Lessons on being a better boss

Last week, I had breakfast at one of my favorite eateries. Specializing in Creole and Cajun cuisine, “Lucile’s” operates in a converted house.

I have enjoyed dining there for several years, and notice that turnover in the serving staff is much lower than in many dining establishments.

Recently, when the server brought my bill, I asked her, “What is the best thing about working here?” She didn’t hesitate in replying “The Boss.”

She then explained, “He listens to us when we make suggestions. He treats us like human beings. He pitches in and helps when the place gets crowded. He is considerate when we have scheduling conflicts.

“As a result, we all help each other make sure the tables are cleared and reset so folks are seated as quickly as possible. We’re a team here.”

Her observations caused me to reflect on other aspects of leadership that contribute to the heralding of an organization as an “employer of choice.”

Survey says…

The staff members at Lucile’s exemplify the results of a survey of 500 professionals by MasteryWorks. The survey showed that the primary factor affecting a decision to leave an organization is whether or not the manager develops a trusting relationship with the employees.

Over 95 percent of the respondents chose the relationship over pay and benefits. The integrity of the manager and work-life balance were valued by 90 percent of the participants.

Other actions taken by trusted leaders:

Be visible to your people.

Enlightened leaders are highly visible inside and outside their organizations. They’re active in the community, representing their organizations in such a way that employees read about it in the local newspaper.

Their community service generates a sense of pride among the employees, and the organization is increasingly well thought of.

Be accessible.

Beyond being visible, strong leaders are easily accessible to their people. The open door policy applies, of course, but the leaders take further initiatives to be close to their people.

The CEO of Ingram Micro is Jerre Stead, who offers employees a toll-free number that only he answers. If they work in the headquarters in Santa Ana, they can visit him in his office. Not bad for the world’s leading wholesaler of computer products.

Deliver honest feedback.

People want to know how they’re doing. If they feel they’re in the dark or, not getting good feedback, they’ll choose to go elsewhere.

Be straight with people. Avoid playing games with them. Direct, open, honest feedback, delivered on a continual basis, is genuinely appreciated.

Be receptive to feedback.

Receptivity to feedback might be considered a given in an “employer of choice” organization.

It is surprising however, how many leaders don’t respond well – or at all – to suggestions about how they, or the organization, might do better.

The secret is to respond in a timely manner so people know they’ve been heard. While they’re looking for some kind of action, in most cases, people primarily want to know that someone is listening to them – that their opinions and their voices matter.

Environment of caring coaching.

Coaching has become increasingly popular in the work environment. Today’s employees want to be coached to higher and higher performance and achievement both personally and professionally.

Enlightened leaders will encourage these positive relationships as contributing to the sense of community of mutual caring and support.

The coaching profession emerged in the mid-1990s, with a significant number of executive coaches graduating from Coach University.

Facilitate high performance.

The strength of any organization lies in its people – in each individual employee.

Today’s worker is more independent, more driven to initiate and follow through on their own, instead of waiting for direction from management.

People choose to work where they have opportunities to do things on their own, to make things happen, to assume a certain amount of control, and to feel a sense of personal accomplishment in their own achievements.

Inspire servant leadership.

Servant leadership is defined as a style in which the leader considers him/herself a servant, a support, to other employees.

Under this concept, the role of the leader is to serve all employees so they can perform their jobs and fulfill their responsibilities.

While many advocate this design, it is difficult to implement. As they rise through the hierarchy, many leaders acquire an ego that screams to be fed.

The servant leader subjugates this ego, seeking to serve rather than direct. Emphasis is placed on individual and group achievement and initiative, with leaders setting the tone, the direction and the vision.

Servant leaders can then begin asking questions like, “How can I help you accomplish your objectives?”

Lucile’s is a small place. But large lessons can be learned in such places.

(The author is a small business support specialist at the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.)

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