Don't Be Afraid to Be the Boss
Originally published: 07.01.15 by Steve Schmidt
It's okay to be friends with your employees, as long as they also respect your authority.
My salesperson was in a home making a sales presentation. When a question came up to which he didn't know the answer he replied, "I'll have to ask the boss." The customer responded by asking if the owner of the company requested that he be referred to as "the boss."
Needless to say, the salesperson stumbled a minute and explained that while it was never discussed, he just naturally used the term.
I've owned an HVAC service and replacement business for more than 2 years and I've had my share of co-workers refer to me as "the boss." There are many ways the word "boss" can be interpreted & some good and some bad. Fear and respect are both emotions we can associate with the position.
While I've never liked the connotation of being the boss, sometimes I really do need to be the boss!
As much as we hate to admit it, our relationship with our employees sometimes resembles the parent/child relationship. We're responsible for the actions of our employees, we give them direction and they often come to us for advice, both professionally and personally.
Employees usually "look up to" people in positions of authority and seek to emulate them. As supervisors, managers or owners, we need to take this responsibility seriously. The people we lead are looking for partners to help them be successful in their jobs.
As leaders, we're often tasked with pulling out the highest quality and most productivity from our team. This requires us to be purposeful and diligent. At the same time, we usually end up having feelings of care and compassion for our co-workers.
We get to know them, their weaknesses and strengths. We learn their patterns and are able to predict how they will act or react in certain situations, and have the choice of using this information to help the employee, the company or both.
When we work together every day of the week, spend countless hours together and get to know each other so well, we hopefully develop a personal relationship as well as a professional one. We're not working with machines here.
When a co-worker is having a bad day at work, everyone suffers. The person is emotionally distraught, their work is not getting done and nothing is going right. The rest of the team has to fight to avoid being pulled down to their level and often has to do more work to compensate.
The company usually suffers from a lack of productivity or worse as a result of the distraction. We've all either heard the saying from a parent to a child, or said it ourselves: "I'm your parent, not your friend!"
It's equally important in a family as well as at the office to keep the lines clear. Having good, working relationships is an important element of creating an atmosphere of success.
There's a time and a place to be a friend, and a time and place to be the boss. While we can always shoot for a healthy balance, sometimes the lines have to be clearly drawn to avoid confusion and enable the work to move ahead.
Here are a few ideas to help keep the lines clear.
Keep Work at Work
It's fine to spend a limited amount of time during the day getting to know the people you work with. Talking about common interests such as sports, kids, extended family and hobbies is a great way to get to know people and help the day pass a bit easier and quicker. But, you need to make sure everyone remembers why they're here. At the end of the day, we need to direct as much attention to being productive and effective in our jobs.
Avoid lengthy discussions about family or current events. If you're involved in a conversation, after a short time find a way to end the conversation or bring it back to issues pertaining to the business. If you meet socially outside of work, do the opposite. Try to avoid any conversation about issues you wrestle with during the workday.
It may be fun to remember a customer or situation that came up at work earlier that day, but the conversation will most likely lead to one incident after another. Before you know it, you may be discussing something completely inappropriate.
The best policy is to stay clear of any discussion of anything to do with your job.
There's nothing worse than having people walking around wondering if they're performing their jobs correctly. If you don't have clear and concise job descriptions, you're asking for trouble. Everyone should have a recent job description on hand. There should be a regular meeting every year, or even twice a year, to review the job requirements and make sure everyone is fulfilling them. In addition, you should hold meetings every week or two to discuss general business and work related issues that may arise.
If problems or questions come up, a regular meeting will help address these issues in a timely manner. Sometimes a new product or procedure causes some confusion as to how work is to flow. Time constraints or deadlines can often be an obstacle to effective communication.
If there is no regularly scheduled time to discuss issues, weeks or months could go by without a discussion on how to handle a problem. If there are questions brewing, people need answers.
Make the Hard Decisions
There are times when we see a big problem in our organization that's really affecting the company's production, a co-worker or profitability. There is no doubt in your mind as to what the problem is and how to resolve it. The challenge is that the solution is going to create a large cost to someone or something.
Sometimes there are decisions that have to be made for the company to succeed.
In fact, early in my business, when I only had two other employees, I had to go to one of them and say, "My wife and I have decided that with your work habits, if we continue to have you work here, the company will go out of business. So, apparently it's either you or us. After much consideration, we have decided you must go."
While it was not a fun conversation, it was one that had to occur. If a decision needs to be made or a change is required, have the courage to make the decision and follow through on the change. The longer you wait, the worse the problem will be.
Treat Everyone Fairly
There's no room in your company to play favorites. Certainly, you should never create a policy that favors someone over another. In some circumstances it's often illegal.
Your employees are very tuned to their own work situations, benefits and compensation packages. Despite our stern and credible warnings about how destructive it is to share this information, somehow everyone in the organization seems to be an expert on how and what everyone else is getting paid.
Nonetheless, there's no point in even thinking about making exceptions for people when it comes to benefits, pay scale, etc. Just say no.
Where is the line between friend and boss? We're trying to meet our employee's needs for a fulfilling and safe career. Hopefully, we're striving to create a workplace that's pleasant and inviting.
No one wants to come to work everyday expecting strife or confusion. It's natural for people to have their own interests at heart. People have families, responsibilities and lives outside of work. Our challenge is to meet the needs of the individual and simultaneously field a team of competent employees who are motivated to keep the interests of the company at the forefront.
A clear understanding that the company's success is directly tied to each individual's success is paramount. The answer to the question is, while there are times when you should be a friend, clearly there are times when you have to be the boss.
Picture a ship's captain standing at the helm of a ship with the old, wooden steering wheel firmly in his grasp. His eyes are looking out at the horizon with a discerning gaze. The rest of the crew is about the vessel doing their jobs to enable the ship to stay on course and steady. If a storm or rough seas come up, the crew is confident the captain knows how to pilot the ship and how to direct the crew.
He's not earned this position by sitting around drinking with the crew on weekends & he's established his position as a leader by proving himself competent through years of testing and refinement.
Steve Schmidt founded Frederick Air in 1992 on his personal convictions of honesty and integrity, and serves as president of the company. With a focus on residential and commercial quality installations and service, Steve has grown the business into an award-winning and highly recognized top performer in the northern Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. You can contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.