YEC (Young Entrepreneur Council) surveyed some folks about what Millennials want to do differently this year to become more Human-centered leaders. Here are their responses.
1. Don’t Take Company Culture for Granted
Company culture is invisible unless faced with change. That people resist such change isn’t always a bad thing. Doubling our staff size in 2014 brought a host of new personalities. One of the veterans saw changes to company culture that were largely innocent, but dangerous if left unchecked. We immediately brainstormed and implemented activities that reaffirmed inclusiveness and collaboration. I’d always taken our company culture for granted. I now know it’s special and needs protection.
2. Allow Team Members to Learn From Their Mistakes
Sometimes it’s important to step back and let members of your team make mistakes. Even if you see the mistakes coming, letting small stumbles happen will both teach your team important lessons and also help them build confidence to tackle larger issues. This will help lead to better systems in the long run, and a business that can operate without you at the helm.
2014 was a tough year for my company. I usually hire based off personality rather than experience. But I broke that rule and brought in a senior staff member with a great resume, but an attitude that began and ended with “everyone is stupid.” The entire office dynamic changed, I lost some key employees and my team lost faith in my ability to lead them. I ignored the issue for over nine months, and during that time it got worse and worse. That employee is now gone and our team is stronger than ever.
By attending a talk by Josh Kopelman, I learned the power of “taking your fouls.” I realized we had created a culture where high-achieving people were trying to do everything perfectly and not make mistakes. This translated into people not pushing their pace, development and abilities enough. Our company was not benefiting from the talents of our people. So now, folks are encouraged, like a basketball player, to take their fouls. It’s part of their formal review and people feel empowered!
As a business leader, it’s tempting to become inward-focused on company growth, goals, hiring and all the other concerns that crowd the mind and the calendar. But how often do we look at what we can do with success when it comes, and when these targets are met or exceeded? In 2015, we’re going to focus on not just meeting our clients’ needs and growing our business, but also on looking outward to those in our community who are less fortunate. It’s only by giving back that we can move forward.
The way I want to work or be led is certainly not how others want to. I’m very direct, to-the-point and value efficiency over what I see as fluff. I’ve learned to try to cater to the way that others need to be led, but also, to be very upfront with potential hires that the culture and my leadership style is X, to let them decide if that’s a good fit for them.
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone recently gave a talk at Berkley’s Haas Business School and one of the things he discussed was how weirdness plays a role in his management style. When discussing how he made time to spend with his 3-year-old son, he said that he literally calendars in “Legos” for his whole company to see. Not only does it keep him grounded and creative, but it humanizes him for his employees. Being creative requires being weird, so embrace this and your employees will open up.
Trust raw ability more than experience. If there’s one thing that went wrong in 2014, it was that. So my key take away: find people with the right mix of raw ability, hunger and a drive to prove themselves, and give them space to punch above weight. The pace of execution is slower as they haven’t necessarily ‘been there, done that,’ but the result is often better and it fosters a better culture in the company of ‘think for yourself’ and ‘anything is possible.’
The best leaders don’t just leave their employees with a list of tasks, they empower them to explore new, more efficient ways of solving problems. Better yet, they actively engage and teach these employees how to search for these solutions. By equipping each employee with a new set of tools, your organization will be able to operate with many brains at once, not just one.
I live by the adage, there’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth. In 2014, I attempted to be the best listener possible. I attempted to really understand the message being delivered. I asked questions to further clarify, to drive to the root and then reply as clearly and succinctly as possible. When people seethat you’re listening, the bond is strengthened. They lower their guard and become better listeners.
Put yourself in others’ shoes and see the world through their eyes. This applies equally to management, sales and communication of all kinds. Truly understanding the needs and motivations of others gives us the perspective we need to speak directly to those often guarded driving forces that trigger positive action in people.
We took a big risk this year in launching a new product and phasing out other parts of our business. During that huge transition, I carried a lot of anxiety, and unfortunately that anxiety sometimes manifested in micromanaging and second-guessing. It was difficult for me to learn to let go and completely trust the people I’d hired to do what they do best. I still struggle with stepping back, but now my team knows that I have complete confidence in them and they continue to wow me everyday.
I’m still trying to improve upon becoming a more “human” leader. There are two things that have been done this year that have helped this. The first is a weekly “Office Hours” that all employees are welcome to attend. The topics center around various aspects of the business and are designed to give everyone more exposure to our inner-workings. The second is sending a summary of our weekly manager meetings. This increases transparency and allows staff to feel more connected to what is going on.
In 2014, I learned that I impact my team and employees in more intangible ways than I realize. One example is with my energy. After a few weeks straight of traveling for press and meetings, a few team members commented that they noticed my energy was absent. It was a positive and simple observation that helped me realize that we, as founders, set the tone energy-wise, and our team follows it. I’m going to focus on expanding my energy to pervade throughout our organization.
I’ve learned that physical and mental health are crucial to performance, and allowing employees to balance those in the way(s) they know best — whether that’s squeezing a catnap or workout in when needed, prioritizing their own projects and workflow, or just taking a day off now and again so they’re more productive — performance speaks for itself and if our employees are empowered, we all win.
Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective (http://businesscollective.com), a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
In the Social Age, it’s how we engage with customers, collaborators and strategic partners that matters; it’s how we create workplace optimism that sets us apart; it’s how we recruit, retain (and repel) employees that becomes our differentiator. This isn’t a “people first, profits second” movement, but a “profits as a direct result of putting people first” movement.