Being a boss is no joke. As with being a great parent, if you're truly great, you agonize constantly over whether you might be doing it wrong. To make matters even trickier, you're really, really busy.
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So, how do you ensure you're being a great boss and keep your employees engaged and happy?
The following simple statements and questions can help you lay the groundwork for being a great boss without spending oodles of time and money. While no replacement for a formal performance review platform or rewards and recognition program, these are great jumping-off points for making your people feel more engaged, productive, confident, and happy.
1. 'I Appreciate You'
Sounds sappy, but it makes employees happy. Recognition is a key driver of employee engagement, and it's likely your workers absolutely crave feedback and recognition.
You can't just toss out a quick "thank you" and expect everyone to become engaged. Instead, you need to create a culture of gratitude. Be consistent (recognize employees regularly) and comprehensive (use multiple channels, like email, private one-on-ones, and public announcements). You should also work to cultivate gratitude between your employees when they interact with one another.
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2. 'Where Do You Want to Go in This Company, and How Can I Help You?'
If you aren't showing your people you care about where they're going in their careers, they have little reason to be loyal to you. Creating a performance culture means constantly pushing your people to advance, even if that sometimes means leaving a hole in your own department.
Note that career development is another key driver of engagement for your employees, which means this simple question can do wonders for loyalty, productivity, and engagement.
3. 'We,' Not 'Me'
If you want someone to help you hit a goal, you need to ensure they know they're part of the team. If they feel like they're doing a one-off tactical "widget" job, it's highly likely they'll feel disengaged and unimportant. Create a plan for what you're going to accomplish together and why it matters — and constantly stress the togetherness aspect.
4. 'I Will Tell You the Truth'
Life isn't all unicorns and sunshine. I always tell interviewees I won't be their nicest boss, but I will be their best boss. That means I won't say your work is A+ if it isn't, but I will give you specific direction and help you build a process so you'll do even better work next time. I will also tell everyone else the truth, which means when you do all the work, I won't take all the credit.
5. 'What Would You Do All Day If You Could?'
Not only can this immensely powerful question reshape an employee's current job, but it can also be a springboard to a completely new job. If an employee is good at what they do but hates doing, they're going to eventually leave. On the flip side, if the employee isn't good at what they do, it's going to be very hard for them to become a top performer. They'll feel unproductive and unhappy, and they'll soon leave the company.
Help employees open the door to what they could do, even if their resume, nameplate, or degree says something totally different.
6. 'I Know You Can Do This'
You've hired each employee for a reason. If you are any kind of trainer, you will be able to trust they are doing their job properly. Saying this shouldn't be a leap of faith, but a natural thing. Your team will thrive if they know you believe in their abilities and have confidence in their work.
7. 'What Do You Need to Do Your Job?'
I have gotten everything from "more feedback" to "coffee-stirring sticks." You never know what people need to feel appreciated and supported.
8. 'What Do You Think?
Asking your employees for feedback makes them feel valued and important. It can also lead to excellent innovations in your workplaces when you act on that feedback.
9. 'How Can I Be a Better Boss?'
Put on your humble hat, because this conversation needs to happen. Asking how you can be a better boss or leader is not going to be easy — especially if your staff is honest — but it will actually make you a better boss.
Next time you're freaking out about whether you're a good enough boss, try one or more of these phrases with your team and see what happens. You might be pleasantly surprised.
A version of this article originally appeared on Red Branch Media.