What does it take to be a great boss? A decade ago, the rote answer might have included delegating wisely, setting crisp meeting agendas, and providing employees with great perks such as flex time. Today, in a more uncertain economic time, the rules of great leadership have changed. So to guide the contemporary leader, Inc. has compiled 13 unconventional and surprisingly effective leadership ideas—some of which, in the past, would have been decried as micromanaging or overrelying on gut instincts. These are the new rules of leadership.
1. Have a Bias Towards Action
Before Josh James founded online analytics company Omniture, he carried around an idea book, and jotted down ideas every day. He ended up with a patent on a product: a hair-in-hairbrush remover he dubbed Brush's Groom. It never made a cent, but the process taught him about creating a business plan, marketing, and distribution. "I make mistakes faster than anybody. I think, go, do. That's the Omniture mantra." Read more.
2. Let "No" Be a Bigger Part of Your Vocabulary
Before she starred in Bravo's Kell on Earth, Kelly Cutrone founded New York-based PR firm People's Revolution. She tells Inc. that one of the greatest gifts professionally in dealing with employees and clients was learning to harness the power of the word "no." Couple the ability to bring limits into a service industry with her stamina and energy – and Cutrone not only has a personal leadership philosophy, but also something more valuable: A clear idea of the traits she likes to see in those around her. Read more.
3. Keep Communications to a Minimum
Joel Spolsky, founder and CEO of Fog Creek Software in New York City, asks: When was the last time you scheduled a meeting and invited eight people instead of the three people who really needed to be there? When did you send a non-consequential company-wide email? These are symptoms of a common ailment that Spolsky dubs too much communication. It's an efficiency problem especially for fast-growing start-ups, because as you grow, people and departments become specialized, though conversations often do not. Forget keeping everyone on the same page, Spolsky says, and instead think of the time you can save by not overdoing the communications. Read more.
4. Motivate Employees Through Volunteerism
When your company is booming, but your employees are service-industry workers who can't be paid too much in reward, what do you do? Amy Simmons, founder of Amy's Ice Cream in Austin, Texas, gets her workers involved in the impact her company has on the community. She brings employees to hospital volunteer days and lets them choose which charities Amy's Ice Cream supports. Pretty sweet. Read more.
5. Set Up Your Office as an Idea Factory
If you build it, they will come. For pro skateboarder and entrepreneur Rob Dyrdek, that's precisely the case. He runs all of his more than a dozen ventures out of what's called the Fantasy Factory, his office near Los Angeles. Inc. calls it "America's coolest workplace," and plenty of other people think so too. Everyone from important clients to random celebrities stop by Dyrdek's Mecca of skate culture, often just to hang out, and sometimes, powerful ideas are born. Read more.
6. Make Customer Service Everyone's Job
Anytime anyone writes an e-mail to Kayak, the travel search engine Paul English founded with Steve Hafner in 2004, they get a personal response. And a phone call? English will jump over desks to answer it. Indeed every employee, from an office assistant to a web developer, is expected to do the same. Why pay an engineer $150,000 to answer phones? "If you make the engineers answer e-mails and phone calls from the customers, the second or third time they get the same question, they'll actually stop what they're doing and fix the code," English says. Read more.
7. Value Creativity Over Productivity
A constructive day for Caterina Fake, co-founder of the photo-sharing site Flickr, might start with she and her colleagues sketching out a prototype, followed by walking through a thought experiment. By noon the lightbulb goes on for a fresh idea. In her new start-up, a user-recommendation website based in New York City, she values intuition – and holds herself to that standard at work. She works on whatever feels instinctively right at the moment and lets her schedule take on an organic randomness, so efficacy can feel effortless. That said, she claims to be one of the most productive people she knows. Read more.
7. Leave Your Schedule Open
Agility is the key to productivity for Scott Lang, the CEO of Silver Spring Network, a developer of smart energy grids based in Redwood City, California. He leaves large blocks of his schedule open, such that on an average day, he's only 50 percent scheduled. That way, he's open to impromptu meetings, such as if an important new partner's CEO drops by (that happened one open afternoon). And, if he winds up with extra time, he fills it with self-education and big-picture, future-oriented thinking. Read more.
8. Don't Treat All Employees Equally
Cutrone, founder of Manhattan PR firm People's Revolution, describes her office as a research and development lab for the "ultimate power chicks." That said, each employee comes with different skill sets and character defects, she says, so she doesn't treat any of her employees the same. "We're talking all day long about our lives, our fears, what's happening, our clients, it's a very creative place," she says. Read more.
9. Skip Meetings and Forget Face Time
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and CEO of HDNet, says "meetings are a waste of time unless you are closing a deal. There are so many ways to communicate in real time or asynchronously that any meeting you actually sit for should have a duration and set outcome before you agree to go." He estimates he saves five to 10 hours a day conducting business over email, not letting phone calls or face-to-face appointments suck up time. Do it right, he says, and clients and potential partners learn to get to the point without wasting time on the niceties of making a sale or wooing a contact. Nothing but the facts is his e-mail mantra. "Leave the BS for other people," he says. Read more.
10. Micromanage. (Sometimes.)
It sounds like a dirty word: micromanage. Business schools teach future CEOs to delegate, delegate, delegate. But Joel Spolsky, the founder and CEO of Fog Creek Software in New York City, finds a lot of value in strategic micromanaging. He writes that he believes a great goal is to hire smart, dedicated people who can be given direction and set free, but when something doesn't go as planned – with a client or in the office – sometimes micromanaging techniques, such as asking the Five Whys – can do just the trick to getting to the root of the problem. Read more.
11. Let Employees Come and Go as They Please
Before founding Perfect Fitness, Alden Mills was a Navy SEAL who went on to receive an M.B.A. from Carnegie Mellon. Much like the SEALs, Mills thinks of his company as a force built of dedicated volunteers – and workers can leave anytime they like. He's a firm believer that his employees should have the freedom to work from anywhere they like, and come and go when they like. He doesn't have a vacation policy, so that workers will "fly out" and come back when they're pumped for more. If you love them, let them go? Not exactly: he says the attitude fosters more commitment – and breeds employees who can, and want to, think about work even when they're at home in their bathroom. Read more.
12. Work Weekends, and Love It
For Seth Priebatsch, CEO of SCVNGR, a Boston-based start-up that helps organizations engage people through location-based smartphone games, weekends are not only fair game, but also are highly productive. When he has a particularly difficult problem to solve, he likes to come in on the weekend when there's less going on and spend a day on it. Evenings are for reading up on fresh technology. And he expects the same of his peers and potential hires. "I'll interview people on Saturdays, late at night, early in the morning. Those are perfectly reasonable times to expect someone who is a rock star to be on top of his or her game and excited." Read more.
13. Make the Important Calls Yourself
He's got 22 offices and billings of more than $2.6 billion. How does Jordan Zimmerman, founder of Zimmerman Advertising, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, know what his clients want and are thinking? He calls the CEO or chairperson of every major client every single day. "These people are the brilliance behind the brand, and my job is to keep them in the loop, to make sure that as a team, we're making the right decisions for the brand." So much for delegating. Read more.