Being a boss, like being a parent, is one of the hardest yet most rewarding jobs you can ever do. Being a boss – an employer – is distinct from running a company. When you start and build your own company, there is an endless list of things you have to do, from registering it in the very first instant, to balancing the books. This is all hard enough when you do it on your own, but when you employ people (which you have to do at a certain point because, as you grow, you can't do everything), it's a whole new ball game – you are responsible for other people. You have to make sure you have enough money to pay them, that you treat them with respect and give them a healthy and supportive environment to work in, but you also have to make difficult decisions because you have to put the welfare of the company first. If you go out of business because you've hired the wrong people, or paid people too much, everyone loses out, so while you have to be a “good boss”, a big part of that is putting the company first.
I think an important aspect of being a good boss is getting to know people's strengths and putting them in the right position. You have to pick good people, but they have to be suited to the position they are being hired for. You have to accept that you have to let people go if they don't live up to expectations… or find a different position for them and retrain them. It really helps if you pick the right people for the right jobs in the first place, and this goes back to what I talked about in previous chapters. I never care about what someone did before – whether they got an MBA from Harvard or they were flipping burgers in a fast food restaurant – they need to have the right attitude and good manners! I love giving opportunities to the right people. And I love it even more when they are successful, when they grow within the company and achieve their goals. There is nothing more satisfying, when you are a boss, than seeing people grow like that.
One of the top attributes you need to be a good employer is transparency. I take this so seriously that my office is a glass enclosure in the corner of the open-plan sales floor. I like people to be able to see that I am there and feel that they can talk to me at any time when my door is open. And as far as possible I try to explain why I make the decisions I make.
As the owner of a business, a CEO, a leader, you often end up having to make big decisions that people might not, on the surface, understand. I do try to explain the decisions I make and, 99% of the time, people understand and accept them, even if they were initially wary before I explained. Of course, you can't explain everything, you have to pick your battles, but the more people understand the decisions you are taking, the more comfortable and secure they will feel, and the harder they will work.
I also believe in integrity. I always do what I say I am going to do. I follow through on my promises. I try my best not to make promises I can't keep. If I stand up and say I am going to do something, it is not a “hope”, it is because I believe I can and will do it. I am very proud to have developed a strong reputation for this. When I hear feedback from my team, the comment I most often hear is: “Ying always delivers everything he says he will.”
A big part of being a good boss is knowing and understanding what people need in order for them to do their best work and avoid mistakes, so you need a good deal of empathy. When you help them to do what is best for them, it allows them to achieve their best work.
Returning to the theme of “perspective”, as a boss, you have to realize that not everyone will think the same way as you. You have to look at things from their perspective. Sometimes I have to make myself think like an employee. I need to put myself in the shoes of my employees and think about what people will think and how they will react when I share information with them. For example, when I was preparing to share the news of the rebrand, I had to remind myself that, although I was very excited about it, an employee might be anxious. I knew exactly why I was doing it and what it was going to entail. I had to put myself in the shoes of my employees hearing about it for the first time and think about the best way to present it to them in order to ensure they felt comfortable.
I think it is always a good idea to look at every situation from different perspectives – in your professional and personal lives.
You have to be decisive to be a good boss, and this comes back to taking responsibility for your roles in life so that you don't procrastinate. I think everyone needs to be decisive in order to be successful in life. Even if you make the wrong decision, it's better than making no decision. You can always learn from a wrong decision; you learn nothing by procrastinating. If I can see someone is not performing and I leave it five months – when I knew I should have let them go when I first realized that they were not getting results – I've cost my company money, and that impacts everyone else. You have to be ruthless. As tough as that sounds, you have to look at the bigger picture.
If you're deliberating over whether to enter a new market, and you think you can handle the extra work, just do it. At least, if you get it wrong, you have an answer. If you get it right, you might have made a lot of profit – profit that you would have missed if you'd delayed the decision.
I am known for being extremely proactive and agile in decision-making. Even as we walk out of a meeting, if a good idea has come up that we've decided to try, I say: “Let's do it… now!” What's the point of waiting? For example, if we've decided to move the seating around in a department, and everyone in the meeting has agreed, I want to get it done so we don't waste any more time considering when we are going to do it. Let's get it off the “to do” list immediately. Let's do it so quickly that it never even becomes an item on the “to do” list!
I love that aspect of running my own company. When we've made a decision we can just act on it, swiftly, without having to get it approved at several more levels.
I also believe it is vital, if you want to be a good boss, to give praise where praise is due. I think “well done” is the phrase I most commonly use. I also think it is usually best to give praise publically. Conversely, when you give criticism – even when it is positive and constructive – you must do it privately. Everyone's ego is somewhat fragile and no one wants to be publically shamed. Making someone feel embarrassed will negatively affect their performance.
Having said that, when you are the leader you can't take things personally. Sometimes you will invest in someone for many years, and just when you feel confident in their lasting loyalty, they leave. You have to accept that you can't control people and that you can't always give people everything they want. You mustn't let an experience like that make you start doubting yourself.
You must continually believe in yourself as a leader. If you don't believe in you, no one else can.
A good boss should know his or her team well. You must get to know your people, on a professional and personal level. Find out who their family members are, which football teams they support, and what their hobbies and passions are. Find out what makes them tick; get to know them on a personal level. And remember all this information. That might seem a lot but figure it out; you're the boss – this is what you get paid the big bucks for!
As often as I can, I will walk around the office and speak to people. I get to know as much as I can about the people who work for me. As well as the names of every single person who works for me, I also know a huge amount of information about them. I know who’s getting married, who’s having a baby, who’s just lost a parent (we always give a day’s compassionate leave if someone loses an immediate family member). I believe that this is a hugely important part of good leadership. You treat people how you would want them to treat your customers. You have to lead by example. I also want to show my team that I am working as hard as they are. I can't imagine they would be too inspired if, as the boss and owner, I was never in the office and was spending all my time on a golf course or flying off on holidays. I may be the leader of the team, but we are still a team and it is important that I play a significant role on a daily basis, showing that I am working as hard as the next person. I never lose sight of the fact that we are a team and that there is a trickle down through every level. What I project will be felt throughout the whole company. And good feelings will also trickle back up to me.
Your interest in the people who work for you must be there and it must be genuine. You must genuinely care for people. This is how you connect to them. Your actions on this front will make them feel human rather than just cogs in the machine. I genuinely care about every person who works in my company.
The best thing is when you discover that it goes both ways. When I lost my mother, people were so kind to me and showed real compassion. It showed me that they have real loyalty… that they really do care. And I genuinely care about them; I'm not showing them compassion because I expect anything back, but it was nice to get it back on this recent sad occasion.
As a boss you want loyalty from your team, so you have to be loyal to begin with. Employees are always worried about being led up the garden path. When you feel your boss has your back, that he or she cares about you as well as the healthy growth of the company, then you are inspired to work harder. If, as a boss, you make promises to employees – such as “if you do this you will be promoted by then” but you don't deliver on your part of the bargain, how can you expect any future loyalty from that employee? It is a constant two-way street. As long as my employee keeps their side of the bargain, I will keep mine.
Some people believe it is important to “under promise and over deliver” but I don't think that motivates people either. Being a good boss means being a good motivator. So I don't play anything down, I try to get the balance just right, to be completely realistic.
I like to think of myself as the “Goldilocks boss” – not promising too much, not promising too little, promising what is “just right.”