We’ve all heard the age old adage for TEAM, ‘Together Everyone Achieves More’ and as cliche as it sounds it rings true no matter what type of team you’re working on.
Building a team after you’ve been a sole operator for a long time comes with its challenges. You have to transition from being chief cook and bottle washer, the be all and end all of everything your organisation does, to being a leader who selects the right team members, gives them the room to fulfill their roles and motivates them to constantly improve for the betterment of themselves, the clients and the company.
And being a leader means knowing when to step back and give those with the skill the opportunity and the credit.
Speaking from experience, it can be really hard to delegate. Especially for those who’ve been lone wolf entrepreneurs for any extended period of time, the prospect of having someone else take over a task you were so deeply entrenched in can feel like torture, even if you are up to your eye balls and knee-deep in other tasks. It feels as though your giving your idea baby away for someone else to nurture. And even when they do manage to pry it from your grasp, you hover over their shoulders, with suggestions, recommendations and advice on how they could do it just like you.
You say you want to help them be more effective at their task but what you’re really doing is stifling their creativity and autonomy while satisfying your need to micro-manage everything.
That’s not being a leader. That’s being a dictator.
Lead by trusting others
It is hard to fight that urge but being a leader means adding the right mix of people to your team and giving them the opportunity to do what you hired them to. And that is easier said than done.
I’ve had to make that journey. At one point i felt it was my sole duty to handle every call, every client meeting and every quotation, proposal and invoice. And while at times it is necessary for my input, I can’t be in every aspect of the business, I have to prioritize.
In doing so I hired someone to primarily handle client interactions. I set clearly defined parameters for the role and from those parameters came expectations. Even with those, I left room for that person to infuse their personality, workflow and style, within the personality of the company overall.
It was even worse when it came to designing. As an entrepreneur and the sole designer in my business for about 4 years, it was a challenge bringing on someone to handle creative work. Over the years I had established an aesthetic for everything the company produced and while the workload was beginning to drown me, I still felt a knot in the pit of my stomach at the idea of having someone else work beside me in producing creative work. I had to transition from being a designer to a creative director (chief creative as we call it in-house), and it took me some time to realize just what my new role should look like.
I was very aware of trying to impose my style on someone else, and at first I wasn’t as critical as I should have been. It challenged me to get out of myself and move past the notion that I didn’t want to ‘step on anyone’s toes’, toward the idea of working together for the benefit of the project, even if that meant that I had to be critical with their ideas; or even if they had to critical with mine. I realized my job was, again, to set the tone for the creative project. Establish the broad parameters and give them room to execute the requirements in the space where their personal style intersected with the quality of work we provide as a company. I had to be objective and move past my personal preferences.
And something beautiful was born. The design identity of the company became broader as it incorporated the skill sets of thinking of another person. Not only was I just relying on my design abilities, but that of someone else who complemented and augmented our creative identity.
Leading in difficulty
Then there are times when something goes wrong. You’ve given your teammate an opportunity to take a risk or manage a process and things don’t go how they should. A true leader doesn’t throw his teammate under the bus. Now I have to issue a caveat here. If someone’s actions go against the character and principles of good business, and intentionally threaten the integrity and moral standing of the company, it might be time to part ways with that individual. But this is not often the case.
There are times when a team member may, for instance, handle a client account badly, or may submit a finished product with a terrible error that is discovered too late. A leader doesn’t look to cast blame on his teammate, but seeks to solve the problem. A leader absorbs the shock of the reaction to the error while making sure to discuss with the team member what happened, help them to understand the gravity of the situations and consequences to the business, and create internal processes where possible, to preclude it from occurring again.
In short, a leader gets in the trenches with their team members to solve problems, instead of shouting orders from the sidelines.
All of this helped me to realize that being a leader is about providing training and opportunity for growth for those you lead. It means setting the right example of dedication to quality and commitment to excellence. It means never abandoning those you lead to face problems alone.
It is about opening up your institutional knowledge to others, giving them the chance to analyze it and make edits and upgrades for the benefit of the clients and the company. Being a leader is not about knowing everything, it is about assembling a team of individuals who have the knowledge, the skills and the heart to get the job done.