Perception is a very real issue for leaders. They must decide how they want employees to view them and act accordingly. Typically, leaders choose a combination of stoic, strong, closed-off, and loud-mouthed. Some even want to be seen as assholes. While this is a strategic decision — usually designed to maintain respect, and avoid inappropriate situations — if you’re completely avoiding a personal connection with your employees, you’re making a big mistake.
Employees who feel valued and appreciated by their leaders are infinitely more likely to go above and beyond for the company and hold themselves accountable for their part of a project. Most importantly, they will be happier in their roles. If leaders disregard the importance of connecting with employees, they lose the benefit of a dedicated, long-term team.
Some find it difficult to personally connect with employees while still maintaining a position of authority — the trick is to simply show them you care. Below are 11 ways leaders can demonstrate their appreciation for employees.
Go above and beyond to personally help them
It isn’t enough to simply assist your employees with work issues — a great leader should keep his eyes open for ways to help out with personal issues as well. My co-founder had difficulty trying to find a place to rent, and I saw her frustration every day. Instead of throwing money at the problem, I went to the complex where she wanted to live and talked to the manager. She got a spot within a week. To this day, I think she knows I would do anything in my power to support her, which has created a loyalty that’s hard to break and invaluable in a business relationship.
Relate to them; don’t act like you’re above them
If you’ve ever been in a culture where the executives have their own parking spaces and make you carry their luggage when traveling, you know firsthand what it feels like to think your leader doesn’t care about you. When I sense an employee’s having a problem, I think about what I’ve gone through and share with him how I did or didn’t overcome the situation. As a leader, employees sometimes place you on a pedestal, but putting yourself on their level by showing your own vulnerability and imperfections helps them overcome their challenges.
Show you care about their personal life.
While you shouldn’t be chiming in about your employee’s new boyfriend/girlfriend or meeting up for an all-night drinking binge, it’s completely possible to show you care about your employee’s personal life without being creepy. When one of our employees postponed a honeymoon, we set up a little beach retreat at the office as a substitute. The trick is to let your team know that you don’t just see them as worker bees.
Show interest in their significant others
I’ve always been baffled by companies that don’t allow significant others at work events, like Christmas parties. Why would you not want to include your employee’s No. 1 supporter? Work is a lot easier when you have support at home, so I want my employee’s partner to know I appreciate him or her as well.
Back them up with clients
We have a “no-a**hole” client policy in our office. If an employee complains about a client treating her poorly, we look into the situation and fire the client if necessary. It doesn’t matter how much a client is paying you — if you have talented employees who know you have their back, you’ll be rewarded with a higher return than your biggest client could ever offer you.
Do things that set you apart
Being creative with employee perks can go a long way. It doesn’t have to be costly; it just has to show that you’ve thought about making your employees’ personal or professional lives a little better. To get the creative juices flowing, here’s a list of unique perks other companies have offered employees.
Be real and transparent with them
If an employee asks for feedback, be honest — don’t BS him. That doesn’t mean you should be unkind, but shielding employees from the truth will do nothing but hurt them — and your company. Transparency is usually accompanied by a few uncomfortable conversations, but those conversations prove you care enough to deliver the hard truth, which will mean a lot to employees. As a bonus, that truthful and transparent feedback will also garner better results.
Make time for them
It’s hard for employees to feel appreciated when their leader is too busy for a simple chat. It can be easy to get caught up in day-to-day projects and appear too busy for the people around you, but by holding yourself accountable for regular conversations with your team members, employees will feel valued and respected.
Little things do matter
A quick email to your team after a win or a note of encouragement during a big sale can go a long way, especially if you’re working with a limited amount of time. I try to send an email around Thanksgiving or Christmas expressing my appreciation for each member of my team. It doesn’t have to be a “Jerry Maguire”-style email — just type a few sentences to explain why you value them. If you can’t think of anything you value about each employee, consider that a red flag.
Create opportunities for new experiences
Pay attention and accommodate when an employee shows interest in different aspects of the business. Last year, we had an editor show interest in content strategy and eventually move into a leadership position within the company. Although we typically send salespeople to conferences — as that’s where potential clients will be — we sent our editor, giving her the opportunity to step outside her usual editorial responsibilities and use what she learned from meeting potential clients to better develop content strategy.
Be aware of the expectations you set
You can do all of the above and let it go to waste if you don’t set proper expectations. Entrepreneurs are prone to getting overexcited and over promising results to employees, which can lead to trouble. When a leader sets expectations too high to realistically meet, it unravels team morale even if she’s nailed the acts above.
Before your employees will believe in, or care about, the long-term vision of the company, its culture, or its success, they need to feel that you see each of them as a person — not just an “employee” to execute your to-do list. They need to feel that their leader — and the company — is invested in them. Once you show your team how much you value them, there’s nothing they won’t strive to accomplish.
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