By Keren Lerner
I am a carrot rather than a stick leader. Often classified by friends as “too nice” to my team － compared to other business owners, I really am pretty easy going. Everyone knows I want to keep a good balance between happy clients and a happy team. This can on occasion cause issues, and I’ve been told I generally let people get away with too much. But I don’t feel like I am a total doormat, and I truly believe there’s a nice way to deal with almost every situation. To put it bluntly, I don’t want to change. I subscribe to Zig Ziglar’s theory. You can get anywhere you want in life as long as you help as many people as possible along the way. These are the rules I follow which seem to work in terms of creating loyalty and reliability amongst my team.
- Make each relationship a win-win: if you have someone who is working for you in their early days of their career make sure they are getting a chance to upskill as well as develop.
- Understand their situation: if a mistake is made, if an employee acts grumpy or emotionally, or if they don’t show up on time － understand first what has happened in their world before assuming its negligence or deliberate misbehaving or disrespect. I used to take these things way too personally. I have learned (more often than not!) that something has happened in their personal life or with a situation outside their control that has caused them to not behave in the optimal way.
- Give them time: As a business owner there are a million things you have to do. But giving your team a bit of time and attention goes a long way. Manager Tools has a great podcast about one-on-one meetings where you have half hour, regular meetings with each of your “direct reports”. During this time you patiently ask how they are, what’s going on in their world and what they aspire to, what help they need from you, what’s stressing them out etc. All this time and a chance to talk through the things that really matter to them will mean they feel heard and understood. And feeling heard is sometimes just the release they need to invigorate their motivations.
- Let them rant: Working in a service business, with all sorts of clients who run their own small businesses means that sometimes, issues crop up. Our clients may be having a bad day or have external pressures, and they may act in a non-encouraging, non-motivational, non-appreciative way. It helps at times, despite our intention of being full of sunshine and positivity at all times, that we can moan openly and lighten the mood a little bit. While we do all we can to make our clients happy, behind the scenes I don’t mind if my team does a little bit of venting. There are two sides to any relationship difficulty, and I know that my team are hard working and have the best intentions. If any of our clients are upset for any reason, and complain, of course it upsets us. Best to have a bit of a rant behind the scenes, rather than absorb negative energy and explode later. I think it’s healthy!
Now what’s the result?
This attitude with my team gives me the following:
Loyalty: when any members of my team have left in the past, they usually give more notice than others would. This is because we have that connected relationship. When people have left my business in the past, they have given me far more notice than is average. They take care in their handover work. They don’t leave me in the lurch. If someone is late on delivering something, they will work out of hours to make up for it. And I don’t ever ask for this!
Conscientiousness: I can leave a project with them and know that they will do what’s needed to get it done. They won’t let me down, plus they have the flexibility to manage their own time.
Being on the same side: as a team we have a “we’re in this together” vibe. I am very transparent with my team about what we have and need in our business. Everyone is clear on their role in helping the business progress. Because of these two factors, we work together towards a common goal.
And what about when we miss the mark?
Even with the best intentions we can’t always be perfect. As a team we make plans and work out how we can collectively push towards them. Sometimes with client projects taking precedence we don’t always make our deadlines, but we stay cool and supportive. We don’t want to make things worse by layering on guilt. Rather, I prefer to make the plan a little lighter and more achievable. This way － next time we check in － we feel more like we’re winning.
Having a team that trusts and cares about each other makes work feel like a nice place to be － and I think it’s one of the reasons why we’ve stayed together so long.
Keren Lerner is the CEO and founder of Top Left Design, a London-based design and marketing agency. Founded in 2002, Top Left Design specialises in bespoke designed websites, brands, and marketing material with integrated marketing advice.