16 Ways to Win Your Employees' Love Without Losing Their Respect
STORY BY JULIE FANSELOW
It’s funny how, when you ask people what makes a good boss, they’ll probably tell you about their worst one. It’s human nature to remember every insult and injury from the insufferable jerk who made going to work a miserable experience and forget the kind, mentoring soul who quietly boosted your confidence.
Another way to look at it: Enduring a horrible boss is the workplace equivalent of having to kiss a lot of frogs before finding your prince or princess. When we asked the INVISION Brain Squad to tell us about your best bosses, some of you shared tales of your worst. One person wrote:
“My current boss is the best boss I’ve worked for. I think the difference between him and some others is that he is down to earth and does not have that ‘God’ complex that he is better than others. I have worked for a couple of doctors who walk around with their nose in the air and an air of superiority and treat you like trash. Being treated not only as a human but as an equal goes a long way.”
It’s true that toxic bosses from the past can offer useful lessons to small-business owners. As Robert Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss, says, “It is a lot easier to learn from that guy than to be that guy.” (He also quotes Eleanor Roosevelt, who said, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”) But many ineffective bosses are good people who haven’t had positive examples of how to lead and manage people. This is especially true in small retail businesses, where the owner becomes a boss by default.
The first step to being a great boss is realizing there’s always room to improve. One great way to do it? Learn from other retailers’ experiences — check out our accompanying profiles of some especially memorable bosses — and learn from writers and thinkers who’ve studied how smart bosses inspire their teams to produce great results. Here are some of their top tips.
1. MAKE TIME FOR EVERY EMPLOYEE
As the boss, you’re kind of a big deal, even if you only have a few employees. “That’s why an employee who wants to talk about something inconsequential may just want to spend a few moments with you,” says author Jeff Haden. “You have a choice. Blow them off, or see the moment for its true importance: A chance to inspire, reassure, and give someone hope for greater things in life.”
2. Let people be themselves
Bosses often get their rudest awakening when they realize employees have their own ways of doing things, says Marcus Buckingham, author of First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. If you force people to follow your playbook, then two things happen: “They become resentful — they don’t want to do it. And they become dependent — they can’t do it. Neither of these is terribly productive for the long haul.”
3. Rescue mission
Your greatest success may come from mentoring your least promising employee, Haden adds. “Your remarkable employees don’t need a lot of your time; they’re remarkable because they already have these qualities,” he notes. “If you’re lucky, you can get a few percentage points of extra performance from them. But a struggling employee has tons of upside; rescue him and you make a tremendous difference.”
4. Steady on
Google studied more than 10,000 observations employees made in quarterly reviews, and found that human interaction, not tech skills, was the best indicator of success. As Adam Bryant wrote in The New York Times, the highest-rated managers “were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.”
5. BUILD TRUST
Counterintelligence expert Robin Dreeke has co-written a book called The Code Of Trust with five rules for leadership: suspend your ego, be nonjudgmental, honor reason, validate others and be generous. Dreeke adds that it’s important for bosses to identify goals and priorities, but then let go of them and work to understand what other people value, because doing so builds trust. As Dreeke says on a Knowledge@Wharton podcast, “This is my manual on how not to be the person I was born to be. This is my manual on how to overcome that Type-A hard charger that just barrels forward and ruins relationships because they think it’s all about them.”
6. Be memorable
In her book Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know, Jill Geisler shares three things employees never forget: a boss who apologizes when he or she is wrong (preferably in public, if that’s where the earlier criticism took place); a boss who reacts to a worker’s boneheaded errors with wisdom, knowing just how long to let people stew over their own mistakes; and bosses who respond to personal achievements and losses (big and small) with encouragement or empathy. On the flip side, she lists three things employees never forgive: a lying boss, a boss who takes credit for the staff’s work or ideas, or a boss who behaves differently around superiors than around the troops.
7. See yourself through their eyes
Stanford University professor Robert Sutton has made a career out of writing about how to survive difficult people in the workplace and in life. After he published his book The No Asshole Rule: Building A Civilized Workplace And Surviving One That Isn’t, he received all kinds of stories about difficult bosses, enough to fill a sequel (which eventually came out last year in The Asshole Survival Guide: How To Deal With People Who Treat You Like Dirt). But he heard about effective bosses, too, people who took “diverse and intertwined steps to create effective and humane workplaces.” He suggests that the best bosses pay close attention to how their employees see and hear them, from facial expressions to tone of voice.
8. Encourage feedback
You need to know what your employees are thinking, but they may not be willing to tell you in their employee review or even in the more casual one-to-one meetings that you’re hopefully having with them at regular intervals. Whether it’s a suggestion box in the break room or a confidential survey or focus group facilitated by a third party, give your people opportunities to suggest ways you can improve as their boss. Then let down your defenses, and take their feedback seriously.
9. Chill out
It’s true that passion can inspire performance, but if you’re always yelling at your employees, it’s worth asking whether your emotions are helping or hurting business. “Personally, I’m going to assume that successful screamers make it in spite of the screaming, not because of it,” writes Jay Goltz on The New York Times’ “You’re the Boss” blog.
10. Put people before goals
It’s good to have sales targets, but that shouldn’t be your primary focus. Without great employees, no amount of focus on goals and targets will ever pay off, says Jeff Haden, who writes frequently on how great bosses got that way. “It’s your job to provide the training, mentoring and opportunities your employees need and deserve,” he adds. “When you do, you transform the relatively boring process of reviewing results and tracking performance into something a lot more meaningful for your employees: progress, improvement and personal achievement.”
11. Demythologize crisis
We’re living at a time when “our institutions seem to be in serial meltdown,” says Elizabeth Samet, a professor of English at the United States Military Academy, in her introduction to Leadership: Essential Writings By Our Greatest Thinkers. “If we live in a world of crisis, we also live in a world that romanticizes crisis—that finds in it fodder for addiction to the 24-hour news cycle, multiple information streams and constant stimulation.” Sound familiar?
But humans cannot thrive in a state of constant turmoil, so do what you can to cultivate a low-drama life and workplace. Listen to music instead of the news or talk radio on your way to work. Eat well, get adequate sleep and exercise, and take time to play—and help your employees do the same things. Researchers at the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic found that a workplace-based stress management program boosted employee morale and vitality, with positive changes still evident a year later.
12. Unpack your power trip
12 In a conversation with psychologist Ron Friedman at the Peak Work Performance Summit, author Dan Pink cited research showing that when we feel powerful, we’re less likely to see other people’s perspectives. That’s why it’s helpful to “dial down your feelings of power just a little bit” to see the world the way your employees do.
13. Admit you don’t know it all
You had the vision and talent to launch your small business, but that doesn’t mean you naturally have the skills to be a great boss. It’s smart to look for mentors and seek opportunities for leadership growth. Writing on Bloomberg.com, Rebecca Greenfield profiles executive coach Ben Olds, who helps bosses learn to have difficult conversations, harness their emotions and just plain listen. Few people are beyond help. For Travis Kalanick, founder of Uber, “Olds would want to understand what provokes him. To find that out, he would talk through some regrettable incidents, in the hope of improving his emotional intelligence and avoiding bad behavior.”
14. Deal with the small stuff
“Nothing kills team morale more quickly than problems that don’t get addressed,” says Jeff Haden. Even petty issues — squabbling employees, tardiness and negativity — are distractions that merit your action. “Small problems always fester and grow into bigger problems. Plus, when you ignore a problem, your employees immediately lose respect for you, and without respect, you can’t lead,” he says. “Never hope a problem will magically go away, or that someone else will deal with it. Deal with every issue head-on, no matter how small.”
15. No harassment. Period.
The #MeToo movement of the past year has made it clear there are no longer any gray areas when it comes to recognizing and dealing with workplace sexual harassment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website has information on how to deal with this new reality. Go to eeoc.gov and look for “Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment.” Hire and promote all kinds of people who can give your company a wider lens on the world (and attract a broader range of customers, too).
16. INSPIRE THEIR BRILLIANCE
Buckingham suggests that managers identify and encourage their employees’ best traits and talents. In fact, he says that’s the one defining characteristic of the best managers. “Great managers know they don’t have 10 salespeople working for them,” he says. “They know they have 10 individuals working for them.” Rather than be obsessed with your employees’ weaknesses, encourage them to do things they love to do, whether that’s window displays, social media or greeting customers.
BEST BOSS I EVER HAD
Few people are as influential in our lives as our bosses. We asked the INVISION Brain Squad to tell us about their most memorable and effective mentors at work. Here are a few of your stories.
Angie Patteson, OD
Sunset Eye Care, Johnson City, TN
BEST BOSS: Torrey Carlson, OD
LESSON: Be a leader
A few years before purchasing my practice, I had an excellent boss at LensCrafters. He gave all of his doctors total autonomy to manage patients as we deemed appropriate. There was no push to fit certain brands of contacts or cut corners on our exams. I respect him greatly for that.
Dr. Torrey Carlson owns five LensCrafters leases, and I worked most often with him in his Kingsport, TN, location for five years. Even though he has several leases, employees, and associate doctors, when he is seeing patients his focus remains solely on them. I can’t imagine how many thoughts run through his head on a daily basis, but he is able to put patient care at the top of his priority list.
At this point in his career, he could probably delegate all patient care and just have an administrative role, but instead he works on the weekends and travels to all five locations to see patients during the week. This is a valuable lesson for any doctor. I hope that my employees also note that I work diligently. A boss will tell their employees: “Go to work.” But a true leader says, “Let’s go to work.”
Jessika E. Arena
The Eye Center, Asheville, NC
BEST BOSS: P.J. Endry, OD
LESSON: Mistakes are ok
Dr. P.J. Endry, my current boss, is the best I’ve ever had. He’s in practice for all the right reasons, to take care of his patients, and that trickles down to staff and creates a very positive environment to work in. He also understands we all work to live, not live to work, and family always comes first.
I’ve been working with him for nearly 11 years and believe he creates a positive work environment by caring about his employees. He’s interested in our lives outside of work in a genuine way, our families, hobbies, interests, and even our struggles. His approach to employee relationships is similar to his holistic patient care.
The greatest lesson I have learned from Dr. Endry is that it is OK to make mistakes, that just because you don’t know or understand something, that doesn’t mean it can’t be learned, and that sometimes when we are in the process of learning we are going to make mistakes, and that is OK. You are not your failures.
Danielle Jackson, OD
Jackson Eye, Fairburn, GA
BEST BOSS: Evan Barnett
LESSON: To lead is to serve
My first job as a teenager was working at a small water park in Garland, TX. I returned every summer for seven years because of my amazing boss, Evan Barnett, the general manager.
I learned so much from Evan by observing his interactions with people. He was always level-headed and upbeat, always smiling and genuine. He never assigned a task that he wasn’t willing to do himself and effortlessly made every employee feel special by treating us all as equals. Our respect for Evan was rooted in our admiration for him.
He told me something once that has always stuck with me. I asked him why nothing ever seemed to bother him. He said, “Why would I complain about anything to you? I’m your boss. I work for you. My job is to solve your problems, not add to them.” That idea of servant leadership and working for your employees in the same way you want them to work for you has molded how I interact with my staff and is the core of our upbeat and positive office culture.
Optical Oasis, Jupiter, FL
BEST BOSS: Wally Willrick
My first boss was my best boss. My first job was at The Donut Shop. I was 14 years old and opening up alone at 5:30 in the morning. My boss, Wally, was wonderful; he gave me structure and made me the employee I am now.
Wally taught me how to count change, wait on customers, answer the phone, clean; he taught me to treat people like you want to be treated and laugh a lot, but most important he taught me responsibility and confidence. I was very shy when I started working for Wally. It got me out of my shell and made me more outgoing and pretty much who I am today. He is still a great friend and mentor.
Shimul Y. Shah, OD
Marysville Family Vision, Marysville, OH
BEST BOSS: Danny Gottlieb, OD
LESSON: Attention to detail
I worked for Dr. Danny Gottlieb for three months during my fourth year of optometry school. It wasn’t that long but he made quite an impact in a very short period of time. His wife (at the time) Rhonda also worked at the office and it felt like such a family owned company where each person who worked there was independently invested in the company.
Dr. Gottlieb was attentive to his patients and to my learning process. He taught me how to listen, how to document and how to have the most efficient communication process between patient, doctor and staff.
His protocol was to write a report at the end of each appointment for the patients and their family to summarize the concerns, what testing was done, the conclusion and the recommended treatment. The attention to detail was incredible. Sometimes he even allotted two hours to do a comprehensive assessment and document the results so they would make sense to the patient.
He shaped the way I speak to patients and make sure to address their concerns, even if I don’t have an answer.
Krystal Vision & Sunwear, Logan, UT
BEST BOSS: Michele Johnson
LESSON: Learning is a gift
5 Some people say working with family is a nightmare, but speaking from experience, that’s not always the case. At Krystal Vision we have five employees, four of whom are family, spanning three generations (grandmother Michele, mother/daughter Ami, and myself, son/grandson Travis). Michele has been an optician for almost 45 years and started Krystal Vision nearly 20 years ago. Since I began as an optician six years ago, she’s been my boss and mentor and has slowly let Ami and I take on parts of Krystal Vision and work alongside her.
She’s been my favorite boss, not only because she’s my grandmother, but because she pushes me to learn and grow. She’s an expert at adjustments, troubleshooting, and finding the perfect frame for the pickiest customers. She’s my go-to person to bounce new ideas off, and has taught me how to buy smart and look for frames that give us an option for anybody in our community.
It takes a lot to be a good boss and mentor, but Michele has surpassed that and become a better boss than I could have ever wished for.
Nytarsha Thomas, OD
Visionelle Eyecare, Zionsville, IN
BEST BOSS: Penelope Suter, OD
LESSON: Success is never an accident
I met Dr. Penelope Suter as one of my five required clinical rotations at PCO. I had a strong interest in peds/VT and (bonus!) my fiancé lived in Bakersfield, CA, near Dr. Suter’s practice. She ran a busy peds practice while writing a traumatic brain injury textbook for one of the California schools under a stressful deadline. She didn’t want to take on students until her book was complete, but after we spoke (read: “after I begged”) she agreed to take me on as an intern.
In the short time I spent at her office, I learned many valuable lessons about working with tiny humans. However, my main takeaway was more valuable. Since I started practicing, other women ODs have told me women can’t open a business on their own (Who will cook for your husband? What about maternity leave? Who will raise your children? For god’s sake, what about the laundry?!?) She showed me that, although it is difficult, if you work hard enough, nothing can stop you from having it all.
She is the reason I opened my practice and is still my mentor today.
Brodie Optometry, Perrysburg, OH
BEST BOSS: Robin Bennett
LESSON: Work should be fun!
I was lucky enough to work for Robin Bennett at The Sunglass Shoppe in Petoskey, MI, when my husband’s radio job moved us to Northern Michigan. She took me on in the middle of winter when she probably didn’t need another employee and fully immersed me into a small community. She showed me the ins and outs of owning a small business. I learned a lot of creative ideas from her. We also had a ton of fun!
We went to chamber/Women in Business meetings, community fundraisers and trunk shows. She even took me to my very first VEE and taught me how to buy for multiple locations. I learned more about marketing a business, being part of a community and dealing with special product than I ever had before at any other job.
She also made sure I found friends and fun when I moved there. I never sat at home—for that I will always be thankful. I still call her whenever I need advice. She is an amazing person!
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 edition of INVISION.