Lean In and Listen
Starting out as a boss is an intense time, and your mind is full of all sorts of plans and possibilities. It can be very easy to steamroll ahead and do more talking than listening. This is an honest mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. Why? Because your staff members are some of your best assets. Employees bring with them a wealth of ideas, talents, and experiences that can greatly enhance your business—but not if you never let them talk.
Communication Is Key
Even the best ideas can run out of gas and fall flat without timely communication. Ensure your team members adopt excellent habits for responding quickly to phone calls, emails, and notes. How? By setting an example. Rather than waiting until you can frame the perfect response, fire off a line or two to let the other person know you haven't fallen off the planet. Let them know that more details are coming, and then follow through on that promise within one business day. For sensitive matters, remember that the human voice is far better than writing. On the phone you can pick up on tone of voice and avoid unnecessary (and time-wasting) misunderstandings or embarrassments.
Earn Respect, Don't Demand It
Inexperienced leaders often make the mistake of taking a hardline, authoritarian approach to their employees. But talking down to people—especially people older than you—tends to breed resentment. It’s far better to seek the expertise of your workers humbly, listen to them, and respect their diverse backgrounds. Ask for their ideas and input. This doesn't mean being a pushover; the decisions still rest with you, and if need be you can remind them of that. But when people feel generally valued in the workplace, they respond with loyalty and hard work. This way, everyone wins.
Give It Some Thought
As a leader, it can be tempting to answer every question and make every decision very hastily. After all, leaders always know what's best, right? Wrong! There is nothing wrong with taking time to think, or with saying so. If you let your staff know that you are weighing and considering your options, you will look a lot more secure in your leadership than someone who just fires off responses nervously. Taking your time projects confidence, allows you to make better decisions, and may save you cleaning up a mess later when your speedy moves backfire.
It's Lonely at the Top—and That's Okay
While approachability is a good quality in a boss, you aren't there to be everyone's friend. The power structure is such that your staff will see each other as colleagues and you as something different—maybe even something that's not always positive. Your task is to understand this without taking it personally. Let them have their fun and joke about you behind your back; you have bigger fish to fry than worrying about that. As long as they are working well and aren't actively trying to undermine your authority, there is nothing wrong. These dynamics are very normal and mostly just help people get through the day. Fulfill your need for friendship outside the workplace, ideally with other business owners and entrepreneurs who understand the unique challenges you face.
As a business owner in charge of staff, it's up to you to set the tone for the workplace, whether that workplace exists in bricks and mortar or via a virtual office. This foundation is extremely important, since everything about your working life will flow from it. Keep it positive, respectful, and communicative, and you will reap the rewards with a working environment that is both efficient and pleasant. Good luck!