When I was asked to write a blog post about what leadership means to me, I naively agreed, thinking it would be a breeze. Every time I sat down to write this post for the past few weeks, I have had the same frustration: What I define as leadership isn’t necessarily the great piece of wisdom that I wished it could be. So, instead of telling you how I define leadership, I will tell you how I lead. Last night, a chat with a fellow entrepreneur over Facebook messenger reminded me of how the leadership style I implement actually works and why I think it works so well.
I manage from the bottom up. As in, I do everything in the business alongside my team members. Back when I spoke at Gwen, I was almost a one woman show. I had very recently begun my journey in entrepreneurship and I was running a quickly expanding social media agency in Niagara. Today, I run an Inbound Marketing Agency with a team of eleven talented and incredible people. What we do on a daily basis is ever changing, always interesting and produces results that we are all incredibly proud of. My success is the happiness of my team, the quality of the work that we are putting out and the satisfaction that I am not only facilitating my dream job, but their dream jobs too. The reality of this is that I would be a terrible manager of people if I hadn’t been the grassroots of this business. I know what each job feels like and that makes me a great manager. I know how long things take, I can accurately schedule work, I can empathize, offer advice and cheer from the sidelines as I see a success path starting to build.
So what does “from the bottom up” mean? Essentially, I do not ask my team to do anything that I wouldn’t do. I, the company owner, clean the toilets, vacuum the office, wipe down their desks after they’ve left on Friday and I take out the garbage. That is the easy stuff. I also sit in the trenches with them when a project is over hours and work to get it done, I sit on the phone with them and offer encouragement when life is happening alongside work. Fundamentally, I try to be involved without over managing every element of this company that I am so proud to work with every day. This style of management is a hybrid of what comes naturally and what I had to learn.
The other component of leadership that I like is the notion that Leaders Eat Last. I read this book a few months ago and it was a very validating read for me. One of the elements of how I have grown this business is to make my income lean and pay the people that are going to make this company something that I can be proud of. If times get tight, we don’t lay off, I take a pay cut and I work hard to get a raise. It has never lasted long, but it has always been something that I believe is the right way to do things. I am not interested in having everything today, I am interested in investing in the people that I have on my team to make sure that they are game to propel this little business to the great heights that we know it is capable of.
Conversely, leadership is also making really tough decisions. When you invest in your team and believe in them the way that I do, you need the right team. That means that being a little ruthless is required to find the people that will jive and advocate for the success of the company the same way that I will. Today, the mix in this office is incredible. On any given day there is laughter, there is hard work and there is gentle ribbing that keeps us all smiling and humble. Amongst my favourite lines is when an error happens and someone calls another on it, we say, “So I’m not going to be the prom queen, okay?” As in, we are human and the line gives us an easy out to make us laugh and also makes it okay to recognize areas of improvement.
While I lead a team, they lead me too. I am regularly amazed by what is being accomplished in our office and as we grow I am very proud to call my team, my colleagues. This month, we are all off to Boston together where we will grow and laugh and experience and learn together again at the annual Inbound conference hosted by our technology partner, HubSpot. We will also be at Gwen where we can’t wait to hear from local leaders that inspire us to be bigger, better, more!
Founder, Hughes & Co.