"How did you start growing your team?"
It's the question I hear most often from solo-preneurs and those looking to scale.
My team has offered me the flexibility to create my life on my terms and on my schedule. As most beginners often do, I made plenty of mistakes! Here are some of the mistakes I made and the lessons I learned from them:
I waited too long. I postponed hiring my first employee until I was completely maxed out. We have to be honest with our abilities and limitations to ensure that we are maximizing our potential without burning ourselves out.
I pulled an average of one to two all-nighters a week, working 60+ hours while raising six young children. I lived to work and "balance" seemed like a fantasy. I remember telling myself, "Just one more week.. Just one more month.. Just one more quarter of this insanity, and then I'll make the needed changes to get my life back on track."
It's really easy to underestimate how many times we're pushing that date further and further into the future. We need to put a stop date on the calendar. We need to know when we will have that first person hired by and make it non-negotiable.
I micromanaged EVERYTHING. I treated my business like it was my baby and I hovered over every tiny detail. I couldn't let go of any of it. Not only did this drive my team mad, but it never allowed my mind to rest.
I never took a step away. I never relaxed. I never recharged or refocused on the big picture. But without the focus and that clear vision, progress does not happen.
We cannot be both in the weeds and above the weeds at the same time. Our ability to grow requires us to look at our goals and directives from a 500+ foot level. Anything less is maintenance.
I hired family and friends. Now let me clarify.. this is less about the complexities of working with family and friends as it is making sure that you don't offer a job to someone who is either one, unqualified, or two, you don't have a fully trusting relationship with to where you can openly communicate and have a history of working through problems with.
If you hire a friend or family member who is both unqualified and unable to have a real conversation with you in tough times, you have a ticking time bomb on your hands. It's the breeding ground for resentment and entitlement. This is when you see relationships become strained and even permanently damaged.
It's vital that we take a step back and gain clarity. Don't be willing to take just anyone. It has to be the right relationship. They have to have the right qualifications and skills. They have to have the ability to communicate through the hard things when something goes wrong (because it will!). And if they're not performing to the degree that is needed, the solution cannot be going behind them and picking up all the little messes along the way. Inability to communicate honestly creates resentment and cripples progress.
If you don't have sufficient trust in your relationship with them to where you can say, "This isn't working for me.." or "I'd like to see a change here.." If you can't honestly and openly offer feedback without fear of hurting their feelings then they are not the right person for your team.
You must feel comfortable to push back, ask the tough questions, and hold accountable every person on your team in order for long-term success to happen.
Unwillingness to say the difficult things. We've all heard that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. But what comes after identifying that link? How do we have a conversation to reinforce and strengthen someone rather than fall into one of the more common pitfalls of:
It is our responsibility as leaders to address underperformance and provide opportunities for people to grow, and it all starts with our ability and our willingness to hold people accountable. The alternative is we don't have the uncomfortable conversation, but choose to be silently frustrated and reassign or even fix the problem ourselves.
Take it from me - silent resentment does not diminish over time. The elephant in the room only grows larger and the trust of other team members begins to diminish as they see fears of confrontation put above the security and growth of the company.
The performance of the team and the growth of the company must be prioritized over the need to be liked. That doesn't mean that you need to be a jerk, but it does mean that you need to be willing to be honest and to have a conversation that will ultimately benefit the entire team and create a more cohesive and collaborative culture.
My goal as a leader is to grow other leaders and that needs to be more important to me than how many people think I'm nice at the end of the day. So I'm going to risk offending someone in the hopes that I can help propel them to their next level in their personal and professional growth journey.