Of all the lessons I learned through my years of entrepreneurship, the most valuable was to be a leader, not a boss. I was a good leader for my suppliers and external teams, but in my own office, I acted like a boss. There was a huge difference in the results I got.
With my internal staff, I was the boss. I defined my job as making decisions and judging whether others have done their job well or not. I spent a lot of time telling people what to do, how to do it and whether they did it right or not. We were friendly, but ultimately, my employees saw me as an authority figure. For a long time, that felt good, but as time went on, I saw my employees repeating old work patterns, doing the same thing they did last week and last year, not growing or changing as the organization grew.
After I sold my company, I realized that their lack of growth and repetitive work habits were my fault. I didn’t expect them to contribute new ideas, ask them to take risks or challenge them. I simply told them what to do. Looking back, I learned that people have to work for a boss to get a paycheck. Usually, they do the minimum amount of work necessary to not get fired.
For my suppliers and vendors, though, I was a leader, and the results showed for it. From the start, I knew none of them worked for me directly and that they didn’t have to do what I wanted from them. They would come up to my standards only if they wanted to. For that, my best option was to inspire them, encourage them and support them as they grew. I turned on my charm and explained my vision for quality, consistency and ethics. They caught my excitement and began to try new things. The factory owners who helped produce my products all performed highly for me, and many became better at what they did, ultimately making my company better.
With my vendors, I spent most of my time listening. I assumed they were talented, and I worked hard to provide the resources they needed to grow and stretch. They wanted to work for me and often went above and beyond what they were expected to do because they felt challenged, rewarded and recognized. When I sold my company, my main supplier actually cried.
Being honest with myself, I can see that I was both a boss and a leader. Having both of those experiences, I learned that people have to work for a boss, but they want to work for a leader. They put in a minimum amount of effort for a boss, but they will surprise even themselves if they work for a leader. I didn’t turn my leadership efforts on for my internal team because, well, I was their boss. They had to work for me.
Companies that succeed exceptionally are built by teams where everyone has the opportunity to take on new challenges, develop new skills and try ideas that make the whole better in a way that one person alone can’t do.
Leading With Emotional Intelligence
Leaders outperform bosses every time. As a business coach, I am dedicated to the mission of helping people become better leaders through emotional intelligence. Here are seven ways you can become a better leader using emotional intelligence skills.
1. Be curious and nonjudgmental. Instead of telling people what is better, best, wrong, bad or what they should do, try asking them what they did and how it went. Often, you’ll find they are harder on themselves than you would be.
2. Be empathetic and care about the success of everyone on your team. It is essentially human to want to please the people who care about you. Team building really comes down to creating the kind of bonds that motivate people to perform up to expectations. Listen and empathize with them to build those relationships.
3. Believe in your team’s ability to solve problems without you. Let your team know you believe they can overcome whatever challenges come their way and ask how you can help. Soon, they will be able to handle the bumps in the road on their own.
4. Expect everyone to contribute new ideas to improve results. I can’t say it better than Steve Jobs, who famously said: “We don’t hire smart people to tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
5. Encourage your team to take on projects that stretch their skills. Research shows that people who stay in their comfort zone at work stagnate and get bored. People need a 50% to 66% chance of failure in order to stretch and grow, what researchers call, the learning zone.
6. Ask what they are learning often. I always tell my clients that there is no failure. When you try something, you either learn or you succeed. Help them learn from their trials and errors and encourage them to try again.
7. Recognize and reward success. A quick shout-out in a team meeting, a high five in the hall or heartfelt thanks in a one-on-one will go a long way to motivating your team to want those rewards again.
Overall, leadership is about putting people first. The most effective leaders spend their days inspiring and motivating others to achieve even more than they thought they could. Emotional intelligence is at the heart of leadership because it’s about building relationships of trust and safety. When you show you care about your employees, your colleagues and your clients, you build loyalty and motivate people to go above and beyond for you. That’s when performance really begins to shine.