Leadership: Lessons I’ve learned about leading a team and a company to success
There is something really odd about being a founder/CEO, which is that there is actually no definition for your role. A salesperson does sales, a social media role does everything around social media, but the founder? Not even the internet can give a real answer.
I guess the reason is that it is an incredibly diverse role which changes massively depending on which company the founder is working in and what stage that company is in. When we started with invisibobble, leadership played no role at all (mostly because we had no employees), so the goal of each day was simply to get things done to push the business forward.
Early Management Mistakes
At some point you reach the stage where it makes sense to hire your first employee, then your second, and then it starts rolling and suddenly you have a little team. Before we knew it, we had a responsibility over other people- not just to pay their salary at the end of the month, but also over their personal development and their general happiness and motivation at the company. Given we were so young and had no prior working experience, this was probably one of the hardest things for us.
We made mistakes like hiring the wrong people, firing people without warning, and even basic things like not giving the team feedback talks and development opportunities. In the early days I’m not even sure that mattered so much for the team because everyone felt like we were working together towards the same goal. We won together and we lost together. Of course, this changes when the team gets larger and you move beyond the capacity of all sitting in one room, and then don’t even directly work with all team members on a daily basis.
Curating the right mindsets
What we also learned was that in the business we run, we expect our employees to think like entrepreneurs themselves. Concretely that means that everyone takes decisions on the basis of ‘if this were my company and my money, how would I do it?’, which is a very important mindset to have because it ensures people behave in the best interest of the company. This mindset comes with the right culture fit rather than with the right skillset. We realized that its less important that people are from the field or have prior experience, and more important that they have the right mindset and culture fit.
A good example of when we had a clash in culture fit was when we hired our first more senior person. He ticked all the boxes, and in the end, we also had a really good run with him and reached a lot of success together, however we were off to a rough start. A few days after he joined the company, we were hosting our biggest press event yet to showcase all our new items. Since we were a small team (under 10 people), we didn’t have a PR and events team to organize all of this. We did it ourselves. Everyone helped out, from the founders to everyone else, carrying boxes, unloading products, hanging up posters, setting out drinks and food etc. However, our new senior team member simply refused to do it. He was ‘overqualified’ to unpack boxes, and kindly excused himself and went home and worked from there.
For us it was an issue because we were one man down, which meant the rest of us had to work into the late hours of the evening to get everything finished. In that moment it doesn’t matter who is qualified for what, we pull the strings together to achieve a mutual goal.
We learned that leadership isn’t about delegating or playing the big boss.
We quickly found that leadership is about hiring the right people into your team and empowering them to make decisions and take responsibility. What happens when you allow for that to happen, is that leadership grows beyond yourself, and is spread out to first the more senior members in the company, and then eventually everyone.
Written by Sophie Trelles Tvede. Have you read?
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