"There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self."
So said Ernest Hemingway, and he was right. There is no one who cannot stand to improve upon something, and that includes those who manage others in their daily lives. All bosses, even the good ones, could be better. Below are six top ways managers can up their professional game, starting today.
Praise Good Work
If you're the owner of a start-up or other business without a lot of extra cash to throw around, take heart. Workers value praise from their managers more than money, with a whopping 83 percent of respondents in a study reporting that recognition mattered more to them than cash or gifts. Conversely, employees who do not feel sufficiently praised are twice as likely to say they will quit in the next year, according to a 2016 Gallup poll.
So don't feel silly about giving praise where praise is due, or assume it's understood that you're grateful for someone having gone the extra mile. Did an employee pull a late night or cram over the weekend prepping for a big client meeting? Don't take it for granted; say something. A simple, sincere "Thank you for your hard work to make this a success" goes further than you may think.
Even if an event or other work-related occasion didn't go as planned (perhaps a presentation to a prospective customer did not result in a new account), don't make the mistake of thinking the work your people put in doesn't merit mention. If they worked hard, that work should still be recognized. Something like "I truly appreciate how much effort you put into this" lets your team know that not only do you have their backs, but recognition of their efforts isn't dependent upon factors outside their control.
Reward Wisely and Well
Money may not be everything, but it's sure nice to have -- or have spent on you from time to time. When your team has been particularly diligent or produced exceptional results, make sure to supplement the praise with a special treat. A paid-for lunch out at a favorite spot, or, if your office is small enough, unannounced morning Starbucks orders for everyone is sure to be a big hit and make your people feel appreciated. Just don't overdo it with personalized, individual gifts or obviously lavish spending. You're showing your employees you value them, but they're doing their jobs, not doing you a favor. So thank them, but do it proportionately.
Be a Role Model
The best bosses are role models for their employees. They inspire with their speech and their actions, and they abide by the golden rule of treating others as they would like to be treated. You don't have to have the charisma of a congressional candidate or the personal style of an A-list actor to be a role model; boosting the self-esteem of those you manage and instilling in them a desire for self-improvement will be byproducts of strong leadership that advocates for employees and is honest and open to feedback. So put your people first, work hard, and keep your eyes and ears open.
Stay Above the Fray
Workplaces can be a lot like high schools in some ways. They're often hotbeds of gossip, given how frequently employees are together (the fact that "office romance" is a household term is a good indication of just how much face time workers log), and tiffs, rivalries, and unofficial alliances are commonplace. As a manager, you may be among the last to learn of some of the pettier of these intrigues, but sooner or later the news of the cold war between several staffers or the soured dating relationship between two others is bound to reach even your ears.
Ignore whatever doesn't affect your work, your team's work, your company, or your customers. Weighing in is not only distracting, but it's also unlikely that what you say would stop where you intend it to stop. Whoever overhears your contribution to the conversation could well repeat it -- and frankly, the rumor mill runs at a quicker clip on input from higher-ups, so the person who overhears is more likely to repeat your gossip than that of someone less senior. Your best bet is to stay out of it altogether.
Be Frank and Move Quickly
Where and when an issue needs addressing, address it promptly. Repeated tardiness for work or sloppiness on customer-facing documents, for example, should be called out right away. If you're new to your position as a boss, you might worry you'll alienate or irritate employees by saying something, but letting what seem like small problems go now could lead to having to handle a much bigger situation later. After all, if the boss doesn't care that someone's 20 minutes late every day, others might start to think they can be late, too -- or that misspelled words, off-center headers in client memos and the like are simply the new status quo. Head this all off with a quick, private talk that lets the team member in question know that correction is needed. Schedule this talk as soon as you notice the issue.
That's not to say, of course, that a reprimand is warranted for a single day of lateness or one misspelling. Days sometimes get off to a slow start; people make mistakes. It's when you notice patterns that you've got a problem.
Learn from Your Team
You're the boss now, but that doesn't mean you know more than your employees in all aspects. Be open to new ideas and new strategies in the workplace if and when they seem viable -- no matter the source. A good idea can come from anywhere and anyone, irrespective of age or company title. After all, a truly good leader never stops trying to improve. In the words of basketball-player-turned-coach John Wooden, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
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