Being Boss Means Being Able to See Yourself as Others See You
Want to know what employees think of you? Ask.
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Do you know how your employees see you? Not as a friend or a person, but as their boss -- the person they rely on to help build a successful business, a key decision-maker, a leader? Finding out how others truly perceive you can be insightful, sometimes even hurtful, but it can always help you be a better manager.
In order to improve your leadership and run a successful company, you want to get a pulse on how you are perceived by employees. But the truth of how your employees perceive you can be hard to uncover. Do you think you can just hold a conference and open up a room to criticism? Or bring people into your office and ask them what their perceptions are individually?
It's pretty unlikely that either of these methods sit comfortably with you; and, furthermore, this upfront, in-your-face method is unlikely to provide you with candid answers. As the boss you are the key to promotions, pay and job security. Employees will not trust you to take their criticism constructively when their livelihood is on the line.
Given that reality, here are some perspectives on figuring out how others see you and how those perceptions impact your ability to lead.
Listening more, talking less
Understanding that abruptly asking, "Hey, Bob, what do you really think of my role as the leader of this company?" is unlikely to prompt truthful responses, you should set about finding out what will. Rather than putting your employees on the spot you will more likely learn what they think and feel if you establish real, ongoing human relationships with them.
So let's first assume that as the leader/owner/manager of your business, you have relevant, valuable experience to share with your team. Rather than standing on a podium, encourage your employees to think for themselves. Listen more than you talk. When you provide your employees the ability to be great on their own and rise to the challenge you set, you will manage effectively without micromanaging. Some tips:
1. Empower employees by asking if your expectations are clear. Ask them to tell you what they think your expectations are. They may not be on the same page as you, after all.
2. Let them know you are part of the team by asking if they need anything from you to help them perform their jobs. Then take action when they tell you what they need.
These two "conversation starters" will often start the process of a larger conversation that gets to the root of employees' perceptions. You will open up real conversations about the work environment that may have been buried behind the employer-employee relationship.
Remember: Your leadership role is not a popularity contest
"It's lonely at the top" isn't just talk. What we find out from our team isn't always going to be pleasant to hear, particularly when their perceptions are misaligned with what you anticipated. Regardless (and after weeding out the whining from the truly constructive comments), you will have to rise above your own emotions and take employee input objectively. Remember that your goal is to become a better leader in order to build and grow a better, more successful company, not to seek your own praise.
Being a boss is not a popularity contest, it's about your ability to influence others and create the best business environment possible. Knowing what others think of you helps you form a better company culture and align the overall internal company strategies with those of your employees. Making decisions means upsetting some people and pleasing others but still retaining the end goal of doing what is best for the entire organization and its livelihood.