How to Be a Better Boss

For some small business owners, the journey from employee to boss is new and exciting and, well, also kind of terrifying. There’s no road map or GPS system that can tell you precisely how to lead in each and every situation.

Employees, business models, vendors, customers, cash flow and goals can all change at a moment’s notice. Sometimes you’re forced to make a decision even though you don’t know the best thing to do.

Fortunately, there are some leadership strategies that can help you become just the kind of boss your small business needs.

How to Soar

Don’t be afraid of calling the shots. In many cases it’s better to make a quick decision than it is to delay choosing a course of action. Errors can be corrected and problems can be resolved, but deferring the choice is like throwing a wrench in the gears. Nothing happens.

Get excited about your job. This is one place where small business owners definitely have the advantage over corporate managers. You have every reason to love what you do. Enthusiasm is contagious and contributes to happier employees. And happy employees mean happy customers.

Understand the correlation between management styles and employee personalities. If this isn’t something that comes naturally to you, start studying. Morale declines and businesses suffer when employees are forced to deal with a boss that “just doesn’t get it.”

How to Crash and Burn

Forget that your employees are real people who expect to be treated as such. Recently, protests arose in Norway when call center workers were subjected to a surveillance system that alerted managers if an employee spent more than eight minutes in the bathroom each day. Policies affect your workers, and some decisions require you to consider more than just the bottom line.

Only tell workers what they want to hear. It’s tempting at first to frame your messages in a way you think your employees will prefer. But this can backfire and cause employees to distrust you. Give it to them straight, whatever it is. They may not like it, but they’ll have to respect that you were upfront with them.

Take all the credit. Perhaps the most devastating thing you can do to morale at your small business is take credit for the accomplishments of your employees. As the head of the organization, you may find yourself the default recipient of awards and accolades. Be sure you find some way to publicly recognize the contributions of your staff.

For the most part, people agree that great bosses are good role models who know how to hire and retain good workers. It sounds simple enough, but in practice the job can be a difficult one.  If you remain flexible and commit to changing things that don’t work, you’ll be well on your way to building a better business.

Your Turn

Think of the best boss and the worst boss you’ve ever had. In the comments, tell us what made you feel that way about each of them.

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Emily Suess
Emily Suess is a full-time technical marketing writer in the software industry and a part-time freelance copywriter. To learn more about marketing your small business online, check out her copywriting blog, Say It With Me.


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  1. Pingback: Tips for Managing Your Small Business Now

  2. My suggestion is related to the one about treating your employees like real people, not simply profit generators. If you have an employee who comes in 5 min late every day, but turns work around faster than any other employee, remember that. If you have an employee who spends more time on Twitter than you’d like, but has a mind like a steel trap and can tell you every detail of a client’s dossier, remember that.

    No employee is perfect and neither are bosses. You need to weigh the pros and cons if you feel you really can’t accept an employee’s less-than-stellar behavior or work ethic. Is Karen worth firing because she’s 5 min late every day and you’ve warned her about it repeatedly? Do you want to hire someone else, train them, and hope they catch on with the speed and accuracy that Karen practiced every day?

    These are the kinds of minor, but important details that will affect how well you run your office. No boss likes to be openly defied, but you’re managing people in an office, not inmates in a prison. Look out for what works best for your business in the long run.

  3. I agree with most of what Candice says in regards to having some flexibility to employees faults. I do not thing the coming in 5 min. late is a good example because situations like being late often irritate other employees which can cause strife within your workforce. You have to be carefully about which shortcomings you accept in regards to ones that may affect other employees emotions more than they affect you and the company. Other than that, I agree, we are all human and have or plus and minuses, a good boss figures out how to use their employees strongpoints and minimize use of their weaknesses. Remember to not just ignore weaknesses, but to try to help each person learn what they can do to strengthen them as well. Most importantly, and what I tell my employess: “I am not your boss, we are a team and I am the captain. Please let me know anything that you think we can do differently that would be better for all of us.”

  4. I’d agree with Candace — even on the 5 minutes late issue. There will always be some things that are forgivable for one boss and not for another.

    The thing to take away from this, I think, is that bosses need to be good at determining what demands are most important to the job and then learn not to sweat the small stuff.

  5. As business owners we can spend a lot of time at work. Remember your team is there to meet your business needs. Make sure you get your social/friend needs met somewhere else (e.g. with friends). At work you need to be the boss, that means that you will sometimes do things people like, and sometimes do things people don’t like. When they don’t like it you need to have somewhere else to go where people DO like you.

  6. Pingback: Tips for Managing Your Small Business Now » SMB Advice & Tips

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