If You Are Wondering Your Job as a Leader: Do These 4 Things

Photo credit: ST. LAWRENCE UNIVERSITY

Time is the one constant we are all given. No one gets more or less of it than anyone else.

As leaders, it’s how we spend our time — what we choose to prioritize, and what we choose not to do — determines our team’s outcomes.

I found myself in this position with my first company that I co-founded where I ran product and engineering. In the early days, we were an army of two, working diligently on our prototype. That enabled us to raise our seed round, and now we had to scale — build the founding team, acquire customers, setting direction, mentorship and everything in between comes your way in running a business.

In the process of handling our rapid growth, we became very reactive in solving every challenge that knocked on our door. Honestly, I found myself spread too thin. I was doing a mediocre job in several critical areas instead of excelling in few.

It didn’t become clear to me until later that— I didn’t need to solve all of our problems. I realized that I wasn’t alone and had a fantastic team to support me. Of course, I needed help. I needed to be more proactive and less reactive.

I’ve been a curious, independent thinker who ran after multiple audacious goals. I realized in pursuing my aspirations— I needed to scale myself. I needed to make myself obsolete and let others step up.

I’m sharing what I have learned through years of experience operating, building and leading teams, and spending much time reflecting on my mistakes.

I have refined these over the years. They have helped me become a better leader, create more leaders, freed up time for me to go after multiple audacious goals, and most importantly, help build more autonomous high-performing teams.

Without further adieu, if you can only do four things as a leader, do these.

1. Hiring

Your team’s success hinges on the people you choose to hire. As a leader, you should be thinking strategically about — who you want to get on the bus and who you want to get off the bus, to help get your company to where you want it to be. What diversity of ideas and backgrounds should they have?

As a leader, you need to set the standard for what matters when hiring: the skillset, the values, the experience, purpose and passion alignment. Remember that, your first 10 hires are going to help you hire your next 100 employees.

You say when it’s time to hire — and when it’s not. Remember, firing is always more expensive than hiring, so don’t let short-term bandwidth constraints rush your hiring decisions.

I’ll be writing a detailed recruiting blog series covering hiring best practices and building scalable processes on this important topic. Stay tuned for future articles.

2. Setting Your Team’s Strategy And Vision

A company’s vision is where the most fundamental source of motivation for your team is derived. If you’re not spending time setting and communicating a long-term vision — people won’t be motivated to do the work to help get the company there. A bold vision combined with a sense of purpose inspires motivated people to achieve extraordinary results.

Often, most leaders miss understanding that the vision requires over- communication and it is easy not to do it. After all, it’s quite a repeated, draining slog to keep saying the same thing over and over again.

You need to communicate the vision, decisions made, and where a company is headed multiple times. In the company All Hands, your 1:1s, quarterly planning meetings. It usually takes some time for a message to sink in or for a decision to be thoroughly explained.

If you want your team to make the decision on your behalf, they need the same level of context and information as you do. If you’re not continually communicating what people should know and the context isn’t there, your team can’t do their job well.

3. Remove Obstacles For Your Team

You think your job is done. After all, you have hired great people. You have inspired them to execute your vision. You’re constantly communicating the vision and where the company is headed. In reality, your job is not done, and your team will need your help to execute the plan effectively.

Instead of managing-down and asking for constant updates, build a culture of managing-up. Make yourself available and set the expectation that your team keeps you in the loop when they hit a blocker.

It might make you uncomfortable to take a step back. It might worry you about missing deadlines, product quality. It might take a couple of iterations. However, if you hire the right people, set the vision, communicate the direction where the company is headed, you have to let your team own the process and execution.

If helpful, proactively ask these question in your 1:1s or team meetings.

— How can I help?

— What is slowing you down?

— What’s not working well?

— How might we accelerate our progress?

Don’t ask generic questions like “how are things?” The default answer is usually “things are good”.

4. Invest In Your People

Now you have freed yourself from the micro details of execution; you can focus on other important needs of the company.

One of the most critical assets of any company is People. Your people are hard at work to help the company hit its next milestone. It is only fair and your job on behalf of the company to do the same for your people. Remember, constant professional growth is one of the most important investments you can make in retaining and keeping your people happy.

How to invest in your people?

This is a great question and deserves a separate post for itself. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, here is a quick primer that you can use.

— Understand what professional growth means to each member of your team. Career conversation is one of the first conversations you should have with your every hire. It’s the best way to learn what’s important to them, to build a strong relationship with them, and to help them grow.

— Create an Action Plan: Craft a plan together for taking steps towards the envisioned professional growth. Put this in writing and review this at least once every month. If you use OKR’s, add one objective for professional growth in the individual’s OKR. This adds the organization’s support and two-way accountability to ensure you both are investing time and making progress on this objective.