Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration
Harvard Business School
Linda A. Hill is the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business
Administration at Harvard Business School. She is one of the first
to write about the personal and professional challenges new
managers face in making the transition from individual contributor
to manager. Hill is well known for her classic book, Becoming a
Manager: Mastery of a New Identity, published in 1992. A
decade later, the second edition of the book, Becoming a
Manager: How New Managers Master the Challenges of Leadership,
added the practical piece to the original research, which featured
the views of 19 first-time managers and their challenges in making
the adjustment to a leadership role.
Hill also has authored or co-authored many books and Harvard
Business Review (HBR) articles. Her latest book, Being the
Boss (2011), co-authored with corporate executive Kent L.
Lineback, focuses on experienced managers, and explores what it
takes to be a successful leader today. Among Hills many HBR
articles are "Are You a High Potential?" (June 2010) and "Winning
the Race for Talent in Emerging Markets" (November 2008), both
co-authored with Douglas A. Ready and Jay A. Conger.
Hills consulting and executive education focus has been in the
areas of managing change and cross-organizational relationships and
implementing global strategy, innovation, talent management, and
She holds a bachelors in psychology from Bryn Mawr College and a
masters in educational psychology and a doctorate in behavioral
sciences from the University of Chicago.
Q| How did you initially become interested in new manager and new
My interest came from my own need, to be perfectly honest. When I
became a professor at Harvard Business School and found myself
teaching MBAs, I, like a good little academic, went to the library
to try to read about what new managers find most challenging about
their new responsibilities and how they learn to lead. And much to
my surprise, I didnt really find much. I found books on what
managers dofew were empirically basedand found even less on how
they actually master their new assignment.
At the time, I was also doing a project on retraining and decided
to ask managers how they learned to do their jobs in the first
place. I became more and more intrigued and thought that it might
be worthwhile to research the question. I ended up having a series
of conversations about this with Morgan McCall, who was working on
Lessons of Experience. That work, while very relevant, was not
focused particularly on new managers. I spoke to people like Henry
Mintzberg and others and, sure enough, they all agreed that there
wasnt much work or research on how managers learn to lead and
manage. I first started looking at this in the mid 1980s.
Q| So out of this came your first book, Becoming a Manager. When
was that published?
This book was first published in 1992. In 2003, I did a second
edition in which I included versions of the module notes I
developed for the first required leadership course at Harvard. The
second edition of Becoming a Manager is the one that I think most
people have. The first edition was Becoming a Manager: Mastery of a
New Identity and the second edition is Becoming a Manager: How New
Managers Master the Challenges of Leadership.
In the first edition, I simply wanted to provide a forum for the
new managers to speak for themselves about what their experiences
were like that first year on the job. I thought my audience would
mostly be academics. But once I realized managers were reading it,
I was eager to do a second edition in which I provided some
practical insights and frameworks for thinking about how to handle
the dilemmas new managers most often encounter.
Q| How did your most recent book, Being the Boss, come about?
Kent Lineback, a former corporate executive who is my co-author on
the book, had read my work over the years and apparently found it
very practical and accessible. He suggested I write a book for
experienced managers like the managers in the high-potential
executive courses I was chairing. I agreed to do it if he would do
it with me. Thats how Being the Boss came about.
I actually do work (research, course development, teaching, and
consulting) in three areas: how people learn to lead, leadership
and the implementation of global strategies, and leadership and
innovation. So Kent gave us the challenge of coming up with a very
simple but robust framework for thinking about leadership that
captured the complexity managers have to deal with in todays global
Q| What are some common misconceptions about what it takes to be a
When Kent approached me about writing the book, he explained that
he had always felt he could be a better manager and that in his
experience there were too many bad bosses out there. I shared with
him that I had always felt very privileged to work with many
well-intentioned and talented individuals, but that too many failed
to fulfill their aspirations for themselves or for their
There are three imperatives of leadership. Most people when they
think about being the boss, they think first, "What am I going to
do about those people over whom I have formal authoritymy team?"
They dont spend enough time on the other two imperatives. The first
imperative is managing yourself. Leadership is about using yourself
as an instrument to get things done. So it all starts with you and
your mindset and ability to build trust with others you must
influence to do your job.
The second is managing your network. We purposely made that one
second because too often people neglect or find distasteful the
need to manage their networks. This is about dealing with the
politics of organizational life and building effective
relationships with people over whom you do not have formal
authoritybosses and peers. Not dealing with the networking
imperative has become a derailer, especially in the past decade. If
you want to thrive in a matrix organization, or have aspirations to
be change agent or an innovator, you have to be able to work across
And then finally we address the third imperative, managing your
team, or what it takes to influence those over whom you do have
Q| What are your thoughts on what it takes to effectively manage
Thats a part of this team discussion. Often the challenge of
managing virtually involves working across cultures as well. You
have to figure out how to close the social distance. You can never
communicate too much and when working with a virtual team it is
important to be very explicit and clear in your communications. You
must also keep in mind the limitations to various communication
For example, there are pluses and minuses to email as a way of
communicating. There is a good deal of research that shows that
conflict is more likely to escalate when youre communicating via
email as opposed to face-to-face. So how can you begin to
compensate for that? How do you deal with the fact that you have
people who have different language proficiencies?
If you have people on your team that speak different languages, you
may have to literally ask each and every person to weigh in and
give their opinion about a given topic. Such behavior might seem
very artificial or controlling if you were all sitting in a room
together. A lot of what might be rather informal in face-to-face
interactions has to become more formal and explicit when youre
working with a virtual team.
Also when you have a virtual team, you have to keep in mind that
people dont have as much information to work with in deciding
whether or not you are trustworthy. If you say you will get a memo
to them by Friday night, for instance, and you dont because a
crisis came up, they dont "see" what kept you from keeping your
commitment. If and when you try to explain, they dont have the
nonverbals we all rely on to figure out if you are really
well-intentioned and sincere. They only see your action, or I
should say inaction, and conclude you are an unreliable person. So
with any kind of commitment you make to a virtual team, you really
do need to take it seriously and deliver on it because thats the
evidence theyre relying on (perhaps weighting it too heavily) to
determine your credibility.
Q| Any new projects youd like to tell us about?
Yes, were in the midst of developingand theres a team of 25a whole
series of e-learning products based on Being the Boss to help
people master those three imperatives. So Im very busy working on
that and getting that done by December.
The other project is a new book on leadership for innovation. Im
doing that project with two individuals: Greg Brandeau, who was the
chief technology officer of Pixar and is now the chief technology
officer of Walt Disney Studios, and Emily Stecker Truelove, a Ph.D.
student at MIT. The three of us are equal partners on this
projectIm the academic; hes the practitioner, if you will, or the
manager; and she is the future, a representative of Generation Y.
We have looked at some 15 exceptional leaders of innovation in a
range of different industries and in nine different countries. The
book is scheduled to come out next fall.
Q| What has been most rewarding for you in your work as a business
The reason why I am a business professor is that I am passionate
about economic development. I didnt know that I would be a business
professor. I thought I would work in a school of public health or a
school of education. But I did a post-doctorate in business at
Harvard and came to appreciate the pivotal role that business plays
in society and in shaping peoples opportunities, lives, and
How people lead and whether or not they build successful businesses
has such an impact on peoples lives. What I really enjoy is helping
people become better leaders, helping them become more powerful,
instead of being powerless. I do believe that powerlessness can be
as corrupting as power. My career at Harvard Business School has
been the perfect platform for me given my aspirations.
Q| What do you do for relaxation and fun?
I have a 9-year-old child, and so most of my relaxation and fun
have to do with Jonathan and my husband at this point. And we all
love travel. My son is also just a fanatic about trains, planes,
and baseball. So our vacation a couple of years ago to Japan was
perfect on all counts.