Have you ever had a coworker whom you just couldn't stand? Are you the type of person who panics at a problem, or are you the type of person who solves a problem? Believe it or not, there are some personality traits that just don’t jive with small-business success, but the ones that do aren’t always inherent. Being a strong leader requires a certain amount of building character, but just how important is it?
About 78% of business owners believe that personality is the most desirable quality in employees, and the same goes for those managing a small business. It’s the kind of thing that helps you build connections, stoke a good sense of morale among your team and handle problems effectively. These tips can help you build character as a small-business manager.
What Is Character Building?
A lot of time in business, we focus on the same types of learned skills, like financial planning, marketing strategy and sales, but building character is actually an essential business and management process. Character building falls under the category of relationship management, and it helps you to foster genuine business connections, manage your employees with empathy, best serve your customers and most effectively collaborate and problem solve.
Why is it so important? Think of it this way: You could be the best and most knowledgeable web developer managing a startup team, but you can absolutely get in your own way. Things like micromanaging your team, which is basically an inherent sense of distrust, can take valuable time away from productivity, and an insatiable ego leads to biases that could hurt your end product. Thankfully, you can work on squashing your negative tendencies and nurturing your character strengths.
Good: Honesty, Trustworthiness and Reliability
Honesty is the cornerstone of good character. People want to do business with people on whom they can rely. They want to know that people are going to show up and do the job that they said they’re going to do. Similarly, employees are more apt to let management actually lead if they believe they can trust their manager.
Luckily for managers, trustworthiness and reliability are two of the simplest things on which you can work while building rapport with your team. Basically, you just have to show up and do what you promise you’re going to do. To build trust, you should:
- Keep your promises: This may be a little bit easier said than done because sometimes managers have the tendency to overcommit, and even though they genuinely intend to deliver, they wind up coming short. Be wary of committing to more than you may be able to handle and always remain transparent about the state of a project.
- Trust your employees: This is simple. If you show your employees that you trust them, they’ll trust you. You get the respect that you give.
- Show selflessness: A team will not trust a manager who is acting in self-interest. You need to try your best to always work toward the greater common good.
- Take risks and land: Trust is grown through positive experiences, so the more risks you take as a manager that work out for the better, the more people will trust you to make tough decisions.
- Put in the time: Nothing builds trust more swiftly than face time. If you spend down time with your team, whether it’s in a car ride or post-work happy hour, you’ll form a genuine bond.
A strong sense of self-confidence can lead your business to success, but sometimes, this can teeter into an oversized ego. This is a business killer, as ego-driven people tend to focus on the I rather than the we, which can make them fear innovation and resent learning. The need for personal recognition and praise should be left at the door, and your motivation should come from the desire to better help your customers or help your overall team meet its goals.
To build strong character with an ego that’s in check, you should:
- Focus on team goals rather than personal goals
- Remember that anyone can contribute to a conversation
- Try to learn something new
- Don’t fear innovation
- Be willing to do the hard work
- Appreciate those who may be less educated than you or lack your credentials
- Listen to and apply constructive criticism
- Have an honest conversation with yourself about strength and weaknesses
- Remember that creativity and innovation come in all shapes and sizes
This last point is particularly important, as managers with large egos tend to think they are the most knowledgeable and the most qualified to make a decision, but this may not be the case. Just because someone didn’t follow your path, be it a master’s degree or years of experience, does not mean that his ideas are bad. In fact, employees may have opinions that more closely align with your target market, so it’s important to listen and collaborate.
Empathy is the art of being able to feel what others feel and see things from their perspective. This isn’t just a good trait to have when you build character for business —it’s a good trait to have in life. According to reports, empathy improves leadership, boosts teamwork, helps you better understand your customers' wants and needs, helps you ask crucial questions and may even land you a business loan.
Empathy is essential to managing a staff because it helps you understand what they personally need to do their best. Just because something doesn’t bother you does not mean it won’t bother them. For example, you might be OK with a little tough love if you’re not meeting your goals, but an employee may feel discouraged enough to completely lose all motivation. To build empathy, you can:
- Be curious: Highly empathetic people are generally curious about others. Try expanding your empathy by talking to people outside of your social circle or close business contacts. The more world views you can take in, the better.
- Listen: This is crucial. Actually listen to what people are saying. Hearing their needs and perspectives helps you have a greater understanding.
- Show vulnerability: Many of us believe that vulnerability will show weakness, but vulnerability actually builds character in a strong leader. This creates a shared empathy. For example, if your employees are upset that you’re all working late, let them know how hard it is for you too.
You may think you’re doing the best thing for your business by micromanaging your employees, but you need to take a hard look and think about why you hired employees you can’t trust. When you’re looking at character development, micromanaging is a manifestation of distrust, and it has some serious consequences for businesses. Research has found that micromanaging employees greatly increases employee turnover, ruins productivity, slows progress and even increases the risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, chronic stress and sleep problems.
It’s important to remain a firm, strong leader, but you don’t need to micromanage to do that. To avoid micromanagement, it’s important to:
- Never act like your team’s jailer: In other words, there’s no reason salaried employees should be emailing you the exact time they leave or the exact time they come in from a lunch break if they’re completing all of their tasks. If they’re repeatedly late for essential functions like store openings or meetings, that’s a separate conversation.
- Forgo the CC: If you’re asking to be CCed on all emails even if the conversation does not pertain to you, you might be a micromanager (and your inbox is probably overwhelmingly full).
- Reflect: Reflect on your management methods. It’s important to ask yourself why you’re micromanaging so you can eliminate the trigger. It could be because you’ve hired the wrong team, but it’s more likely that there’s an underlying insecurity.
- Ask for feedback: Get a third party to gather feedback so you can learn where you’re coming up short.
- Learn to prioritize: The better you can strategically plan, the less likely you’ll be to feel the overwhelming sense of dread and anxiety that triggers managers to micromanage.
- Be honest about limitations: If you fully understand your employees' limitations, you’ll know when to fill in and when to lay back.
Good: Professionalism and Confidence
You may have a low-key, casual workplace, but your employees are still looking for you to be professional and confident. If a manager lacks confidence, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the team, and a lack of professionalism can lead to employee distrust or lost productivity. You want your team to take you seriously but also trust that you can handle the tough stuff.
Professionalism is often built on nonverbal cues like dress, handshake and body language. Building confidence is a little trickier, especially if you’re the type of anxious leader to ruminate about what could go wrong. Instead of doing that, you should:
- Visualize yourself achieving your goals
- Practice positive affirmations
- Do one small thing that frightens you every day
- Question your negative thoughts
- Help others
- Set yourself up to win
The last point is extremely important. Of course you will not build confidence if you set yourself up to achieve extremely difficult, unattainable goals. It’s better to start with smaller goals and build up yourself and your team on the back of these tiny successes.
Bad: Negative Attitude
Keeping a positive attitude is an essential part of good character development. Pessimistic leaders often write their own fate: They believe their team is going to fail, so as a result, their team also believes they’re going to fail, and then everyone actually does fail. Remaining positive will motivate your team and increase productivity and passion, whereas negativity often leads to self-sabotage and discouraged employees who just go through the motions rather than striving for innovation.
To foster a positive attitude, try your best to look at the silver lining. Don’t ever view a problem within your team as you versus the team member who created that problem. Instead, shift your mindset to view it as you and your team versus the problem. Always search for the silver lining, and if you don’t believe it, examine your doubts closely and hope for the best while planning for the worst.
Flexibility Is Crucial to Character Building
Character building typically focuses on moral skills like trust, empathy and confidence, but that’s easier said than done in a world that often rewards bad behavior. The most important thing is to always keep yourself in check, and that requires quite a bit of flexibility. With character building, flexibility is the way to growth.
Whether you’re working on squashing a swelling ego or trying to dial back the type of softness that makes your employees take advantage of you, it’s always important to roll with the punches. No two situations will always be the same, and you need to find what works for you. Be open to changes based on what the situation requires and always, always remain open with your employees enough to restructure your management style if something isn’t working.
- Inc.: Empathy Is the Key to Effective Leadership
- Inc.: 3 Habits That Will Increase Your Empathy
- Entrepreneur: 10 Things You Can Do to Boost Self-Confidence
- Fast Company: 5 Ways Your Ego Could Kill Your Business
- American Express: 10 Ways to Help Let Go of Your Ego
- Harvard Business Review: How to Stop Micromanaging Your Team
- NPR: Is Your Boss Too Controlling? Many Employees Clash With Micromanagers
- CareerAddict: The Devastating Effects of Micromanagement
- Forbes: To Succeed In Business, Build Your Millennial Leader Through Character Development
- Inc.: Profitable Business Relationships Are About Personalities, Not Just Skills
Mariel Loveland is a small business owner, content strategist and writer from New Jersey. Throughout her career, she's worked with numerous startups creating content to help small business owners bridge the gap between technology and sales. Her work has been featured in publications like Business Insider and Vice.