Years ago my company worked with a client that I believed was a good guy, but my entire team thought was an a-hole. When I worked with this guy, I saw his intentions and tried to always look at his heart and understand where he was coming from. My team saw his actions, his underhanded comments, his general lack of respect for the team, and hated working with him.
We worked with this client for years, and for years I defended him as being a nice guy that the team didn’t fully understand. I was wrong. This guy was an unintentional a-hole. Sure, he didn’t mean to be a jerk, but he was a jerk. He didn’t mean to be overly demanding, but he was overly demanding. He didn’t mean to talk down to people, but he did talk down to people. He didn’t mean to act like he was always right, but guess how he acted.
I used to think that a-holes were those people that acted pompous on purpose, and there are those types. But, I think the more dangerous type of a-hole is the type that you become without meaning to. It’s falling into bad ways of thinking and acting. We can all become an unintentional a-hole, and so we have to protect ourselves against it by checking our actions and our attitude daily.
I train Brazilian Jujitsu with some friends two mornings a week. I’m not great at it, but I do enjoy the exercise and the strategy it involves. One thing that I’m reminded of over and over is the need to get uncomfortable to learn and grow.
For those that might not know, Brazilian Jujitsu is, more or less, strategic wrestling with the goal of getting your opponent to tap out. From the beginning it’s uncomfortable. You are rolling around with some dude, on top of one another, trying to choke him out or use some other submission move. Not only is the lack of personal space uncomfortable, but in my case, I roll with two guys that are much stronger than I am and have 30+ pounds on me. I am continually at a disadvantage, and that is really what I love about it.
Being uncomfortable and at a disadvantage teaches me so much! I am learning to “fight” someone that should pummel me. It’s a struggle every time. I think (know) that our teacher lets me struggle to get a good position to teach me something, and otherwise it would never happen. But, the struggle produces more growth more quickly.
I think this is true is so many areas of life. Being uncomfortable or at a disadvantage breeds growth. Often, our mistake is in avoiding those situations, avoiding conflict, risk or discomfort. Perhaps, we should embrace these things knowing that we will get better because of them.
If you want to see a 150lb Jujitsu Champ take on a 250lb bodybuilder to get a better idea of what Brazilian Jujitsu looks like and why it’s interesting, here you go:
Photo by James Pond on Unsplash
I had a conversation with my oldest daughter the other night that impressed me. I had picked her up from ballet, and we were chatting while driving home. I asked her how the class went. She said, “it was great, I got a lot of corrections!” I asked, “and corrections are good?” To which she responded, “yes, it shows that the instructor is paying attention to me and it helps me to get better.” I could not be more proud of her attitude.
My daughter has figured out something that took me years to learn. Corrections make us better! While some kids might want to fly under the radar and not be noticed, that’s not good enough for my girl. She wants to be noticed, and she wants to be corrected. She wants this because she wants to improve.
Thinking about this has me wondering how I can get more corrections. I get them from mentors and at times from close friends. But, I wonder if there is a better way to get corrections from my team so that I can improve more quickly. I wonder how I can get corrections from my kids so that I can better parent them. I wonder how I can get corrections from my wife to better learn how to serve her and love her.
I think the simple solution is to just ask the following questions:
- What do I do that you love?
- What do I do that you don’t love?
- How can I better help you?
I’m still thinking through this, but I think at least these questions will give me a good starting point. Hopefully, I can get some good corrections that will help me to improve.
I admit that I’m wrong often. I’m ok with it, mainly because I’m wrong, often, there’s no sense pretending otherwise. Being wrong doesn’t bother me, it gives me the chance to improve. Being wrong means I’m taking risks that have the potential to grow me and the organization. Being wrong means learning is taking place, not just for me, but for my team as well.
As a leader, and as someone who is wrong often, I recognize the need to fall on my sword at times. Sometimes it’s not just me that is wrong, but my team collectively. When my team makes a collective decision that turns out to be wrong, I take the blame. I’m the one that leads the team, so the team’s mistake is my mistake, and I own it.
When the team makes a mistake, and I’m able to step in to fall on my sword I’m protecting them. I protect them from clients that are upset and take the heat. I protect them from other team members that might point a finger. I also protect them from themselves, from getting down on themselves and feeling like they are a failure. A mistake doesn’t make you a failure; it just means you failed, and it’s time to try again.
My hope is that when I fall on my sword for the team, it encourages them. It shows them that taking a risk is ok and that I have their back. It shows them that mistakes aren’t career ending and that experimentation is not only accepted, but encouraged. It also shows them that there is no shame in being wrong.
Being wrong is a part of growth. In fact, it’s the catalyst for the best growth of all!
Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash
I have a habit of wanting to do more, take on more, conquer more, learn more, be more. I want to grow things, do things, and make a huge impact on this world. And, as a part of that desire, I’m learning that I must do less to do more. Leadership, at its core, is about building a team and empowering that team to not just conquer obstacles but to slay dragons.
The best teams are the ones that put out fires, make bold decisions that steer the organization forward and take ownership of the team and themselves. These teams do all of this with little input from their leaders because they don’t need it, they are motivated and passionate about the work, and the passion pays off.
The best leaders are the ones that do the least. No CEO should do something that someone else in the organization can do for two reasons. First, the team member can probably do it better. This is why I don’t design anymore because I was outclassed long ago by my team. On the off chance that your team member can’t do the task better, they need to learn so they can grow, and so the organization can grow. Second, for every second a leader is doing a task that someone else can do, they aren’t doing a task that only they can do.
This has been the hardest thing for me to learn in leadership, realizing that I have something to bring to the organization that only I can offer. And, within that, realizing that for every moment I’m not doing that thing I’m robbing the organization from reaching its full potential.
With this in mind, here is my “do list.” These are the things that only I can do to move my organizations I lead forward.
- Think. To be honest, I have dedicated very little time to sitting and thinking. This must change for me to grow as a leader. I must schedule thinking time into my calendar. I must think more deeply about the organization than anyone else. In doing this, I will find opportunities I would otherwise miss.
- Create and cast vision. I need a crystal clear vision of where I am steering the ship. Without that, we won’t grow fast or in the right places.
- Create culture. For better or worse, the leadership of the organization sets its tone and culture. And the culture of an organization is one of it’s most valuable assets.
- Business development. Sure, I could get a salesperson, and might one day. But, for this moment, my job as a leader is growth, and growth is best achieved when I’m out selling.
- Create content. This supports all of the above items. It requires deeper thinking, helps to cast vision, create culture and build business.
And, what’s the use of a “do list” if you don’t have a “don’t list?” So here is my “don’t list.”
- Client work. I should never do work that is directly billable. I have team members that can do it better, and it sucks me into working within the organization rather than on the organization.
- Details. Both of my organizations use Teamwork for project management. I used to be in Teamwork constantly, managing my tasks and the tasks of others. Now I never log into teamwork, nor should I. My teams are fantastic, and I have to trust them to manage the details while I’m managing the bigger picture.
- Tasks that can be assigned to someone else. As stated above, if someone else can do it, they should. Otherwise, I can step in to help. This is a fine line to walk as sometimes this can draw me into working within the organization, but I do the best I can.
For the leaders out there (and all of you are in some capacity), I encourage you to do less. Focus on the things that only you can do and let someone else do the other stuff. It’s the only way to grow. It’s the only way your team will ever learn to slay a dragon.
I co-founded Sideways8 seven years ago. At the time I would have told you I knew what I was doing as a leader. Now, seven years later, I realize how little I knew. Reflecting on that time and comparing it to now, here are seven things I do today that I didn’t do then.
- Cast vision. I think this is the first and most important thing a CEO can do, cast a vision for how the organization will grow and where it will go. When I first started Sideways8 the vision was simply to survive. Now that we have a team of ten, I have a much clearer vision for aggressive growth and how we are going to get there.
- Listen attentively. I used to be a terrible listener. I would look at a person without interrupting them, but I would constantly be thinking about my next response to them rather than taking in what they were saying. Now I realize that communication is 80% good listening and 20% clear informing. As a leader, I want to be an amazing listener.
- Do Less. When we first started Sideways8, I did a lot. I was the designer, occasional developer, support person, project manager, etc. As we grow, I do less and less. I’m just now at the point where I don’t’ do tasks within the company at all. My team takes amazing care of the tasks and serves the clients well. I focus on growth only.
- Think about the future. A part of casting vision is thinking about the future, what is coming next, and how Sideways8 will respond. I now look much further out than I used to and it changed everything. When I’m planning for growth five years from now it dramatically impacts the decisions I make today and what our team does and does not take on.
- Build the team. When I first started Sideways8 my job was building websites. Today my job is building the team that builds websites (and does other digital marketing as well). If I get sucked into building websites, the team suffers, and then other work suffers. At this point, it has to all be about the team.
- Network. The value of networking was always clear to me, but now even more so. Almost all of the work we do is in some way or other the result of networking and relationships. As a leader one of the best things I can ever do is the building and fostering of great relationships that will ultimately help the business grow as well.
- Create content. A part of my leadership for the company is also thought leadership. By creating content both here and on sideways8.com my team can keep up with what I’m thinking about, understand more of the “why” behind where I want to go, and get on board with all of it. Creating content also helps to build my network and relationships as well, so it helps with networking, casting vision and team building.