The business plan is the easy part. Managing and leading a team? That's where the learning curve gets very steep.
Leaders are made, not born... which makes it tough when you start a company and have little to no management experience. (I spent years working my way through a variety of management positions and still made nearly every mistake possible.)
For many entrepreneurs the “business plan” stuff is the easy part; managing employees and leading a team involves a very steep learning curve.
Instead of waiting learning from your mistakes, take the easier route and learn from a few of my biggest leadership mistakes:
Too many positives equal a negative. Say you’re discussing the reasoning behind a new project. There are tons of positives, and your employees should be excited, but for some reason they seem wary. Why? Employees instinctively look for the downside because there is always a downside—and downsides always flow downhill. Share the negatives too. Freely describe the downsides. Show you understand that every project, every initiative, and every new process involves an upside and a downside. Sharing the positives is fun; sharing potential negatives is essential. While it isn’t easy to show doubt, your employees will respect you for it.
Results come and go but feelings are forever. Make decisions based on data, but lead based on feelings and emotions. Criticize an employee in a group setting and eventually he’ll appear to get over it... but inside he never will. When you make a decision, spend more time considering how employees will think and feel than you do evaluating whether the decision makes objective sense. You can easily recover from a mistake made based on faulty data or inaccurate projections. You’ll never recover from damage to an employee’s self esteem.
The flow of ideas is easy to turn off. For example, your best employees will typically generate the best ideas. (That is one of the reason they are great employees.) When an employee has a great idea, it’s natural to give her the responsibility for putting that idea into practice. Unfortunately your best employees are also great because they are extremely productive. The last thing they may need is responsibility for yet another initiative. Pile on too much and if only out of self defense some will stop making suggestions. Give other employees a chance to shine instead; all they may need to become great is an opportunity.
No presentation ever changed the world. Formal education conditions us to assume great information comes from presentations. (Listening to lectures while watching PowerPoint slides must be the best way to learn, right?) In business there’s an inverse relationship between the length of a presentation and its value: The longer the presentation the less valuable the ideas and information. The best ideas can be captured in one or two sentences. Plus, most of the time your employees have those ideas. Listen to your employees and turn their ideas into action. The only presentations you really need are ones used to recognize your employees’ great ideas.
Data is accurate, but sometimes your employees are right. Some decisions should be based on more than analysis, logic, and reasoning. Ideas and decisions are eventually carried out by people, and every employee has a different set of skills, emotions, motivations, and agendas. Leadership decisions should certainly be driven by data, but great leadership decisions can be messy and at times counter-intuitive. If your employees don’t agree with you, ask why. Don’t simply defend your position—find out what they know and why they feel the way they do. No one knows everything, and the only way we learn is when we shut up and listen.
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