Being in charge means having a lot on your plate. Leaders juggle everything from managing bottom lines to overseeing top-tier team culture. We’ve heard it said that it’s lonely at the top, so we sourced some words of wisdom from iconic leaders such as Beth Comstock, Scott Belsky, and Tina Roth Eisenberg to help you out. From how to hire more authentic people to how to host more inclusive meetings, their advice will make you feel like you’re not in this on your own.
Wise words from Adobe Chief Product Officer, Scott Belsky. Image courtesy of Belsky.
We all hit low points in the struggle to get our big idea off the ground. At those times, we’re prone to self-doubt and that is when we start to make knee-jerk decisions. In his recent book, The Messy Middle, Scott Belsky encourages us to put people first by “being empathetic with what the customer is suffering from, and [focus] on doing what’s right for the team.”
Ueno founder Haraldur Thorleifsson. Image courtesy of Ueno.
The design studio Ueno is vocal about social issues, driven by its diverse team of employees. Rather than fear a business fallout, founder Haraldur Thorleifsson has embraced speaking up on important cultural issues. “I have no idea if it is good or bad for our business,” says Thorleifsson. “But I really don’t think about it that way. If this will be our downfall, then that’s the hill that I am willing to die on.”
Your big, world-changing vision deserves more than a few obligatory head nods from your team. It needs genuine buy-in from everyone working together towards a greater objective. Imagine It Forward author Beth Comstock says that a leader’s goal is to create a movement, not to strong-arm people into saying you’re right. “It can become about my idea versus their idea, and that’s often where things fall down in companies because it gets to be a bit of either turf war, function war, or ego war,” Comstock says.
The creatives at Mighty Oak. Image courtesy of Mighty Oak.
A series of promotions into management can leave us far from the hands-on work we love. Don’t let that turn you into a micromanager. Mighty Oak Creative Director Emily Collins says, “I fight the inclination to micromanage by highlighting my most important duties for the day—and doing them well—before I consider meddling with someone else’s. If my duties include checking in with people I schedule a couple of check-ins, but I don’t do their jobs for them.”
Tina Roth Eisenberg, CEO of CreativeMornings, Tattly, and Creative Guild, looks to hire people who bring their authentic selves to work. How does she find these team members? “When you apply for a job with us, we always ask to include a joke,” says Roth Eisenberg. The joke is the most telling part of the job application. Do people skip it? Drop inappropriate one-liners? Or do they land a stellar punchline demonstrating just the right amount of situational awareness, timing, and tact that will probably make them a great colleague?
In the ever-changing world of work, employee education is important. But training doesn’t stop there. You are your client's first touchpoint to understanding what is a reasonable request and what is just untenable. Keep your clients up to date on the shifts in your world of work or you’ll be managing a growing disconnect between how you work and what your clients think is going on behind-the-scenes. Pull back the curtain and don’t just explain your deliverables, explain the process that’s going into them.
Corporate hierarchies don’t tend to surface the secret valuable players who punch above their weight with soft power skills. These are the employees who generate momentum and energy far beyond their scope of work. They’re great at getting to the root of an issue, creating informal connections, and encouraging collaboration. What’s not to love? But, according to the book Talent Wins, their power is being overlooked and underutilized in just about every organization. They’re out there. Go find them.
Lisa Doberman, the leader of the design firm Doberman. Photograph by Emil Nordin.
Lisa Doberman, co-founder of design firm Doberman, invites all of her employees to join management committee meetings and make decisions that impact the future of the company. Doberman sees rich results from the participatory-steering mechanism. “What I get in return is people’s engagement,” she says. “I get their passion. I get lots of ideas. I get their sense of responsibility.”
“The days of just showing data are over; it’s too static,” says Mailchimp VP of Design, Gene Lee. The new goal for leaders, according to Lee, is to combine the tools of AI and data to anticipate what a user needs before they know it themselves.
Todd Yellin noticed that his meetings at Netflix were being dominated by a few bombastic folks, waiting with their hand over the proverbial buzzer for others to finish speaking so they could go next. Yellin, VP of Product, set about rebalancing the power of meetings away from 'me-first' talkers. The team experimented first with hand raising, and then went deeper, circulating shared documents before a meeting so introverts could add their comments in writing ahead of time
Emily Ludolph is a director at West Wing Writers. She has published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Artsy, Airmail, Eye on Design, JSTOR Daily, Quartz, Narratively, TED Online and Design Observer.