As a micro business owner, one of the most powerful leadership traits you can possess is the ability to ensure that your team members genuinely believe you care about them. HR expert Richard Summerfield – author of new business book Loving Leadership – explains how to keep your staff sweet.
To build the right team for your small company you need to treat people who work with you like family, or as you would your closest friends. It is an interesting and challenging concept – but also very powerful.
People are not stupid, so there is only one way you can ensure they believe this, and that is for it to be true – you can’t fake it. It will require a sustained emotional investment from you, which may not come naturally to a lot of leaders. Below are some of the most important areas to think about.
Worry about the whole person, and every dimension that makes up the profile of a person’s general feeling of “wellness”. Wellbeing means, quite simply, being well in both body and mind. The highest productivity and engagement comes from people who have high levels of personal wellbeing, so don’t see this as just a bit soft. You want your team members to fire on all cylinders, don’t you?
There is a direct link between peak physical health and level of productivity, and that goes for office workers as well as athletes. If you and your team are in good shape, take regular exercise, eat sensibly and look after the body, a feeling of wellbeing follows. Encourage any opportunity for your team to do something individually or collectively that will promote their physical health.
The most common mental health problem running riot through most workplaces is stress. As a leader, I encourage you to be very aware of a) signs of stress, and b) things you are doing that may be causing stress. I must point out that stress is not the same as pressure – in fact, the human body and mind often function better under mild-to-medium pressure than in a laid-back homeostatic state.
If you see regular signs of stress from people around you, take responsibility to help reduce it in any way possible. This is one of the most powerful actions a leader can take and will build relationships that are much deeper and more meaningful with those around you. Start by talking to the person showing signs of stress, as they may not even be aware of it themselves.
Building family life into work
A feeling of wellbeing comes from a genuine belief that when a person really needs to put their family first, they will be supported to do so. As a leader, if you show flexibility with things such as caring for sick relatives, attending school functions, or attending to matters affecting the household, you will find that in the vast majority of cases, the individual will pay you back in spades.
This is often overlooked, but you really need to make sure that your employees are getting good, regular sleep. Be really conscious about insisting they take a break after, for example, a long overnight flight, a few very long nights/early starts, or working at weekends. If you are exchanging emails very late and very early, then it suggests that your folks are not switching off and getting enough sleep. It’s absolutely fine to tell someone that you do not want to see an email from them after 10pm or before 7am unless it is an emergency. You set the boundaries.
Eating and drinking
Set an example. Let people see you eating and drinking sensibly, putting a priority on your own health. Be careful with drinking too much alcohol; again, set an example to others. As Ghandi famously said: “Be the change that you wish to see”. You may need to check the mirror first before encouraging people down a path of self-awareness and self-control.
Relaxing and recharging
As a leader, make sure all your staff take their holidays. There is nothing macho about carrying days over year to year. In fact, I recommend that you do not allow any employee to carry over more than five days, so it becomes a “use it or lose it” benefit. Make sure that they take at least one block of two weeks every year from their holiday allocation. You will get the benefit far more than if they worked the whole year without a proper break.
Taking a long holiday is not only great for recharging, getting things in perspective, and spending time with loved ones, it is also often when some of the greatest moments of insight and inspiration come which can add massive value to the results of the team and the company.
Pursuing hobbies and interests
A job does not define a person. As a leader, you must never forget this. Just because you may be in an artificially created hierarchy where you have more power than others, it does not follow that outside of work things should follow the same hierarchy – people around you probably have talents and interests that they are passionate about, and may be incredibly good at.
Everybody needs a sounding board. One of the most powerful skills of a counsellor or psychologist (and a leader) is their ability to listen: to allow the other person to talk in a safe environment and get stuff off their chest.
Remember, the act of allowing your staff to talk, to be heard, without necessarily having to do anything about solving the issue can create strong trust and wellbeing in people. If you make time to talk regularly with your staff about work and non-work, it will have a very big positive impact.
This technique costs you nothing other than a bit of regular thought, but “not feeling valued” is often cited as the biggest reason for a low staff engagement score, and a reason why people ultimately resign from a role. Everybody likes (in fact, needs) to feel valued, but unfortunately many leaders don’t do enough to make sure the person really knows this to be true.
And this is not just a case of accidentally overlooking it. It is sometimes that the leader is embarrassed to say nice things about someone, or doesn’t want to single someone out, or worries that it will create a high expectation of a salary rise and bonus at the next pay round. This is far too over-analytical, because at the end of the day, it doesn’t need to be a complicated act. In fact, just two words are often enough to make someone’s day – thank you.
Richard Summerfield is the author of Loving Leadership: 8 Powerful Techniques that so many leaders miss and group HR Director and Board Member of telecoms firm JT.
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