A Lesson in Leadership.

It’s not about telling people what to do, it’s all about working together.

Juri Totaro
Jan 11, 2018 · 7 min read

Nowadays fast-grow companies have to face a variety of challenges: organisational restructuring, stock market pressure, building great looking offices, fulfilling their shareholders’ expectations, recruiting new talent and ensuring employee retention, adapting to unforeseen changes, and so on… but the spiders that are weaving the web that binds the company as a whole are the leaders who constantly nurture, grow relationships and influence long-term growth.

In its first 5 years alone, Catena Media has grown from three to more than 250 employees, scattered among 6 different locations. Looking back at the transformation it went through, the importance of good leadership becomes self-evident.

Nowadays leadership is not meant to be just a mere “telling people what to do”. Neither is only about reading leadership quotes on social networks.

Being a leader requires hard work. It takes time and energy. The effects are not always easily measurable and they are not always immediate. Only over a period of weeks or months, it becomes possible to clearly see a difference.

As Product Leaders we are not only exploring the intersection of design, technology and business in order to build kick ass products that our customers love. But also we need to build long term relationships, while being honest, transparent and consistent. Always aim to be effective communicators, encourage people to express emotions (good/bad) in order to know what exactly they expect. At the end of the day we don’t forget to be ourselves as it’s the easiest skill anybody could have.

This turned out to have a resoundingly positive and profitable effect on the organisation. We are getting more things done with fewer resources, we are developing and attracting talents, cultivating new ideas and energy to drive organisational change, innovation and bring results.

Let’s put things in order and identify the key aspects that Catena Product Leaders have to deal with on a daily basis.

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1. Empowering “free” people

The more we empower our peeps, the more they will grow and thrive. When people feel they have more control, they feel empowered to make decisions instead of waiting for approval, thus suffering less stress. By giving them the freedom to express thoughts, opinions, ideas, the opportunity to create and own new processes and methodologies, instead of forcing them to strictly follow rules, we provide a low-stress environment that enhances the creative side and personal potential of each single member. Our feelings of control, stress, and our ability to perform at our best are all directly tied to how safe we feel in our company.

2. Inspiring to go beyond expectations

Today the world expects leaders to do more with less. By using our brain power we try to amplify the smarts and capabilities of the people around us, trying to make every meeting the ideal one: “after stepping into the room lightbulbs go off over people’s heads, ideas flow, and problems get solved”.

And when we embrace our responsibility to care for people instead of caring for numbers, then people will follow, solve problems and see the leader’s vision coming to life the right way.

“Returning from work feeling inspired, safe, fulfilled and grateful is a natural human right not a modern luxury.” — Simon Sinek

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” — John Quincy Adams

3. Take ownership

When we define clear ownership and invest in others, we plant the seeds of success and earn the right to hold people accountable.

But defining clear ownership and investing in others is not achievable if you are not a leader first. And leadership is about integrity, honesty and accountability, all components of trust.

“Integrity is when our words and deeds are consistent with our intentions.” — Simon Sinek

We need to always be on top and know what’s happening around our products, understand and act on urgency, have perseverance and passion for long-term goals.

We want to be fair and decisive; don’t let ego, pride or insecurity get in our way.

Others want to see us as transparent and authentic professionals above anything else. We need to understand others and — in order to do so — we have to be active listeners. It’s also necessary to develop skills required to lead people through difficult times, delegate and help people grow.

Only by teaching and leading by example you can expect others to behave as you would suggest, in order to successfully deal with emergencies, people, blockers. And out there many people are hungry for an expert’s knowledge and opinions. I personally experience this feeling when I listen to our CPO Oscar Karlsten: he regularly shares his own experience and beliefs, he talks about past challenges and how he has managed to overcome them. This way I always get a chance to learn from his experience and add valuable points to my knowledge.

4. Emotional Intelligence and the art of influencing

John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut trace the path to influence through a balance of strength and warmth. Each seems simple, but it’s a tricky task to project both at once, along with the ability to master the dynamic of respect/affection.

How you manage those 2 qualities can have an impact on all your interpersonal interactions and offer you an understanding of why and how people react to you.

Self-awareness and discipline are the qualities of those with a high degree of emotional intelligence, those who never allow their temper to get out of control, regardless of the situation. Those who have the complete trust of their staff, those who listen to the team, and always makes careful, informed decisions.

In a leadership position you need to have a clear picture of your strengths and weaknesses, this requires you to be humble. Make a commitment to admit to your mistakes and to face the consequences, whatever they are. You’ll probably sleep better at night, and you’ll quickly earn the respect of those around you.

5. Positive Attitude

Convey a positive attitude. In order to empower your people to achieve results you must begin by developing positive attitudes toward yourself and your abilities.

Become a passion-driven leader. Passion is one of the most powerful engines of success. Motivated leaders are usually optimistic, no matter what problems they face. Adopting this mindset might take practice, but it’s well worth the effort.

At Catena Media as Product Leaders every time we face a challenge, or even a failure, we try to find at least one good thing about the situation. It might be something small or something with long-term effects, like an important lesson learned. But there’s almost always something positive, if we look for it.

Finally we never forget to smile and never forget our sense of humour.

6. Empathy

The ability to put yourself in someone else’s situation through “perceptual positions”, is the skill of adopting more points of view than your own in an experientially rich and organised way.

The ability to see things from the point of view of another is a key skill in understanding people. It also boosts the communication processes in relationships, negotiation and throughout the recruitment process.

Remove stress from people’s life and give them back their sense of calm. Address their fears. Manage their expectation and help them reaching their goals.

Avoid abstraction. It’s dangerous and incredibly unhealthy, when people become numbers on a spreadsheet and relationships difficult to sustain.

At Catena Media there are +28 different nationalities, a great mix of cultures. And it’s very important to have a clear picture of what the main aspects of every culture are and to try to learn. Culture influences personality. Putting yourself in someone else’s situation definitely starts with a good understanding of the cultural environment.

7. Building Cooperation

In the workplace, cooperation represents the blending of many skills to produce collective achievement. There are simple things you can do to inspire genuine cooperation.

  • Keeping the team’s goals centre stage, and explaining how each person’s “to do’s” contribute to the team’s mission, encourages team members to be more cooperative as individuals in order to be more competitive as a team.
  • Identify each person’s strengths from the standpoint of how those strengths will blend with others to help the team achieve its desired outcomes.
  • Encourage team members to find ways of cooperating with other departments.
  • Create a team culture where all together fight against problems (not people) in order to find solutions.

When the solution comes from all members’ inputs, it’s going to be more engaging and whatever is the result, it will be a lesson learned for everybody.

In conclusion stop telling your people what to do. Let them struggle with their decisions and learn from them. Instead of telling them what to do, try asking questions and helping them to develop their ability to make decisions.

Take the time to understand people and their capabilities and keep an open attitude towards them. Enable people to lead and contribute to their fullest.

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

“The true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own.” — Simon Sinek

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