approach the topic right away, you wouldn’t waste time worrying about it, wondering what the answer will be, and thinking about what you’re going to say. Whether the conversation involves telling your boss that you want a raise, telling your employee that he or she is not doing a good job, or telling a colleague that he or she offended you, the difficult conversation often solves the problem on the spot. Just be sure to be respectful on every level."
Act as Though You Belong in Every Room
"No matter where you’re sitting, whether it’s the CEO’s office or the lowest person on the totem pole’s cubicle, behave like you fit in that space. You have to appear comfortable, because there’s nothing worse than going into a meeting where you are visibly nervous—the other person will start to think that you don’t deserve to be there. If your superiors or the people who work for you see that you’re hesitant, guess what they’ll start to think? That you don’t understand them."
Own Your Power—and Your Mistakes
"Leadership is useless if you’re not leading. It did not come naturally to me to be the person standing in front of everyone heading up the charge. I would much rather be in the corner of the room reading a book. I’ve learned not to fear mistakes or regret them when something goes wrong. If things get off track, treat the obstacle as a different direction you’ve been sent in versus a stop sign."
Realize That There Is No Secret Recipe
"Everyone always thinks somebody else knows something they don’t. Let me fill you in on a secret: Nobody knows anything. I’m constantly encountering people who say that they wish they had it as together as I do, but the reality is that there’s nothing special that people in high positions know. We’re all working with the same tools, so just take chances and go for it."