Every business owner has something that’s kept them up at night. For Bernard Dalichau, President of Lavender Home Care Solutions, it was the thought of losing his employees. “I put so much effort into hiring them, and I put so much effort into developing them, the fear of losing people was a huge anxiety point I had,” he says in this video featured on Forbes.
The principles to overcoming fear may be simple, but the practice takes commitment and support. Here’s how Bernard confronted his fear and used it to grow and advance his business.
“A Toxic Environment”
With a focus on company growth, Bernard’s attention had slowly been pulled away from spending as much time on company culture. “I took my eyes off of the concept of values and mission and culture, explains Bernard, “and before I knew it, a toxic environment had grown within the company.”
Bernard began to see his staff acting in ways that benefited them as individuals, and not as a team. Having worked to bring together a unique set of individuals who were each selected for a specific role within his growth strategy, it was concerning to see how the culture was shifting.
“My fear turned into anxiety because, at that time, I felt that I could not bring them together and that's when my fear of losing [employees] really started to expound further and cause more stress,” he says. He was especially worried about losing a top sales person who was a positive influence on the company culture (and the bottom line).
“My fear of losing employees turned into reality when the one person who I didn't want to lose, ended up leaving,” says Bernard.
Facing the Fear
Bernard says it was an important step to be honest with himself about the anxiety he was experiencing. He was able to identify the true source of the fear by working with certified Leadership Coach and Aileron President Joni Fedders. “The fear of losing people was actually a personal fear of not being adequate enough to train or give them enough information to continue to grow,” says Bernard.
“Once I understood where that fear was coming from, then I could learn how to talk about it, and how to act in ways that would instill confidence in the staff,” he adds.
Re-focusing on Culture
To overcome the fear and anxiety, Bernard refocused his energy to work on company culture. During this process, he saw how the majority of people were not a cultural fit for the company.
“Finding out that I had to terminate the majority of [those who were not a cultural fit], turned into a vigorous protection of the mission, vision, and values that I spent so much time to build,” says Bernard.
Once he was able to realign with the mission and values, he was able to protect them for the sake of the company.
“Before, my anxiety had crippled me from making decisions based on our mission and values. But after this shift, people who were hired were selected based on those stipulations,” he explains.
Ultimately, it was the company culture that helped his people become dedicated and committed to the business. “Our mission and values are really what re-dedicated people to the business and brought forward a positive response to growth and teamwork,” says Bernard. “They now have the mindset of, ‘Whatever is good for the company, is good for all of us.’”
Using Empowering Questions
Although Bernard’s staff was devoted to the company, he realized growth is accelerated when employees can make effective decisions and are empowered to problem-solve on their own.
Bernard attended a workshop where he learned how to use open-ended questions; the techniques he learned not only helped him to challenge his thoughts and assumptions, but it has helped his employees to problem-solve. “It’s about asking the questions and not interjecting,” he explains.
“Sitting back calmly and listening has been one of the most important things that has allowed people to feel empowered in our company.”
Examples of these empowering questions include:
- What can you do about that?
- How do you envision the outcome?
- What about that makes it work?
- What would you like to see happen?
- What do you think is holding you back?
- What’s another way to look at that?
In the past, Bernard may have used empowering questions without noticing it, but now he uses them with intention. “Now I am specifically and strategically using empowering questions to allow room for growth for my own staff. It's pretty amazing to watch someone get asked a question, and let them answer it themselves, and then finding out along with them, that they are perfectly capable of handling difficult situations.”
“A big pillar of leadership is not telling people what to do, but asking them how to do it," says Bernard, "and seeing where they can take it. It's not the end-all be-all answer to everybody's questions, but it is one major part of growth which allows the company to become a living entity."
“I'm enjoying watching people grow and come up with an idea that is truly theirs, and that I have nothing to do with. And they're smiling after our conversation because it's their idea.”
Showing Employees Your Appreciation
Examining the source of his fear allowed Bernard to re-assess how he recognized, appreciated, and rewarded his employees, which he knows is a critical piece in retaining them. Beyond reducing turnover, the benefits of a culture of appreciation include improved productivity, greater customer satisfaction, more positive relationships with colleagues, and a better overall workplace culture.
No matter a person’s position, they want to feel appreciated at work and they want to feel their work is valuable to the company. Bernard looks to genuinely acknowledge and appreciate every employees’ contributions to the company. Part of that process is rewarding them in ways that matter to them.
“Not everybody wants the same thing and there's different ways to talk to different people, and so we are intentional about uncovering that,” says Bernard.
For example, Bernard knows that for one of his employees, having the flexibility to spend time with family is what she values most. “Her grandchildren are very important to her. She wants to be able to go and spend time with her grandchildren once a quarter, and that matters to her more than a raise,” he says.
Leaders can do the same by asking:
- What do each of my employees value most?
- How well am I doing in showing (and communicating) my genuine appreciation for employees?
- In what ways am I recognizing behaviors that are good for individuals and good for the team as a whole?
Bernard is more open and transparent with his staff, and because of that approach, he’s seen his relationships grow with employees. Leading with vulnerability is not just about opening up about fears or doubts, it’s also about sharing information and knowledge.
Recently Bernard worked on a Business Model Canvas for the company, and realized it was an opportunity to involve his team in the process.
“The staff I have now is much more open. They understand the vision, they understand the mission of the company, and I can ask them questions [to understand their thinking]. The more that I give to them, the more hungry they become to provide for the company,” says Bernard.
Bernard says the first time he heard an employee say, “This is my company,” it surprised him, but it was a moment where he felt gratitude and validation for the process he had been through—a process that started with facing his fear head-on.
“Through this process fear has turned into something really positive,” says Bernard. “And it has really brought us to the point where we are today.”
Learn to Use Empowering Questions to Advance Your Business
Are there things you wish you could say to those you lead, but believe you can’t? Or do you want to be more intentional about how you use open-ended questions with your employees?
Re-think the way you approach conversations by attending Leading Powerful Conversations. It's a one-day workshop for you to practice communication skills that will ensure the best thinking – from you and others – is brought forth in conversations.
A version of this post originally appeared on Forbes.