When I imagine a “BOSS,” I think of someone in a leather chair behind a desk filled with papers, phones and computer monitors. They bark orders from inside their office and hit a button on their phone to yell at their assistant for coffee.
When I picture a “LEADER,” I think of a person on the floor, talking to their employees and customers. They throw around high fives and compliments, stepping in when they see someone needs help.
When I opened my business nine years ago, I was more of a boss than a leader. I was young and I thought I knew it all — it was my fitness club, I signed the checks and if you didn’t like it, don’t let the door hit your gluteus maximus on the way out.
As years went by, I began to think differently about the way I managed. I knew it was effective but not effective enough. My employees worked for me, but they didn’t respect me. I also didn’t like who I was becoming.
I started reading books from industry leaders and following them on social media. People respected them and their employees loved working for them. This is what I wanted.
I knew I needed to change.
So how do you change from a boss to a leader? Slowly.
In my case, I started by showing my staff how to get it done instead of doing it myself.
Like many owners, I used to do it all. Nobody could do as good as job as me and I could get it done faster, I thought.
But I started to realize if I ever wanted to take a day off or at least have an hour to grab lunch, I had to start trusting my staff. I started with small tasks. I showed employees exactly how I wanted it done. You can’t get mad at them if you never taught them.
Once I saw that they could handle smaller projects, I trusted them with bigger ones. This created enthusiasm instead of fear.
If you create an environment where your employees are enthusiastic about work instead of fearful, your bottom line will grow. But the opposite also is true.
I remember eating dinner at a bar. The bartender made a mistake with an order and the owner came over and yelled at him in front of the customers. He fired him five minutes later. I have not gone back to that restaurant since, in part because I felt uncomfortable.
If you expect your employees to work hard for you, you better work hard for them. I will never ask my employees to do something I won’t do myself.
I was eating lunch at a local restaurant when a server walked out of the kitchen and a cucumber fell on the floor. (Three years, later this image is still stuck in my head).
The waiter saw the cucumber hit the floor, but kept walking. I thought to myself, “He will pick it up on the way back.” He walked right over it without a second glance. Four other employees and one manager did the same thing.
Finally, a young waitress saw it, grabbed a napkin and picked it up. When I was done my meal, I walked over to her and handed her my business card. I told her if she ever needed a job to give me a call. The reason?
She took pride in her job.
It took me many years to transition from a boss to a leader. I am still working on it. For some, it comes naturally. For others, it may never come at all.
You can read all the books you want, follow all the famous leaders in the industry and attend every great seminar, but if you do not put what you learned into action, you will still just be a boss.
When you are a leader, you have a team that joins you on your mission. It is more than a job — it’s a lifestyle.
People work for a boss out of fear. Usually, they will work hard enough not to get fired. But at the end of the day, it is just a job.
At the end of the day, you can be successful as a leader or as a boss. I am not telling you to change.
But I would much rather have my team help me change lives every day than have my employees work for me while I try to change lives myself.
Nic DeCaire is a 2014 DBT40 honoree and the owner of Fusion Fitness in Newark.