This series shares highlights from the 2019 Women of Excellence e-book.
Interview: Melissa, Business Coach & Founder of Little Black Desk Society
What is your definition of leadership?
Leaders are risk takers. Leaders don’t wait for permission. Leaders take responsibility for the wins and losses of their team. Leaders make the hard decisions. Leaders make decisions for the good of the whole and not the few. Leaders understand more is caught than taught. Leaders look for the good. Leaders find solutions and remove obstacles. Leaders understand people live up to your stated expectations. Leaders are proactive.
What was the defining moment or catalyst for bringing on your first employee?
I was responsible for hiring the first team members for a start-up property in Minneapolis when I was 21. We needed someone to help with marketing to students on campus and leasing apartments. Over the course of 8 months, I hired 2 full-time and 5 part-time associates.
How would you define your company’s culture and how do you actively cultivate it?
With Little Black Desk Society it is important the women are passionate about serving others and have a desire to excel. I cultivate this in multiple ways.
- Communicating expectations multiple times during onboarding. This includes verbal and written.
- Leading by example through my own engagement and work.
- Recognizing and celebrating women who live and support the culture.
- Being proactive in having conversations where I see someone disengage. Sometimes people grow in different directions which is completely fine. It is important to have proactive conversations so we can all flourish whether we are together or have moved on.
How do you provide constructive feedback?
The most important things are my attitude, tone, and intention when providing feedback. Feedback needs to be timely, objective, constructive, and actionable.
Listening to the other person to understand their point of view first is key. This allows me to tailor my feedback accordingly so it is most effective. I don’t want the other person on the defense.
The goal of any conversation that centers on constructive feedback is to help the other person be and do better because I believe in them and know what they are capable of.
How does communication with your team impact your team’s relationship with clients?
I believe if I take care of my team well they will take care of clients well. This means I have to clear with my expectations, help remove obstacles, and give them the tools to be successful. By doing this it builds a relationship where we have trust and they can excel.
Team members make better choices, perform better, and contribute to the growth of the business when they love what they do, believes they are an asset to the team and feel appreciated.
Tell us about your biggest challenge to date in leading a team and what you learned.
Which one? LOL! The biggest recently was leading a team where individuals have different vested interests as independent contractors. It is really important to understand each person’s motivations and whether they are willing to buy into the mission or not. If everyone isn’t working together for the same mission then it can have a negative impact on your brand and clients. Due diligence, consistent communication for building a strong rapport, and accountability are key.
How has leading a team impacted your personal growth as a leader?
Anyone can be a manager, but it doesn’t mean people will respect you and follow you. In order to be an effective leader, I had to learn how to communicate and serve better. “Because I said so” is not an effective communication method.
Leadership requires discipline, self-awareness, and integrity. Your team is always watching your behavior and this tells them what is acceptable or not.
It taught me the importance of boundaries. People will test you and see what they can get away with if you let them.
Being respected is more important than being liked. This is especially important because when you are responsible for the team as a whole not everyone will like you, but you still have to do what is best for the entire team.
What advice would you give to other business owners building a team?
- Hire for work ethic and train for skill.
- Hire someone who will complement your business instead of a mini-me.
- Hire with long-term vision knowing a team member can lift up or tear down your business.
- Hire knowing your company is not the final destination, but you have the privilege of helping them become prepared for the next step.
How do you encourage and recognize your team’s efforts?
I believe the right kind of encouragement can be oxygen to a fire. I look for the good and celebrate it so that it grows.
I make the time to send an email or write a quick note (post-its or cards) to thank someone for their hard work on a project with a specific compliment. I also recognize top achievers for the month.
The other part of encouraging the good is not allowing the bad to grow. If I see someone not pulling their weight or engaging less then I address it immediately. A bad apple can spoil the bunch. Meaning if your team sees one person get away with poor behavior they will think it is acceptable too.
How do you want your team members to remember you and their time with your company?
I want them to remember how I helped them grow so they could be the best versions of themselves and be better prepared for the next chapter in their journey.