Ruth Skocic had seen enough.
As a social services director, she witnessed needless tragedies due to lack of medical information in emergencies. Her frustration turned into My LifePlan Inc., a medical information technology company giving first responders and health care providers vital information.
In growing My LifePlan, Skocic realized entrepreneurs can’t build a company alone. She collaborates and bounces ideas off her seven employees, a number she expects to grow to 40 by early 2011.
“You have to respect them for all of what they bring,” says the founder, chairman and CEO.
Smart Business spoke with Skocic about employee relationships.
What are the keys to being a good leader?
One of the things I had to learn to be a good leader myself was patience. Nobody likes to have that.
Another part about being a good leader is learning to accept the people who work with you and the people around you for who they are and what they bring to the table. Don’t put expectations on employees that you know don’t fit their role.
If I see potential and expectations for others who work for me, I will push that on them. I will push them to the point where they’ll say, ‘What is this lady doing?’ And the next thing you know, they realize they just created this incredible task and got it accomplished. They’re like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I just did that that was amazing.’
It’s really to know the people who are working for you, because I have to work for them, too. They have to trust in me and count on me, day in and day out, to help them become a better person at their job, too.
How do you communicate to employees that you recognize potential and are increasing expectations?
I sit down with them and tell them I believe they have the capability to do a certain project and the rest of the team is here to help guide them and encourage them to take the challenge.
How do you make sure you don’t put unfair expectations on employees?
Again, watching, observing, taking chances on someone to excel in a challenge. If this person doesn’t meet the particular challenge, change what challenges you give them until they reach a potential you both can work with.
How do you understand employee’s strengths and weaknesses?
Take time to engage and understand the employee and be patient over time, because time shows you what someone can and cannot do. Be patient. Be Understanding.
What do you do to really understand?
People would tell me, ‘Oh my gosh; this is horrible advice,’ but let me tell you it’s not horrible advice. I wear my life on my sleeve, and I share with my employees and my staff and my contractors that is who I am. I open myself up to be criticized or judged by them if they so choose. My life is, for the most part, an open book to them.
So if I share with them, they share with me. You build a friendship with them at work to let them know that you actually care.
And there is a fine line. One day they may not be doing something quite right at their job, they’re making mistakes. And you care about them as a person. Yet they’re late every single day, they’re upsetting everybody else, or they have a negative mindset and they’re coming in and basically poisoning the group. So you have to let them go. That’s painful. That’s why people say maybe you shouldn’t know personal things.
I look at it as it’s OK to care about the people who work for you and it’s OK to let them know that you’ll help them along the way help them make a better place in their own life. Then they end up sharing.
At the same time, there’s a balance. As much as I care about them and I genuinely feel that we have friendships here within our organization there comes a time when I feel like I have to crack the whip. I come down on them and say, ‘What happened? Why didn’t this go well?’ It’s a respect factor, too, because they actually know I’m also the other person where I care and I’m passionate but this is about business.
The employee has to have the understanding that there is business to be done, and yet you can build a friendship through that business. But when push comes to shove, we have to separate that. We can and will, and we always have to respect each other for it.
How do you communicate the need to, at times, separate friendship and business?
I absolutely make employees do that during the interview process. Interviews go both ways. The interviewee should be interviewing my staff as well as my staff interviewing them. They need to know if we’re a good fit for them.
So what I have them say is, ‘We work really hard. At times it’s hectic and you have to drop everything you’re doing and fly right. In the mix of that, there can be a lot of tension. Just know at the end of the day, we all genuinely really care about each other and we’re here to encourage.’
That is something that I have them talk about right out of the gate in the interview, it’s not all peace and love all the time.
How to reach: My LifePlan Inc., (866) 297-0995 or www.mylifeplaninc.com