To scale your business as a successful leader—hire the right people and get out of their way.
This is a well known saying in Silicon Valley about leadership to scale your business quickly and efficiently.
Leadership connects with the ability to inspire, motivate, and enable your teams to take full responsibility and ownership over their roles in the company.
Why? Because this is not only the path to effective leadership, but it’s also the best way to tap into the value, expertise, and potential your team brings to the table.
As a leader, your job is to create more leaders [Tweet this!].
Leading a company to successful outcomes involves getting as much leverage as possible.
The Benefits of Effective Leadership
Imagine that instead of being the front-line combatant many CEOs are, you have freedom knowing your teams will lead your business to success.
Many people talk about this leadership style, but, in our experience, few leaders seem able to master it, and for a good reason.
While stepping back and letting your team lead may seem like a simple leadership style, it isn’t necessarily easy. However, it is worth it.
In fact, at Mindmaven, we believe the freedom this style of leadership creates is necessary to reach your full potential as a CEO.
What Makes A Good Leader?
We had a great discussion about leadership skills with Jason Gardner, a leader who has pushed the envelope on this methodology further than most. We wanted to share this, as getting different experiences and perspectives on transformational leadership is valuable.
Jason is the founder and Executive Chairman at Marqeta (@marqeta), “Modern Card Issuing that empowers innovators to change the world.”
When we first spoke to Jason, Marqeta had just grown its revenue over five times, powering card programs for some of the more prominent players in Silicon Valley, including Square, Affirm, DoorDash, and Instacart. Prior to Marqeta, Jason co-founded PropertyBridge and the IT management company Vertical Think. We asked him what effective leadership traits and team-building exercises he created to drive successful outcomes over time.
Employees Versus Business Partners
Jason said that with his leadership style, he doesn’t have “employees.” Instead, he refers to those who work with him as “business partners.”
It’s more than just a title. Jason treats and trains his people as partners, too. The way Jason explained it, he’s there to help his partners succeed, not the other way around.
The result? Teams who think, plan, and act independently, without any dependency on the CEO; people who take ownership and responsibility for themselves, their team, and the business as a whole.
If this approach is something your company might benefit from, read on to see what this leadership style looks like in practice and how you can begin to implement it in your business.
3 Essential Leadership Skills For Success
Step 1: Get Out of the Way
The cornerstone of this leadership style is trust: You need to trust your teams to succeed without constant involvement or supervision.
For many, this will be a challenge. If you’ve never managed your teams this way, you may have yet to develop this level of trust simply because you never needed it. Unfortunately, there’s no “hack” to gaining trust. You have to let go and “get out of the way.”
Jason explains that the only way to build absolute trust is through experience.
At first, it takes a leap of faith. You’ll have to give ownership and responsibility to your team even if you aren’t sure they’re ready, then step back to watch what happens.
You can’t just disappear from your team and hope for the best. You must ensure that each person understands and accepts their responsibilities within the company.
To do this, spend time developing transformational leadership and ensure the following three points:
- Alignment—ensuring everyone is on the same page about where the company is going, how each team contributes, and how together “we are going to get there.”
- Their responsibilities—leveraging their knowledge and expertise to make the company successful.
- Your responsibilities—providing the resources and support to make them successful and, therefore, the business successful.
Here are a few snippets of how this conversation might go when team building.
Note that this isn’t a word-for-word script; think of it as an example of the overall tone, and use whatever words feel most natural for you.
- “Let’s get aligned on what we want to achieve here. Do the goals we’re setting and approaches we came up with align with what you think we should be doing?”
- “This is your team. You’re part of the company. We hired you because we trust you to handle this, and now we’ll let you handle it.”
- “I don’t expect perfection, especially not at first. Don’t be so afraid of making mistakes that you fail to act. When you make a mistake, own it, fix it, and move on.”
- “If I have to step in, solve your problems, and make decisions for you, there’s a bigger problem. You’re the expert at what you do.”
- “I’m still going to be around, contributing resources and support to help you succeed. So what do you need from me to be as successful as possible?”
This leadership style may be a shift for you and your team, so it’s essential to take the time to make sure everyone understands what’s expected of them to achieve successful outcomes for the shared vision and results.
Step 2: Stay Out of the Way
Getting out of the way is one thing. Staying out of the way is something else altogether.
At some point, something is likely to go wrong. Someone will drop the ball, make a bad call, or come to you for a decision they could make on their own. When that happens, your first instinct could be to try to fix things. Don’t.
Initially, you’re training yourself in leadership skills just as much as you’re training your team. As with any new habit, consistency is key.
When someone comes to you with a problem, if you jump in and try to fix things, it could imply, “I have the answers, and you need me to give them to you.” Instead, remind them of their new, empowered responsibilities and task them with fixing it. For example:
“As this is your department, your team, and your responsibility, you are the most qualified person to make this decision; you have the most context and authority here, so I trust you and your team to make the best decision possible. Let me know what you decide.”
Your people are going to struggle sometimes, especially at the beginning. The most valuable thing you can do for them isn’t to jump in and solve their problems; it’s to let them find their own solution (even if that means letting them fail a few times first).
This might sound counter-intuitive, or like you’re hanging them out to dry, but you’re not. You’ll still be present to answer questions, give advice, and lend expertise. The only difference is that you will leave the actual decisions and execution to your teams.
When to Step In
That said, Jason pointed out that this new leadership approach doesn’t excuse you from involvement. You’re still your team’s leader; it’s just that your role changed from a “director” to more of a “supporter.”
This support usually comes in one of two forms, tactical or moral support.
- Tactical support means ensuring your team has the resources they need to succeed. For example, do they need specific tools? Better equipment? More funding? Additional team members? Approval from the board?
- Moral support means creating an environment where people want to take ownership and responsibility because they love their job, company, team, and leadership. Create an inspiring team, build their confidence, and a place to thrive and perform at their best.
There will still be instances where you may need to step in. The difference is that you’ll now be free to focus primarily on the most important, proactive, productive decisions that determine your business’s vision, strategy, direction, and alignment.
Step 3: Give Your Team Responsibility
As you move forward with this leadership approach, you’ll likely notice a sharp divide among your people.
Some will step up and take ownership, but others won’t. It’ll be obvious who fits into which category.
Jason shared that this leadership style can expose people, giving them nothing to hide behind but their own performance. Some will love transparency and increased responsibility; others will hate it.
The truth is that not everyone wants increased ownership and pressure. It likely won’t take long to discover who is equipped to take on new responsibilities and who isn’t.
As this becomes evident, you will have tough decisions to make. After all, the velocity of the team leader sets the velocity for the rest of the team.
If someone is struggling under the weight of their new responsibility, you will have to consider: Do you …
- Invest more tactical and morale support in them, hoping they’ll eventually take ownership and lead. Or do you …
- Make the tough decision that this person’s abilities, goals, and mindset might not be aligned with the future of your company.
Neither of those decisions is necessarily easy, but remember that when everyone else is taking responsibility and giving 110% effort for their work, those who don’t will often stick out. Worse, they could hold the rest of the team back as well.
Ultimately, how you handle these situations is up to you; just make sure whatever decision you make is aligned with your North Star Objective.
What To Look For in New Candidates
The best way to incorporate this leadership culture into your business is to hire the right people.
You want people who naturally take ownership and responsibility. Luckily, each new hire doesn’t have to be a huge gamble.
Through years of experience, we have discovered three core personality traits that act as strong indicators that someone will succeed under this leadership style:
- A grand vision: Someone who knows what they want and is prepared to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Someone willing to consistently sacrifice short-term success for long-term gain.
- An attitude: Someone with a strong personality who isn’t afraid to speak up and challenge the status quo. Someone who will accept your support but doesn’t need your constant involvement.
- A growth mindset: Someone with what Carol Dweck (Mindset Works) describes as a “growth mindset” rather than a fixed mindset. Someone with naturally thick skin, who seeks criticism, craves feedback and learns from their mistakes.
The three traits above are what Jason said he needs for his company, but they may be different for you. The point is to know what you, your company, and your teams need to succeed; and to settle for nothing less.
Under this leadership style, your company’s success is tied more closely than ever to your team’s success.
Is It Worth It?
At first, this leadership approach might feel unnatural and will require a conscious effort on your part. So here’s the question: Is it worth it?
Ultimately, no one can answer that but you. For Jason, the answer’s a definitive yes. Because of this leadership style, Marqeta enjoyed an incredibly low attrition rate, and business partners thrived with effective leadership, vision, and results.
Gizelle Barany, General Council at Marqeta, summarized it:
“People seem passionate, energized and generally happy to be working. I believe that this is a direct result of employees feeling ownership of Marqeta’s vision […] and the first time you called me your business partner, I felt valued, trusted, and energized to succeed my own expectations of myself and ready to be a leader as an attorney and strategic partner.”
To see this leadership style’s potential, here’s a quick story illustrating how far Jason has taken this concept.
After experiencing the growing success and independence of his self-driven teams, Jason brought together business partners from each part of Marqeta to create an Extended Leadership Team (ELT).
The goal of this team? To make decisions about the future of Marqeta and take the lead in execution. Jason trusted the judgment and experience of his people so much that he entrusted them with the very future of his company.
During an end-of-year review, Jason gathered the ELT in a room and said, “For us to succeed in the next 12 months, all of you need to be in sync. This doesn’t involve me. I don’t need to be here. In fact, I shouldn’t be here. So we are going to leave, and we want all of you to get on the same page. When we come back, you tell us what we need to do to be successful in the coming year.”
When they returned later, the ELT kicked Jason and the other executives out so they could wrap up. That’s what taking ownership looks like.
By the time they finished, the ELT had created such a comprehensive plan for the coming year that the business adopted 95% of it, all without needing Jason’s direct supervision.
Moral of the story?
If you allow them, your teams will not only drive your company’s success; they’ll lead it [Tweet this!].
However, keep in mind that this approach isn’t right for every team member, and it’s also not right for every leader.
You’ve got to ask yourself: Am I comfortable investing the future of my company in creating an inspiring team?
If you are, give this approach a try. If you have any questions, comments, successes, or challenges, Mindmaven founder and CEO, Patrick Ewers, would love to connect. Reach out to Patrick on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/patrick or get in touch below.