Entrepreneurs leading fast moving companies have a critical blind spot. One habit is single-handedly dumbing down groups of uber smart people. It’s holding back the growth of businesses everywhere.
Changing one simple habit can unlock a powerhouse of collective brainpower and creativity.
In business “building a superstar team” is the ultimate quest. To be the best, hire the best. Entrepreneurs have their talent antenna up in every conversation. The hunt for great people is never ending.
So what happens once that super smart and dedicated team is in place? Your frustration starts to mount. Your once agile business starts slowing down. Communication starts breaking down. You are pulled into every decision. Or worse, you are excluded from decisions that you later need to overturn. You question how people you had thought to be smart now seem… well… dumb!
What’s it like on the other side?
The people on your team are motivated by the same things as you. What motivates you? My guess is that you’re pumped because you control your own fate. You make decisions that make sense to you. Whether things go right or wrong, the buck stops with you. You’re fine tuning your skills as a leader and mastering your craft. Creativity is flowing through your veins.
Let’s say that you wake up tomorrow and you now have a boss. Let’s say this person is a little bit smarter than you in a few areas. He has been around the proverbial block more times than you. And most annoyingly, your new boss starts disagreeing with your decisions. After all, he has more experience and knows better than you. What happens next? At first, you push back. You are a smart cookie with good ideas and believe your solution is just as good or maybe better. Despite putting up a good fight, your idea is squashed. Over the next few days and weeks this happens more and more. Your ideas are challenged in front of the rest of the team. Now you are #@$% frustrated.
So what do you do? Do you stop suggesting ideas because they will likely be overturned? Perhaps you start talking behind your bosses back, rallying support for your cause? For sure you stop working so hard on anything that interests your boss. You don’t understand or support the current path. As a result your communication with the broader team dwindles. When you do speak up, you now focus on preparing to defend yourself. You start bottling up your creative juices for use on side projects.
Let’s flip back to the other side. You are the top dog again. Phew!
That one nasty habit that is sucking the energy out of your team? Your overuse of the power that you hold as the one in charge. It’s the veto power, trump card, 51% control, right to overrule, need for the final say that subtly or overtly says “it’s my way or the highway”. Each time you overrule your team, listen for the whoosh of energy leaving the building.
It’s alluring. It’s enticing. That internal voice that calls out every flaw. To you it’s crystal clear that there’s a better way. And from deep in your gut comes the want – the absolute need – to kill the idea before it sees the light of day. “Just tell them what to do” echoes in your mind. “I’ll just #@$% do it myself”.
So you act. You kill the idea. You tell the team what they should do instead.
The gut reaction that started this snowball rolling? That’s your biology kicking in. All the habits that helped you become a kick-ass entrepreneur in the early days just charged in to save the day. Your quick thinking, your well-honed creative problem solving skills, your orientation to taking control.
Ready for habit change?
Allowing this pesky habit to hang around unchecked will leave you frustrated. Your team’s performance will be sub par.
Do you aspire to build a superstar team that brings creative solutions to the table? Would you like the team to take work off your plate? Changing this habit is key to your success. Don’t worry, you don’t need hours of therapy to strip it out of you. You just need a bit more awareness and the ability to make some different choices.
You may still overrule decisions from time to time. And when you do, you’ll do it so that the energy stays in the building.
A path from entrepreneur to leader
There are three questions to ask yourself before pulling out your veto gun.
1) Who is the best decision maker here?
2) How big is the issue?
3) Have I shared everything I know to help my team make their own decision?
Who’s in charge around here?
One of the biggest complaints I hear from the direct reports of entrepreneurs? That they are held accountable for results but aren’t given authority to make decisions. When we delegate a project or decision, we are transferring authority and sharing accountability. Each time we use our veto power, we are pulling authority back. But most often we don’t pull back accountability too.
So who should have the authority to make the decision?
Common sense says that it should be the person who is accountable. The one with the most relevant information. AND the individual who will have to put the solution in place once the decision once made.
Is that person you?
Not unless you want to be in every meeting, plan on checking in with every person, and have time to run every project.
For each decision ask, “who owns this decision? Who is accountable? Who has the authority?” If you’ve done your job and hired great people, let them do what you’ve hired them to do. And that includes cleaning up the occasional mess that they make from time to time.
Is bankruptcy on the line?
What is more likely to bring your company to its knees? A brilliant decision implemented slowly? Or a good decision executed quickly? The good decision will win every time. And your team will execute on their own good decision 10x faster.
So when do you cut the cord and let your people make decisions?
In those critical decision making moments, take a deep breath. Press pause on that gut wrenching feeling that has you wanting to jump out of your skin and say “you’re wrong”. And ask yourself, “Is this a $10k decision? A $100k decision? A $1M decision?”
Think of your veto as a $10k tax. Every time you use your veto, it costs you $10k. That’s the likely cost of the energy that gets zapped. If you are risking bankruptcy, spending $10k is worth it. Most of the time, it’s not.
Is there a leader in the room?
If your team is about to make a bad decision or already has, who’s fault is it? It’s likely yours. These are smart people you’ve hired. It’s not base intelligence that’s holding them back. You have context that they don’t have. You have insights they haven’t learned. You have an experience that tells you a different path is better. And you haven’t done enough to share your knowledge and experience with your team.
Put away the veto gun and pull out your coach hat. Ask about the thinking that’s led to the recommendation. Figure out what else they’ve considered. Respect their thought process and share some of your thinking. Invite them to speak to someone who has influenced your thinking. Share a book that has been pivotal in how you view the situation. Let them know you trust them to make the best decision. Challenge them to raise the bar. But DON’T tell them what to do.
Simple doesn’t mean easy
As an entrepreneur, you love a challenge, and this could be your biggest yet. The steps of changing your veto habit are pretty straight forward. You assign authority to the right person. You size the risk of a decision that is less than perfect. You share information and insights. And you look for your own role when the team makes bad decisions. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the steps. This habit is well ingrained for most entrepreneurs, and for good reason. Making fast and bold decisions early in the life of a start up is the role of the founder. Now it’s time to share that role with others and sharing can be just as hard for adults as it is for kids.
If you are ready to take on this challenge, you will need some help. Recruit someone you trust to hold you accountable. Someone who will call you on your overuse of your 51% power.
Now it’s time to get back to building that superstar team.
Have you struggled with this challenge? Any tips or personal experiences to share? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or email me at brent (at) brentlowe.com.