You can’t build a successful business 100% on your own. That’s why as an entrepreneur, one of your most important roles is to motivate your employees to go well beyond their job descriptions.

Look closely at the best entrepreneurs (like Richard Branson, who started from nothing and built a global conglomerate, or Herb Kelleher, who turned Southwest Airlines into a major player in aviation), and you’ll see that their actions—and words—are what really helped their companies succeed.

But not if they did or said any of the following things.

Here are seven things your employees wished you stopped doing—like yesterday.

1. Requiring employees to attend social events.

Maybe your intentions are pure. Maybe your heart is in the right place. Maybe you just want to recognize your employees’ hard work.

Maybe so, but still. Any time your employees spend time together, it’s like they’re still at work. (Plus, some folks just don’t want to socialize outside of work. I know I didn’t.)

And if you somehow make it seem like your employees should attend, what you may have hoped would be a fun get-together is anything but.

“Should” is in the eye of the beholder. 

When you say: “Jeff, I hope you can come to the company picnic.”

I might hear: “Jeff, if you’re not at the party, I’ll be disappointed.”

If you decide to hold social events, choose a theme that works for the broadest group of employees possible.

  • Have a picnic.
  • Take anyone (who wants to go) to a show or game.
  • Throw a holiday party, and let kids come too.

Later, don’t say, “I’m sorry we missed you Saturday, Jeff.” No matter how well intentioned, I’ll just feel guilty.

2. Saying, “This is probably not what you want to hear.”

No one enjoys hearing bad news. But when you say that something isn’t what I want to hear, you shift the issue over to my side of the table. Now it’s my problem.

Don’t shift. Explain why you made a decision. Explain your reasoning.

Prime example: When you decide to promote another employee. Of course your employee who wasn’t promoted will be disappointed, and you should be empathetic. But more importantly, you should help your employee understand what they can do differently: The skills, experiences, and achievements they can gain that, next time, that will help them be the best candidate.

3. Only passing on negative feedback.

People are happy at work when they know they matter. So why not make it super simple for your team to know this key fact?

After all, most employees know how to do their jobs. Stock clerks know how to stock shelves. Check-out clerks know how to run registers. Gym attendants know how to swipe cards.

But what often gets lost is the people side.

  • A helpful check-out clerk will do a lot more to make me a loyal customer than an incredibly quick check-out experience.
  • A friendly gym attendant helps me feel like I belong at your gym.
  • A meticulous waiter who treats me like a friend, and not just a customer, makes me feel at home in your restaurant.

Make it easy for customers to give feedback, especially positive feedback, and then immediately pass that feedback on to your employee. This helps your team understand that their jobs are not just about products and services, but about people.

Because we all perform a little better—at anything—when we feel a little better about ourselves.

4. Not stepping in when you should.

Allowing employees to learn from their mistakes is sometimes okay, but most of the time, you need to step in.

Allowing employees to work through interpersonal issues is sometimes okay, but most of the time, you need to step in.

That’s also true where delegation is concerned. Before you delegate any task, decide how far you’re willing to let your employee go on their own—then track their progress and take over when necessary.

After all, your employees can still benefit from an abbreviated experience—as long as you continue to involve them once you take back some of the control.

Learning experiences are essential, but never at the expense of meaningful results.

5. Requiring peer or self-evaluations.

Great employees usually think self-evaluations are a waste of time because you should already know they do a great job. And struggling employees never give themselves that kind of rating. That means you’ll spend a significant chunk of the performance review session discussing your differences in opinion.

So if you want genuine feedback from your employees—and you should—ask:

“What can I do to further develop your skills or career?”

Asking employees to evaluate each other is also a waste of time. Since few people want to criticize people they work with every day, all you receive are bland, generic superlatives, and nearly worthless input.

(And if employees are open and honest, people quickly figure who said what—and that can turn what might have been a strong team into a dysfunctional group of resentful individuals.)

Case in point: Facebook. Some employees say the company’s reliance on peer reviews creates pressure for people to build friendships primarily for the sake of advancing their own careers.

Forget peer reviews. You’re the boss. You should already know how your employees are doing.

6. Dismissing real issues by saying, “That’s just Jeff being Jeff.”

Why? All you’re doing is explaining away someone’s bad behavior. Like the top salesperson who condescends everyone. Or the great engineer who is rude during meetings.

Loosely translated,

When you say: “That’s just Jeff being Jeff.”

I might hear: “Even though it’s my job to address the issue, I don’t want to deal with it.”

Maybe Jeff is just being Jeff, but Jeff still needs to meet expectations, especially where his treatment of other people is concerned.

And it’s your job to make sure he does.

7. Acting condescending by saying, “Work smarter, not harder.”

What happens when you say that to me?

  • One: You imply that I’m stupid.
  • Two: You imply that whatever I’m doing should take a lot less time and effort than it has been taking.

If you know of ways I can be more efficient, show me how. If you know there is a better way, tell me. If you think there’s a better way but don’t know exactly what it is, say that too. Admit you don’t have the answer—and then ask me to help you figure it out.

Most importantly, recognize that sometimes the only thing to do is to actually work harder.

And that sometimes you’ll need to help me do that.

As a leader, what you say—and do—is everything.

So take these annoyances to heart. Your employees will notice. And trust me, so will the rest of your business.

Jeff Haden Jeff Haden is a writer, speaker, small business management expert, and Inc.’s most popular columnist. He's the author of The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win.
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