5 Lessons I Learned From My Employees

By Michael Chasen | Small Business

All entrepreneurs I know, no matter how successful, have at least one character trait in common: they're still as hungry to learn as when they started out.

All entrepreneurs I know, no matter how successful, have at least one character trait in common: they're still as hungry to learn as when they started out. The people who act like they know it all are the ones you should be wary of. I want to surround myself with people who are constantly pushing themselves to grow. And I want to be one of those people myself. I've learned so much from various mentors--people who have been doing it longer and/or who have done it spectacularly well. At the same time, I've learned the value in also learning from my employees. Students are teachers, too. Everyone, no matter how young, has some kind of experience you don't have; if you're open to seeing that, you will benefit from it.

Here are five lessons I learned from my employees:

Consider at least one alternative for every decision. As part of the collaborative culture we've implemented at SocialRadar, many decisions are group decisions--or at least group discussions. When our product requires a design change, such as a profile card or map view, I mock up a potential concept. Then no matter how much I like any one idea, I fully consult my team (and not just the designers) for their take. We all know the vagaries of the creative process. For example, I may not realize that a particular design is not customary to industry standards--so I've come to rely on a smorgasbord of feedback before settling on the final path.

Don't be afraid to disagree with the boss. You were hired to have an opinion. Any boss worth his "World's Best CEO" mug welcomes an employee's input. But before I managed people, I don't know if I would've expected that I'd embrace workplace debate. I've learned that I appreciate when my employees challenge me because it forces me to articulate why I have the perspective I do. And it's thanks to employees who didn't withhold a thought for fear that I wouldn't like it. Though I won't always come around to another point of view, I am always open to another point of view.

Empower others to take chances. I don't want to be the only risk-taker in the room. By working hard and working smart, my employees have taught me that they, too, should be encouraged to experiment. Seeing how they handle risks that don't pay off will enable me to learn more about their strengths and might help indicate areas with room for improvement. And seeing how they handle risks that do pay off...well, no explanation needed.

Be transparent about mistakes or misjudgments. This advice, of course, often applies to life in general, but my employees have shown me how important it is as a CEO. I always strive to respect the intelligence of my team, so I am honest when things that affect the company as a whole don't go as planned or predicted. I feel that any frustration or embarrassment stemming from a gaffe is far healthier to handle than the fallout of a hidden mistake that becomes public. My employees have proven to be big picture people, teaching me that I don't need to project perfection to be an effective leader.

Try to trust more. "If we don't start trusting our children, how will they ever become trustworthy?" That is from Footloose--admittedly not one of the top 500 films you'd expect to see quoted in a tech article. But substitute "children" with "colleagues" and it can easily be applied to the business world. Note that I didn't suggest substituting with "employees"--trust works both ways, of course. Trust factors into the four previous items on this list, but it's so vital to any company culture that it deserves to be singled out. My employees have taught me to trust more simply by doing the best they can. It's no struggle to trust in people who prove their dedication day after day.

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