Last week, I was put in my place by a member of my team.
As entrepreneurs, feedback about our business in general can be hard to swallow – but personal feedback about yourself IS personal, no matter what way you choose to spit and shine the situation.
Sitting down last night, and doing a run through of last week’s activities in my head before bed – something I do on most Sundays – I thought to myself, ‘Fuck Yeah! A member of my team put ME in my place last week’.
Confused? Don’t be. It’s a pretty simple situation. Given my background in senior management in a corporate environment, I recognised what was happening immediately: that person is turning into a strong leader. I’m proud they put me in my place.
‘Yes men and women’ present a very dangerous problem for entrepreneurs. As the founder of a startup, you are constantly seeking validation to ensure you are on the right track, and the first place you usually look for that is your team – even before your customers. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s reality.
Undue validation can often result in fostering ‘ego’ within a founder; and that is the worst possible place to operate from.
Having a group of people around you that praise you, never question you and always agree with everything you say actually sabotages your business. To operate a business successfully, to know what it is you actually need to do in order to grow your company, you need the whole story – this includes the good, the bad and the ugly truth.
‘Yes people’ are focused on you as the business owner. They are not focused on the business, and they certainly are not keeping abreast of what is happening in the wider industry.
As a leader, you need to counteract that by making sure your employees’ focus is primarily on the customers of the business. Your feelings, your pride and your opinion should always be the last part of the decision-making process.
When my employee put me in my place the other day I had two choices:
1. Feel vindicated
2. Feel validated
I am going to be perfectly honest here and say my knee jerk reaction was to feel vindication and I became defensive. But then, my employee said to me, “You are now being defensive, you need to listen”. Tension. But I did sit back and listen. I let a mirror be held up to my faults and it was extremely uncomfortable. The validation part never came until about 24 hours after. I should be proud that I chose THAT person to be part of my core team. They genuinely care about the business first – and as a founder, that is important for me.
Selecting the people that will become part of your core team is perhaps the most important task a founder of a startup will ever do. Susan Tardanico, CEO of the Authentic Leadership Alliance, spoke of the different roles you need to have within your inner circle in a Forbes article a few years ago:
Inner Circle Roles
There is a range of perspectives that, when combined in an inner circle, can be a powerful leadership asset.
The Contrarian pushes you to think differently by taking opposite views; constantly questions, using worst-case and “what if” scenarios to challenge your thinking.
The Everyman is plugged into the lower levels of the organization and can help you understand the impact of your actions from that perspective.
The Optimist provides best-case scenarios and positive energy during difficult times.
The Voice of the Customer is an advocate for your clients and helps you stay aware of their needs, perspectives, expectations and competitive choices.
The Bleeding Heart is the empathetic member of your circle and keeps you aware of the potential impact of your decisions and actions on people.
The Sage is hard to come by. If you’re lucky enough to have one, a sage helps you stay calm amid the storm; is a thoughtful strategist; plays the role of coach; and has the most impartial point of view of all.
As a leader you need to encourage an environment of candid and critical feedback. Yes, it is important to have a can-do positive work environment. However this can only be achieved when you as a leader are aware of everything happening within the organisation – you need to know this so you are making good decisions.
In my case, I needed a contrarian to make me think long and hard about a particular perception I was creating about myself – it’s awesome to have nipped it in the bud before it became a problem within the growing organisation. Now THAT would have been a disaster.