Is it time for business leaders and owners to finally embrace radical transparency?
As first time managers, leaders, or CEOs, the presumption is that you will always know more about the finer details than those reporting to you. It used to be that quarterly goals, budgetary issues, and the stressors of getting a company off the ground would be your burden alone. Of course, that's how stress trickles down. Yet there is a new wave in business of embracing full transparency. The weird part? It's working.
Elizabeth Lindsey is the executive director of Byte Back, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that provides free technology education and career training to unemployed adults. In 2017, she competed in the WeWork Creator Awards Pitch Competition winning the top prize of $360,000 for Byte Back. She's been named a 2017 Tech Titan by The Washingtonian and a D.C. Inno 50 on Fire winner.
I recently interviewed Elizabeth for the LEADx Podcast, where we discussed opening your books to employees, the value of weekly one-on- one meetings, and her advice to managers. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: Tell us about a time when you a failed and what you learned from it.
Elizabeth Lindsey: My first big management job was at a nonprofit here in Washington, D.C., and I was the COO, so I was basically second in the organization. For a few weeks, my finance director kept saying, "Our cash isn't looking great. I'm not sure if we're going to be okay," and then one day, he came into a meeting, and said, "We are out of money," and it was terrible. We had to lay people off, and we had to go to our funders and ask for an advance, and it was such an important learning experience for me.
I realized that once you get to a certain point in your career, you have to really know what's going on in every aspect of your business. You can't just be focused on your own silo or line of command. You really have to be able to look more broadly and understand how all the pieces work together and make sure everyone is succeeding so you can catch things before they get to that point.
Kruse: What are your views on open-book management?
Lindsey: From that experience, I am now obsessed with transparency. At Byte Back, we share our financials every quarter with the entire staff, our program and department managers have full access to their budgets, and it's really helped. I think it helps people at all levels of the organization to understand how nonprofit finances work, and to feel more comfortable in their jobs because they can see that we are financially sound. That was one of the big takeaways from that experience for me.
Kruse: What advice would you give to a new manager?
Lindsey: I think like many people, as a first time manager I was thrown into it because I was good at my job, but I didn't know anything about management. What I've really learned since then is that management is vital to the success of any company or organization. We tend to think of it as an add on, like, "Oh, you're a great engineer, so let's give you this big management job," but it really is a skill, and so the advice I would give to first-time managers is to find out ways you can learn more about management, look at different opportunities to get training, listen to podcasts, read books, learn the best practices.
I also would say that for first time managers it's something that you really need to prioritize. The only way that you can be successful in your career and in your job is by having your team be high-performing and having your team be excited and engaged. In order to do that, you really have to make the time, not only to understand how to manage them, but to spend time with them.
On my calendar, I have weekly check-ins with every single person on my team, one-on-ones, and those are sacred times. If something gets scheduled over them, I have my assistant immediately reschedule my check-in. It's the only way that I'm able to be there to support them and to really make sure that we're working together for the organization.