Can You Be a Tough Boss without Being a Jerk

You want your employees to perform at their best, but there's a fine line between being a tough boss with high expectations and being an unreasonable jerk. Business coach Mike Staver, founder of the The Staver Group, a Fernandina Beach, Fla., business performance consulting firm, advises using these four rules to avoid crossing the line.

1. Appreciate different work styles. Be clear about the outcomes you expect, but don't create conflict just because your employee has a different style of getting something done, warns Staver. "If they're effective, give them latitude to develop their own solutions and add value," he says. "When the leader is saying, ‘I don't want you to do it any other way than the way I want you do to it.' I think that's where the ‘demanding jerk' side comes in," he says.

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2. Give your employees a sense of purpose. In his book, Leadership Isn't for Cowards (Wiley, 2012), Staver says business leaders need to give their employees a reason to care. It can be tough if you're providing a basic product or service versus curing cancer, but everyone is in business to serve a need--so make sure employees understand that. For example, if you sell machine parts, it's because someone needs them to keep their equipment running. The receptionist at an insurance company helps protect people from financial catastrophe. Clarifying the big-picture importance of what your people do helps employees stay focused and committed, even when the demands are great.

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3. Recognize good work. If you've set rigorous performance goals or expectations employees must meet, don't change the rules after the fact or fail to recognize success. Include your expectations in resources such as employee manuals, training materials or job descriptions. Conduct regular performance reviews and be sure to acknowledge when expectations have been met or exceeded. Whether it's a simple "good job," in front of the team for hitting a tough deadline, or a small perk for landing a big new client, recognizing a job well done enhances motivation.

4. Be respectful. Regardless of how demanding you are, treat your employees with respect and dignity. While it takes courage to tell the truth, it should be done in a way that doesn't devastate your employees. That means no "sucker punches"--blindsiding them with expectations they couldn't have anticipated--and avoiding destructive communication styles like screaming and insults. Explosive or reckless behavior hurts productivity and will likely cause you trouble retaining your best employees, Staver says.

Related: How to Give Employees Independence Without Losing Control