Four lessons in leading people as a young entrepreneur

Three years ago I started DigitLab, and with it I began leading people. I wanted to lead a team instead of manage them.  I believe that people are at their best when they are happy, challenged, inspired and a part of a bigger vision. I have always believed it – now was my opportunity to test the theory.

I have been able to operate DigitLab with a utopian mindset of leadership, free from the challenges of historical management and old business process. I was allowed to build a business that valued people before process.  I have learnt a lot over the years and wanted to share four principles that I have found invaluable in leading people. These are not always easy to make happen, they require trust, humility and faith in the people you have in your team, which leads me to my first principle:

Hire people who get excited about your vision

We hire based on two main principles; can you do the job (capability) and do you dream about the same things we do (chemistry).  After intensive interviews and tests to make sure people are capable of doing the job, our final interview with potential employees is dedicated to finding chemistry. We drive hard to understand what drives this person, what excites them and what they see as their value to add to a team. What I am looking for at the end of the day is simple but difficult to find. What are your dreams and can I make them come true as we both pursue the DigitLab vision? This has helped me build a team of like-minded, multi-skilled people who are passionate about the vision of the company.

Delegate ownership not responsibility

Responsibility is over-rated. When people are given responsibility they often feel it has been delegated to them. So they very often look for ways to delegate the work themselves, which in essence abdicates them from the responsibility. In essence, they look for someone else to blame when it all goes wrong but are ready to take the credit when it goes well.

Ownership is different. I’m not talking about business ownership, I’m talking about people being given ownership over their roles in the business. People being held accountable for the problems, being given the resources to solve them and ultimately a clear directive about how to succeed in the position they now own. It has been so encouraging to watch people in our business take ownership over each and every aspect of what we do. People are passionate, dedicated and resolved to succeed when they know its up to them to see the success happen. Ownership means everyone in the team is contributing to the business success and choosing the road we take to that success.

Clarity not job descriptions

I have spent a lot of time talking with our people, trying to make sure they are clear about what it means to succeed in their area of ownership. I don’t write job descriptions because they tend to write themselves when the focus is finding clarity.

Job descriptions tell people what they should be doing with their time. These are often coupled with targets which tell them if they are doing their task well or not. Job descriptions are limiting, they limit people in achieving what they need to, they box people into a mould and create an expectation for delivery in a specific way.

Clarity is very different. When you make sure an employee has clarity in their role, you are showing that you are clear about what you are expecting from them. They know what they need to achieve, and because they own it they can choose how to achieve it. They are aware of what their role means to the entire business and how they can make an impact. This kind of clarity takes your vision and shows people their part to play in it.

Employees need to be heard

I am constantly in search of great people in my business and we are blessed to have many. I have learnt that the hardest part of leading great people has been to listen to them. As leaders we tend to present our vision and create the means to make it happen. Great people who buy into that vision very often want to contribute to it, to add their flavour and make their mark.

In business, leaders need to take the time to help the great people they’ve hired so that they can find their own greatness inside your business.  Otherwise they will leave you and join the team that challenges them. As leaders we need to be humble and consider all ideas from our team. We need to work out how their ideas fit with our vision and look for opportunities to collaborate within the business. We need to open the door to resources to help their idea come to light.

The more leadership experience I have, the more I am impressed by people and what they can achieve when you set them free with a voice that is heard, a clear directive to succeed and a passion for a common vision.

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