Photo: Thinkstock

If managing people were easy, I wouldn’t have to write a column or you wouldn’t have to read it. But, people are complex; expecting employee management to be simple or easy is often what gets us in trouble as managers and owners. Sometimes, it’s figuring out how to manage ourselves that’s the key to growing great employees and inspiring confidence.

Managing our own insecurities is one of the hardest things we must do as humans. Too often, we allow our personal insecurities to affect how we work and how we interact with those we work with and manage. When it comes to building up confidence in our employees, we must start with some self-reflection. What fears about our own performance are we projecting onto our staff? Are we hindering their growth by doing so? Just as you market your business outwardly to inspire confidence in your customers, so must you “market” your internal messaging to keep employee morale healthy and attract the right new hires.

When I asked several green industry members about what workplace management tactics make them feel less confident about their job and performance, I got a few consistent responses.

Micro-managing. This was a big one. Fear of our own failure often leads to micro-management tendencies. When you micro-manage, you may be projecting your own fear, which can make your employees feel nervous and less confident in you — and themselves. When you hire someone competent to do a job and then you don’t let them do it, it’s demoralizing for them and burdensome for you. If you’re micro-managing someone because they are clearly not able to properly perform the tasks at hand, then you’ve got a bad hire on your hands. Micro-managing won’t solve that problem; you’ve got to cull the herd. But, if you’re being overly controlling about every step of the job with someone who’s clearly capable of handling it, be prepared to lose that employee… or worse, be stuck with them as they spiral into a negative attitude and poor performance. Guide your employees on what results you want and give them the tools to do it, then let them run. Check their work, but give them elbow room to grow and make a few mistakes.

How you react to small mistakes can either make an employee feel confident coming to you in the future with bigger errors (so you can both learn and correct them) or afraid of ever telling you the truth.

Sweating small mistakes. How do you react? It’s easy to get angry… we’ve all done it. And it again may be our own fear of messing up that brings up those feelings of anger. But often, mistakes are small and non-world-ending. How you react to small mistakes can either make an employee feel confident coming to you in the future with bigger errors (so you can both learn and correct them) or afraid of ever telling you the truth.

No thank yous. Never being thanked for good, hard work is a drag. This is a complaint I hear often from employees when they are venting about their boss or the company they work for. If you never thank your staff for big and small things, it makes them nervous and feel unappreciated. If you’re the kind of person that doesn’t need thank yous or pats on the back (I tend to fall into that category), then it may not be intuitive to you to hand them out. I mean, your staff is already getting paid to do that job, right? Why do you also have to say “thank you”? Because we’re human, and we need collective affirmation in varying degrees. A simple “thank you” now and then goes a long way to boosting staff confidence. Beyond sharing your appreciation, be sure to provide specifics on what the employee did that was helpful or provided good results.

Participation trophies. Sometimes it’s not about the whole team; often it’s about one individual employee’s performance. Refusing to acknowledge individual performance for fear of upsetting “the team” — or because you want to glean some undeserved credit for yourself as the manager — can drive away your star performers. We all know that everyone contributes at a different level. Recognizing stand-out performance by individual employees is both key to keeping them and setting an example (and performance bar) for other employees.

Negative talk about past employees. This is a great way to scare your current employees and make them feel insecure in their jobs. Trash talk about previous employees, especially recently departed ones, can instantly breed mistrust in you as a manager or owner. Is that how you’re going to talk about them when they leave? Are they about to get fired too? Are you trash-talking past employees to cover up your own failures or poor management of them? Regardless of whether the past employee was a bad apple or not, the negative talk doesn’t inspire confidence in your existing staff — or you.

No personal interest. There’s a fine line between having a personal interest in employees’ lives, and getting too personally involved. But again, we’re all human. It’s nice to know that your boss cares, even just a little, about how your life is going or what interests you have outside of work. If you’re a task-driven and work-focused manager who also values privacy (that’s me), it might be a bit uncomfortable to talk to staff too much about their personal lives. But not doing so at all can make employees feel like a number instead of a person. Keep it light, but be sure to check in with people on a personal level from time to time.

As managers and owners, it’s our job to inspire confidence in our staff and help them build that confidence, instead of reinforcing insecurities; theirs and our own. These are just a few areas we can all work on to improve internal company culture and boost employee confidence in the new year.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies.