In order for your small business to thrive, it's crucial to earn the respect of your employees. But this can be more complicated than it seems - mutual respect doesn't always just fall naturally into place.
There’s a fine psychological balance that must be maintained. Today’s employees want to work for companies where they can feel like integral parts of the system, in which everyone contributes to overall success. They want to make a difference. They want to work with purpose and to have an impact. And as their leader, if you can give that to them, you will in turn receive the respect necessary for reaching, and exceeding, all of your objectives.
Although it's a tricky line to walk, you don’t need to be a licensed psychologist to make it happen. Here are ten simple steps for understanding how to cultivate a respectful, engaged SME team:
1. Handle your title with care
There’s a habit of managers working in a capacity they believe is dictated by their title, instead of starting small and steadily winning ownership of that title. Rather than approaching your position in a manner that says “I’ve earned this,” try, “I must earn this.” Your team will notice the difference, and the seeds of respect will have been planted.
2. Engage with your team
This supports the previous point. It’s all about getting in there and showing your employees that you know how demanding their jobs are because you’ve done them, or you’re interested in learning what’s involved with their jobs.
There’s no quicker way to erode respect than to demonstrate disinterest from a perch…or any figurative position used to separate yourself from your workforce. So get in there. Learn and make connections.
3. Always do the right thing
This point is all about integrity, and ensuring that you're maintaining it in all situations. If you’re consumed with making good impressions only whilst working directly with your team, then those efforts are going to gain a sort of negative transparency.
If, however, you make those same types of efforts when your office door is closed (and when you know that no one may ever know about the scruples you’ve demonstrated), then every action will have integrity…including those that are intentionally public, those that might be seen, and those that were never, ever supposed to be witnessed.
This isn’t just about leaks, it’s about holding your team’s ability to discern true integrity in high regard. They will see things you’ve never intended them to see, and they’re more perceptive about true character than you may know.
4. Talk less and do more
Talk is cheap, and your team members know it. Instead of focussing on press conferences and meetings where little gets decided upon or accomplished, dig in and get things done as a team. This is the kind of thing that proves you’re everything you say you are (even though you’re not saying much).
5. Talk less and listen more
You can tell your employees what you expect from them, individually and as a team, but how often are you asking what they expect from you? An employee who is heard feels like an integral part of the system, and will want to go above and beyond what is anticipated.
6. Allow risks
By now, we all know that without risk-taking, your business has a slim chance of survival. You’ve got to forge new paths and reach into uncharted territory with your company’s strategy. But where should that risk come from?
Well, it starts with you. You’ve got to demonstrate that you have enough faith in your team to take calculated risks that are scary, but that will probably pay off. The other part of that equation is allowing your employees to take independent risks, too.
Trust their expertise. Hire people whom you believe have your brand’s best interest in mind. Give your team the space and the permission to fail, too—with the understanding that the entire organisation will learn and benefit from it. Approaching risk and failure with this attitude will cause your employees to feel safe enough to think creatively, as valued cogs in your business who respect your leadership role.
7. Invest in potential
You have big aspirations for your business and your first thought might be to hire all the most highly accomplished employees you can find. But before you put all those eggs in your SME basket, think about the professional relationships you can build when you seek out talent and potential, nurture them within your business, and become someone’s foundation for success. When your business is the place where a promising professional got their start, the bond and resulting respect are unparalleled.
8. Make the tough calls
Often, leaders of all types believe that by avoiding uncomfortable conversations, they’re getting “on the good sides” of their team members. They believe that their employees will be thankful to them for not broaching difficult subjects.
To the contrary, this breeds contempt and disrespect. Bring up those unpleasant subjects before they bleed into your organisation. Nip them in the buds. Doing so will earn you the genuine respect of your employees because they’re working in an open, honest work environment—which they will attribute to your management skills.
9. Be generous
Never neglect an opportunity to give your team members credit for a job well-done—even if they’re not directly responsible for your most recent success. In truth, every member of a well-oiled machine contributes to accomplishments by fulfilling their duties to the fullest extent of their abilities. Acknowledging this dynamic on a regular basis, and rewarding it, will help to ensure that your team members feel valued and energised to improve with every passing day.
10. Be patient and consistent
Good leadership is all about relationship building and mutual regard. It’s about humility, empathy and maintaining a positive outlook in difficult situations. And it’s about doing it all on a daily basis and giving your team the time to decide for themselves if you’re worthy of their respect. Don’t rush it, at the risk your efforts will seem insincere.
Always act in the best interest of your team. Take their perspectives into consideration. Make it clear that your business needs them. Then, and only then, will you gain the level of respect that will fuel your well-oiled SME machine.