Even so, what you do often starts with what you say.
Especially when you say these things to your employees.
1. "Can you help me?"
But only those four words. Don't set boundaries on the type of help you want. Just say what you can't do.
Maybe you can't solve a fulfillment problem. Maybe you can't make sense of conflicting data. Maybe you can't figure out how to repair a relationship with a key supplier.
Just say that. Say, "I'm not sure how to prioritize all these orders. Can you help me?"
Do that, and you implicitly convey respect. You implicitly convey trust. You explicitly convey vulnerability. You give people the opportunity to show their skills and their experience, and you let them know their talent matters, especially to you.
And if that's not enough, you actually get the help you need--because no one ever accomplishes anything worthwhile by themselves.
2. "I screwed that up."
That's especially true when a leader is confident enough to admit to making mistakes.
A great team can't happen unless every person on that team feels safe enough to tell each other the truth--which means you, as the leader, need to show you're fallible.
As Daniel Coyle writes in The Culture Code, admitting a mistake can create a vulnerability loop: You say, "I screwed that up." The other person then feels comfortable doing the same. The result is high-candor exchanges that build trust and drive performance.
Starting a vulnerability loop gives everyone on your team permission to admit a failing, admit a mistake, and show a little vulnerability of their own.
Which puts the focus on getting better by learning from mistakes.
Not hiding them.
3. "That was great how you..."
I once had a boss who strolled the shop floor every Thursday afternoon. Regardless of the kind of week we were having, he would stop here and there to pat a shoulder and say, "Thanks for your hard work," or "You're doing a great job," or "I appreciate everything you're doing."
We soon realized he was following advice from a book prominently displayed on his desk, The One Minute Manager.
So we started scattering when we saw him coming. Or got on the phone to check job status. Or stuck our heads under machines to investigate potential problems.
Immature? You betcha.
But also understandable. Generic praise is often worse than no praise at all: Checking off "praise the troops" from his Thursday to-do list by passing out a few insincere compliments was all about him, not us.
Never praise for the sake of praising. Instead, praise specifically. Praise timely. Say what. Say when. Say how.
Say, "Gabby, that was great how you stepped in to help Damien work through that shipping problem. Expediting the order, letting sales know other orders might get delayed so they could give their customers a heads-up, letting fulfillment know the production timeline had changed...that was awesome. I know Quincy appreciated everything you did. And I definitely do. Thanks!"
Don't just tell an employee she did a great job. Tell her how she did a good job.
Not only will she appreciate the praise, she will also know you pay attention to what she does.
All of which says--and shows--you care.