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Lessons of Leadership from a Millennial CEO

We so often hear the subjects of management and leadership as common materials for memes, but I would like to provide context and real-world examples for those vying to become strong leaders.

Throughout my life and career, I have held many roles and titles. I have been a manual laborer working for my father, a team member in a retail store, an owner of a commercial cleaning business, a student, a global trade broker, a global mobility consultant, a corporate global mobility manager, and most recently, the Founder and CEO of Vendium Global. Vendium is an HR/Global Mobility consultancy firm helping organizations incorporate the right tools, technology, and talent to be ready for the speed of business.

I recently was interviewed and was asked the question, “what does someone need to do to be successful?”. While this is a big concept, the answer is quite easy. I have often compared it to going to the gym. If you want results, you can’t put in 12 hours one day and expect to hit your goal. Your effort needs to be consistent, sustained, and meaningful. This applies to both individuals and organizations.

Your effort needs to be consistent, sustained, and meaningful.

The more difficult question that I was asked was, “what is the strongest trait of a leader?”. To me, the answer would be trustworthiness. After all, what separates a CEO from an entry-level employee? That employee may soon replace the CEO, however, they need to establish their trustworthiness first. Can you perform the task? Can you be relied upon? Can you develop others to be better than you?

There are two categories of trust within an organization – trust in the person and trust in the role. I regularly hear former colleagues and friends complain that their boss doesn’t notice their work, doesn’t respect them, or that they don’t feel appreciated. You can witness the soul drain from a person as say things like this. In these scenarios, the boss is not trusting the employee and therefore, the employee is losing trust in the role.

A title and managerial role are similar to someone holding a degree in a certain subject. We generally can trust that the person is at least “this good”. Your title conveys a frame of who you are and what you are capable of. Think of when you first meet a doctor, police officer, or lawyer outside of a professional setting. You have a certain understanding of them by simply hearing their profession. The person is a stranger, so your reaction is due to the title.

The first lesson of leadership is to work with skills, not titles.

A person has skills that can be applied across the organization. When you hire, hire for the person, not the role. Leaders should know the skills needed for their team but shouldn’t overlook the value-add to the whole organization.

There is a common corporate practice to have teams do more with less. Budget time comes around and there are arbitrary “go-gets” passed down to increase profitability. We can hear things such as “we need you to cut spend this year by 20%”.

How do we accomplish this? Cut development, cut travel, fire the lowest 5-10%, and congratulations! The top 5-10% get a bonus for reaching the goal. Meanwhile, the organization is weakened in trust and skills while those with the highest titles are praised.

The second lesson is that trust must go in all directions.

Leaders… your role gives you many privileges and responsibilities. Your responsibility is to your team first and role second. Your team trusts you to keep them safe, develop them, and back them through anything. When you have a team, you have a family. Your team is more important than you are.

There are times when I may need to take corrective action with my team, but no one else is allowed to.

There are times when I may need to take corrective action with my team, but no one else is allowed to. As a family, I care for them deeply and cannot disown them because bills are stacking up or they made me upset. I cannot disown them unless they do something catastrophic.

What is the result of this? They act like a family. Brothers and sisters supporting each other through anything. The team’s expectation is in each other and in turn, they want the best for one another. The team knows that they are always safe and that the enemy is never within our walls.

The third lesson is to work trust into your culture.

Many organizations reference having a family-like culture but how many actually practice it? If you have worked within the same organization for over a year and are made to feel afraid or if you loathe Mondays, you don’t have a family culture. Fear is an emotion created by instability and hate of Monday is caused by not having belief in what you are doing. It is caused by not being aligned with your “why”.

The term “not my job” doesn’t apply in a family nor do business hours. You support each other through what needs to be done and you are excited when your co-workers do well… you are siblings after all.

When we discuss “politics” in organizations, we are discussing a cancer that replicates swiftly.

When we discuss “politics” in organizations, we are discussing a cancer that replicates swiftly. This cancer takes down top performers and those that are dedicated to the cause even faster than the low performers. No one wants to work with a team where they can be thrown under the bus or terminated due to the organization cutting costs.

People want to work in cultures of trust. People thrive in cultures of trust.

To conclude…

The largest organizations in the world achieved their success by having a startup culture, but at some point, they have lost their way.

Startups come with a lack of stability, by their nature. Survival is something that needs to be worked for with weekends, late nights, and ownership. This type of commitment can only be had in high-trust environments.

It is my role as the leader to go hungry before my team does. It is my role as a leader to make sure my team is successful. It is my role as a leader to keep my team safe. It is my role as a leader to make my team better than I am.

It is my role as a leader to make my team better than I am.

As a team, we help organizations incorporate automation, tools, and process optimizations that many fear will eliminate people. In reality, these things help organizations retain talent by making their people more impactful and more fulfilled being able to concentrate on the most meaningful work. We help organizations support their people during their most stressful times and provide what is needed to make their people successful.

Why do we do this? For the same reason why our team operates the way it does… The people are what matters. There will come a day when machines will be able to do nearly every job for us. Machines are already better than us in nearly every way, outside of being human. Only humans can connect with humans. Only humans can be humans.

The future of our organizations need a balance of technology, people, and true leaders. The future of our organizations is the future of our world. Be sure that you know your “why” and lead the way you would want someone to lead your children. Lead to make others better. Lead, regardless of title.

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