How to Stop Being a Boss and Start Being a Leader

Every successful small business owner wants their staff to be happy and perform at their best at work. The question is: how much does your behaviour motivate them? As the quote from the famous pilot E.M. Kelly  goes, “Remember, the difference between a boss and a leader: a boss says “Go” — a leader says “Let’s go!” It’s possible to manage your team as a boss, helping them fulfil their job spec. A leader on the other hand has the vision and presence to inspire them to give more of their true selves, their skills and their creativity. The outcome? A stronger, more stable foundation for your business — and a more wholesome work environment for everyone.

You can look to research by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to see how teams motivated by leaders performed better than those who were tightly managed by bosses. But how do you shift from boss to leader?

Get your hands dirty

A leader does whatever it takes to get the job done, even if it feels outside of their remit as “the manager”. When your employees are working hard on the task at hand, jump in to do the dirty work with them. It’s a sign of respect when seniors take pride in the job their team do, and your involvement will inspire them to keep on trying. If there’s no room for you to get involved with the job itself, get in a round of coffees or beers — or simply take a moment to tell them how proud you are of their perseverance. It’s all about showing them that their roles matter as much as yours.

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Listen to your staff

Just as you might request feedback from your customers on their experience of your business, so too should you be asking your staff about theirs. As the people on the very front line, they often have insights into your audience and operations that you won’t do as the head of the company.

Millennials may get berated for their outspoken nature and curiosity, but a good leader recognises these traits as signals of passion and engagement. Great ideas can come at any given moment, from any source — don’t miss out on an amazing opportunity by disregarding your employees’ input.

What’s more, listening is the first step in building trust and respect. If you want your team to believe that you’re a leader who’s on their side, it’s essential that you show interest in them as individuals as well as assets in your workforce.

Be clear about your vision

Leaders know their company vision inside out, and can communicate it with ease. If you can’t convincingly summarise the company’s vision in a sentence, it’s time to reflect on why you started your business in the first place, and where you want it to be in 5 years time. Take some time to develop a narrative that will inspire your employees — how can you get them to buy into your venture? What role does each of them play in making the dream a reality? And what’s the payoff when it all comes true? Once you’ve defined your answers to these, bring your team together and share your thoughts with them. It’s sure to put you on the spot, but your openness will be a compelling reminder to them of why they chose to work with you.

Give — and receive — feedback

The pace of a small business often leaves little room for any communication other than instructions and explanations. However, this is the route of the boss, not the leader. Though it may require some extra time at work for you all, dedicated feedback sessions provide an opportunity to show your employees that you value them, and that you want to guide them — as a good leader should.

Providing useful, fair feedback is a skill, and you may find the balance between positive and constructive hard to master at first. Don’t be afraid to ask your staff for feedback on your feedback. It’s these open channels of communication that keep staff focused, committed and content at work.

Here are some questions to get staff feedback on your own performance as a leader:

  • What would you change about our team?
  • What can I do to support you better?
  • What have your best and worst moments been here?
  • What do you look for in a good leader?

If it feels too intense — as it might for everyone — simply ask employees to fill out an anonymous survey instead of having a face-to-face meeting. You may find you receive more honest answers this way.

Take care of yourself

If being a good leader is about leading by example, that means showing your staff how you’d like them to take care of their wellbeing too. Staff that are active, mindful and self-assured are guaranteed to perform better than those who aren’t. Make time in your busy schedule to improve your health, and share what you’ve learnt with your employees so they can do the same.

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