Pharmapacks.com has partnered with the likes of Amazon and Walmart, becoming one of their top health and beauty product sellers. But Andrew Vagenas, cofounder of the e-commerce retail website, admits that he was a “micromanager” when the company initially started to scale. He wanted a say in every decision and action undertaken by his employees.
“Eventually you have to trust [your team] to make decisions for their department, and I think that’s the most important thing,” said Vagenas. “A few years ago, I didn’t. I never trusted anyone.”
Leave the meddling at the door
Helicopter managing isn’t uncommon for founders, especially in first or second ventures. Letting other people take hold of your child of an idea and trusting them to keep it safe can be hard. Employees may never reach the founder’s level of dedication, but how can they help grow the company without some room to cultivate their own sense of care and responsibility?
No leader can do everything. This lesson becomes readily apparent as a company begins to scale. As you institute clear processes and operations to continue your production or service quality, it becomes physically impossible to be everywhere and involved in everything. (Unless a startup has conquered the space-time continuum and mastered time travel, but to my knowledge this is not yet true.)
Being in every meeting when you have five, 10 or 15 people is doable. Being in every meeting when there are 40, 50 or 100 people becomes insane. Releasing elements of control can be the difference between growing and killing your business.
Present opportunities to be wrong
When a concept becomes a business, it can no longer be “your way or the highway.” This is not how innovation is nurtured.
“I wanted to have the final say on everything that happened in the company, and now it’s like, if it’s important, let’s talk about it,” Vagenas said.
When founders start relaxing their control over every aspect of the business, they often find this gives their employees the ability to start contributing new ideas. After getting over his initial hesitations, Vagenas says letting others contribute actually bolstered the company. And it gave the employees opportunities to focus on their passions and indicate where they wanted to grow.
Allowing others to weigh in on decisions or strategic directions gives a bit of ownership to others in your organization, making the results of these ideas more important and meaningful to them as well. Not every suggestion will be a good one. Not every suggestion will be implemented, but as founders accept that their ideas are not always the right ones or best ones, employees start to grow their commitment to their positions and the company.
“Shows openness to new ideas and fosters organizational learning” was among Harvard Business Review’s top 10 leadership competencies demonstrated by successful world leaders.
“To encourage learning among employees, leaders must first ensure that they are open to learning (and changing course) themselves. Try to approach problem-solving discussions without a specific agenda or outcome. Withhold judgment until everyone has spoken, and let people know that all ideas will be considered. A greater diversity of ideas will emerge.”
– Sunnie Giles
This new level of openness can liberate employees in ways that founders might find surprising. It can empower them to work more productively or take it upon themselves to rectify a problem that’s been plaguing a department. In Vagenas case, giving one employee a little room to run and raising his expectations brought out a more vibrant and managerial personality, and Vagenas discovered that she was more than capable of handling bigger, denser projects.
“She’s become literally my right hand person in the company now,” Vagenas said. “She started taking on a lot of projects, and I wouldn’t be able to handle a lot of the things I’m handling now if it wasn’t for her.”
Ewing Kauffman, entrepreneur and founder of the Kauffman Foundation, used to say, “the more you expect from people, the more they live up to your expectations.” Remember, leadership requires two parts—the leader and the people. Founders who remember both parts equally on their governance journey will come out on the other side with a clearer vision and a more engaged, prepared team with which to seek it.