I once had a boss scold me for failing to greet my coworkers when I arrived at work.
I had managed a restaurant before (it’s astounding how easy it is to earn a set of keys in the hospitality industry), but this was my first big promotion, complete with business cards and a company email. I responded that, as the manager working swing shift, I didn’t think it appropriate to interrupt people I had just seen twelve hours ago. Tact hasn’t always been a strong suit.
My mistake was not in assuming staff was too busy to be bothered (they were), but in believing saying hello was a hollow pleasantry. Greeting someone makes them feel welcomed, acknowledged, and sets a positive tone for the interactions between you and them for the entire shift. Failing to do so projects the opposite.
In reality, ignoring my staff caused more disarray than a few moments’ interruption ever could. Leaders are meant to be aspirational figures, but maintaining open dialogue makes sure they’re approachable.
I’ve managed a number of teams since then, and my sensitivity skills have come a ways. What has become clear time and again is how a business’s success is dependent on its team.
So why is it that some companies struggle with performance and retention while others are able to inspire feverish devotion on par with the latest iPhone? A common problem is that the idea of the team has been diminished to merely refer to a group. It is a group, of course, but successful teams are also an arena for creativity, learning, support, and purpose.
The word purpose has received a bad rap as of late. The belief that millennials, in particular, insist upon finding passion in their work has left many feeling they are entitled, unwilling to do the entry-level jobs that have always been a precursor to climbing the corporate ladder.
However, this sentiment is unfair. People have always desired to be a part of something larger than themselves. Previously, that dream was diluted down in the name of security, with workers obediently following the path to prosperity that had been laid out before them. Currently, the absence of motivators like tenure, benefits, and a livable wage are leading professionals (of every age) to recognize that their time is more valuably spent on tasks more challenging than assembling PowerPoint presentations.
Compelling leaders are able to understand that engagement is at the heart of excellence, and they know that fostering that engagement begins with them.
This does not predispose being liked. Too often bosses believe that befriending their employees will make them loyal, but people devote themselves to an ideal, not a person. These bosses become hurt when their staff move on to new challenges, and are prone to feelings of embitterment. They should remember they are the coach in this analogy. Effective leaders are required to regularly make decisions that guarantee their staff will dislike them. Complaining about one’s boss is the one thing Americans can agree on. Accept that your staff isn’t always going to like you, but they need to like working for you.
Mindful leaders disregard artificial motivators like money and status, relying on their own positive example to inspire the best from their team. Someone who takes pride in her work usually encourages those around her to do the same. Exceptional bosses use their tenacity, empathy, and effective communication skills to provoke greatness from their teams. The novelist Ken Kesey said, “You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.” Leaders embody this by being the hardest working person in the room.
I once worked for an exacting Chef/Owner who was fiercely passionate (or erratically tyrannical, depending on the appraiser). He had cultivated one of the strongest teams I’ve ever been a part of because people knew they were working with the best in their field. I would screen new applicants not to determine proficiency, which can easily enough be taught, but to discern whether or not they were genuinely interested in drinking the company Kool-aid. New hires who didn’t subscribe to the team’s mission rarely made it through training, finding the compensation not commensurate with their effort. Yet there was little turnover, with seasoned employees swearing by his ideology. He had achieved a culture wherein every link in the system doggedly adhered to its beliefs. Employees pledge their allegiance when an environment gives them a sense of having something at stake.
In business, teams exist to complete the tasks the business’s owner can not accomplish on their own. However, people already skilled at doing an entrepreneur’s job, are usually not working for other entrepreneurs. Reasonable bosses should prioritize training their staff to be as adept as they are themselves. Capable mentors are able to benefit their teams by using their experience as a tool, illustrating how best to do a job. Great ones impress upon their teams why it should be done that way. Not only does mentoring staff ensure they understand the particulars of their position, but it incentivizes them to stay on and capitalize on opportunities for continued growth.
Mentoring also helps both parties resist burnout. It’s hard for employees to feel uninspired when there’s always something to be interested in. Bosses who make themselves available are rewarded with the pleasure that comes from generosity, but also improve their mastery over a subject with each teaching. Smart managers also consult their team members, retaining respect for their training and opinions. The best teachers are always hunting for what they can, in turn, learn from others.
When running a small business, it can be easy to allow yourself to become overloaded (and overwhelmed). A morning routine may rank as inessential when triaging a to-do list. Feeling overworked or annoyed can lead to resentment and emotional eruptions that undermine professionalism. Do not play the martyr with your team. When leaders identify problems, their aim is finding a solution, not an audience. This is why you have friends. Have a conversation, take a hike, eat a balanced meal, and get some sleep. Prioritizing one’s own needs helps them to react less irritably, remain controlled under pressure, and focus on the task at hand. You can’t help your team refill their cups if yours is half-empty.
No one is more responsible for a team’s success than its leader, and yet, they must remain somewhat isolated from it to promote its authentic development. Atmospheres where administrators support and foster their teams allow businesses the ability to expand. Choosing to head your own company is choosing a life rife with pitfalls to navigate and obstacles to deflect, but by impassioning your team behind a cause you can depend on having a committed crew behind you.
Originally published at www.pregamemagazine.com