April 18, 2018 6 min read
A Note From The Editor
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One of the key features of all great leaders is that they’re willing to have difficult conversations. Difficult conversations are a sign of difficult problems. Great leaders, and especially great entrepreneurs, identify and solve difficult problems. It’s really that simple.
Related: 50 Rules for Being a Great Leader
The only real struggle is having the mental and emotional toughness to start these conversations with your team. You are going to hear things you don’t want to hear, but if you listen and take action, these conversations are the most powerful tools you can use to grow your business.
1. Where does the money come from?
You, as an entrepreneur, have an obligation to make more money so you can make more impact and protect your family. I’ve talked about this before, but here I want to tackle this from a different angle: What if your team has negative associations with money?
Think about it: If you personally have negative associations with money, that will destroy your business. If someone on your team has those negative associations, guess what? That’s going to hold back or even destroy the work he or she is doing for you.
That’s why you want people on your team who want more money. As long as they do it an ethical way, you want your team to pursue more raises, more commissions, more company shares — whatever is the best method for them to make more money in your business. Because if you’ve set up your business correctly, everything they can do right now to make more money will also make more money for you.
That’s why you should talk openly with your team about what money means and where money comes from. Explain to each one of them how his or her work specifically brings more dollars into the business. Remind team members over and over again that this is a good thing because it allows all of you to make a bigger impact and lead better lifestyles.
2. Who doesn’t need to be here anymore?
In his book No B.S. Ruthless Management of People and Profits, Dan Kennedy talks about how everyone will “go lame” at some point. You might have a team member who has been a total rock star for years but one day his performance starts to slide. Whatever the reason is, you need to identify the situation and deal with it immediately.
In my experience, having a team member backslide does not mean you need to instantly fire him. I always tell my team, “If you fall down a hole, I will give you a rope. It’s your decision whether you use that rope to climb out or tie a noose and hang yourself with it.” Sometimes, a team member who’s backsliding just needs you to light a fire under him to get back on track. In the long run, he’ll thank you for it.
For example, one of our team members was having issues with turning in sloppy work and not taking ownership of his decisions. He would constantly reach out to his team lead with obvious, Google-able questions, and it was a waste of time for both of them. So, I pulled aside that team lead and explained to him, “Look, either your team member needs to start pulling his weight, or he needs to leave.”
So, that team lead gave his team member a full write-up with a list of all the issues they’d been having. He told his team member directly that we would fire him if he didn’t make these changes within the next 30 days.
The good news is that his team member didn’t just meet those 30-day standards — he exceeded them. He made a massive jump up in his productivity, his focus and his decisiveness, and today he’s one of our most valuable team members. And, of course, there are cases where we’ve just had to fire people.
The most important part of all of this is that you detect the back slide early, and the best way to do that is to communicate with your team and ask them who’s pulling their weight and who isn’t. Remember: You aren’t asking them to snitch on each other. You’re asking them to keep you informed so you can give people who are struggling the chance to get back on track.
3. What are my weaknesses as a leader?
You have blind spots. We all do, especially when it’s time to evaluate ourselves. That’s why the most important resource you can have as an entrepreneur is a team who trusts you. If you have a team who trusts you, and you open the door for honest feedback, you will have a crystal-clear picture of your weaknesses.
Once you know your weaknesses, you can work on them. One of my biggest weaknesses is that I used to emotionally react instead of responding. When people did something wrong in my business, I would blow up at them. I cringe to even think about this now, but there were some cases where I even scolded them in front of other team members.
At that point, my vice president had been around long enough to know how to handle things. She would strategically work with the team to solve problems before they ever landed on my desk because she knew I would get angry. Then, one day, she spoke up about how much these outbursts were hurting the morale of the team. Once I saw that my own behavior was hurting our morale and therefore holding back our growth, I committed to changing the way I communicated with the team.
Now, when someone does something wrong, I take her aside privately and calmly explain what went wrong, how it hurts the business and how we can improve things next time. Now that I deliver constructive feedback like this, I often have team members thank me for it. They genuinely want to do better work, and so they see my feedback as a gift, not an insult.
You should be having these same conversations with your team, especially your leadership team or the team members who have been around the longest. If you listen with an open mind and commit to taking action on their feedback, this can rapidly accelerate your growth as a leader and the growth of your empire.
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