sa2It has been one year since my blog series Lessons from the Mountain Bike. I have returned from Miraval this month with a fresh perspective, ready to tackle the upcoming months.

This year, on my most challenging ride of the week, I went out with Justin and Annie. Justin was the guide for the day. When we set out that morning, there were two instructors and three riders. It quickly became apparent that one of the riders on this ‘intermediate’ ride was ready to go high and go far. So, off he went with one of the guides.

Annie was a bit nervous about our upcoming adventure.  She had a lot of experience riding road bikes in New England, but had never faced this Arizona terrain.  The big rocks, the hills, the cactus, the quick turns, the sand that makes you feel like you are riding into quicksand.  Her attitude and demeanor were friendly, open and willing. She is my kind of gal.

I had been on rides with Justin in the past, so he was familiar with my skill level. He had not been out with Annie yet, so his first task was to make sure she was ready. I quickly settled into my role as mentor and ambassador on this ride.  Once we got off the resort, there is a climb to get up to the first mountain ride that is a bitch.  I was having a tough time myself, but I mustered together all I could to encourage Annie up that hill.  I could relate to Annie a bit more because mountain biking is something I do not do every day (although I wish I did!) and I understand how tough it can be.

Then, it got me thinking.  This situation was totally relatable to my every day work.  Personally, I have not been an employee in nearly 20 years. To be honest, I would likely not be a very good employee since I have been running my business since 1997.  Over my professional career to date, I have managed a number of employees and was an employee myself.

As I set out on that ride, I identified six items that I think make employees successful:

1. Be Open & Resourceful – Many times the first time we hear about a task, our first instinct is to reject it. To shut down. It means change, it means, getting out of your comfort zone.  Many people hate change, I have always thrived on it. Resisting change can make us rigid and difficult work with.  Some like to hold on to “the way we have always done things” as if it is a security blanket.  But, with the business world moving fast, as an employee, you become a liability to your company and cost them more money by spending more time on something that can be done with technology and save time.  I have always believed we should try to solve issues in three different ways before asking for help. And, when I do need help, I always let the person know the options I have tried before coming to them.

2. Show Appreciation – As we rode off the Miraval property, I realized how much respect I have for the guides there. They are all incredibly open and kind, and set the tone of each adventure that awaits. I think secretly my dream job is to work at Miraval along side them.  I let Justin know before, during, and after the ride how much I love and appreciate the work he does.  It is a lot more than riding a bike. Yet, he makes it looks so easy.  Successful leaders do make things look easy and many times get overlooked for their smart and hard work.

Everyone loves to feel and be appreciated. Feeling that between my work and home life that expectations people in my life have for me are in perpetuity high and constant, when someone notices my hard work, it is so touching. Sometimes it just becomes the expectation that the boss or the mom or the manager or the volunteer or the board member is a machine with no feelings. Just expectations.  Everyone has feelings, everyone needs to feel appreciated.sa1

3. Accept Feedback – When you are given feedback from a boss, a colleague, an employee, or a client, absorb it. Don’t react right away. Give it time to sit, especially if you were offended by it. Most of the time we grow from feedback. But, if we are not willing to accept it, how can we grow? Feedback many times makes people feel uncomfortable, but as we look back, more often than not we grow as a result.

4. Give More Than You Receive – We have all certainly managed people who think it is the job of the manager to solve all of their problems. That the role of a manager is to get you over bumps when you encounter them. I believe it is the opposite. The role of the manager is to guide and direct, not to do the work.  Employees are hired for two reasons: 1. To add value and 2. To take away pain. It is that simple. It is the same reason we hire consultants, attorneys, accountants, and any other service.  Am not sure where things got turned around where the employer owes the employee so much.

Until you are in the role of small business owner, you do not realize how much time you are expected to spend on administrative time filling out forms, paying extra taxes that big companies do not have to, being squeezed financially from insurance companies, consultants and vendors. Revenue does not grow each year at the rate of these financial increases. Employees expect raises and for benefits to remain or even grow.  I totally get that.  But, guess who gets the squeeze? That is right, the owner.  It is a model that I do not believe is sustainable.

My worst hire ever was about seven years into owning my company. My kids were young, and I was spread too thin. I hired someone who had great references, a solid work history and seemed like a great fit.  Within a few months I realized the fit was wrong, and I spent more time working on trying to get him to do something/anything, that I lost sight of my own work. I had to let him go, and the day I let him go, I found out he stole important data from our company.  He had emailed it to his personal email from his company email. Not very smart.  He then wanted to join our COBRA health insurance. I called our attorney to see if he could do that, after he was caught stealing. And, he said “Susan, unless he runs naked through your office with a gun AND, you catch it on video, you pretty much have to provide him COBRA. We can fight, but it would likely cost you about $40,000 in legal fees. Your call.” So, of course, I had to provide him with COBRA and he used it until the very last moment he could.

5. Ask Questions – Thoughtful questions as are so important. I don’t mean the type of questions as you are completing a task.  Asking “What is the overall goal?” or “Is the goal of this to keep clients happy or grow revenue?” As a small business owner, most of the time I know the direction of where I want us to go. At the same time, I have an amazingly smart and dedicated team. I love, love, love it when they ask questions about situations I have never thought of. I love to have discussions about future ideas and ways to do things better. And, sometimes because I am the one that signs the checks, people can be hesitant to ask questions. I say, to be a great employee, ask away! See point 3 : )

6. Show You Care – Annie knew that I was on this ride to have fun. She knew it was not my role to make sure that she got though the ride, but I was happy to do it. At the end she said to me, “Thank you for today, I will never forget it. You made it so easy because I just followed your every move, and you made it so easy!” I don’t think she knew how much it meant to me. While she was the newbie on this ride, I got a chance to learn and think way more than I thought I would.

Am hoping to make it back to Miraval without another full year going by to find more inspiration.

Stay tuned…