by Lori Prosio 

Are you a boss or a leader? Knowing the difference might just make or break your business. Without strong leadership, your business can’t succeed — at least not in the long term.

Ever heard the question “Would you rather be liked or respected?” Chances are, earn respect and people will still like you. Demand it, and — well, that’s another story.

In the spirit of trying to be a better leader, and not just a boss, I decided to make this month’s column an interactive one — through feedback from my own staff. They said a strong leader:

Acknowledges individual success

A good leader acknowledges hard work. A quick “thank you” or “nice job” goes a long way. Learning how to acknowledge and commend individual successes helps you build a solid foundation for your business.

Knows there is no “I” in “team”

Leaders start most of their conversations with the word “we” instead of the word “I.” They don’t just drive employees to action, they coach. When something goes wrong, they don’t place blame — they help identify a solution. The boss makes the decisions but needs a team to carry them out.

Communicates effectively

Being the kind of leader who can concisely convey the direction and values of your business can inspire your team to work toward a common goal. Clear communication helps foster a work environment that welcomes feedback, inspires creativity — and, most importantly, instills trust.

Motivates and inspires

A leader who values the importance of fostering the individual growth of employees — not just the business — is key to success.

A leader needs to be willing and passionate about investing the time and energy that it takes to “season” an employee through training, guidance and experience.

It’s important to recognize your team’s strengths and weaknesses and be able to successfully create a plan to play to all of those strengths, while minimizing the impact of the weaknesses. Providing ample opportunities to grow and learn is the best way to motivate your team to do better and to grow with you.

Is accountable

It’s important for a leader to hold staff accountable, but it’s equally important that the leader is accountable, too. Set standards and meet them. You can’t expect better from your employees than what you’re willing to do.

Is honest, trustworthy and fair

Character and integrity are key qualities in a good leader. Being a strong leader isn’t just about leading a business to have solid profits (although that’s obviously very important). You must lead your staff without compromising your character and integrity.

Stand by your word to ensure that your staff and your customers trust and respect you, and don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep.

It’s simple. Barking orders makes your staff not want to help you. Going back on your word makes your staff — or still worse, your customers — not trust you. Not acknowledging a good job or saying thank you encourages people to go elsewhere, where they will be more appreciated. Not believing in what you’re working toward, and inspiring others to do the same, will eventually result in failure. Learn how to lead, others will f ollow, and you’ll be successful together.

This article originally appeared in the February 6, 2015 edition of the Sacramento Business Journal.