Leadership is all about communication.
“The best bosses realise that their words and actions have a significant impact on the motivation, job satisfaction, and productivity of their employees — and so their communications reflect that heightened awareness,” explains Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behaviour and Thrive in Your Job.”
Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and author of “You Can’t Be Serious! Putting Humour to Work,” says communication is never an afterthought for the best bosses. “It’s a core part of their job,” he says. And they realise that it’s not just about what they say, but how they say things.
“Great bosses think about what their body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice communicate to their staff,” Kerr says. “And they often take the time to say things face-to-face rather than through email in order to build trust, develop relationships, manage conflict, and inspire employees.”
Taylor says there are a few common denominators in what great bosses say on a regular basis. “Most of their dialogue centres around encouragement, training, leadership, sharing the vision, and ongoing, two-way feedback,” she says. “The best bosses know that their success is tied to their team, so they consistently remain in close communications with them, and expect that of their managers, too.”
In the offices of savvy bosses, you’ll often hear these 30 phrases and questions:
Touching base in the morning or at the start of any shift is a small thing, but employees notice when you don’t, Kerr says. “It shows you’re truly present, and taking the time to connect at a personal level.”
“How are you?”
This simple, human question puts employees at ease and reminds them they’re more than a number in the company, says Taylor. “But in reality, it’s not asked as often as you think. Savvy bosses treat their team as people and win their support as a result.”
Praise and recognition at any level in an organisation is always welcomed. “We’re all human beings with basic needs to be appreciated,” Taylor says. “But it can also be overused and lose its meaning — so use this phrase sparingly.”
“Yes.” Or, “Sure, let’s try it.”
Being positive and giving the green light to employees allows them to grow, says Taylor. “That can lead to mistakes, but without risk, the company and team remains stagnant.”
Being open to new, innovative ways of doing things also builds great teams and companies. “Bosses who believe in the axiom, ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained,’ attract the best talent and create a dynamic environment.”
“That was my mistake.”
Admitting fault is something that experienced bosses do. They don’t pass the buck, and therefore, they set the example for others. “By doing so, they also create a safe environment for their teams to take calculated risks,” Taylor says. “That’s how people learn.”
One of the top reasons employees leave a company is because they don’t feel appreciated. “Workplaces where bosses do a better job of consistently showing gratitude toward employees have lower absenteeism rates, lower turnover rates, better customer service scores, and higher productivity,” Kerr explains. Great bosses get in the habit of consistently passing along positive praise in a timely, sincere, and positive manner.
“Can you please…?”
Common courtesy is so simple, yet often overlooked in business. “Smart bosses don’t bark out orders,” says Taylor.
“I have complete confidence in you.”
If it’s true, say it. “One executive colleague recently told a reticent employee that he’d bet part of his senior-level paycheck on the fact that the employee could indeed complete a daunting project,” Taylor says. “The employee surpassed expectations in the end. He had complete support and faith from his boss, which by all accounts was a major contributing factor.”
“What do you need from me to help you do your job better?” Or, “How can I be of greater support to you?”
This is probably one of the most powerful things a boss can get into the habit of asking on a regular basis. “It demonstrates concern and compassion for the employee, and it proves you understand that the real job of a boss is to support and provide a service to your people,” he says.
“Saying you are available to help and proactively asking this are two different things,” adds Taylor. “Bosses who live up to their promises with real support are the best motivators, with the lowest turnover.”
“What’s getting in the way of you doing your job effectively?” Or, “Do you have the resources you need to get this done?”
“Part of a good boss’ job is to remove ‘jobstacles’ that might be getting in the way of employees doing their jobs effectively,” says Kerr. “It’s about identifying not just the on switches, but the off switches that may be demotivating employees.”
“Here’s an example.”
Sometimes projects can be overwhelming and not fully understood. Savvy managers give examples to better explain projects or perspectives. They also anticipate potential outcomes with their staff.
“What’s on your plate right now?”
As a boss, it’s important to check in on the status of your employees’ projects and get an idea of their current workload before doling out additional work. You never want to put too much on their plate.
“Here’s my feedback.”
“Too often employees don’t know enough about what worked and didn’t, particularly when managers are hurried,” says Taylor. “Strong managers realise that the more feedback their team receives, the better the outcome of the next project.”
“Don’t hesitate to ask.”
Employees can only learn by asking, with the caveat that the answers should not be readily available in the first place. Good bosses encourage good questions, and if a debate is legitimate, many like to be challenged diplomatically by their staff members, in private, says Taylor.
“What do you think?”
“Another powerful question that should be asked on a daily basis — in almost every conversation with an employee,” Kerr says. It’s one of the simplest ways to recognise employees, as it sends the message that you value their input, their experience, and their ideas.
Taylor says every employee wants to help build something. “To the extent bosses solicit employee input, they’re not just building morale; they’re getting information from people who are closest to the project, customer, and their area of expertise. Good bosses expect courtesy, but still want real facts from their teams without sugarcoating.”
“Here’s what I’m trying to achieve.” Or, “Here’s why we’re doing this.”
Without a vision, a staff is in limbo. Good bosses set out the objectives and their expectations — otherwise results can’t be measured.
“All too often, bad bosses don’t fully explain the why behind initiatives. Good bosses take the extra time to provide the larger management objective behind a project. Not only is that motivational, but it leads to more targeted results,” Taylor explains.
“How can we best solve this?” Or, “How we can do this better?”
Rather than remaining punitive with a team member, good bosses help their team evaluate situations that go awry. They make their team aware that “we’re in this together.” “These great bosses realise that the more they share knowledge and train the team, the more productive and successful the company,” says Taylor.
“How are your kids/dogs/parents?”
Without crossing any lines, it’s important to get to know your employees and acknowledge their lives outside of work.
“Learn your employees’ spouses and children’s names if they have a family,” Kerr suggests. And if you know they have an ill parent, they just got a new dog, or started taking a photography class, ask how things are going.
“It builds a caring and compassionate workplace, and it builds trust.”
“How are things going?” Or, “Are you being challenged?” Or, “Are you having fun?”
Checking in with employees on whether their work is keeping their skills fresh and in line with their growth objectives — and asking if they’re enjoying the job — may only happen once a year in many companies. But great bosses have this ongoing dialogue with their team. “They realise that the most successful employees are those who are fully engaged and passionate about their work,” Taylor points out.
“Keep me in the loop.“
“A great boss will want to be apprised of developments and not completely hands off,” Taylor explains. “Most employees prefer having latitude over a micro-manager, and the right approach is somewhere in between.”
“Tell me about how your day/week is going.”
Say this, then stop talking, Kerr suggests. “Very few people rave about their boss because they’re a great talker,” he says. “But some say what they love most is how awesome of a listener their boss is.” Being a great listener will score you huge points with your employee, and you might just learn something new!
Great bosses laugh — and they make sure it’s with employees, not at them!
“The famous quotation, ‘Nobody ever died of laughter,’ is especially true in the workplace,” Taylor says. “The best bosses use clever humour to diffuse tension and gain better solidarity with their teams. Levity is a well-developed art that puts the job at hand into perspective. And humour is the shortest pipeline to the memory banks; if you want your team to remember something of importance, humour is a powerful tool.”
These bosses are careful not to misuse humour — being sarcastic or using it at someone’s expense. “When it relates to the discussion or business, it is a winning approach for motivating a team.”
“What are your dreams/goals?”
Understanding what the professional and personal ambitions of an employee are is a great way of demonstrating your concern for the person and an excellent way to help you understand your employees’ motivations, Kerr says.
Taylor says the very best bosses think before they speak, and have a high emotional I.Q. “They’re capable of taking a new approach if the current one isn’t working. They know that they are only as good as their team, so their words and actions reflect that awareness,” she concludes.