From mowing to managing

Five simple ways you can become a great boss.

When most of us start our companies, being a boss is the furthest thing from our minds. We buy a truck, a trailer and a few pieces of equipment and we get to work. But, eventually, if we are honest and fair and organized, our businesses start to grow. We hire employees and we end up as a boss – whether we wanted to be one or not. Whether you have two employees or 200, here are five things you can do to be a great boss.

1. Thank your employees for a job well done.

Much good comes from a simple expression of gratitude. Employees feel important and cared for when their bosses take notice of their hard work. If they do something well, take the time to thank them for it. It could be as simple as faithfully arriving on time every morning, or as complex as designing a large project. Don’t take anything for granted, but instead, be sure to say thank you.

In our company, we say thanks in a variety of ways. First of all, we try to say the actual words often. We never want any of our 30 employees to feel like we don’t appreciate them. Our managers also choose one of our field crew members to be Employee of the Month and they are awarded a $50 Wal-Mart gift card. For our office staff, who are not part of this, we sometimes will just surprise them with a gift card to a restaurant or department store. Another way we say thanks is by having a big wheel with our employees’ names on it. We spin it at every monthly meeting and give a $25 gas card to the winner.

2. Be willing to do some of the unappealing or tedious jobs yourself

Of course, bosses are busy running the company and generally don’t have to do the grunt work. But if you want to gain the respect and admiration of your employee force, pick up a shovel or get behind a mower once in a while. Join a crew occasionally, and help them. When you get to a job site, don’t be too proud to do the worst task there. This could mean helping your office staff file or type estimates. The key is to not be too good for any task. By doing this, you will show that you consider yourself no better than they are. This also shows them that you know how to work hard and that you respect their diligent efforts.

3. Communicate expectations and resolve problems immediately.

Develop detailed job descriptions and then meet with each employee to discuss them. How can we be upset with an employee who was never given clear expectations? This is probably one of the hardest things for bosses to accomplish. At The Greenskeeper, we functioned without a policy and procedures manual and job descriptions for many years. When problems arose, we really had nothing to fall back on. All of our expectations were in our heads and there was a big lack of communication. About fifteen years ago, we put a policy and procedures manual in place, which our employees sign every year. We also put together very specific job descriptions and make sure each employee has a copy. These are updated every few years as job responsibilities seem to change on a regular basis.

When problems arise, address them with a calm voice and develop a reasonable plan for resolution. If you want to have a company that runs smoothly and where you are respected, troublesome situations need to be addressed in a consistent manner. Most of us hate conflict and really try to avoid it.

Occasionally, a plan of resolution doesn’t work for an employee and, for the benefit of the company and your employees, the person needs to be fired. Several years ago, we had three employees who were causing pretty serious problems within our company. Up until that point we had rarely fired anyone. But it became pretty clear that the problems that were a result of these employees and their attitudes were not going away. Within a year, each of them had given us just cause to fire them and, this time, we chose to do just that. Our company culture improved immensely and we were back to a more peaceful working environment for the rest of our work staff.

Just remember that being a great boss means that firing must always be done for valid reasons. It should be our last resort, after we have tried a specific plan of resolution. And in the process of all this, keep your employees’ respect by staying calm and kind. Angry fits and temper tantrums have no place in the life of an excellent boss. Resolve problems and, if necessary, fire employees, but do so with great care and kindness.

4. Be approachable.

How do we do this? First, let’s list a few of the many ways we make ourselves unapproachable. We do this by our moodiness, our defensive and angry responses or our lack of interest in what our employees are sharing with us. Instead of responding in these ways, the next time an employee asks you to talk, take them to your office or to a quiet place, look them in the eye and listen – really listen – to what they have to share. Be very careful to keep your demeanor and responses free of arrogance or condescension. Even if the employee is dead wrong and you know it, respect him or her enough to hear them out and then take the time to explain in a calm voice why you don’t agree with him. And never dismiss the option that you actually may be wrong. Be open to suggested changes. Be willing to humbly apologize, if necessary.

5. Be genuinely concerned about your employees’ welfare.

If something exciting is going on in their lives, be sure to ask them about it. Always remember that their lives are filled with families and friends who are important to them. Work is not their life. Be interested in them personally. Consider buying wedding and baby gifts. Be as generous as you can afford to be. In our company, we have a wonderful secretary who took it upon herself to make each employees’ favorite snack for their birthdays, as well as wrap up a little gift for them from the company. Our employees love this! It makes them feel special and shows them we care. We believe this is money well-spent. We want them to know that they are important to us and that we couldn’t run the company successfully without them.


In our company, we are always working on these things. We certainly have not arrived and we make many mistakes. But we don’t give up trying to be the best bosses we can be. We have learned much over the years and continue to work at improving our relationships with our employees.

These five things could really be summarized into one main point: Be humble. So often, as bosses, we tend to get the idea that we are really important and indispensable (and many times, we actually are,) but when we communicate that we are the most important person in the company, we also often imply that everyone else is not. When we treat our employees as we would want to be treated, we can’t go wrong. Before making any decision, always ask, “How would I feel if I were the employee in this situation?”

Asking this simple question regularly and putting into practice the five things listed above will invariably turn us into the wonderful boss that we have the potential of being.


Leslie Allebach is vice president of The Greenskeeper, a full-service landscape firm based in Palmyra, Pa.

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