June 29, 2023

In a recent conversation with a client and company owner, he posed an interesting question: 

How can he maintain a genuine connection with employees and ensure they are comfortable coming to him with concerns?

He explained that he believes he has a strong connection and relationship with his staff. But he’s noticed they still hesitate to approach him with complaints, although he welcomes all forms of concerns and feedback. 

While this is generally the nature of being a “top dog,” there are steps and leadership skills that small business owners can take to establish a rapport with employees and mitigate the fear of speaking up. We asked a few of our own team members—both leaders and staff—for their best leadership tips from both perspectives, so check them out below!

Consider yourself part of the team, not the boss.

“I NEVER refer to myself as anyone’s ‘boss,’” says BlueLion co-founder, Toni Runci. “I understand the point of the term, but in my opinion, it creates a lack of connection between my team members and myself.”

Her leadership tip: Get to know your employees on a personal level to build a deeper connection and empathy!

“I try to work with my team more as a peer, who at times has to make more elevated or escalated business decisions,” Toni continues. “I want to know what is happening in their lives, with their significant others, their children, their parents. I like knowing what they did over the weekend.”

BlueLion team member, Amanda Shae, gives her take on leadership from an employee perspective. “Lead from a leadership perspective, not from a boss mentality,” she explains. “Leaders build people up, lead with emotional intelligence, and genuinely care for employees.”

Bottom line: Being a boss and being a leader are two different things! Effective leadership skills revolve around your actions more than your words. How can you show your staff that you care about them both professionally and personally?

Anyone can talk the talk—but can you walk the walk? When you tell employees you’ll do something, follow through! If you tell them they can come to you with complaints listen with an open mind and find out how you can support them or improve the situation. Then act on it.

Look for ways to have their back.

On a related note, the most effective leaders have a sharp eye for where and how their team needs support. Toni says if she encounters a staff member who is struggling with something, whether personal or work-related, she always asks how she can help or offer resources.

On the topic of work-related support, she emphasizes, “I am never above doing the same work they do. It keeps me connected to their ‘life’ day-to-day within the organization, so I can feel what they feel. I always have their back.” 

So, what does that look like? For one thing, Toni explains she never pushes back when her team members come to her with an issue. “I collaborate and ask, ‘What do you need/want from me here? Do you need advice, or do you need me to step in and handle it at an escalated level?’ I want them to know I am here to support them in as many ways as possible.”

Communicate your schedule and set expectations.

While it’s important to be there for your team to answer questions and handle situations, YOU are human, too! Knowing your limits and when to delegate is a vital leadership skill.

BlueLion co-founder Alison Milioto reminds small business leaders that there will be times you can’t respond right away, and it’s ok to take time for yourself. She recommends setting clear expectations of your availability well in advance (when possible), so your team is prepared for a delayed response.

Additionally, you should:

  • Outline a clear chain of command so they know who to go to for issues when you’re unavailable
  • Communicate your team’s priorities, due dates, and workflows while you’re OOO
  • Define each task with clear instructions, as applicable, so employees feel prepared
  • Trust your team! This means allowing them to work without fear of micromanagement because you know they’ll get the job done, even when you’re not around.

Help them learn, improve, and grow.

Another BlueLion team member shared a quote by renowned entrepreneur, author, and speaker, Jim Rohn: “A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better.”

As you interact with and evaluate your employees’ performance, take a deeper look. 

WHY is someone struggling? What is the root cause? How can you show them you care, help build their confidence, and improve their skills and performance? 

If a team member is already showing potential, how can you nurture their growth and help them take their abilities to the next level? Can you fuel their passion for certain types of projects or work?

The simple solution: ASK THEM! You can easily stay on top of this when you have regular meetings, a performance review process, and stay interviews in place. This way, you can find out precisely what they need to do better and find higher job satisfaction. 

And as a savvy leader, you know that showing your team that you care about their professional growth and passions boosts employee engagement and retention!

Remember your employees are humans!

For Toni, this is the number one rule that ties back to her entire leadership approach. “[My team members] are humans first and foremost, and I never forget that.”

Echoing her business partner’s sentiment, Alison advises quarterly check-ins to discuss not only work. “We are all fully remote, and I want to know how they’re doing as a human, not just an employee.” 

It is especially important for small business leaders with remote workforces, like ours, to remind people that you care about them and maintain that connection. Alison says this also means taking extra time to check in when you know an employee is facing challenges.

One way you can create a culture of transparency and trust is by establishing an open-door policy. Consider ways to make this an approachable, encouraging, and compassionate process. It may take time for employees to warm up to it, but when you show them you’re truly open to ideas and critiques and that it’s ok to make mistakes, their trust will grow.

Be a Leader Who Fosters Trust & Transparency in the Workplace

There are many essential leadership skills small business owners must possess. But in today’s ever-changing workplace, the most important are our soft skills, intuition, and team-oriented mentality. When we show our employees that we genuinely care, they’ll grow more comfortable approaching us even in difficult situations.

So instead of carrying yourself as the “boss,” view yourself as one of the team. And remember that you are all humans deserving of compassion and empathy!

Do you need more leadership tips or assistance with building a culture of trust? We’d love to share more about our own experience at BlueLion, where we’re proud to say we’ve built a team of talented individuals who aren’t afraid to come to us for support or speak their minds! Contact us at 603-818-4131 or info@bluelionllc.com to learn more today.

The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.