7 Steps to Becoming a Better Boss

Pensive director with hand on chin working at office desk, 1950s style.
Pensive director with hand on chin working at office desk, 1950s style.

There’s a lot of debate about whether or not we are “born to lead.” I believe people are born with certain qualities that make them better leaders, such as empathy, compassion and superior communication skills. However, more often than not, people are thrust into leadership roles by virtue of circumstance, not based on their ability to lead. This is common in the small business world. Entrepreneur/owners become bosses without the requisite skills to lead. This can lead to low morale and high turnover. In fact, it’s estimated that nearly 20% of employees in any enterprise could be identified as “actively engaged,” meaning: they are SO unhappy, they wouldn’t hesitate to undermine the company if given a good excuse. Often, the excuse comes because the employee distrusts the manager or leader.

The importance of trust within an organization cannot be underestimated. Research over the years supports the fact that employee trust in their leaders influences productivity, turnover and, most importantly, long-term profitability. A 2005 study by Wyatt Worldwide found that companies with high integrity-a measurement based on employee assessment of senior management’s consistency, communications and other trust-determining behaviors-generate financial returns that are TWICE those of companies with low integrity levels.

The reality is, employees want to know what’s expected of them and what is happening in the business that may or may not have an effect on their livelihood. They want the truth. They want bosses who have their back and who will mentor and mold them.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult for many leaders to deliver on these expectations simply because they don’t have the necessary leadership skills or are overwhelmed by the daily pressures of keeping a business afloat.

Following are seven ideas to help leaders, regardless of the size of the business, to create a culture of trust in the organization:

  • Be courageous. Know yourself and work to create a personal brand to define who you are to your employees. Give your employees a clear understanding of where you are going personally. They will sense this and it will help to convince them you have their back.
  • Be transparent. Winston Churchill said: “When eagles are silent, parrots begin to chatter.”  Closed-door meetings. Failure to properly communicate on a timely basis. Refusal to have an open-door policy. These are all signs of leaders who are unwilling to keep employees in the loop about things that ultimately have an impact on their lives. Cultivate an open-door policy to encourage engagement with your employees.
  • Be humble. At one time or another, we’ve all worked for individuals who are only concerned about how something affects them. Those who are self-centered are quick to place blame on others and find it difficult to take responsibility. Practice humility and show your vulnerability. This makes you human and more accessible as a leader.
  • Be credible. The last thing you want is for negative talk to infiltrate your culture. If you lack credibility, even with one person, the word can spread and become a virus. Moreover, such negative talk can spread outside the walls of your business, making it difficult to recruit talented people. Be on your game at all times.
  • Be consistent. Your employees should have a clear understanding of what you expect, and these expectations must stay consistent over time. How often have we heard someone say: “I just don’t know what he/she wants?” This is a common and frustrating refrain that eats away at trust.
  • Be involved. Nothing instills a sense of trust like leaders and managers who are not afraid to get involved. If your team is grinding out a special project over the weekend, it goes a long way for you to be grinding away at their side.
  • Be grateful. It is difficult to trust leaders who don’t appreciate your efforts and are constantly squeezing employees for more. Gratitude goes a long way in life and in the office. Make sure your team knows how much you appreciate their work. Don’t wait for the annual review to make your point. Lifting them up often (and especially in front of their peers) is great for company culture.

OK, maybe you weren’t born with great leadership skills. That doesn’t mean you can’t make an effort to be a better boss. Be conscious of these seven steps. Be aware of the importance of building a culture of trust in your organization.