“All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.” John Kenneth Galbraith
One of the secrets, I believe, of great leadership is to make time for your people to help them with their challenges at work. In the context of small businesses, I mean spending time with your staff and working with them to empower them. Or put more simply, taking the time to help them to help you. This is crucial for small business owners and managers who want to grow their business and increase productivity (and profitability!).
However, I often found it felt like I got a relentless barrage of questions throughout the day and I never got any momentum going with the work that I had to get done. I was constantly reacting to the challenges of my staff and not doing my own work. They loved it because I was always there for them but it was an unbalanced and unproductive arrangement because I couldn’t spend any proper time doing what I really needed to do, i.e. winning the business for them to work on.
If at times you feel like this as well, here’s 3 simple ways you can be a better leader:
1) Set Times
First I made it clear that there were set times in the day that staff could come and speak with me; moreover, they had this time from me EVERY day but these were the ONLY times they had with me.
I chose first thing in the morning and in the evening after work. This way I could help them at the beginning of their day, so that they had no delay getting done what they needed to do that day. And I was available for them in the evening after work so that they could discuss anything that had happened during the day and couldn’t wait until the next morning.
Making this time available in your staff’s ‘private’ time means they will choose for themselves if it can wait until the next day; this is a really effective ‘important / urgent’ filter that takes up none of your time and works for you. Your people will manage their time for themselves, and more effectively, because you made it in their interest to do so.
2) Limited Time
Second, I limited the time that I spent with each employee. I set a timer on my phone so the alarm went off after their set time. And I always stuck to the times no matter where we got to in the discussion.
Pretty soon you will find your staff happy to take responsibility for presenting their challenges to you in a way that allows you to find solutions together in the time you set aside. They will understand that they have to help themselves to get what they want from you. After a while you will got most of your morning meetings down to as little as 5 to 10 minutes per person.
Third, I implemented systems, as far as possible, that directed the employees on what to do. I urge everyone to read Tim Ferris’s book ‘The 4 Hour Work Week’ to find out more about how to do this.
If you implement systems you will proactively answer 99% of the questions your staff might have on any task (so you didn’t need to spend time during the day telling them what to do). It also means that your people will only bring you quality questions that really needed your attention.
Empowerment Produces Results
If you put these changes in place (empathetically and over time, of course!) you will get a happier, more productive, more engaged workforce.
They will be happier because they always know what it is they are supposed to be doing (we all love this feeling and we hate not knowing what we are supposed to do). They will love being left to get on with their work (they will feel trusted and capable) as long as you have given them a system to work within, so that they always know where their boundaries are and feel supported by you.
If you can do this your people will feel free, within their boundaries, to do the work the way they choose to do it. You can trust them to do it their way (it will be different to your way but not necessarily better!) because you have a system that ensures they get done what needs to get done.
If you can do this, if you can direct your people clearly and then trust them to get on with it, they will do amazing things for you. They will lift you up to heights that you could never have got to on your own. And they will be proud and happy to do this for you.