Writing a small business Q&A column, as I do for USA TODAY, I hear from a lot of entrepreneurs. The most common questions I get relate to what they can do to get ahead and move their business forward. Depending upon the circumstances, the answer might have to do with marketing, customer relations, or hiring, to name a few. However, there is one thing every small business owner can do if he or she wants to ensure success:


Be a good boss.


I recently saw a survey of the best, most successful small businesses in California. What did they have in common? Was it a great location, or advertising savvy, or financial literacy, or what? It turns out that the answer was that these superior businesses shared one common denominator: The owners were great managers, and their managers were also great managers. They managed in a friendly, participatory way and as a result their employees were happy. Happy employees make for happy customers, and happy customers become repeat customers.


So just what are the traits of a great manager? Here are seven of the most commonly acknowledged ones:


1. Great managers don’t micromanage: One happy employee I met at a conference recently had this to say about her boss: “What I love about working for Melinda is that she trusts me to do my job. I am allowed to think, and act, and she doesn’t swoop in like so many managers do, thinking they can do it better. Sure she coaches me, and I appreciate that. But she doesn’t try and do my job for me.”


2. They stay above office politics: Bad managers engage in gossip and petty office politics, pitting employees against one another, and maybe trying to gain some imagined tactical advantage for themselves. The opposite is also true – the best managers are a respite in the sometimes stormy seas of office politics. Rather than engaging, they are problem-solvers and peacemakers.


3. They foster teamwork: A great manager creates a great team by encouraging people to work together for the common good. They don’t play favorites. Great teams arise when, among other things, people feel acknowledged and are inspired to work for a logical, common goal.



4. Great managers are great coaches: What is it people want from work? Whether the answer is more money or new skills, good bosses will work with their employees to help them get what they want, knowing that if employees get what they want, the business will benefit as a result. A good manager also knows that positivity trumps negativity and that criticisms need to be constructive, not destructive.


5. They are realistic: I once had a boss who gave me a project that should have easily taken two weeks to complete, but she told me to have it done in two days. When I walked in, exhausted, a couple of days later and handed it to her, I said that I could have used more time to do it right. “I know that,” she replied. “I was just testing you.” Man, I hated working for her.


The best managers push, but in a good way. They are realistic.


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6. They recognize people for a job well done: While financial rewards such as bonuses and pay raises are how most people want to be rewarded, money rewards are not always possible. Even so, a good manager does not let hard work go unrecognized; something as simple as saying ‘thank you’ can make the difference between someone feeling appreciated or alienated.


7. The best managers treat employees like adults: The ever-elusive ‘work/life balance’ is made much easier by the boss who knows that employees are not just employees and that they have lives of their own. Whether that means creating schedules that accommodate home life, or not expecting people to stay late without notice, a good manager respects their employee’s time. Ironically, that boss will end up with employees who will be willing to stay late when necessary, because what goes around comes around.


The bottom line is, as the businesses in the California survey found, being a good manager doesn’t cost, it pays.


About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

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