The business psychologist Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2009

To be a good leader, Andrew Cagnetta says that you have to not only understand your own needs and motivations but those of your employees, as well.

Understanding the motivations of his 85 employees at Transworld Business Brokers LLC helps Cagnetta empower them by giving them the tools they need to succeed.

“You have to understand what they need to get their job done,” says the company’s president and CEO. “They need training, sometimes they need mentorship, or they need the ability to get resources.”

Understanding his people better has helped Cagnetta grow the business broker firm to 2007 revenue of $10 million.

Smart Business spoke with Cagnetta about how understanding your employees and setting an example for them can lead to a culture of honesty and trust.

Q. How do you find out what motivates people?

Try to have a dialogue with them. When people first start, we have training, and we go out to dinner the first night. I sit there and want to know about their personal lives. Not so much that I’m delving into their lives, but I ask questions like, ‘Do you have kids? Where did you grow up? Do you have brothers and sisters?’ Just getting to know the person first and what’s important to them.

You need to understand psychology. Everyone is not motivated like you are. Some want money, others want to belong, while some just want a place to work. You have to be an active listener and understand your employees’ motivations.

Some may want a lifetime career, while some might need gas money to go to night school.

Q. How do you develop that open and honest dialogue with employees?

It takes cues. Sometimes you’re telling stories, and you encourage them to tell stories. We use a lot of real-life examples in negotiating, so you’re going through these real-life phrases and say, ‘Have you ever run into something like that?’

You kind of drag stories out of them. You can ask the easy questions first — ‘Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? Did you go to college? What’s your favorite baseball and basketball team?’ You can start to learn a lot about them.

I went through a bad experience at a company where everything was a secret. I didn’t appreciate that and didn’t like the way it felt. Out of that bad experience just came, ‘I’m not going to do that to people; I’m going to be honest and share with them.’

Have an inviting body language and posture. Make some small talk. Tell them they can be honest.

Q. How do you become a better listener?

The key is to be an active listener. You have to concentrate on listening. Look at your subject and focus on what they’re saying. Note body language. Put away your BlackBerry and close your computer or turn off the screen. I always try to get out of my chair — if I’m going to have a conversation with someone, I don’t want to have it across my desk. So I have a little conference table in my office and I get up and move to the table so we’re all on equal footing.

Sometimes you take notes so you won’t have to ask questions. Sometimes I sound like a psychologist — ‘How do you feel about that? How did that make you feel? I understand how you feel; others have felt that way in the past, but here’s what we found to solve that kind of problem.’

Q. How do you lead by example?

You can’t be afraid to do anyone’s job. Do the simple things. Clean up the conference room after a lunch meeting. Take phone calls at the receptionist’s desk if everyone is out or late coming in.

Don’t be afraid to join your workers in a tough situation. Be the best at most tasks you ask others to do. Anything you want your employees to do, you need to do it, too.

Q. Once you understand your employees, how do you empower them to succeed?

You give people the tools to succeed and then get out of their way. I’m not a taskmaster hovering over people. I trust them.

You need to keep track of what is important and tell employees what you expect. You want to see results. You have to somehow keep in touch with everybody to understand whether they’re doing well or not.

If they’re doing all the right things and they’re not getting the right results, then something’s wrong and you have to react to the symptoms.

Q. What is the benefit of being honest and open with your employees?

You can trust them. When I go away, I don’t have to have people baby-sit them. I hope when I give them a task to do that they know I’m not looking over their shoulder, so they feel pride.

How to reach: Transworld Business Brokers LLC, (954) 772-1122 or www.tworld.com