Being the boss means being busy, so busy that you run the very real risk of overlooking the most important thing in your business--your people.

Setting goals and issuing instructions is not enough. Neither is a relentless focus on your customers. Yes, they matter--a <i>lot</i>--but to have happy customers you need to happy employees. To be at your best, both as a leader and as a person, you need to connect and sincerely communicate with your employees. Apply these seven steps for putting your people first

1. Build Them Up Instead of Cutting Them Down

While it's true that management involves a certain amount of direction and problem-solving, great bosses realize a significant part their role also involves coaching their employees and facilitating better performance. It seems simple enough but it's not easy to pull off, because it requires a sincere commitment to on-going interaction with your people, and that takes time. Interact with your people in positive ways. Become familiar with your employees' talents and limitations, and give them the tools and encouragement they need to succeed.

2. Foster a Positive Atmosphere

Most of us spend roughly one-third of our lives at work. Ask yourself and answer truthfully: Do you enjoy going to work? Do you think your employees look forward to coming to work? If you're not loving it--and if your people aren't loving it in return--something is seriously wrong and your employees aren't going to give their very best. When you can go to bed and look forward to getting up early and going to work, you'll know you've made your workplace a fun place to be. A positive atmosphere is full of constructive energy, and your customers and clients will notice.

3. Model the Behaviors You Want

No one likes a hypocrite, especially when that hypocrite is the boss. Your people watch you very closely, and if you aren't walking the talk you can bet your employees won't either. If you want more-engaged employees, improved customer service, or a bigger bottom line, then make a point of modeling the behavior you want. Odds are good you'll start to see positive changes right away.

4. Trust Your Own Judgment

There is no end to the lists, tools, and resources you can find to help you improve as an entrepreneur. Believe it or not, you already have the most important thing you need to be an effective leader: your own common sense. Exercise and listen to your inner voice at every possible opportunity. Pay attention to your intuition and let your sense of fairness be your guide whenever possible.

5. Don't Just Manage Your People, Get To Know Them

Putting people first is easier said than done. However, like most everything else in life, the more you do it the easier it gets. You can put your people first by interacting and communicating with them often and sincerely. Listen to them. Encourage them, provide them with guidance, respect their efforts and ask questions to get a feeling for what motivates them. You'll know you're interacting positively with your people when they in turn make time to interact with you.

6. Acknowledge and Reward, But With Discretion

Everyone likes to be recognized when they do a good job. Carefully consider and communicate the behaviors you want from your people, and then acknowledge your employees' efforts to embrace those behaviors. And, be careful not to reward poor behavior by ignoring it.

7. Accept That Change Is Constant

Not only can everything change tomorrow, but odds are good it will. The visionary accepts this fact as an opportunity for things to get better, while the pessimist feels it only confirms his worst fears. Change is a constant in our business and in our personal lives. As a result, flexibility and adaptability are two of the most important qualities for business success--both in the long and short terms. Set a good example by rolling with the inevitable changes, and help your people do the same.

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