Being a well-loved boss isn't about developing a cult of personality. In fact, you don't have to have fantastic people skills to win over employees. What you do need is a commitment to make connection—real connection—with the people who work under you. That means getting to know their challenges, their work style, their stressors, and their role in the overall functioning of your company. It also means noticing them, acknowledging them and listening to them.
Having worked at McDonald's Corporation for 34 years (starting as a grill man and working my way up to regional vice president of the New York region, with more than $600 million in sales annually) and learning leadership from some of the world's most legendary leaders—including late founder Ray Kroc, former CEO Fred Turner and former president Ed Rensi—here are some tried-and-true ways to make that all-important connection with your staff and employees.
• Be on the other end of the phone. At McDonald's, even today, any employee can phone the CEO and get a call back within 24 hours if he's unable to take the call. That kind of access lets your employees know you care.
• Keep the door open. McDonald's headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, was built without walls or doors. Although that may be physically impossible at your company, having an "open door" policy isn't. An open door says, "I'm here for you."
• Start an ombudsman program. If you don't have one already, set up a process by which employees can air complaints to an unbiased party who does not report to anyone in the company, even executive management.
• Make friends—yes, friends—with coworkers. In their book, First, Break All the Rules, authors Buckingham and Coffman, after interviewing more than 80,000 managers, concluded that the most effective managers were those who build personal relationships with their people. Why? Because true friends won't be yes-men. They'll tell you when you're off track and give you genuine feedback. Making friends with direct reports may not be the best idea, although there is nothing wrong with doing so if you keep them focused on performance outcomes.
• Work alongside your front-line people. Commit to spending regular quality time with customers—and the staff members who interact with them every day. You will learn from them, and they can learn a great deal by watching you. This is great practice, if being a "people person" doesn't come naturally to you, in relating to and chatting about the very real issues and problems your people face very day.
• Don't get too big for your britches. Seek out and develop a network of individuals whom you can rely on for good feedback and advice. Don't react and don't be defensive. Listen to what they have to say.
• Stay conscious of your image. The essence of a good relationship is to ask yourself: "Do I enjoy being around this person?" Now ask yourself, "Do I make it enjoyable for my people to be around me?"
• Be in the thick of things. Whether it's holiday time in retail businesses, dinner rush in the restaurant industry or quarterlies in the financial sector, take a tour of your facilities when your people are in the thick of their most stressful times. This is a huge morale booster for them, and you may just learn a thing or two.
• Set an example. Whether it's by having an immaculate office, answering emails promptly, knowing people's first names or walking to work, your behavior is being watched. Your people view you as a role model. Being an inspiring and positive role model will win your friends, admirers and loyal employees.
• Be consistent. A true leader is able to be honest with others and hold everyone to the same standard. If you notice that one of your managers is a poor performer but don't deal with it, you will lose the respect of your employees.
Remember: Not every competent leader is well-loved by his or her employees—only the best ones are.
Paul Facella is CEO of Inside Management (www.insidemanagement.com), a nationally recognized group of results-oriented senior consultants with expertise in every facet of business and commerce. A 34-year veteran and former executive at McDonald's Corporation, he is author of Everything I Know about Business I Learned at McDonald's (November 2008, McGraw-Hill).