Being a successful leader means being good at what you do and possessing integrity. But more than anything, it's about your ability to build healthy relationships with others -- particularly those who work for you.
As an entrepreneur, you're viewed differently than you were when you were a manager or colleague in a traditional job. You stand to gain the most from the company's success, and it is easier for your employees to think you're more interested in the business than them and their lives. Your success is paramount, but it shouldn't be achieved at the expense of healthy relationships with those you depend on.
1. Don't treat people as transactions.
Years ago in my first real job out of college, I was delighted to have my very own assistant. She was a very capable and competent woman who I really liked.
One day while a client was visiting the office, I made the naïve mistake of introducing my assistant by saying, "This is Teri. She works for me."
Teri's response would have served me better in private, but her point was valid none-the-less: "I work with you, Mark, not for you."
I meant no ill respect with my choice of words, but it suggested to Teri that she was a means to an end, that I was "above" her. And while technically she did report to me, the difference between working for and with someone is critical. The former can make a person feel conquered, while the latter signals collaboration.
Think through how you title and refer to your employees. Focus on reciprocity: look for ways you can help them achieve their work-life goals while they help you achieve yours. And guard against letting tasks trump a true regard and appreciation for the relationship you have with those who have voluntarily chosen to work with you.
2. Invest in those you value.
The ultimate test of value in a relationship is how much time, interest and support you are willing to invest. Rather than ask, "What have you done for me lately?" turn the tables and ask yourself what you've done lately for those you truly value.
Here's one way to invest for great dividends: identify the potential in an employee that he or she doesn't recognize in him- or herself. Often people are blind to their own abilities or potential, and good leaders not only recognize these latent strengths, they help develop them.
Several years ago, my office manager was spending more time on our website and technology platforms. A colleague was presenting a multi-day event in Las Vegas that I knew would give my team member information and skills to help her in these areas. Going to Las Vegas for the event was an added perk, so I gladly paid for the seminar and trip. She came back better equipped for her work, knowing I was willing to invest in her success.
3. Be involved, but know your limits.
You can work in the same office space with people every day and still be absent because you are preoccupied with your own worries. An open door policy means nothing if you don't stop what you're doing long enough to give your attention to those who walk through it.
How can you do this? Make it a point to "check in" with every employee each day. That means a simple but sincere question: "How are things going?" Listen and if necessary, probe for information you can use to support your employees. Identify frustrations they are facing, opportunities they've recognized and gauge their emotional energy and commitment to their work.
You'll know you're micromanaging when you're spending more time telling someone how to do something than you are in clarifying what needs to be done. A thorough explanation with a chance to ask questions is vastly different than a droning presentation about how you'd do it. Give people the freedom to achieve the best results in their own way.
4. Show your gratitude.
I've heard a lot of complaints from employees who feel underappreciated by their manager, but I've never heard anyone complain they were recognized, rewarded or appreciated too much. I'm puzzled at why so many entrepreneurs and leaders are reticent to voice appreciation. Don't be afraid of over-doing it. You connect with people more deeply when you recognize the best in them and let them know.
Here's a powerful way to show appreciation: When you get feedback from a customer about someone on your team who has done a great job, get their permission to record it. Then play the recording at the next team meeting. There is even more power in a customer's expression of a job well done than simply acknowledging it yourself.
Growing your business successfully means doing all that you can to make your team want to work their hardest for your cause. That means connecting with employees in a meaningful way.
What do you do to deepen your connections with employees?
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.