News & Insights

This article was originally published in the June 29-July 5, 2012 edition of the Atlanta Business Chronicle.  It is republished with the permission of the author.

Like most adages or clichés, “lonely at the top” rings true most of the time.  Whether you own your business, are a CEO, or the head of your department, it can be very challenging to make decisions and shape the direction your company will take.

In my experience both owning and running a small business, I discovered some solid strategies that made my executive experience in large part very fulfilling.  Outlined here are what I call the “5 Es” to maximize your chances of success.

Empower.  When I was the owner of a chain of independent bookstores, I managed a staff of more than 200 people.  Since we were competing against the national chains for customers, it was critical that we had a strong team in place.  I found one of the keys to achieve this was to empower all of my managers by making them part of the decision-making process.  I also wanted them to utilize the same strategy with all of the employees at the store level.  If we forged a strong team concept and everyone was committed to a common goal, I found that people became personally invested in the well being of the company.  It became more than a job to them.  It became something they all wanted to thrive.  We succeeded and, at times, failed together.

Engage.  Communication is a very powerful business tool.  The more you can communicate and get feedback from your management team, the more successful you will become.  Regular meetings are a good start, but I would recommend spending as much time as possible with your employees and get them to share with you what they feel makes the company run in the most efficient way.  The final decision will always be yours, but if you build a strong rapport with your key people, the process of getting to the right decision will likely be easier.

Enlighten.  Odds are if you are sitting at the top, you have a great deal of knowledge and experience that got you there.  Share with your folks what you learned on the way up.  They will appreciate your taking the time and will work harder for you.  When I was running my retail store, I would often share the stories of growing up in the industry and all of the key principles I learned along the way.  Try to put yourself in your employee’s position and strive to make them the best they can be by teaching them what took you years to learn.

Encourage.  Part of being a good owner or manager is getting the most out of your team.  Early in my career I worked for someone who only focused on the negative.  Invariably, the only time I heard anything was when a mistake was made.   This experience taught me the lesson of encouragement.   I have found the more you let people know what a good job they are doing, the more they want to hear it.  Hence, they will go the extra mile to get praise from their boss.   The simple words, “You did a great job” are some of the most powerful in the business world.  I was surprised to learn early in my managerial career that simple encouragement was just as motivating to most of the people who worked for me as financial incentives.

Environment.  All of the aforementioned strategies fit together in the environment you create for your team.  A positive workplace is crucial to the success of your business.  If your employees feel comfortable and at ease, they will be more productive.  If they know they are truly part of a team, then you will get the most out of each one of them.  If they feel safe to speak up and share concerns without hesitation, you will build a level of trust that will spread to the rest of your folks.  While owning the bookstores, we often had famous authors in the store and I always made it a point to have the cashier spend as much time with the writer as I did.  It was important that the environment was one of appreciation and fairness.

I firmly believe that the if you implement these simple strategies, you will get more out of your experience as a leader.  You worked hard getting to the top, so try to keep the lonely moments to a minimum.