Whether you know it or not, being a business owner also requires being a leader – especially if you have employees. If you don’t display good leadership skills, you won’t get the most from your employees, and your business will suffer.
Despite good intentions, many business owners and managers unknowingly strike fear into employees simply by what they say – or don’t say. And fearful employees are not productive employees. They react to fear with the primitive ‘fight, flight or freeze” instinct and begin to focus only on their own survival, says Christine Comaford, a leadership consultant and author of the new book “How Teams Become Brilliant Together” (Portfolio/Penguin 2013).
Here are five ways that business owners inadvertently scare employees into a dysfunctional state:
1. You “help them out” by giving them solutions. When you constantly tell people what to do instead of encouraging them to figure things out on their own, you develop a business full or order-takers instead of innovators. By training them to always ask, you end up with a group of workers who are perpetually frozen in survival mode.
On the other hand, when you engage people in problem-solving themselves, you create a sense of safety, belonging and mattering.
2. Your meetings are heavy on sharing and point-proving, and light on promises and requests. Meetings that are rambling and unfocused send people into fear and confusion. But short, high-energy meetings that have a clear agenda keep everyone motivated. Ideally you should focus on only enough information sharing to solicit requests from people who need something, and promises from people who will fill that need.
If you tune up your communication, the result will be meetings that are efficient and effective, and that keep your employees happy as well as productive and accountable.
3. You give feedback to employees without first establishing rapport. In short, you must be able to influence people, not just boss them around. Here are three shortcut phrases that can help you do that:
- “What if…” When you use this preface to an idea/suggestion, you remove ego and reduce emotion. You’re curious — not forcing a position, but kind of scratching your head and pondering.
- “I need your help.” Specialists call this a “dom-sub swap” because when the dominant person (the boss) uses it, they are asking the subordinate person to rise up and swap roles. This is especially effective when you want a person to change their behavior or take on more responsibility.
- “Would it be helpful if…” When a fearful employee is unable to move forward, offering some options will help them see a possible course of action or positive outcome.
4. You focus on problems, not outcomes. Instead of asking ‘What’s wrong?’ and ‘Why is this happening? You should ask ‘What do we want?’ and ‘How will we create it?’”
Being outcome focused is more energizing and fills people with confidence. Avoid saying things like “Let me help you” or “I’ll make it better for you.” Instead, say “What outcome would you like?” and “What will having that do for you?”
5. You talk about change in the wrong way. Most business owners and managers want their businesses to change. That’s the only way to grow and get better. But as we know, most employees – and people in general – fear and resist change.
People tolerate change better if it’s framed the right way – more like “sameness with a difference.” Try presenting change as merely an improvement in what is already being done. The bad stuff is being removed, and the good stuff is being added. You might even avoid using the word “change” at all and instead use “growth” which is less daunting to most people.
“All business owners want to outperform, outsell, and out-innovate the competition,” says Comaford. “And most of us have teams that are quite capable of doing so. We just need to stop scaring the competence out of them.”
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About the Author: Daniel Kehrer, Founder and Chief Content Officer of BizBest Media, is a senior-level leader in digital media, content development and online marketing with special expertise in startups, SMB, social media and generating traffic, engagement and leads. He holds an MBA from UCLA/Anderson and is a passionate entrepreneur (started 4 businesses), syndicated columnist, blogger, thought leader and author of 7 business and financial books.