Question: What's the most surprising thing one of your direct reports has taught you about leadership?
Value Upward Feedback
"I've made a point over the past five years to ask for upward feedback, and I've learned from my direct reports that I often behave or overlook things in a way that impedes business. And I wouldn't know it if I didn't ask them. Request upward feedback on a regular basis. Have directs come together, aggregate themes and present them back to you without attribution. The results are tremendous."
Command When You're in Command
"Prior to running an organization with multiple, varied personalities, I used to believe the worst thing you could do was make a mistake. Once I had employees, I realized that the worst crime is inaction, not incorrect action. When people are expecting you to lead the way, they want you to lead the way confidently. Most mistakes can be fixed, but a loss of confidence in the leader is permanent."
Recognize Your Role in a Problem
"It's my company, so if I have an issue with staff, it is often a result of my leadership style, the way I taught people to work or my anxiety. After seven years, my employees live and breathe my values. So when I find myself taking issue with the way something has been handled, I have to recognize that it's a problem we are both a part of. That provides an opportunity for me to lead by example."
Choose the Black Box
"The better the direct report, the less you have to lead directly. The best staff members are "black boxes" — they take light guidance and make it happen. Whenever you hire anyone, you have to know going in whether you have a "project" on your hands or a black box."
Say 'I Don't Know'
"Great leaders don't have all of the answers, but they ask great questions. My direct reports don't expect me to know everything, and they don't want me to tell them what to do. Instead, my job is to frame the right question, challenge my direct report and empower him or her to find the solution. We are better leaders when we’re more concerned with asking the right question than having the answer."
Take Control of Your Emotions
"I spent two years mentoring an intern who became our tech director. He developed into a stellar member of our team. One day, I was frustrated with his work and overreacted. Allowing negative emotion into our conversation created a gap in our working relationship. It took nearly a month and a ton of effort to regain his trust and get back on positive ground."
"Your employees know you aren't perfect. Acknowledging that fact is important and helps humanize you. Often, leaders try to put up a tough outer exterior. Being vulnerable allows you to connect to your employees on a genuine, honest level. Once you connect with your employees, it creates a much higher degree of loyalty. That's a good thing for you and the startup."
Be More Open
"My employees have taught me how to be more open. I believe in inviting employee feedback and eliciting direct input from my team. Our firm has grown and become much stronger as a result of some great ideas and improvements suggested by my employees. I needed to learn how to listen to all levels of our company, and my employees taught me how to do so. "
"My direct reports have taught me about the power of simplicity. When I ask them to review a new video or white paper, they help me realize that people don't want "intellectual geek talk." They want simple, easy-to-read content. "
"It sounds obvious, but if you are open and honest, that can take your leadership skills to new heights. Today's millennials aren't just looking for the best manager, but one they feel is honest and open with them. That will hopefully engender the same results in your co-workers."
Don't Lose Your Cool
"Nothing can make you lose credibility faster with a member of your team or impact your judgement skills more than losing control of your emotions. Take your time before responding to tough situations. You'll gain respect from your team if you respond appropriately."