Here at ActiveGrowth, I believe there are 3 pillars to building and running a successful business:
- The value in the products you create.
- The tech and tools you use.
- Your personal character and skills.
In other words, your personal character, work ethic, productivity, skills etc. are one third of the equation.
In today's video, I confess one of the mistakes I've made in this very aspect, even though I'm the guy who should have been able to predict and avoid such a mistake more than anyone...
Your Character = Your Company's Culture
Let's start with the good (and also more obvious) bit: as a founder, CEO and manager, your character defines the culture in your team. This is especially true for early stage startups and small teams.
Think of it like this: it's very rare that employees will exceed the level of expectations set by their surroundings and their leaders. If you put someone on a team where everyone slacks off, everyone avoids work, no one has a clear plan or clear directions and even the CEO is unreliable, they'll not do their best. In fact, most people will slide towards laziness and slacking off themselves, if they're in such an environment for long enough.
One of the most important traits for successful entrepreneurs is strong work ethic.
As soon as you have people working for or with you, your own work ethic will subconsciously set the bar for everyone else. If people on your team don't see you working hard, it signals to them that hard work isn't the done thing in your team.
And so it goes with countless other character traits. In short, you need to lead from the front.
The Flip Side...
What's a bit trickier to notice is that your quirks and bad habits will equally bleed over into your team and company culture. This is something I wasn't aware enough of, for a long time.
The clearest example of this is in how we grew the Thrive Themes team and how we managed and assigned projects. For a long time, our team was growing rapidly and we got overwhelmed trying to onboard new team members, assign different projects to everyone and keep up with development of existing projects.
As a result, our productivity suffered. We found ourselves in a position where we had too many ongoing projects, where our team's focus was scattered between now projects, ongoing projects, internal training and much more.
And here's the thing: this is exactly the kind of thing I do, in my personal life and in my own work.
I have a habit of biting off more than I can chew. And I have a terrible flaw (albeit one that is common among entrepreneurs): I can't say "no" to new projects. I'm always interested in doing more things than I can possibly do at the same time.
This kind of chaos in the way I think and approach my projects carried over to the entire Thrive Themes company and caused a lot of the chaos we've had to work through.
It's Not Exactly a Mirror
The Thrive Themes team did admirably in working through this chaos and keeping up consistent delivery and consistent improvements to our products. So, despite me projecting my personal flaws onto the company like this, the effects were somewhat dulled by the efforts of everyone on the team.
This is good news. As a CEO/founder/leader, you project your character (good and bad) onto your team, but it's not a 1:1 mirror.
The lesson here is to be aware of how your character and flaws affect people who work for and with you. The problem is that we are blind to our own flaws. But fear not, I've got two solutions for you.
Here's how to spot your own flaws:
1) Do Periodic "Quadrant Feedback" Sessions
Quadrant feedback works like this: you have a meeting with each of your team members and you both follow the structure of feedback shown below.
Both participants in the meeting give feedback on these 4 points:
- What I did well and what goals I accomplished since our last meeting.
- What I want to improve, what I didn't do so well and what new goals and skills I set for myself until the next meeting.
- What you did well, things that helped me do better work, things you should keep doing or do more of.
- What you didn't do so well, things that hindered me in my work, new goals to set or skills to focus on until our next meeting.
One reason this kind of feedback works so well is because it "forces" both positive and negative feedback. Us humans are social creatures and we generally would rather avoid the awkwardness and potential conflict that comes from giving negative feedback (no matter how constructive it is).
If you do an unstructured meeting and simply ask for critical feedback, you're likely to get "I can't think of anything, everything was fine" as a reply. But if you structure the meeting using this quadrant method and ask your team members to prepare notes on each of the quadrants in advance, you'll have a much more productive session.
2) Look at What's Going Wrong in Your Business (and then Blame Yourself)
Because we project our character onto our companies, one way to learn about our own flaws is to look at what's going wrong.
Once again, our human nature tends to get in our way here: we like to see things that aren't going well in our business and blame others. In fact, it often seems perfectly reasonable to blame others. People on your team aren't doing a good job! They're lazy! They don't take ownership of their tasks! How is that your fault?
Well, the truth is, it probably is your fault, at least to some degree. Something you do sets the wrong example. Something about how you run the company doesn't facilitate good, efficient, high quality work.
Fix the problem in the company, but also fix the problem within yourself.
With all of the above, you can now see why I rate personal development, skill building and character so highly. Excellent companies are run by excellent people and that's why for me, skill building and self improvement are one of the cornerstones of entrepreneurship.
That's why we spend so much time talking about building your personal skills, overcoming procrastination and developing the right mindset, both on the blog and in our podcast.
Let me know your thoughts on this topic! And I also appreciate any feedback you have on this somewhat unconventional piece of content. Did you enjoy it? Can you relate to it? Does it help you become a better entrepreneur?
Let me know by leaving a comment below!