Small business leaders are constantly looking for the next cutting-edge method for growing and maintaining their businesses. They go to conferences, listen to podcasts, and invest time and effort into creating a polished image. Oftentimes, however, the keys to growth and success lie closer than these leaders might think — just outside their closed office doors.
The knowledge you need to establish a thriving business resides with your team, clocking in and clocking out beside you every day.
Your employees hold the life or death of your company in their hands. When you truly devote time to connecting with everyone on your team, you’ll gain insight into your company’s areas of strength and growth — something you could never gain at a weekend conference.
Leading From Personal Experience
If I’ve learned one thing about leadership over the years, it’s that being a leader is so much more than a title or an image. Leadership requires authenticity, a desire to learn and a willingness to admit that you may not have your finger on the pulse of the company the way you once did. By admitting this, you can build trusting relationships with your team that will make your workdays more enjoyable — and allow you to determine the best, most cost-efficient way to grow your small business.
Here are two ways I’ve learned to connect with my team members authentically:
- Foster open dialogue. I will never forget the time I asked a colleague for feedback and was met with serious criticism of the work, the company and the team as a whole. It was a huge challenge for me to not immediately go on the defensive and instead start an open dialogue. When you ask for feedback from your team, you must accept and try to understand the response you receive, no matter how brutally honest. This dialogue will not only make employees feel heard in a trusted space, but it will also help you discover growing problems before they become too big to handle.
- Set the tone. Your company culture is defined not by the products you offer but by the atmosphere you foster with your team. Being the CEO doesn’t exempt you from open conversation; instead, it should motivate you to initiate dialogue that sets the tone for the success of your business. Would you rather have a trusting, happy and productive team or a distrusting, fearful and pessimistic one?
If you lead by example and illustrate that it’s good to both give and take honest, constructive feedback, your team will follow. This is the first step to creating the collaborative atmosphere that will help your company grow.
Achieving Real Engagement With Your Team
It’s easy to agree that team members are real assets, but how do you build these connections and encourage this kind of feedback from your employees? I tackle this struggle through the four C’s:
1. Connect: Authenticity is a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight. In order to achieve authentic leadership, you must learn to be authentic, and build a relationship with your team members. At its core, leadership is about relationships, and the keys to success in relationships are vulnerability and authenticity.
2. Communicate: Relationships begin with dialogue. Encourage your team members to talk openly with you about their experiences — both in their roles and in the company culture as a whole — and then move forward with the insights they’ve provided. While communication is important for success, make sure you’re fostering the right discussions. Move past the superficial, unproductive talk that stirs problems in the workplace to zero in on the root of the problem.
3. Cultivate: Building relationships with your team members doesn’t mean sending a birthday card or asking about a recent break-up while you’re distracted by the copy machine. It means taking time out of your day to learn the values of your team members, connect these values to your company goals, and determine how these can help your company learn and grow.
4. Craft: Craft a directive mindset for your team. Be open, honest and constructive, yet kind. The best managers make an effort to relate to their employees on a level that makes it comfortable to discuss any subject, both professionally and personally.
When you approach your team for insights regarding the future of your business, view them as trusted companions. Take the time to learn their values, strengths and weaknesses — in return, they’ll help you learn the same about your business.