Shark Tank celebrity investor Lori Greiner relishes the freedom of being her own boss. “I do what I want to do when I want to do it,” she says. “I roll out of bed in the morning, whenever I want, and I work right away because, to me, that’s the life. That’s freedom.”
But the 45-year-old inventor-entrepreneur and reigning “Queen of QVC” didn’t always call her own shots. Long before she was a multi-millionaire, she had a boss or a few like the rest of us. The Illinois native worked for the Chicago Tribune while pursuing her communications degree at Loyola University Chicago. On the side, she penned plays and “modern fairy tales” and handmade and sold her own costume jewelry.
In 1996, she founded her own consumer goods business, For Your Ease Only, Inc., and eventually found herself the boss of several employees, including her husband, Dan.
Today, she’s often asked about what it takes to be a good boss, to drive a team to such exceptional success without burning them out. She says it all comes down to this delicate balance: firm yet gentle leadership.
A sense of compassion
“A great boss is compassionate and listens,” Greiner says. “She isn’t afraid to be frank, direct and honest and give direction, but in a mindful way that’s considerate of her employees’ feelings, so that they’re not just told and ordered around.”
She says bossing people around isn’t being a boss at all. Intimidating workers with harshly delivered demands and criticisms paralyzes them with fear and cramps their productivity. When critiquing or reprimanding them, be constructive, not cruel. “But, on the flipside, you need to be firm and clearly, patiently explain to them why they’re doing something wrong and then gently encourage them to do it in a specific, better way.”
While it’s often discouraged and seen as unprofessional to get to know your employees on a personal level, Greiner feels it’s essential to effectively leading them. “You need to be like a family, to be integrated, to know who they are and what they care about, and to care about them as individual people.”
A willingness to get their hands dirty
The best bosses also don’t hover, Greiner says, but they’re never too far from their staff either. They roll up their sleeves and dig down in the trenches with their charges. “Whatever you do, don’t stay up in a stuffy office away from your people. Show leadership by example. Get right in there, side by side with your employees. Get hands-on and show them there’s no task beneath you.”
A no-bull attitude
Robert Herjavec, widely considered the other “nice” Shark on Shark Tank, mostly echoes Greiner’s workplace leadership philosophies. He too feels that bosses should be firm, yet kind and considerate, but only to a point -- right up until an employee flat-out refuses to comply with a request or directly defies him.
“At that point it’s no longer a democracy, it’s a dictatorship,” the Herjavec Group founder and CEO says. “If the ship is tilting and there’s a storm coming and I say we’re going left and you don’t want to follow me, then get off the ship. Done deal.”
The 52-year-old Canadian tech mogul -- who worked for others delivering newspapers, waiting tables and hawking retail, then later struck it rich after launching and selling his Internet security startup to AT&T for $30.2 million -- says his employees know up front that, sure, he’s “a nice boss,” but he also doesn’t take any bull.
“As I tell them, I’m a great guy to work for 98 percent of the time, but the other 2 percent of the time, you’re going to do it my way and that’s it. A great boss is kind, but you have to strong, too. You can’t be a pushover.”
For more expert business advice from Greiner and Herjavec, tune in to the Shark Tank Season Seven premiere, airing Friday, Sept. 25 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on your local ABC station.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the amount AT&T paid for Herjavec's first company, BRAK Systems. That figure is $30.2 million.