Recently, a client who owns a family business told me seven employees had left the company over the past several months. He expressed his frustration with employees who did not possess a strong work ethic and were not loyal. He was shocked when I pointed out perhaps he had a direct or indirect impact on these employees’ behavior and/or decision to leave the company. In fact, I noted that having numerous employees quit in such a short time period might be a clear sign that he needs to reevaluate his leadership style.
In all my years of family business consulting, I’ve seen these types of situations repeat themselves over and over — with leaders failing to take responsibility for the role they play in their team’s behavior. Whether you care to acknowledge it or not, you have a significant effect on your people, and when things go wrong, you need to first look in the mirror before assigning blame elsewhere.
Your leadership style may be wearing thin on your team — or maybe you are not purposeful or consistent in your style so your team never knows what to expect. The upshot of either situation can be highly detrimental to your business, in the form of these signs:
- Lack of engagement
- High turnover
- No enthusiasm
- Poor work product
When you see a pattern of these behaviors or dissatisfaction among your employees, remember work culture starts at the top — with you — so it’s a good idea to review your own behaviors and leadership style.
What Great Leaders Do
A recent article in Harvard Business Review examined what behaviors set the best leaders apart. It was geared toward CEOs of public companies, but its points are salient for family business leaders as well. How do you stack up with respect to the following four essential behaviors?
Deciding with speed and conviction.
Drawing out the decision-making process for too long can have unexpected consequences. One of my business coaching clients waited so long to decide to promote a member of his team that she became frustrated and decided to leave the company. Making prompt decisions, along with being transparent, can go a long way toward the long-term success of your business.
Engaging for impact.
Employees can easily become frustrated if they feel you rule like a king or queen, or you give them independence without providing any guidance. When you make decisions that affect your team, hold respectful conversations to help them understand why. And, you may be surprised at what happens when you get employees excited by letting them know what you need from them.
To me, this behavior is all about agility — how able you are to identify and manage change. If you don’t have time to be strategic because you’re doing too much of the work yourself, that can be a problem. Better leaders trust their team to handle day-to-day responsibilities so they can stay abreast of industry changes and develop strategies to respond to them.
This behavior is about setting clear, definable goals that are realistic and ensuring your team knows what success looks like. It’s a good strategy to continue to raise the bar as employees meet incremental goals — something that builds their confidence — rather than deflate them with an “all or nothing” philosophy.
Understand Your Influence
What I hope you take away from this is that you should not underestimate how your behavior affects your team. I see far too many family business leaders who are passive; they don’t see themselves as leaders and only reluctantly accept the responsibilities that come with leadership. Or, there are the autocrats, who don’t understand why the next generation isn’t developing as expected. (Hint: they probably think “why bother?” since they aren’t given enough — or any — responsibility.) Take stock of your leadership style and what makes great leaders successful, and start applying your tremendous power toward building a winning team and business.