Writing a small business Q&A column as I do for USA TODAY, I necessarily hear from a lot of entrepreneurs. The most common questions relate to what they can do to get ahead and move their business forward. Depending upon the particular circumstances, the answer might be increased social media, or getting rid of a bad customer, or hiring new staff, or whatever. But, that said, there is one thing every small business owner should do if they want to ensure success:
Be a good boss.
I recently saw a survey of the best, most successful small businesses in California. What did they have in common? Was it a great location, or advertising savvy, or financial literacy, or what? It turns out that the answer was that these superior businesses shared one common denominator: The owners were great bosses. They managed in a friendly, participatory way and as a result their employees were happy. Happy employees make for happy customers, and happy customers become repeat customers.
So just what are the traits of a great boss? Here are seven of the most commonly acknowledged ones:
1. They don’t micromanage:
One happy employee I met at a conference recently had this to say about her boss: “What I love about working for Melinda is that she trusts me to do my job. I am allowed to think, and act, and she doesn’t swoop in like so many bosses do, thinking they can do it better. Sure she coaches me, and I appreciate that. But she doesn’t try and do my job.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
2. They are realistic:
I once had a boss who gave me a project that should have easily taken two weeks to complete and told me to finish it the next day. Man I hated working for her.
The best bosses push, but in a good way. They are not slavedrivers.
3. They stay above office politics:
Bad bosses engage in gossip and petty office politics, pitting employees against one another, and trying to gain some imagined tactical advantage for themselves. The opposite is also true – the best bosses are a respite in the sometimes stormy seas of office politics. Rather than engaging, they are problem-solvers and peacemakers.
4. They foster teamwork:
A great boss creates a great team by encouraging people to work together for the good of the whole. They also don’t pay favorites. Great teams arise when, among other things, people feel acknowledged and when one person or the other isn’t the teacher’s pet.
5. Great bosses are great coaches:
What is it people want from work? Whether the answer is more money or new skills, good bosses will work with their employees to help them get what they want, knowing that if the employee gets what they want, the boss will get what he or she wants.
A good boss also knows that criticisms need to be constructive, not destructive.
6. They recognize people for a job well done:
While financial rewards such as bonuses and pay raises are how most people want to be rewarded, and a good boss will work towards that, money rewards are not always possible. Even so, a good boss does not let hard work go unrecognized; something as simple as saying ‘thank you!’ can make the difference between someone feeling appreciated, or alienated.
7. The best bosses understand that people have lives outside of work:
The ever-elusive ‘work/life balance’ is made much easier by the boss who knows that employees are not just employees, that they have lives of their own. Whether that means creating schedules that accommodate life issues like kids or not expecting people to stay late on no notice, the good boss knows that time management is key. And, ironically, that boss will end up with employees who will be willing to stay late when necessary, because, well, what goes around comes around.
The bottom line is that, as the businesses in the California survey found, being a good boss doesn’t cost, it pays.