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December 13, 2017

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Steps to Become the Boss Your Employees Deserve

As a small business owner or manager who has employees reporting to him or her, do you ever wonder what your employees are really thinking about your leadership skills? Do you ever wish you could ask for the truth without your employees fearing losing their jobs if they told you what’s on their minds?

Many individuals in leadership positions lead after they’ve first observed other leaders. They recall bosses they’ve admired in the past and believe that if they act similarly they’ll be admired as well by their own employees. What worked, however, in other contexts and at other companies may not work for you in your present work environment. Your current company culture and management structure will have a direct impact on how you relate to your staff.

For example, if you tend to be a delegator, some of your staff may appreciate delegation. However, others may need a more hands-on, supportive approach. Flexibility is the key. As long as you treat everyone with fairness, your style can vary to create a comfort level for others.

I’ve seen managers and small business owners who pride themselves on being a "hands off" kind of person. They feel terrific in empowering their staff to make their own decisions and to embrace an intrapreneurial spirit. That’s fine if you’re the kind of employee who is self-directed and clear on what tasks need to be performed and how to go about performing them. If, however, you need more direction or guidance, then this empowerment stuff becomes an albatross, forcing a potential slowdown in productivity.

Regardless of your leadership style, some noteworthy characteristics stand out in employees’ minds when defining a "good boss". These characteristics are not necessarily innate and can be developed over time through practice.

  • First, strive to be perceived as trustworthy. If you’re saying one thing and then doing something contrary, your credibility is already in jeopardy. Executives who rationalize in their own minds why they can’t keep their promises are often executives who are not respected by their staff. Remember to treat your employees as your most precious commodity, as important to you as your external customers. When employees know they can confide in their bosses to share personal or sensitive information, they tend to work harder. Keep your employees happy by sticking to your word.

  • Keep an "Open-Door Policy" that’s really OPEN! Often the ODP is implemented to make the business owner or manager look good to himself or herself. This policy has been subtly abused by many executives for years. It works something like this: "I have an open-door policy unless you’ve hit me at a bad time or want to visit for too long." What managers are basically saying to their employees when they continue to pound the computer keyboard when one of their staff asks for attention is that the keyboard is far more important than the employee. Some executives even have a look of panic on their faces when employees approach with a question or two. This look is translated by the employee to mean, "Of all times. How am I going to get out of this one?" Unfortunately in most cases their interpretation is correct. If you’re going to have an ODP, be sure to have an "open-door FACE" as well!

  • Leave others with their integrity intact. When you’re dissatisfied with an employee’s performance, first ask yourself what you think about the employee as a person. It’s easy to fall into the trap of not liking an individual and therefore looking for negative behavior or performance to support one’s feelings. Although this is usually an unconscious process, it’s best to separate behavior and ideas from the employees themselves.

  • Speak with individuals in private when the subject matter is sensitive. Allow others to differ with your opinions. Ask yourself if you’re seeking out a collaborative solution to a problem or if you’ve already come up with your own solution. If it’s the latter, have you been fair in allowing the employee to present his or her viewpoint in an impartial environment? Whatever the outcome of your discussions, understand that employees work harder and produce more when they’re acknowledged as human beings and not as working machines.

  • Be predictable (even if predictability sounds boring)! When employees can rely on their bosses to handle their managerial challenges in a consistent manner, they develop a sense of personal security on the job. They know, more or less, what to expect from their bosses and are not afraid of being hit with a curve ball. If you tend to delegate one minute and hoard the next or display a laid-back attitude only to turn into a frenzied dictator at the end of the quarter, step back and rethink your behavior. You are constantly being judged by your staff. In today’s environment employees are fearful of the unknown. Don’t add to the fearfulness by displaying erratic behavior.

Along with running fiscally sound departments, managing operational processes, and developing employees, executives are additionally charged with the responsibility of keeping their employees motivated. Treat your employees separate from their titles. Ask for their opinions and really LISTEN! You’ll find that by giving others what they need you’ll be viewed as a star. Shine on!

-Kathy Maixner
Kathy Maixner is a communication specialist and can be reached at kmaixner@comcast.net or (503) 722-8199).