When I was 22 years old, my grandfather taught me one of the most important lessons I've learned about leadership. We had just grown our company to 6 people, and I remember I was scared out of my mind about how I was going to get my teammates to believe in me. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing, I was making all types of mistakes, and I worried about letting everyone down. Most of all, I wanted my team members to trust and stick with me through the journey.
Being a first time entrepreneur and a recent college graduate, I asked my grandpa how to lead my team. His response? Try and make everyone in your company smarter than you, and they'll stay with you through the worst of times. This advice has stayed with me ever since, and has been a big reason why our early team has stayed together through hard times. Below, I'll go through 3 ways you can gain the loyalty of your team through learning. Your success as a CEO should be based on how many employees you've made smarter than you. It’s not based on how many teammates you've become smarter than.
1. Invest In A Company Library
Every week, I go on Amazon and buy books that I think would be helpful for our business. A huge advocate of reading, I started encouraging my team to ask me for books that would help them be more successful. Every once in a while, I'd surprise a team member with a book that she would find helpful. After she saw how much it helped her, she would become so grateful for a $10 book. Teaching someone to fish will always be more valuable than buying him a fishing a pole.
Nowadays, we have a growing library of books and resources that any team member can check out and read at his or her convenience. We even allow our team to read these books during work hours if they like. We know that people who invest in themselves produce the best work.
No matter how strapped for cash you are, start a company library as soon as possible. You can find books lying around the house, or get some of the best books on Amazon for less than $10. Build an early culture of learning, and you'll reap major rewards for the rest of your company's life.
2. Encourage members to become dual threats
To keep a company moving quickly and efficiently, you need to try to keep the team as small as possible before hiring. At 16 people, one of the biggest threats in our company is that it's tougher to move as fast as when we were under 10. You'd think the opposite would happen at first, that more people means faster progress. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. As a team grows, logistics becomes more of a headache, and communication takes longer.
One of the ways I've learned to protect us from moving too slow is by hiring from within whenever possible. I encourage and push my teammates to learn new skills in the business so that if needed they can take dual roles. For instance, our sales team is learning marketing strategies. The finance team is taking coding courses, and as the CEO I try to be able to know as much about every part of our business as I can.
3. Sacrifice short term goals for long term loyalty
A few weeks ago, we had a major product deadline for one of our clients. Time was ticking, the product needed to be shipped, and the customer was anxiously waiting. It looked like we were going to make the deadline, but it was going to be last minute. With only a week until we needed to ship the product, our best iOS developer told me he was set to go to Big Nerd Ranch that week. We send our best developers to this bootcamp, and when they come back the amount they learn in a week is about the same as a yearlong course. I had promised him that he would go, but if he left we would for sure miss the deadline.
He looked at me and said that if I needed him to stay, he would sacrifice the opportunity for the team no problem. That's the kind of commitment every leader hopes for. While it stung at first, I decided to send him to Big Nerd Ranch even though I knew this meant we would miss our product deadline. I apologized to our customer, explained the situation to the team, and stood by my decision.
To my amazement, the rest of our team respected and backed my decision. Our customer understood the situation and stuck with us, and our iOS developer came back a ten times better coder. These decisions are never easy, but when you confront them think about what's going to matter in the long run. To have missed product deadline for an experience that will positively affect someone for the rest of his or her life? That's an easy decision to make.