As an owner or leader, a number of employees put their faith in you. You owe it to them to be as amazing as you can in leading them and the business.

Good leaders and bosses care about getting important things done. They expect high levels of performance and focus on the right priorities. Great leaders of high-performing organizations show that they care about their people.

According to HR Magazine, engaged employees perform 20 percent better and are 87 percent less likely to leave an organization. To keep your employees engaged, Thinkstock/Juptiter Imagesmanagers and leaders need to become expert relationship builders and learn how to nourish and sustain those relationships over time. That’s what builds culture. That’s what builds commitment. 

In order to get the best performance from our people, we, as leaders, have to be willing to give. We have to create an environment where our employees can perform to their highest potentials. Businesses that attract, motivate, engage and retain great employees do so by giving the following to each:

1.  A true sense of purpose. Being engaged at work starts with knowing what to care about and why. The most effective missions for a business involve making a real impact on the lives of the customers you serve. Let your employees know what you want to achieve for your customers and for your business.

Think about your mission. Why do you do what you do? Don’t just hang it on the wall in the conference room. Discuss it with your employees and help them understand what your mission looks like and how they can live it.

2.  Clear expectations. While every job should include some degree of independence, every position needs basic expectations for what is to be accomplished and how certain situations are to be handled. If you criticize an employee today for something that was accepted practice yesterday, you make that employee’s job impossible.

A recent series of discussions with employees of a business that has stopped growing and has become a high-tension workplace revealed that one of the prime sources of discontent is the owner’s inconsistency to convey what is most important, what is acceptable, and how to deal with customers in specific situations.

Few things are more stressful than not knowing what is expected from one day to the next. When an exceptional leader changes a standard or guideline, they communicate the change to their people first. They explain why they made the decision and what they expect in the future.

3.  Meaningful objectives. Your people want to be held accountable. They want to know how their performance will be measured and how they contribute to the overall plan and goals of your business. Create the linkage between your business plan and what you want each department and each employee to accomplish. 

Involve your team members in the development of the plan and setting the objectives. Their levels of commitment will increase dramatically.

Remember, everyone is competitive; we want to win. Often, your best employees are extremely competitive — especially with themselves. Setting aggressive targets leads to higher levels of performance.

4.  Autonomy and independence. Employee engagement and satisfaction are largely based on autonomy and independence: employees care more when they’re in charge and feel empowered to do what’s right.

While organizations that are successful in the long term are often built on optimized processes and consistent execution of procedures, not every task deserves a best practice or micromanaged approach. The freedom you give your people breeds innovation; it leads to better and more effective ways of working.

Whenever possible, give your employees the autonomy and independence to work the way they work best. You’ll be surprised. They almost always find ways to do their jobs better than you imagined possible.

5.  A real sense of connection. A real sense of connection is personal. That’s why exceptional leaders show that they see and appreciate the person, not just the worker.

Employees want to work for more than a paycheck. They want to work with and for people they respect and admire — and with those who respect and admire them. That’s why a kind word, a quick discussion about family, or a question about whether they need help is so powerful. Those moments are exceptionally more important than group meetings or performance appraisal evaluations.

6.  Opportunities to provide significant input. Engaged employees are committed and provide higher levels of performance more consistently than the unengaged. Engaged employees have ideas. If you take away the opportunities for them to offer suggestions or dismiss their ideas without consideration, they immediately disengage.

Exceptional leaders provide opportunities for employees to offer suggestions. They ask leading questions. They expect solutions from their people, not just communication of problems or challenges. They help employees feel comfortable proposing new ways to get things done. When an idea isn’t feasible or cannot be implemented in the near future, they take the time to explain why.

Great bosses know that employees who make suggestions care about the company, so they go out of their way to ensure that those employees know their input is valued and appreciated.

7.  Reliable consistency.  Most employees don’t mind a boss who is strict, demanding, and quick to offer feedback, as long as he treats every employee fairly.  An associate of mine at Violand Management Associates is well known for teaching and preaching the management philosophy of “Firm, Fair and Consistent.” Team members must know that, while different individuals have different needs, every one of them will be treated fairly and today’s expected and acceptable behaviors will be the same tomorrow.

The key to showing employees that you are consistent and fair is communication. The more employees know about why a specific decision was made, the less likely they are to assume unfair treatment or favoritism.

8.  Private criticism. No employee is perfect. There will be times where every one of your people needs to hear feedback on performance or an aspect of his work that needs to be improved.  Every employee deserves that constructive feedback. They deserve it to be delivered within a reasonable period of time. Don’t pull your employee aside in December and talk to them about something they did or a decision they made in February that could have been handled better.

Great leaders give that feedback and they do so in private. It’s not the business of anyone else in your organization to be privy to such a discussion. Arrange to go to a closed office or outside where no one else can see or hear the conversation.

9.  Public praise. Every employee deserves praise and appreciation. Every employee — even a relatively poor performer — does something well. Sure, it’s easier to recognize your best employees because they are consistently doing awesome things, but maybe consistent praise is one of the reasons they are one of your best employees!

Feel free to provide reinforcement in public. Unlike criticism, it’s good to have other people hear the praise. The person hearing the message is proud, knowing that their teammates heard the same message, and it’s more than likely that another employee will become motivated by the desire to have a similar situation occur with him.

You may have to think hard to find reasons to recognize an employee who simply meets standards, but that’s okay. The adage “catch them doing something right” applies here. A few words of praise, especially public recognition, may be the nudge they need to start moving toward becoming one of your stars.

10.  A chance for a meaningful future. Every job should have the potential to lead to greater things. Exceptional leaders take the time to develop employees for the position they someday hope to have, even if that that job is at another company.

How can you know what an employee hopes to do someday? Ask!

Owners that live by the mentality that they do not want to invest in training and developing their people because “they’ll just leave and go somewhere else” are: 1) shortchanging their own business in the present because the people they have could more than likely be performing better and more consistently, and 2) likely driving good employees to leave because they aren't seeing the opportunity to move closer to the position for which they are striving.

Employees will care about your company after you first show that you care about them. One of the best ways is to show that, while you certainly have high hopes and aspirations for your company’s future, you also have high hopes for your employees’ futures.

If you create an environment where these structures are the norm and promote and reinforce them, the result will be employees who are more engaged, more committed and more likely to perform to their potentials. They will know you care, not just about the work that they do, but about them as well.

Tom Cline has a 28-year background in sales, marketing and operations. He is currently a business development advisor for Violand Management Associates (VMA) where he works closely with business owners and their key management staff as both a business consultant and an executive coach. To learn more about VMA's services and programs visit or call (330) 966-0700.