6 Assumptions That Can Kill Your Relationship With Your Employees

You may think you know your tight-knit team like the back of your hand, but they're not cut from the same cloth.
6 Assumptions That Can Kill Your Relationship With Your Employees
Image credit: Luis Alvarez | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Co-founder of SchoolSafe
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

We’ve all heard that entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. Launching a business is full of stress, from rustling up customers to meeting payroll, and that doesn’t even guarantee success. According to the Small Business Administration, only 50 percent of multi-person businesses make it to their fifth year.

We also know that great entrepreneurs doesn’t necessarily make great managers. Noah Wasserman, author of The Founder’s Dilemma, found in his analysis of 212 businesses that only half of the founders were still CEO by their company’s third year. By the time they went public, fewer than a quarter were in charge. In other words, having a great idea doesn’t necessarily translate to great leadership.

So it should come as no surprise that when we combine these two truths, friction can result. When not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur -- and when not every entrepreneur is cut out to be a manager -- relationships between entrepreneurs and their teammates can be tense.

Related: Being a Born Entrepreneur Doesn't Automatically Mean You're a Born Leader

Entrepreneurs bring on employees for two key reasons: 1) If they want to grow their business, they have to outsource some of the work, and 2) They need others’ expertise to tackle the various aspects of their work. Those employees with needed experience and insights also have their own ways of seeing things.

Having been through an industry’s ups and downs, worked for various managers or trained in a specific field, they may view situations through a very different lens. That doesn’t mean that they’re always right or that their entrepreneurial bosses are always wrong. What it means is that ignoring these important differences can result in broken trust or feelings of disillusionment. Enough of either, and things can go south fast.

Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Navigate the Crisis of Trust

Here are a few assumptions entrepreneurs can be prone to making about their team members:

1. Employees are equally invested.

Here’s a painful truth: Employees aren’t going to take ownership the way you want them to. If they wanted to be entrepreneurs, they would have taken that path. And it’s good that they’re not as invested as you are -- it’s a problem if someone else is more interested in making your business succeed.

This stubborn assumption manifests itself in lots of ways: expecting people to work long hours, making comments that they should feel “grateful” to be a part of something historic, pushing back when employees bring legitimate problems to your desk, etc. This is what you signed up for. It’s not what your employees signed up for unless they took a stake in your company.

2. Money is their motivator.

It’s commonly accepted that most startups aren’t competitive when it comes to salaries, so they make up for a lack of money with other benefits or perks, like beer fridges and flexible schedules. The problem is that some entrepreneurs subsequently think any problem stems from a money shortage. But not every employee is primarily motivated by money. If a teammate complains that he hasn’t gotten to see his kids much lately or take a vacation, throwing more money his way won’t erase the root cause of their frustration. In fact, it could reinforce the fear that this is a workplace that values money over all else.

3. They'll tolerate a boss's lack of decorum. 

The stereotype of a busy, flitting entrepreneur exists for a reason. Lots of business owners have too much on their plates and too little time, resulting in a hectic, panicked pace. Knowing that others can see they’re visibly overloaded, some entrepreneurs decide to give themselves a break by cutting out general civility and niceties.

Are you brusque with employees when you ask for favors? Do you hole up in your office and avoid water-cooler chat? Have you all but dropped “please” and “thank you” from your vocabulary? Your teammates understand you’re busy, but they’re not going to last long under a regime that operates from a “don’t ask, don’t smile” policy.

4. They expect their boss will be held to different standards.

Employees like bosses who will get in the trenches with them. Gallup found that of those employees who could approach their managers with any question, 54 percent were engaged. By contrast, of those who couldn’t ask any question, 65 percent were actively disengaged. Approachable managers who are willing to get their hands dirty will earn trust.

The opposite also holds true, of course. A lot of entrepreneurs rush to get things done and cut corners. That makes sense when you’re running a one-person show, but it doesn’t work when employees are watching; the result is confusion or resentment. 

Related: 10 Tips to Motivate Employees Without Resorting to Money

5. They're intolerant of risk or change.

Anyone who joins a startup should go in with eyes wide open, aware that nothing will stay the same for long. As a company grows and industries change, work is bound to follow suit. Hiring people with an openness to change is important for long-term growth. But when it comes to changes driven internally, entrepreneurs can sometimes assume people who aren’t averse to risk or change are happy to move at a breakneck pace. Failing to discuss, train or prepare for massive changes can leave employees feeling overwhelmed and forgotten. That’s doubly so if they’re also feeling pressure to take ownership of a change they had no say in.

6. They can withstand organizational havoc.

Some business owners fall into the anal-retentive, detail-oriented category; others are more comfortable flying by the seat of their pants. If you think running the show means you can leave a trail of dysfunctional processes and contracts in your midst, you’re likely angering teammates on a daily basis.

Employees’s roles definitely exist to lighten entrepreneurs’s loads, but intentionally leaving messes that make their jobs harder won’t do much to earn loyalty or trust. Entrepreneurs are often better starters than finishers, and failing to think one step further to how your actions will affect your teammates can be a nail in the coffin.

Not everybody is cut out to be an entrepreneur, and not every entrepreneur is cut out to be a manager. By taking the time to think about some of the assumptions you’re making about your teammates, you may realize you’re expecting them to act like you. They never will -- and that’s great for business.

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