9 Rules the Boss Shouldn't Break
Being the boss means more power, more money--and more rules you have to follow. From the in-office socializing to how to handle employee connections on social media, you'll have to balance your authority and your personal relationships with colleagues with care. Here are nine rules designed to help you walk that line.
1. Step Out from Behind Your Desk
For everyday conversations about budgets, meetings or reports, sitting behind your desk is fine. But for anything that's not part of the daily routine--meeting a client, an interview, a review--set yourself up somewhere else. If you welcome someone into your office and shake his or her hand while standing over your desk, you set up a power play. You'll look like you're in charge, yes, but you'll also send the message that you're not accessible, which will thwart most attempts at an honest or forthright conversation. Some business executives keep a separate table in their office for occasions like this.
2. Spend Some Time on Small Talk
Yes, small talk can be boring--does anyone care that much about the weather?--but these basic conversations help your employees connect with you, says Jacquelyn Whitmore, founder of Etiquetteexpert.com and author of several business etiquette books. "The small talk is extremely important," she says. "You must have the BLT factor: believable, likable, trustworthy. The only way to get to know someone is through that BLT factor."
3. Don't Use Acronyms, Slang or Emoticons in Emails
It's okay to use LOL in an email to your spouse, child or best friend, but when you're communicating with a client, it looks sloppy and inappropriate. Treat initial email exchanges like business letters. As you get to know the person you email with, you can write more casually--but you should always avoid emoticons. If you're happy, just say so.
4. Remember to Give Compliments
Some bosses think positive feedback will encourage employees to slack off. But if you don't give compliments at all, you'll soon end up with a disgruntled team. Make it a point to find a justified compliment to pay someone in your department, and do so regularly. It's important for bosses to recognize talent and help talent grow, because that's what keeps a company vital and keeps employees from looking elsewhere.
5. Don't Offer Casual Comments About Clothes
An offhand mention about someone's style or clothes can seem like a come-on. Especially when dealing with a member of the opposite sex. Even a comment as simple as "I love your shirt" can be construed as inappropriate. Compliments come down to how you phrase them. If you think your employee looks nice, try something like, "Thank you for always looking so professional." Still, commenting on an employee's appearance can be treacherous territory, so it might be best to avoid such compliments if at all possible.
6. Dress for Success
You set the tone for work attire in your department, so start by assessing what the typical day will bring. If you manage a team at a law firm, then suits make sense. If you're a leader at an Internet start-up, a polo shirt and khakis might be acceptable. Whatever you wear to set the standard, make sure it's clean and appropriate. Also, your clothes must fit well. Nothing should hang loose; nothing should be too tight.
7. Don't Make Contact on Social Networking Sites
When your employees or clients go home at night and log onto Facebook, it's likely a respite from the workplace and a way to connect with people outside of the office. If a boss adds them on Facebook, they can feel nervous about what to share and who to associate with. You should avoid making first contact on social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter. If your employees reach out to you, go ahead and accept, but keep your interactions infrequent and professional.
8. Adjust Your Facial Expressions
As a boss, you've likely figured out a good poker face for negotiating. Keep up the good work: You should always work on your "boss face." But a boss who scowls drives employees away, and a boss that constantly smiles encourages an overly lax atmosphere. Shoot for an expression of concentrated attentiveness, and flash that smile only when necessary.
9. Watch What You Say Around the Water Cooler
If you seem too gossipy, you'll also come across as insincere and even untrustworthy. Don't share too much of your personal life, and avoid pointed questions to your employees about areas like marriage, finances and children. Stick to discussing the business world, the competition, or other broad topics. But if a rumor spreads about the inner workings of your company, you should address it directly. You don't want an atmosphere of closed doors and whispered exchanges--that kills morale and productivity.
Being the boss is more difficult these days, and taking on the role comes with a host of new challenges. Following these rules should help you make the most of your authority without alienating your employees.