I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. My grandfather came from Italy as a child and started a successful restaurant. My father had a business selling jewelry outside his “real job”. But when I started Clarity Quest 20 years ago, I was winging it.
Business and engineering degrees taught me nothing about leading and growing a company. Working in enterprise and startup companies taught me more about what NOT to do than what SHOULD be done.
My employees have schooled me in what’s needed to run a successful company.
Here are the top 8 preconceived notions my amazing team has kicked out of my brain.
1. Intelligence is more important than behavior and values.
This is the myth that took me the longest to kick to the curb. In engineering school, everyone knew their class rank. Smarter was better. But in business, this mentality can quickly sabotage an organization if the person is smart, but not a team player.
Sure, your team members need certain skill sets, but they also have to be willing to play nice with others, share responsibility, train new hires, and leave ego at the door.
Similar to a family that gels, everyone on the team must have the same values and decency. One toxic person can set off a wave of resignations and scuttle the whole department or company.
2. You can’t teach leadership or communication skills.
I’ve seen people who were introverted, “by the lines” individual contributors blossom into eloquent communications leading large project teams.
Don’t hold back on investing in education. Give your team the training they want. I did learn from my grandfather that education was the key to success. He used to say “they can never take that pigskin (diploma) away from you.”
3. You can’t teach creativity.
People can learn to be creative if you give them the permission to fail. If a folk singer is afraid of playing a wrong chord or hitting a wrong note, she will never express her true talent.
Encourage your team to read fiction, paint, play guitar, get into photography. Looking at the world differently away from a computer screen is one of the best avenues to artistic freedom.
4. You can let bad behavior and subpar work slide when it’s tough to hire.
I’m guilty of keeping on employees because they brought in a big account or it was hard to find talent. This mentality brings your good people down and makes them ask why the rules don’t apply to this particular person.
As difficult as it may be to cut the cord, do it. Explain the situation to clients/customers if you have to offboard someone they like or delay a deliverable. They will often understand having been in the same situation.
5. You can ignore the uncomfortable conversations.
Having to tell an employee he is not meeting requirements or goofing up is probably the least pleasant part of a leader’s job. But having these interactions and creating a correction plan is the only way to solve the challenges the employee is having. You’re doing both parties a disservice by sweeping issues under the rug or getting passive-aggressive.
6. You have to hide business metrics from your team.
I see a lot of business owners hold the numbers tight to their vest. How are your employees supposed to understand the decisions you make? I share revenue, profit margin, account profit, and more so our team has a context for hiring decisions, benefits selection, and the investments we make. Treat your employees like adults and they will respond in kind.
7. You need to come to the rescue.
There is no way to scale an agency, or any business if the CEO has to do the dirty work or come to the rescue whenever a project goes off the rails. People learn by trying, failing, picking themselves up, and then succeeding.
The one exception is legal entanglements. Owners need to get involved once attorneys are in the picture.
8. You can be friends with your employees.
This is the toughest one for me to write because I view each member of our Clarity Quest team as part of a tight-knit family and some have been here over 10 years. You can have fun and goof around a bit, but you still are the boss.
You have to make difficult decisions like compensation and corrective action plans that require objectivity. You have to make difficult hiring and firing decisions. Keep things fun, but always be professional.