I have been exposed to lots of interesting business leaders over the years. The difference between the average ones, and the great ones, was how they viewed themselves, and the role they thought they needed to play within their company. My conclusion: the persons that saw themselves as the smartest guy (or gal) in the room, who needed to control all the decision making in the company, are the ones who achieved the least success, and ended up alienating their peers the most. Allow me to explain further, so you don’t repeat these same mistakes.
The Smartest Guy in the Room—Meet Bob
Meet Bob, the CEO of hypothetical ABC Corporation. There is no one in the company’s opinion that he values more than his own. He doesn’t trust his staff to make the tough decisions. He loves to hear himself talk. No new ideas are good unless he came up with them. He loves to micro-manage every decision. He pretty much “knows it all”, regardless of the topic, and would never hire a person smarter then himself, to not look stupid. The company’s revenues are simply not growing and Bob has no idea why.
The Reaction of Bob’s Employees
Nobody likes working for Bob, they frankly feel he is a jackass. They have given up on contributing new ideas, because they are tired of being turned down, over and over again. Frankly, they don’t care about the company, and are simply going through the motions of the job, most likely keeping their ears open for new job openings since this company has very high employee turnover, low morale and a poor culture, which has trickled down from the top.
The Smartest Manager in the Room—Meet Betty
On the other hand, meet Betty, the CEO of hypothetical XYZ Company. Betty knows the value of knowing when to keep her mouth shut, and listen to the ideas of her staff. She empowers her company’s leaders to make all key decisions on their own. And, she frankly listens, a lot more than she speaks. Which carries more weight when she actually does speak. She is not focused on managing the details of every decision in the company, and relies on her team to make those decisions—a team she recruited as smarter than herself and experts in their field, much more so than herself. The company’s revenues are flourishing.
The Reaction of Betty’s Employees
Everybody loves working for Betty, as they value having their ideas listened to and acted upon. And they love working for the company, alongside a staff of equally happy employees who have built a great comradery, culture and team. They wouldn’t dream of leaving the business, as they are enjoying their “rocket ship” growth and love their job.
Be Betty, Not Bob
The moral of the story here: be more like Betty, not Bob. If at any time you read the above description of Bob, and said, “yeah, that pretty much sounds like me and my management style”, you have a huge problem in your business . . . YOU!! The problem is, most “Bobs” in the world, don’t even know they are behaving that way. So what you really need to do, is have an outsider survey your employees and have them tell you exactly what they think about you, your management style and the company. That is the only way good learnings can be had, for you to improve yourself, and the business in the process. And if you read the above description of Betty and said “yes, that pretty much sounds like me”, keep up the great work.
Hire Smarter Than Yourself
When you hire talent, leave your ego at the door. If the candidate is smarter than you, that is a good thing. You want to have the smartest people possible leading the company. Don’t be intimidated by them, or worry what your staff will think of you in comparison. A smart employee will realize that you were the one that found such a great talent, and will give you credit for the hire. Not, think any less of you. You need to hire the BEST talent you can find and afford, every single time. How they compare to you, is absolutely irrelevant.
Empower Your People
If you are micromanaging every single decision inside the company, you are not focused where you should be. A good CEO will hire a strong senior team that they trust to run the day-to-day decisions of the company, after pointing them in the right direction. And that will free your time up to better focus on more strategic areas of the company, which can propel the business to new heights. And in the process, your staff will love you, empowering them and trusting them to do their jobs, with limited oversight. But that only works if you are hiring the smartest talent you can find. So, don’t be a penny wise, and a pound foolish. Invest in your talent to give the business the highest odds of success.
Listen More, Speak Less
We have all been in the room with the “blow hard” CEO that just loves to hear themselves talk, and speaks for 90% of the available minutes for a meeting. It is just exhausting as a listener, and everyone simply tunes them out, which defeats the purpose of the meeting in the first place. Instead, flip that—speak for 10% of the time. But don’t make all the decisions in the room, ask the probing questions that will get everyone’s creative juices flowing, so the best decisions can be made collectively. That is so much more refreshing for both the staff and the business.
As you can see, I feel pretty strongly on this topic. Partly because I have seen this scenario play out, over and over again, in many companies. And partly, because I have watched myself mature as an executive, the older I got, replacing a lot of my previous “bad habits” with “good habits” over time. So, overhaul your management style and recruitment approach and good things should happen for you too!!
George Deeb is a Partner at Red Rocket Ventures and author of 101 Startup Lessons-An Entrepreneur’s Handbook.