To Build a Successful Company, Check Your Ego at the Door
By Anthony Brooks-Williams, CEO, HVR
There is no guidebook that can tell you exactly how to successfully run a company. Each organization has its own challenges and goals. Leadership styles that work for one executive may not work for another. I do think that people in leadership positions can often get carried away with the responsibility and power those positions bring. My experience has taught me that maintaining humility is an invaluable skill. To build a successful company, check your ego at the door, and focus on fostering a collaborative environment.
Workplace cultures that promote collaboration offer the best path for success because people are focused on accomplishing the tasks at hand, not worrying about hierarchy or constantly competing with one another. To achieve collaborative cultures, CEOs might find it helpful to implement one or more of these suggestions. First, however, leaders must set expectations for their employees. These strategies will not work unless everyone in the company understands, from the get-go, what is needed of them to help the company run smoothly.
Apply Situational Leadership
I learned this concept at a fairly early age — as a 25-year-old with 12 direct reports. This concept came from a course taught by Ken Blanchard, known for his management expertise. He writes that situational leadership “teaches how to become a flexible and successful leader, fitting your style to the needs of the individual and situation at hand.”
Imagine, for instance, managing personnel in similar roles in different geographies or territories. Someone running a function in Europe or even the East Coast might have a different approach to the position than someone running a similar function in the U.S. or the West Coast, even if both of their approaches work equally well. Rather than try to make each manager carry out their job function in a generic manner, leaders must trust that people are able to perform using their individuality as a tool. Asking for a blanket approach will limit the effectiveness of employees, no matter their role.
Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Confident, and Push Through Indecision
At times you won’t have the whole story worked out when you kick off a new project. That’s OK. You must still act confidently outwardly even when you do not feel that way internally. Being in a leadership position does not suddenly mean that someone knows, ahead of time, how to accomplish every goal they are given. However, it is important for leaders to instill confidence in their team even while determining how to approach a difficult assignment. One way to do this is to be decisive and make a decision. Set the expectation for you and employees that you must continue to push forward rather than languish between choices and then follow up by continuing to make decisions yourself.
I find this mindset similar to that of athletes or people in the military. The goal in either instance is to stretch your mind and body. At the end of the exercise, being able to say “wow, I actually did it” is the ultimate reward. No one will accomplish that feat without finding the confidence to put themselves forward, to stretch themselves in the first place. In a business environment, you must attempt to address the challenge at hand or you will never accomplish it. It takes bravery and confidence to jump into a project where you are unsure of the outcome.
This fact does not mean it is time to jump in blindly. You still need a plan and some direction. The key is to not be paralyzed by indecision — act according to your plan and act, always.
Get Your Hands Dirty
Leaders must lead by example, and setting an example by getting your hands dirty with more granular tasks shows that you do not value yourself above others. Yes, your job as a CEO is to manage the business decisions facing the company, and strategy, and report to the board, among other functions that other employees do not carry out. As a leader, you will still be forced to make difficult decisions about personnel. If you set expectations ahead of time, these types of decisions will be needed less frequently. For these decisions you must remain firm.
It is also to your job to ensure your employees are given the resources and environment they need to thrive. If one of my teams is working hard against a deadline, I’ll go pick up the coffee or bring back lunch. If a team is working late, I’ll work late with them, then ensure they take the time they need the next day to recuperate. If you’re a CEO and your sales team is scraping the bottom of the barrel for leads, log into your LinkedIn account and see how you can help. Show your team you’re willing to work with them rather than simply bark orders. Hierarchy is necessary, but exemplifying that no job function is beneath you begets collaboration.
“Surround yourself with people smarter than you” is a common refrain. It is a cliché because it’s true. Your job as a leader is to determine as well as possible whether individuals you hire will complement your existing team. If your goal is to develop a collaborative environment, then your interview questions should try to elicit answers about the candidate’s desire to work collaboratively.
When recruiting people, I think more leaders could benefit from asking themselves questions, such as “Would I work with this person?”, “How can I get the best out of them?”, “If our roles were reversed, could I see myself reporting to this person?”, “Can I see people wanting to report to them in a leadership-type role?” When you talk to potential hires, trust your gut instinct about how those people would work within the environment you’re trying to create.
To Build a Successful Company, Lead From the Front, not the Back
It can be easy for leaders to grow comfortable delegating and dictating from their seats of power. But that approach can quickly lead to resentment and frustration. Instead, focus on building collaborative environments in which you expect your teams to do only what you yourself would do. Leaders today must jump into the trenches with their employees in order to instill belief in the team and keep them marching forward. Your goal is not to extract every last ounce of energy your employees have; your goal is to empower them and give them confidence by putting them in an environment where they can succeed. There are a lot of business leaders who think they are a lot more powerful than they are, and they act that way. That attitude is counterproductive. Fight that urge and check your ego at the door.